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The Best Study Spots in Kingston!

Hey Queen’s! Welcome back for another blog post 🙂

How have your past couple of weeks been? I know many of us have been overloaded with assignments after our midterms so hopefully we’ve all been able to get those done! Over the time between my last blog and this one, I have made it my mission to explore various study spots around campus. So, grab a coffee (or a tea, if you are like me!), and get ready to read for the best study spots on campus and beyond!

Desks in overhead shot of Stauffer Library

1. Joseph S. Stauffer Library– 101 Union St, Kingston, ON K7L 2N9

Stauffer is your typical library. Computers, desks, books, confused people trying to catch up on a week’s worth of modules (oops, maybe this one is just me…). There are various desk types for you to choose from so if you are one of those people who need a lot of space, you have options. But you NEED to get there early because spots fill up quickly! That is one thing about Stauffer, ALWAYS busy. The study rooms are also quite nice, which is great if you need to work on a group project or study with your friends but don’t want to disrupt the rest of the library with your laughter J If you are looking for some sort of board to draw on to explain concepts, most of the rooms only have chalkboards, which can be a little messy!

Overall rating: 3.5/5

 

Long table and chairs

2. Bracken Health Sciences Library – 18 Stuart St, Kingston, ON K7L 2V5

Ahhh, I love this place! As a health science student myself, I’m a little biased about this place. If you are looking for a dead silent place to study, this is it. Bottom floor couches. Absolute perfection. I could spend all day there! I love the floor to ceiling windows as well as the plants hanging all around. Outlets are also everywhere so you’ll never have an excuse to procrastinate J. They also have some really nice study rooms with comfy chairs, a TV with an adapter for you to project presentations, and a whiteboard. If you are one of these people who need to separate themselves from everyone else to actually get some work done, you need to try the individual sectioned-off desks. When you sit there, it’s literally just you and that assignment. No more distractions!

Overall rating: 5/5

 

Students studying at desks and couches in well lit room with large artworks

3. Common Ground Coffeehouse – 284 Earl St, Kingston, ON K7L 2H8

Study vibes at their finest. Common Ground is one of the best places to go if you are looking for a social but studious environment. This is the place to be on campus if you want to sip on your coffee and chat with a friend while doing a little bit of work. I will say that there will always be some background noise at this place so it may not be the best for focusing but it does have a beautiful environment! Also, if you ever decide to come here, the bagels are a MUST! That’s a nice positive of coming to work here: endless food supply J. There aren’t many seats, though, so if you are planning on going, my advice is to get there early.

Overall rating: 4/5

 

Sculpture in park by waterfront

4. Breakwater Park

The natural environment. As Queen’s students we really should take advantage of the lake we have on campus. I know that since winter is coming, it may be a little cold to sit outside and study here but at least once this school year, I strongly recommend studying here at least once. I loved coming here on those beautiful warm and sunny days to just sit in the sun at one of the picnic tables and go through my flashcards. Downside is the wifi is weak here. If you are able to work on something that doesn’t need internet, or you need to cut off net access to concentrate, you should come. A bonus is that when you are done, you can also take a stroll by the lake and get in some exercise and enjoy the weather. Go alone or with friends: either way, it’s great to get outside and surround yourself in nature.

Overall rating: 4/5

 

Stacks and students studying below in library

5. William R. Lederman Law Library – 128 Union St, Kingston, ON K7L 2P1

Coming here makes you feel like Elle Woods. You are surrounded by thick books and people who are in that study mindset. It really motivates you to get yourself together and get some work done. A huge plus of this place is that the rooms are very spacious, especially the basement, considering the long tables they have. I find this allows me to get all my stuff set up in a clear way which I think lets my brain sort of declutter and focus on what’s in front of me. It does lack scenic views though, which can sometimes make you feel like you really are just there to study (which is what you are there for, but your brain doesn’t need to know that J). Personally, I don’t come here as often since it is a little far from most of my classes.

 

Students at long tables in warmly lit coffee shop

6. CRAVE Coffee House – 166 Princess St, Kingston, ON K7L 1B1

This is your classed-up coffee shop. With its contemporary style, it’s a gem for Queen’s students. Crave is off-campus, but its comfy couches, large tables, and sleek décor make the trip there worth it! Also, wifi is free here so getting comfortable and working away is quite easy! One of the best parts of this place is their food. Delicious sandwiches, salads, and desserts are always available here which comes in handy when you need to take a break from that math problem that’s been hurting your head for the past half hour. Grab some friends and check this place out, I promise it won’t disappoint!

