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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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How to Survive Midterm Season!

Hey Gaels!

The semester is well underway and I hope it has gone successfully for you thus far. How are you feeling at this point of the year? I always try to take some time at the end of each week or two to analyze what I did well and what I can try to improve on. As we head into the midterm season and final assignments and exams beyond, it is important to learn from our mistakes!   

October, the dreaded midterm season, can be a very stressful month for students of all years and programs. I’ve had my fair share of cramming sessions and late-night coffee runs to help me stay awake over the past two years during this time of the semester. That means I would consider myself well versed in knowing how not to handle midterm season!

For me, imposter syndrome kicks in during midterms because I suddenly feel as though I am not prepared to be in a third-year epidemiology course or an advanced biochemistry course. Of course, at the same time, I assume all my peers must be doing way better than me! But spending time in study groups over the past few weeks has helped me understand that so many other students are in a very similar situation. It reminded me that university is not always a walk in the park and that our mindset plays a large role in our ability to succeed. If you struggle with imposter syndrome, Shahnawaz just wrote a great blog on the topic—make sure to check it out.

Another habit of mine during midterms is to watch Netflix. Netflix has become my coping mechanism to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to complete. I easily get anxious about workload. When I do, I quickly put away my books and watch an episode of my favourite shows (Brooklyn 99 usually does the trick). But then I get trapped: one 30-minute episode turns into me binge watching 5-6 episodes in one sitting. I learned the hard way that doing this makes me even more stressed. A few things that have helped me to overcome this spiral have been:

  1. I don’t auto-save my Netflix password on my laptop. When I open the website, I’ll be taken to the log-in page rather than automatically seeing my favourite shows. That extra barrier sometimes helps me reconsider what I’m doing! I have also removed Netflix from my bookmark tab, providing yet one more barrier between me and escape.
  2. Studying with peers gives me a sense of community that helps me feel motivated to put forth my best effort. Pro tip: from my experience, studying in groups of 4-6 people is an ideal study group size. If you’re still not sure of where to find peers to study with, head to SASS’ study hall sessions on Friday afternoons, 2-3pm, in Stauffer 121: you’ll be sure to find a supportive and friendly group to help you out!
  3. I give myself a real reward when I do complete planned work. I personally love to play a game of FIFA 21 after a hard-working day or study session. It sounds simple, but positive reinforcement works wonders. So stop studying more and more, and set some small goals, stop when you’re done, and enjoy the good feelings!
  4. I use the SASS Assignment Planner to break large assignments down into manageable chunks, which makes a seemingly impossible task very much possible. Sometimes you just need something to simplify something that seems overwhelming.

One of my goals this year is to manage my time better. I hope to make this midterm season my most effective one yet—without adding to my feelings of being overwhelmed. Attending in-person classes, spending time with friends, and collaborating with club members to create events has been such an amazing experience this year. However, this busier environment has made it harder for me to stay on track. To help me manage my time and stick to deadlines, I created an Excel sheet that has all my due dates for the year. Here’s a screenshot of the beginning of my “Due Date List”:

My Due Date List:

screenshot of excel sheet with course codes, task titles, due dates, and completion status

As you can see, I’ve listed the course, assignment, due date, and competition status for each assignment/test. Just taking a glance at this sheet each day helps me to understand what I need to work on for the day! If you are like me and easily forget due dates, this is an awesome and low-effort way to help you stay on track. You can also have a section on the sheet for any non-academic due dates (e.g. creating an Instagram post for your club, attending an event, etc.) to stay on top of everything!

Whether you are preparing for your midterms or are finishing up your last one already, I wish you all the very best! I cannot wait to see how the rest of the semester will unfold.

See you next time! – Santosh

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Imposter syndrome: you’re not alone

Hi Gaels!

You might have read my last blog, where I talked about how eager I was to be part of a small cohort in graduate school. My expectation was for there to be somewhere between 20–50 students in the Epidemiology MSc program.