Overall rating: 5/5

 

Long bar and small round tables in coffee shop with traditional tiled flooring

7. Balzac’s – 251 Princess St, Kingston, ON K7L 1B4

European vibes. This café actually makes you feel like you’re in Rome on summer vacation. The traditional yet modern design with the exposed brick is very comforting and motivates you to park yourself and work away. Again, this place is off campus so you will have to do some walking to get here. Wifi is free, so no worries about how much you’ll be able to get done! The food here is amazing too: hand-crafted everything! Espressos, teas, coffees, cookies, croissants, they’ve got it all! My advice is to use the delicious food as motivation. Once all your tasks are done, go right ahead and treat yourself 🙂

Overall rating: 4.5/5

 

People study at modern coffee shop

8. Juniper Café – 370 King St W, Kingston, ON K7L 2X4

Relaxation at its finest. This café faces the lake, allowing you to feel that tranquility and relaxation as you work. Their décor consists of vintage pieces, which you can admire as you work. The outdoor dining may not come in handy now, but in the warmer months, coming here is a MUST. Grab your laptop, order a drink, and sip away until all your work is done. Not to mention, the walk down here is also beautiful and allows you to fit in some exercise. Take a break to enjoy the food and view to re-energize yourself before your next study session.

Overall rating: 4/5

Well, that’s it from me for now! Hope you guys enjoyed my tour of Kingston’s best study spots and will try some of them out if you haven’t done so already J  

Good luck studying for exams!

– Noor

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Beating Burnout as Semester Ends

Hi Gaels! Sweater weather is over, and now it’s a more candle-lighting, holiday music-playing, and “Why is the weather so cold and my class so far?” time of year.

We are finally nearing the end of this semester. I will be 37.5% done with my university career once exam season finishes. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions, and the thought of winter break approaching is a significant relief. Many of the classmates I’ve talked to have had their fair share of struggles. We can all agree that the winter break is much needed.

In my last blog post, I talked about motivation and gave a short breakdown of Mel Robbins’ fantastic TED Talk, “How to stop screwing yourself over.” The entire TED Talk was an intense session encouraging us to do things we don’t feel like doing to make something of ourselves. I must say, though, that those feelings can only take us so far.

I completed my last midterm on the penultimate Friday of November. Finals are barely days away. I know that these weeks right now are the perfect ingredients for burnout and loss of motivation – we want to stay in bed all day because of the cold, we’re longing for winter break, and the fear of finals is causing us to procrastinate. Plus, lots of us are coming down with colds and flus, and there’s talk of new Covid variants. Eat healthy, get sleep, and wear your masks, people!

While Robbins’ TED Talk may be helpful for us students during the thick of it, it’s harder to stay motivated when we’re nearing the finish line and exhaustion is catching up. And that’s okay. We’ve worked hard.

I want to share some common burnout symptoms and fixes that may be helpful to you, and hopefully, you can catch them before they take root. One of the most frustrating symptoms of burnout is that you don’t want to do anything: homework, assignments, club work, studying, laundry, cleaning your room, or even going out with friends. Other symptoms include (and I’ve been experiencing these too) feeling exhausted despite having a decent sleep, not concentrating, getting irritated and stressed over minor issues that usually don’t affect you, and bouts of depression and overwhelming sadness.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming when all the feelings come at once, and you don’t know what to do. Queen’s has some services that may be beneficial during these stressful times. I want to personally mention the Student Wellness Services counsellors. If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, or other illnesses, please reach out to them. Queen’s also has Academic Considerations for these circumstances that would be helpful to research. Lastly, I recommend following the Instagram account @queensuniversitybewell to see some events promoting mental health, including the ever-wonderful Oscar the dog, who hangs out in Mitchell Hall every Friday at 1-2 PM to bring a little bit of joy to us all!

Now, for some simple tricks to tackle burnout before it becomes a bigger problem:

  1. Hide your phone when you’re doing schoolwork. It is distracting. Put it somewhere you can’t see, or you will be looking at it every two seconds. Turn it completely off, put it behind your laptop, or ask your roommates to stash it for you.
  2. Break down your responsibilities to make smaller, achievable benchmarks that you can complete daily instead of working a 12-hour grind the day before it’s due. That way you get a small spike of dopamine from each small achievement—rather than the overwhelming dread of putting things off until the last second.
  3. Set reasonable goals. That might mean just passing. It might mean achieving a 4.0 GPA. Perhaps it’s just submitting all your assignments and quizzes in time (something I, ahem, am not perfect at!. Pick a small and achievable goal for the next few weeks. Being unrealistic just adds more unnecessary stress to our lives.
  4. I always, always, always recommend the term calendar to visualize what significant assignments you have to do within the month. Pair it with a daily calendar to break down your weekly tasks. Scheduling helps prevent burnout because you can plan your time better and set when to achieve the benchmarks mentioned in step 2.

Lastly, in burnout season, self-care is vital. Make sure to spend time drinking hot chocolate with friends, going out to eat and treating yourself, lighting a scented candle or two, or whatever else floats your boat. Talk to a counsellor, talk to your uppers, and speak to your peers to discover how they handle tough times. If there’s anything I’ve learned about talking to my friends about how I cried over school, it’s that they have done the same.

Student sitting at desk with head covered in towel

Here’s a photo of my friend currently going through it.

As one of my uppers once told me, “Chin up, kid. Don’t let your crown fall.”

Good luck on your exams—see you in January!

Liyi

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Getting Ready for Final Exams

Hello Gaels! 

Welcome back to another edition of my SASS blog! It’s been a few weeks since we last caught up. We’ve had our first snowfall of the year, Halloween costumes have turned into holiday sweaters, and the holiday season is almost here. At Queen’s, however, holidays are not quite upon us: we still have to finish final assignments and exams. Now, before exams start, is the perfect opportunity to recharge and mentally prepare. 

Lately I’ve been very busy completing a few final assignments and labs. I made it much more stressful than it needed to be because in the winter the snooze button becomes my best friend. There’s just something about the chilly air that makes me want to snuggle up in bed for an extra hour or two. At this point of the year, I’m also slowly beginning to count down the days before we head off for the break.  

Keeping myself motivated is something that I—and just about all of us—need to address. Here are a few things that help me get back on track when I’m down: 

 

  • Take a look at the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the semester. They could give you that extra motivation to finish the semester strong. If you didn’t think about them earlier, set yourself a couple of goals now: what do you want to achieve in the next few weeks? What will make you happy? Doing well in a particular assignment? Getting through exams while staying healthy? Making time to talk to your family while studying?
  • Reward yourself! Whether that’s watching an extra episode of your favourite show or getting your favourite food, make sure to appreciate the work that you are putting in. It’s too easy to get sucked into constantly studying at this time of year.
  • Create a daily plan! Few things are as satisfying and motivating as crossing off an item on a to-do list. Pro-tip: if any of the activities will take less than five minutes, do them first and get that ball rolling!
  • Reflect on your successes this semester. You are so close to completing the semester, so don’t let the last 2-3 weeks affect the hard work you have put in thus far! I’m sure you’ve all had at least one great moment—an awesome comment you made in class, a nice piece of feedback from a prof or TA, an interesting article or book you read—this semester. Treasure those feelings now! 

 

One of the main reasons I lose motivation is due to feeling burned out. With midterms, assignments, and labs, the past month was hectic to say the least. Taking time for yourself is so powerful in terms of improving your motivation and focus for the last stretch of the semester. Honestly just taking a walk at the pier or spending a few hours chatting with friends can do the trick. I personally enjoy going to the gym, getting dinner with friends, and relaxing by watching a movie. At the end of the day, even our phones stop working once they run out of energy—so how can we expect ourselves to keep going without ever taking a break and recharging? 

With the semester winding down, the finish line is in our sights. So let’s finish off strong! 

 

Good luck! – Santosh 

 

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Creating your best work environment: a practical guide

Hey Gaels,

Congrats on making it through another midterm season! No matter how difficult the last few weeks may have been, be sure to congratulate yourself for getting through them. The last two weeks of grad school were the most hectic to date, but I did my best to maintain a healthy work-life balance and also took breaks whenever possible. With school looking a little lighter post-midterms, I am hoping to schedule more frequent breaks to get away from prolonged periods of sitting.

On that note: do you ever wonder how many hours you spend at your work area every day (or night, if you’re anything like me)?

This question came to mind because almost all my waking hours last week were spent at my desk preparing for the upcoming wave of midterms. Unfortunately, my experience is not uncommon, nor is it exclusive to midterm season — COVID has forced us to accept virtual learning as the new normal, and this shift has made it very difficult to separate work from the rest of our lives. I would even argue that the shift toward online learning predates the pandemic. Indeed, more and more courses are starting to incorporate a blended learning model of delivery that replaces traditional in-person classroom components with new virtual components.