Well, things didn’t turn out quite that way. You can imagine how thrilled I was to find out that there are only 12 other students in my cohort! I feel lucky to be able to learn with such a supportive and tight-knit group for the next two years. My graduate lectures are already much more engaging than my undergrad lectures felt by virtue of their emphasis on group activities and discussions at our tables. I also have been able to start developing strong relationships with some of the faculty members and teaching assistants in the program. Around this time last year, I remember questioning whether graduate school was the right move for me. So far, my MSc program has been great!

However, what I am struggling with is imposter syndrome.

On our first day of class, I remember being impressed by the diversity of backgrounds among fellow students in the Public Health Sciences program. Prior to entering grad school, some of my peers had spent years bolstering their work and research experience. Some have even already completed graduate and professional degrees. Almost everyone took at least one epidemiology or public health course during undergrad—and most completed an undergrad degree that seemed more relevant to epidemiology than my psychology major. My sole exposure to epidemiology, however, was in a short module in an elective course in my second year. When I met my classmates, I wasn’t just impressed. I was overawed.

I often look back at my experiences with a negative lens and catch myself dwelling on my apparent “shortcomings”—i.e., specific qualifications that I lack. My tendency to juxtapose my weaknesses with others’ strengths has prompted me to feel “out of place” and “not good enough” for graduate school a few times. In these moments of minor despair, I often wonder: “If so many of my classmates are entering the program with a baseline level of knowledge and experience that I may not have, does that mean I am already behind?” Even when things are going well, my inner critic sometimes interjects: “How long can I keep this up for?”

Many new grad students will have experienced imposter syndrome before; it is common to feel self-doubt and inferiority in academia. I would even argue that you are just about guaranteed to experience imposter syndrome throughout your studies to some extent, regardless of how far you’ve come and how successful you are with your education.  

Graphic showing spaceman and words "the imposter"

I thought it would be helpful to share a few practical suggestions that I have used to ground myself and re-gain confidence when I need it. Feel free to try them out for yourself:

Hear from others: be open about your fears

  • Sharing how you experience with imposter syndrome often compels others to do the same, which is an excellent way to normalize your feelings of self-doubt. Learning that others share your concerns can provide you with a great sense of belonging, and in turn, may help you feel understood. It becomes reassuring to hear from fellow students that “[x] is going to be a challenge, but we will face it together.” Others can also remind us that it is 100% normal (and expected) to not know everything; in turn, you’re doing the same for your classmates.

Think constructively: focus on what you CAN control.

  • Imposter syndrome can stem from the belief that your previous experiences are not good enough. Instead of ruminating on what you could have done differently, try redirecting your thoughts to what you can do now. For example, if a particular class is making you feel like an imposter, you may decide to spend extra time to review your notes, experiment with a new study strategy, or book an academic skills appointment with a specialist.

Practice self-affirmation: acknowledge and embrace your strengths.

  • When feeling inadequate, it feels natural to overlook your positive qualities. Take a moment (or several moments!) to praise yourself for what you have been doing right. Your background may have equipped you with unique strengths that others—including those who you compare yourself against—would ironically feel inadequate about not having. For example, I constantly gloss over the fact that my psychology degree provided me with lots of training and first-hand experience with statistics and research methods, which have both already been key assets for learning many fundamental biostatistical principles. I might be behind in epidemiology, but I’m ahead in these aspects at least.

Finally, keep in mind that YOU were selected for admission to Queen’s. You have already proved that you belong!

So to my fellow graduate and undergraduate students dealing with imposter syndrome: I hear you. You are never alone in your experience. Next time you catch yourself being your worst critic, I would encourage you to do something about it—whether that be one of the strategies I outlined, or something different. And don’t forget you can always talk to the specialists at SASS if you need some extra help.

Until next time,


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Starting off on the right foot

Hello Gaels!