 

Considering how much time we now spend studying behind a computer screen, it is more important than ever for us to cultivate our optimal work environment. So, how can we go about improving our study space? Read on for my suggestions:

 

  1. Plan to avoid distractions

If you are anything like me, even the slightest distractions—from unwanted background noise to YouTube videos—can turn promising study sessions into productivity slumps. It often helps to identify sources of distraction ahead of time so you can make plans to avoid them. For example, if you anticipate being in a busy environment, such as the first floor of Stauffer Library, consider investing in ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones. My biggest procrastination trigger is my phone, so I have found that simply turning my phone off or keeping it out of sight during a study session can save me from hours of useless scrolling. Once there are no longer multiple stimuli in your environment fighting for your attention, it becomes much easier to lock in on your coursework and nothing else.  

 

  1. Keep your studying ergonomic

Ergonomic study spaces maximize productivity by minimizing any physical discomfort associated with studying. If possible, consider investing in a high-quality office chair (or looking on Facebook, Kijiji, etc. for a cheap/free one!) that helps you keep your spine neutral and your shoulders back, and be sure to adjust the brightness of your computer screen to reduce eyestrain. I also have noticed that my neck is least strained when my laptop is at eye level — if you cannot adjust your seat height, then consider changing the height of your laptop by adding/removing textbooks underneath it. Finally, be sure to avoid the temptation of studying in bed! I learned first-hand last year that any improvements in comfort are offset by a loss in productivity.

 

  1. Organize your study materials

Because it is easy to feel overwhelmed when your desk is cluttered, I recommend creating a mental list of everything that you will need (and nothing more) for a given study session. This approach informs me on how I should set up my physical work environment. For example, I typically reserve the top of my desk for resources that I will constantly be using (pencils, notebook, and laptop) while leaving less relevant materials (textbooks and binders) in my bag beside me.

Lonely rower in the sea and caption "Perseverance"

        4. Surround yourself with sources of motivation.

Whether it be a from a particular music playlist, a set of posters, or an inspirational quote, we all have our own ways of uplifting ourselves. The same methods can be applied to reduce the inertia associated with studying. For example, I always keep an hourglass on my desk for the simple yet potent reminder: “Time is passing, and passing irreversibly.” That realization alone is often enough to snap me out of procrastination.

Now that your environment is good to go, it’s time to get studying!

See you next time – Shahnawaz 

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Taking Time for Yourself

Hey Queen’s! It’s Noor again 🙂

So how did midterms go? Stressed about your results? I get it, but try and feel happy that it’s over! However you feel, know that you are not alone and that these midterms are just one part of our marks. There is always room and time to improve! Above all, cut yourself some slack. Most of us first years haven’t written an exam in over two years. It’s going to take some time before we get back into it again. Let’s learn from our successes and mistakes and stay optimistic!

I think we all deserve some sort of relaxation after a hard of couple weeks’ study. Below are some of my go-to activities that I think every Queen’s student should try before getting back into the grind. Give them a go and you’ll be more rested and, therefore, more productive.

 

Pavement and lake
  1. Take a stroll by the lake (a classic)

I love this one! I consider myself a morning person so starting my day early in the morning and walking by the lake is something I think has really made me appreciate how lucky we are that our campus is located by such beautiful scenery. I promise you that going on a walk in nature improves your mood, mental health, and physical fitness. Sometimes I am so busy that I don’t get a chance to do this, but now that midterms are done, it’s time for me to get back into it. So try it too: put in your earphones, listen to some music, and enjoy yourself!

  1. Go to the ARC and get in some exercise!

I’ve been wanting to do this one for so long. At the start of the school year, there was so much going on that I felt I just never had the opportunity, but now that I’m trying to destress, I plan to check out what the ARC has to offer. I’ve heard there are workout classes, intramural sessions, and drop-ins at the gym! I want to grab some friends (strength in numbers!) and see all the facilities at the ARC. Try some new sports, learn a skill, or beat your personal record; but whatever you do, be proud you are working on yourself and taking a break from school.

 

Queen's ARC at dusk
  1. Explore downtown

If you’re anything like me, you love to go on adventures and explore new places. As a first year, I really have not seen much except for the Queen’s campus so I am really looking forward to walking around downtown and seeing the city of Kingston! I plan to try a few coffee shops, do some shopping, and find some good restaurants. If anyone has any favourites, let me know!

  1. Have a movie night with friends (with good food, of course!)

This one I’ve done a few times with friends this year. It’s one of my favourite weekend activities! We usually go to a common room, set up a movie or whatever show we’ve been loving that week. We eat some good food together and enjoy our night. It’s a great way to take a break from school and spend some quality time with your friends. It acts like that reward at the end of a hard week – knowing your friends will be there at the end of the week is a great way to motivate yourself.

 

Why not give one of these activities a try and let me know how they go for you. Without giving yourself a break, how can you ever recharge yourself for what’s to come?

Anyways, that’s all for  now!

Talk to you soon,

Noor

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Heading into the Final Stretch of the Semester

Hey Gaels!

Can you believe we only have about a month left before the semester is finished? It feels as though I just moved back to Kingston a week or so ago! With the midterm season almost finished we are heading into the final stretch of the semester. It’s been a busy few weeks thanks to midterms, assignments, extracurricular responsibilities, but I am so glad that I finally have a little break before the final exam/assignment season is upon us!

Midterm season has been challenging in terms of material I needed to cover in a short period of time. Worse, I also had several labs and assignments to finish between my exams. While I made a detailed plan on how I was going to approach all these academic tasks, a few other responsibilities popped up here and there such that my plan became impossible to follow.

I am someone who loves to know exactly what I need to complete in a day because it helps me stay on track and not over-stress myself. Once my plan was out the window, it felt as though the three midterms, countless quizzes, and multiple assignments I needed to do were going to be an impossible task. All of that meant a lot of cramming for exams and last-minute adjustments to my assignments. Worst of all, I did not feel satisfied with my final product. While this did make me feel demotivated to work on the next assignment, I made sure to try to forget about that previous assignment and put my 100% focus on the next task at hand. When you’re down about work, even doing five minutes can help you get started and clear your mind. We all have hard times where we might not have had the opportunity to produce our best effort for a task but finding ways to move on is vital. Reflect on what works for you as you approach the end of the semester.

Stone with inscription: "Our future is greater than our past - Ben Okri"
Book Study Education College University Studying

What does your post-midterm situation look like? For me, I have to catch up on course modules that I was not able to complete due to my midterm exams. As my next two weeks are much lighter in terms of the workload, I plan to use this period to catch up on all that course content. A good place to get started on figuring out a bigger plan is SASS’ End of Term Planning Chart. It’ll take a few minutes to complete but it’ll give you a great handle on where to go next! Apart from academics, I also have to work on my extracurricular responsibilities and so the next two weeks will also be spent on them. That being said, my schedule over the past month has been all over the place and so my goal is to also get back into a normal daily routine that will help me stay focused!

The midterm season is a time when in the past I didn’t really put aside time for myself. Whether it is hanging out with friends, watching the latest soccer games, or just taking a break, I tended to think about nothing but my academics. This year, I wanted to focus on my mental and physical health during this stressful period by leaving time for breaks and fun. I was able to see the difference that this can make:

  1. I concentrated better, letting me complete my tasks faster each day
  2. I was much more relaxed (as I was able to destress by hanging out with my friends)
  3. I was able to spend quality time studying because taking those breaks helped me be reenergized and focus on my academics
  4. My mind was not exhausted from constant studying (or constantly thinking about studying) and this helped me to thoroughly learn concepts

If I could tell my first-year self one thing, it would be about the importance of taking those much-needed breaks during stressful times of the year! You’ll study better and more efficiently if you take time out.

Before the holiday season is upon us and you find yourself at home and deciding which of the endless Home Alone movies you’re going to be watching in your PJs, make sure the last month of the semester is one that you will be proud of! We can always change our future by focusing on the present rather than dwelling on the past.

Let’s finish off strong! – Santosh

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Beating your inner snooze button

Winter is coming… I’m excited to see other students wearing hats and mittens, as I can finally wear mine too! Looking back at my last blog, it feels almost like a different person wrote it. I don’t think I’ll ever realize how fast time is flying and how much can change in a few weeks. I’m happy to say that writing reminders on my phone has helped me remember deadlines and tasks.

I’ve been feeling stressed lately due to a constant stream of assignments and midterms; they just keep coming! Because of my stress, I feel like I’ve been putting some of that stressed energy into my blogs. In my last piece, I shared my feelings about missing an assignment and being upset and stressed, as I think it’s essential to convey to my fellow peers at Queen’s that everyone is struggling with their problems.