I hope everyone has been enjoying the first few weeks of in-person classes. Whether this is your first time on campus or not, there is so much to explore in the city of Kingston! Over the past month, I enjoyed playing spike ball with my friends at the pier and exploring more of the downtown. As we are now well into the fall semester, now is the ideal time to look at the past few weeks and think about what has worked and what hasn’t worked for you thus far.

If you haven’t done so recently, I highly recommend you re-read the syllabus for each of your courses. The information’s piling up right now, so taking a look at the syllabus again could help you create a mental image of what you need to focus on in a course. Another great resource on OnQ is the timeline. It has the due dates of assignments, module completion dates, and any other important days in the semester. I recommend checking this every day or two and using it as a starting point to creating a to-do list.

Us upper-years are remembering that in-person education is vastly different from remote education. Even for someone like myself, who has already experienced in-person university classes before, it’s not all plain sailing. Firstly, in-person courses are so much more structured. There is a specific time for lectures, tutorials, and labs. You can use this structure to your advantage. Reading the professor’s presentation before class and looking over any pre-lecture content helps prime your brain for the upcoming lecture and helps you quickly understand where the gaps in your knowledge exist. Another amazing aspect of in-person classes is that we interact with our classmates on a daily basis. Creating study groups with peers is an amazing way to not only get help when needed but also to create that supportive community that you can rely on.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, my goal for the semester is to improve my organization and efficiency. Last year, I spent a lot of my “study time” on my phone searching for the best song, looking at soccer updates, or engaging with anything that distracted me from the task at hand. While I have tried to improve, I still have some way to go to reach a distraction-free life. Something that has worked well is to keep my phone on my bed while I study at my desk so that it’s out of my view. Just being out of my mind and my reach means my phone isn’t such a distraction.

To improve my organization I create a to-do list right before I sleep every night because it helps me mentally prepare for the upcoming day, while also helping me know exactly what I need to accomplish. Ironically, now I find I need to improve on my ability to create a realistic to-do list because I often put down one too many tasks. This has caused me to rush my work and feel disappointed when there are multiple items still not checked off by the end of the day. I need to work on creating realistic and manageable lists—I’ll keep you updated about what I try and whether it works!

The semester’s getting busier. It’s important to take breaks. Whether it is getting coffee with a few friends or organizing a night out downtown, spending some time away from the books will help rejuvenate your mind! And improve your work too: tune into those SASS workshops, book a writing consultation with a pro or a peer to get some help on your papers, and take advantage of all the other help that is at your disposal.

Best of luck and see you next time! – Santosh

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Efficient study: two weeks and counting

Hello, everyone! Wow, I cannot believe it has been two weeks since I moved to Kingston and the school year started. It feels like two months have passed. I’ve already done so many things, met so many people, and become so integrated into campus life that I can’t believe I’ve done it all within two weeks. It feels like I’ve been here forever.

I’ve made new friends, been added to study group chats, and had a fun night of poker with my new neighbours. I’ve been keeping healthy, taking an average of 14,000 steps per day walking back and forth around campus. In terms of school life, I have learned so much content and I feel like I have become more productive than I was last year.

In my last blog, I wrote about my many goals: procrastination and motivation, finding my best study methods, and time management. I find that being on campus naturally subdues my procrastination. Living on campus helps me have a study mindset that was difficult to get into when I was learning from home last year. A few weeks ago, I toured all the Queen’s libraries with my friend to find the one I could call home for the next three years. The law library is my favourite, but keep that a secret between you and me; I’m afraid it’ll be overrun with students if they all know how beautiful it is. I also love going to Stauffer to study after dinner when it’s a bit quieter. You’ll often find me on the first floor in the evenings—though I know the dangers of staying up late studying, so I try to be careful!

Before the school year started, I read up on SASS’ learning strategies. Two that I’m implementing right now are preview and spaced practice (http://sass.queensu.ca/memory/). I’m currently taking many challenging courses, and for some classes, like differential equations, it’s difficult for me to understand when I walk blindly into the lecture. To aid in my comprehension, I read and annotate the lecture notes before the class to understand what’s going on. To compare, it’s like driving down an utterly unfamiliar road versus driving down a road you’ve already taken once. Although you didn’t memorize the directions perfectly, you feel a bit more comfortable and familiar with going that route than you did the first time.

I try and stay active during lectures, but I need to improve my listening comprehension while taking notes. I definitely cannot do both at once, so reading before class is essential. Previewing content also helps with spaced practice (short review sessions over multiple days or weeks rather than cramming) since I generally review old content before reading new content. I haven’t noticed a substantial change in results yet, but I’m looking forward to see how this method will help over time!

Example of mindmap notes
I organized the methods I planned to take notes with for each class so I could be a bit more prepared and work effectively.

I also like spaced practise because it keeps me motivated and focused. It seems like the ideal amount of time to study per period is no more than 3 hours because, after a while, we get distracted and can’t focus. I use the Pomodoro method of working (being “on”) 25 minutes and then a break (being “off”) for 10 minutes. Some people do “on” for 20 minutes and “off” for 5, or “on” for 50 minutes and “off” for 15. Each person works effectively in different ways, but we all need breaks to reward ourselves and continue focusing. I find that taking breaks when cramming makes me feel guilty, whereas gaps in spaced practice do not (since I’m supposed to be spacing out my work for better learning, anyway). So try spaced practice—it’s way better than those long cramming sessions!

When I plan time to study or preview lecture notes, I use the weekly calendar that I made. I block sections of my daily schedule (which is within my weekly calendar) to easily see the time I have throughout the day. I like to see the occupied and unoccupied spaces I have in my calendar to gauge what I can and can’t do within a day. I used to have to-do lists, but they didn’t allow me to see the exact times I had available, so I quickly became overwhelmed. I know that many students use Google Calendar or the SASS weekly calendar to block off time. They’re great methods to schedule out your days and weeks and ensure you have time to complete the tasks you want to do. Time-blocking is probably one of my favourite things about organizing!

sample weekly calendar
Any example of my weekly calendar with my daily schedule underneath.

My last thought: a lot of things can change within a short period. Just last month, I finished my summer exams in Guelph, enjoyed the remnants of the summer, and got ready for my second year of university. Now, I feel like I’ve had entirely new study habits just because of a new environment and a tweak of scheduling and learning strategies. By the next time you hear from me, I’ll have submitted a 10-page report with my APSC 200 project teammates, started intramural volleyball, and probably met a lot more people.

I’m looking forward to the good changes in your next few weeks too. Let’s make them great changes! 😊

I’ll see you next time, Gaels! – Liyi

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It’s been a hectic start!

Hey everyone! It’s me, Noor, again 🙂

How are you doing? Hopefully enjoying your first weeks of uni, so let me tell you about my own experiences!

It’s been a hectic – and I mean HECTIC – couple of weeks. First thoughts: lecture halls are huge. I think that’s all I need to say. I knew that we’d be in 400-person classes but actually going blew my mind. The way professors are almost performing from a stage, using microphones while you sit on balconies beside a new person every day, is such a big change from high school. No more of that assigned seating, no more of that “first day seat is your whole year seat.” Not to mention the crowds waiting in front of the lecture hall half an hour before class. My chem lectures are currently in Grant Hall while the BioSci building is being renovated. People scramble for seats on the main floor as there are no desks on the balcony. That’s a huge stressor for me as I NEED tables to write my notes!

Grant Hall building from street

I’ve started to notice how most students take notes on their devices. It’s like the second everyone sits down, boom! Computers and iPads are out! Not me though 🙂 I’m still a pen and paper student. It can be intimidating at times when everyone around you is typing quickly to keep up with lectures, but there’s something about good old paper and pen that is elusive in the digital world. Anyone else out there like me?