This week, I want to channel confidence and ambition because as much as learning from our mistakes and struggling together is soothing, purpose drives us to make goals and reach them. It’s purpose that helps us overcome procrastination and inertia.

I recently watched a TED Talk by Mel Robbins called “How to stop screwing yourself over.” I wanted to share some of the things I learned with you so that you can get what you really want out of your studies.

Robbins explains that we all have an “inner snooze button.” Did you get out of bed today after the first alarm without hitting snooze? I certainly did not. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed at all. The inner snooze alarm is similar – in any area of our life that we want to change, all our small and big ideas, there is one fact we need to know: “We’re never going to feel like it.” Chemists might call this activation energy: the minimum energy required to cause something to occur. It could be anything – closing the Netflix tab to start studying, looking for internships, or doing that thing you’ve wanted to do for months. You’re never going to feel like doing it. And that’s hard. Once we hit 18 and arrive at university, nobody really tells us that it’s our job to parent ourselves, including doing what we don’t want to do.

It’s simple to get what we want, but it’s not easy. We have to realize that we’re never going to feel like getting out of bed during our alarm’s first ring or preparing for that lab report a week in advance. We have to force ourselves to do it. Anything that requires a change in our routine requires activation energy to force ourselves to do it. If we listen to what we feel when it comes to what we want, we’re never going to get it; because we’re never going to feel like it.

Robbins also has another theory – and I’m not sure if it’s scientific or not, but it rings true with me. She believes we only have 5 seconds to do what we want until our brain doesn’t want to do it anymore. The 5 seconds between an idea and an action is essential – the problem isn’t not having any ideas; it’s not acting on them. If you have a question while doing homework, you have 5 seconds to decide to email the TA for help before your brain kills the idea. We’re never going to feel like it, so why can’t we do it now? It’s not easy, but we can do it. We have access to many online resources, Google, SASS, and any bookstore, so we have the resources to do anything we want to do. We just have to decide to act urgently when our brain has ideas: whether by completing a task immediately or by just getting going on that task. The best time is now!

Mel ends her TED Talk by arguing that we shouldn’t settle for being “fine.” Saying we’re “fine” allows us to not do anything about our issues. We convince ourselves that we’re fine not completing a goal: “I’m fine, I haven’t started my homework, but no one else has started either”; “I’m fine, my roommates are never going to change, so I can’t tell them to clean”; “I’m fine, I can’t find an internship, but whatever, it’s hard to find a job.” Sometimes we can’t have everything we want: those roommates can be tricky, and jobs don’t grow on trees. But at least we can try. We all have ideas that can change our life, the world, or anything. We just can’t hit the inner snooze button.

Reflecting on the idea of “I’m never going to feel like it” has helped me do a lot more things in the last few weeks because I realize it’s better to do something now than waiting indefinitely to “feel like it.” I can always remind myself to get going, to accept my starting point, and to remember that conditions are never perfect to start or complete a task.

So do your thing! Start your essay, start looking for internships, start doing the things that make you uncomfortable because that is how we progress at an upwards slope in life. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.

Good luck, Gaels!  – Liyi

 

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Toxic productivity in grad school

Hey Gaels, I hope all is well!

The school year is really flying by fast, isn’t it? I can’t believe that we’re already mid-way though the semester! It feels like it was just yesterday that I was going through my program orientation and meeting my classmates for the first time.

So, how have I been?The good news is that I have been feeling much more secure about my place in graduate school since my last blog—and for that, I have to give lots of credit to my classmates who did not hesitate to share their own experiences with imposter syndrome with me.

That said, grad school has been BUSY to say the least. I am yet to find a single moment to stand still—even if I was fully caught up with coursework (and I’m not), there would still be additional readings to review, assignments to grade, and potential topics to explore for my thesis. The irony of it all is that I only need to be on campus for a few hours a day, as the first semester of the Epidemiology MSc consists of just two core classes and one elective. The perceived ‘freedom’ of grad school sounds amazing to some (and it does have benefits!). However, the sheer number of hours I am left with to allocate for independent schoolwork places the onus on me to effectively manage my time every day. I have come to realize the importance of being a self-regulated learner and having strong time management skills.

With so much autonomy, so much to plan, and even more to accomplish, I can’t help but ask myself: “Will I ever get time to take a scheduled break?”