So far, I’ve enjoyed all my courses. My profs are great! I love how my chem lectures are only an hour but three times a week. Considering how easy it is to tune out during class, those short sessions will help my focus. I have the attention span of a goldfish, so I’ll try to pick short classes and study in short sessions next semester & next year 🙂

The Tricolour Open House club fair took place this week. They really do have a club for everything! If you are looking to get involved, it’s not too late, so read about how on the AMS website. Clubs are a great way to meet new people and take a break from school. I have applied to a few clubs already!

Now that we’ve finished week 2, it’s getting busy. Got to get back to finishing (or starting) my modules for this week.

Talk to you guys soon! – Noor

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Meet our 2021-22 student bloggers

Introducing our student bloggers for 2021-22: Noor, Liyi, Santosh and Shahnawaz

Below, our team of bloggers introduce themselves, their plans for this year, and their anxieties and excitement as they start the 2021-22 year .

Check back regularly to hear about Noor, Liyi, Santosh and Shahnawaz’s academic journey this year. They’ll share all the tips, tricks and lessons they learn along the way!


Hi everyone! My name is Noor and I am so excited to go into my first year of Health Sciences at Queen’s. I’ve lived in Toronto since I was four, but I’m ready to explore all Kingston has to offer. I love baking, sports, travelling, going on adventures, and spending time with family and friends. I am a huge adrenaline junkie. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to go skydiving or bungee jumping somewhere in the world. If anyone wants to join me, feel free to let me know! 🙂

By writing this blog, I want to connect with other students. Come what may, I want you to feel like you’re not alone. All of us will experience struggles and joys in our first year. High school was somewhat similar. Anyone familiar with the word “procrastination”? Because I can’t name one week in grade 12 where that word didn’t come up. We’ve all been there: there’s weeks to complete an assignment but we don’t start until the last day. Then when we get a bad grade, it must be the teacher’s fault. They didn’t give us enough time, right? Well, apparently procrastination is something we’re all going to need to work on to stay on top of our game at Queen’s … let’s see how long we can last!

I’ve heard extracurriculars help you to find friends and feel less homesick. I am looking forward to participating in intramurals and some science-related clubs. In terms of my program choice, I am stoked to take unique courses in Health Sciences. I can’t wait to meet classmates and profs with similar academic interests. I hope that you too are excited to learn more about who you are and what you like. I know that with COVID things might be different, but hopefully by staying optimistic and approaching everything with an open mind, university will meet my expectations. I encourage you guys to do the same. We’ll see how it goes; I’ll make sure to keep you updated—and you can keep me updated in the comments below!

I am beyond ecstatic to be able to share my experiences through the SASS peer blog. I hope that I’ll be able to share some tips and tricks so we can all succeed and find our way through the next four years at Queen’s. Let’s do this!


Hometown: Guelph

Program: BSc Engineering, Computing & Communications, Year 2

Hi, my name is Liyi! Last year when I wrote my SASS blog introduction, I had just completed high school, I was living in Guelph, and I was ecstatic but scared about my first year of Engineering. Now, I just finished my first year, I live in Kingston, and am ecstatic but scared about my second year!

When I visited Kingston for the first time in July, I joked that the city was an alternate reality of Guelph. Like Guelph, it felt happy and comfortable, with a great atmosphere. I’m sure walks around downtown Kingston and the pier will clear my head from school this year.

I’m excited to finally be on campus, and I’m interested to see how my motivation and procrastination progress in an in-person year. Last year, I struggled with learning content and finding the best way to study. It is challenging to learn information from several courses, and the constant barrage of new content makes me procrastinate.

Second year will be more complex, so I will need to keep up with the workload. I’m a perfectionist, so I will need to balance “you are spending too much time on this” and “this is not enough.” I like pretty notes, and I want to write too much info because I have major FOMO. Learning more in 2nd year plus my procrastination means I need to get better!