There is no doubt that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential. Nonetheless, like many students, I sometimes fixate on my academic goals, making my wellness an afterthought. Taking a break is the last thing I want to consider when I am behind in my coursework or unable to complete the tasks on my schedule for a given day. It often feels like I am yet to “earn” a break in this circumstance. If I take a break regardless, my guilty conscience may also remind me of all the work that I could be getting done if I kept working. I know that a dangerous snowball effect can follow when I make my breaks contingent on my productivity. I start skipping meals, inevitably begin cutting down on sleep, productivity slows further, I take even fewer breaks, and so on. The cycle can be endless.

Cartoon of student with head in hands staring at books

In many ways, our education system exacerbates this toxic productivity culture. Many students—myself included, at one time—simplify academic success to earning 4.0+ GPAs (and see anything else as afailure). These marks are important for admission into graduate/professional schools, but are they really everything? Can we define our success and sense of self-worth through these numbers? The grind doesn’t stop there. Even in grad school, I worry that my ability to secure limited research assistantships and grants will be based on the extent to which I produce research while maintaining a high GPA. Overall, there is a prevailing outcome-based mentality towards school that normalizes and even implicitly encourages students to place an extreme emphasis on grades—and this focus can easily detract from one’s well-being, as my experience with taking breaks exemplifies.

So, how can we go about chasing our academic goals without compromising our wellness? Here are three exercises that have helped me escape the toxic productivity trap:

Breaks: understand their value and actually implement them

Even though taking a break feels wrong when there is still work to do, I find that simply having a moment away from schoolwork allows me to return with much better focus. I encourage you to recognize that breaks are likely going to help you accomplish more of your goals in the long run. Keep in mind that a break should ideally be spent doing something you enjoy—I like to pursue my hobbies, which include playing basketball, biking, and learning the piano. Lastly, be as intentional with your break as you can. Schedule a time for your break activity beforehand and do your best to turn your ‘work brain’ off during this period.

Set realistic expectations and acknowledge progress.

In the hopes of maximizing my productivity, I tend to go overboard when constructing my daily to-do-lists. Inevitably, I am unable to complete all my tasks for the day and skip out on breaks, which just leaves me feeling tired and demoralized. However, whenever I create a more realistic daily schedule, I can accomplish all my goals and make time for something fun. That in turn helps me feel much more refreshed and motivated to continue working the next day. In addition to planning for less, I also recommend acknowledging your progress—no matter how small—because doing so will help you recognize how productive you have been.

Redefine your values and self-worth.

When school becomes your everyday life, it’s hard to look beyond it. Our busy schedules compel us to value schoolwork and not find importance in anything else. Many of us are also inclined to romanticize productivity, and subsequently attach our self-worth to our academic success. However, remember that you are so much more than what you study, how much you study, or what the letters on your transcript say. Ask yourself: “Am I focusing my energy on the right things?”

See you next time! And don’t forget to schedule your break today 😀

– Shahnawaz

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Making time for midterms and me

Welcome back everyone! I hope you’ve gotten into the swing of things now and are enjoying your time at Queen’s!

Not going to lie, it has been quite difficult for me to learn how to manage all my classes and still have time to balance extracurriculars and time with friends. I know we now have Reading Week to catch up (and luckily, I am going home for the week!), but with working on weekends and trying to spend some of that time with family, I find it can be hard to study for everything. Also, I must admit, I am a little behind on modules and labs so I’m really going to need to focus on getting things done in Reading Week. Anyone else in the same boat? It’s okay, we’ve got this! With some dedication and maybe just a little bit of caffeine (or sugar if you are like me!), we CAN do it. Make a schedule for the next week or two. Just ensure you leave room for breaks, exercise, and “you” time because your mental health is just as important as your grades!  

However, I think I’ve improved slightly at managing time since the first couple of weeks. The best tip I’ve learned is to use a planner. Trust me, it might be possible to keep everything in your head but writing out everything you need to do on a calendar helps so much in terms of organizing your time and meeting deadlines. The syllabus is your best friend when it comes to finding these deadlines so if you haven’t done so already, I suggest reading through all of them and writing down due dates to stay on track! If you are looking for a good assignment planner, I highly recommend the planner created by SASS. Now is a great time to try this: as Reading Week ends, plan out the last six weeks of semester and get back on track with your work!

 

Chemistry lab manuals
CHEM112 lab essentials!

Speaking of organizing your time, midterms are coming up. I don’t know about the rest of you guys but I am STRESSED (thanks to Santosh for his hot tips on dealing with midterms here though!). I haven’t written an exam in two years so I’m a little nervous in terms of how I am going to prepare myself. I have heard that active recall and practice problems are the way to go. For my physiology and chemistry classes, I am going to try the active recall technique and working through practice problems. If you’re in PSYC100, focus your studies using the “Three-Step Method” note-taking sheet. I’ve been trying to use it for several weeks in class, so we’ll see if it will help me study for midterms better. I have heard from multiple upper years that the method is very helpful when trying to learn key content. Check it out if you are interested! Anyways, hopefully I’ll be able to see which of these study methods works best for me during midterm season and keep using them in my regular study routine.

Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating and I wish all of you good luck with your midterms!

– Noor

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Bouncing back from a mistake

Happy October, friends!

I hope your last month has gone well and that you’ve had time to relax and comprehend how fast time is going. We’ve finished half a semester already! It feels surreal that we are in Reading Week already, and soon we will be preparing for finals. Incredible!

In my last blog, I mentioned that I would have submitted a 10-page report with my APSC 200 project teammates, started intramural volleyball, and probably met many more people by this blog’s release date. And I did do all of those things.

However, that doesn’t mean I am a perfect student. I am constantly making mistakes, just like everyone else. I felt the urge to talk about this issue after I clean forgot to submit one of my assignments; it just completely slipped my mind. My advanced calculus homework assignment was due on Friday, October 8th at 11:59 PM, and I had completed it a few days prior. I was waiting to upload it after my differential equations midterm on Friday at 8:30 PM. After my midterm, I left for Reading Week (hello, yummy Thanksgiving dinner!), so all my other school-related responsibility slipped my mind until I was on the car ride back to Guelph the next day. Whoops.

To say I was upset about missing the submission was an understatement. I was sad, depressed, angry, and conflicted. It was unlike me. The worst thing was the assignment was 100% completed, and I felt confident with my answers. I just forgot to submit it.

What was the issue? I marked the due date on my calendar. I finished the assignment. I just… didn’t check my calendar. In fact, I had finally finished an exam I was intensely studying for and was way too excited about going back home. The thought of “Is there anything else due tonight?” never crossed my mind.

Spongebob looking sad with quote "hello darkness my old friend"

I was sad, and I complained to my friends, who gave varying replies:

  1. “Your lowest mark will be dropped anyway, so don’t worry about it.” (But I did poorly on the first assignment, so now I felt like I lost my chance at redemption.)
  2. “I’ve done that before, and I know the feeling. I’m sorry, that sucks.” (Nice to have some solidarity. We’re all in this together!)
  3. “In the same way you forgot about the time you screwed up a quiz in grade 10, you won’t remember this in a year.” (Possibly true, but this statement did not help my short-term gratification.)

I also got every imaginable form of:

  1. “Have you learned your lesson? You walked out of the experience becoming a better person. This probably sucked so much that you will never let it happen again.” (But maybe I didn’t learn my lesson—I’m not sure yet.)

It didn’t matter that the lowest mark of the assignment was dropped, or that I wouldn’t remember what happened in the coming years. I cared about the principle. I carelessly forgot a vital assignment, and I felt terrible. I was moody in the car for the next 30 minutes.

After dwelling in sadness for a while, I considered the messages my friends sent me. I tried to pinpoint the reply that would make me feel better, and it was the fourth point.

I think I have learned my lesson. I know it’s silly, but I never had reminder notifications for due dates before. I thought keeping track of a calendar was enough. Through this experience I learned that I need a bit more help. In a typical week when school is constantly on my mind, I easily remember deadlines. Since my head was in vacation mode right after my midterm, everything school-related went away. I could have used a notification to remind me to submit my assignment.

So yes, I should have submitted my assignment as soon as I finished. I should have checked my calendar before getting distracted by reading week. But I didn’t.

The moral of the story is that this stuff happens to everyone. We’ve made mistakes, and the only thing we can do is learn from them (and email the professor telling them that we’re sorry for missing the deadline and seeing if there’s anything we can do).

The experience was humbling, to be honest. Plus, I realize that we’re always going to evolve and change. My time management techniques might be different in the next year, along with my note-taking methods.

It seems like this blog was more of a rant than anything, but Queen’s is full of academically-inclined students like me. We all need a reminder that we cannot be perfect once in a while.

We shouldn’t forget the achievements we’ve made because our single mistake overshadows them. So to all my perfectionists and hyper-fixators, this blog’s for you!

Let’s keep trekking on 😊 – Liyi

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