I’m excited to work on time-blocking, a form of time management where I assign a task to each hour of my day. That means time for essential tasks, so I feel in control, and for friends, family, and food too! I made a weekly calendar template that suits me already—you should try it too! Looking for time-management strategies is vital because staying focused on work is a skill we will use for the rest of our life, so I hope that time-blocking will (fingers-crossed) help me decrease my procrastination.

Engineering is tough, but I want to “work hard, play hard.” Meeting new people and overcoming challenges is part of university and life, so we should have fun in some of our best years! I can’t wait to do so in person this year. Best of luck to all of us, and let’s set ourselves up for success!



SASS Peer: Santash

Hometown: Ajax

Program: BSc Life Sciences, Year 3

Hey Gaels!

My name is Santosh and I’m delighted to be back for another year of SASS blogging! When I am not submerged in the books, you can find me on the soccer pitch, jamming on my guitar to the latest songs, and rooting for the Toronto Raptors!

Even though I’m starting third year, I feel I’ve only just begun to appreciate the amazing academic & non-academic opportunities here at Queen’s. From courses to clubs, there is so much we can do during our time at university. At first, that can be a big change. I struggled with managing my time during my first few months at Queen’s. Leaving my family and friends took a toll on me. It was not until I became a member of clubs and joined intramurals that I was able to integrate myself into the Queen’s community and find my place. Getting over that initial homesickness also helped me focus on my courses. First years: taking time out for extracurrics can actually BOOST your grades!

I have, however, been a procrastinator for as long as I can remember. Whether by a notification from my phone or the buzzing of a fly, I am easily distracted. This has caused me to endure several all-nighters. So I have decided that my goal this year is to increase my productivity and organization. Taking things one step at a time, I hope to get a little better over this year. What is one goal of yours for this year? Hopefully, we all accomplish most of what we set out to do over the next eight months!

As we inch closer to the beginning of another academic year, I would like to welcome all first-year students and welcome back upper-year students to Queen’s! I am excited to meet my peers once again and explore more of what Kingston has to offer. I am especially looking forward to attending in-person science labs this year since I love hands-on experiments. If you are nervous heading into the semester (which is totally normal), create a list of things you are excited to experience at Queen’s to hype you up. I hope this blog has amped you up for the year ahead. See you soon!



Hometown: Kingston

Program: MSc Public Health (Epidemiology), Year 1

Hi! I am a first-year MSc student in the Public Health Sciences department, specializing in Epidemiology. I was born in Kingston and have lived here all my life. In fact, I just finished my undergraduate Psychology major at Queen’s! Outside of the classroom, I enjoy playing and watching basketball, going for long walks, reading (like every other grad student!), and volunteering at the local hospital. I’m in the process of (slowly) teaching myself the piano. I hope to carry on playing throughout the school year.

Much of my academic growth followed shortly after I began my undergraduate studies. Experience taught me that the study habits that worked in high school—e.g. highlighting and re-reading textbook pages—would not suffice at the university level. Thankfully, I began experimenting with some evidence-based study strategies after my first semester (active recall being my favourite!) and have stuck with these methods since. My academic struggles today revolve around procrastination, time management, and perfectionism—especially when I am writing research papers. I feel a sense of urgency to improve in these areas because my graduate program is thesis-based: the next two years will involve a lot of writing.

A defining characteristic of grad school is the small class size—gone are the days of having >400 students crammed into a single lecture hall! Indeed, the Public Health Sciences department in its entirety consists of under 100 students. Personally, I am excited to begin a new area of study with a tight-knit cohort for the next two years. I can’t wait to start on my thesis about the mental health impacts of COVID. Lastly, like many of you, I also cannot wait to get back on campus in person this fall!

To my fellow incoming graduate students: congratulations on your acceptance, and welcome to Queen’s! I hope you explore the extra-curricular opportunities that our campus offers—there is something for everyone. Stay with me as I document my ups and downs. I will be sure to provide advice from lessons learned along the way!

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