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Peer blog: Exploring extracurriculars: The academic boost you need

Kate, PhD Psychology, Year 1 

Happy February everyone! For students, this month marks the beginning of the second wave of midterms and assignments (the first wave being in October). I am sure many of you are preoccupied with planning and studying and brainstorming for those imminent assessments. In light of this, I have decided to take this blog in a slightly different direction and focus on something other than schoolwork. One could call it “academically adjacent.” While I do, in fact, spend the majority of my time engaged in research, coursework, and TAing, there is another whole facet of my academic life that I have yet to touch on: extracurriculars and volunteering. I am always interested to hear about the types of hobbies and interests of other students, and I have found that a large part of my own “university experience” has been built upon participation in these supplemental activities.

Kate’s seven years with the Queen’s Recreational Figure Skating Club don’t seem to have paid off.

Let’s start at the beginning. In my very first year of university, I remember feeling a strong desire to get involved. At the same time, however, I was completely overwhelmed with coursework, so I knew I could not throw myself into as many extracurriculars as in high school. As such, I limited myself to just one extracurricular activity: the Queen’s Recreational Figure Skating Club. I am still a part of this club (7 years strong!) and, over the years, it has been the source of some great friendships. I have seen 5 presidents come and go and countless members graduate. Needless to say, I am the longest active member of the club. Looking back, I think joining the team was one of the smartest academic decisions I’ve ever made.

It reinforced the value of getting involved in activities outside of school. As a student, it is easy to develop tunnel vision and forget the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. However, being a part of the skating club gave me an outlet during which I could give 100% of myself to something other than the next presentation, assignment, or quiz. If you have always been interested in joining a certain club or committee, but have just never gotten around to doing so, this is your sign! School is meant to expand your horizons beyond just the classroom. You will never know what you are missing out on unless you take the plunge. Here is a link to all of the clubs Queen’s has to offer. I hope it is as rewarding for you as it has been for me!

While engaging in these types of activities may allow you to hone an existing passion, it is also a great way to explore new interests and develop new skills. Volunteering as a peer writing assistant (PWA) at Queen’s Student Academic Success Services gave me the opportunity to do the latter. As a PWA, my role is to help first- and second-year undergraduate students improve their writing skills (see here for more information). Before joining the team, I had no experience as a tutor or mentor, thus, when I came across the advert to be a PWA, I was nervous to apply. “Who am I,” I thought, “to give writing advice to others?” This was totally new and I was unsure if I would be any good at it. I do not consider myself a spontaneous person. I am a planner through and through. Yet, I am so glad that I went outside my comfort zone to become a PWA because I have found a whole new passion for helping/ mentoring students. I have now been volunteering as a PWA for four years and counting. Needless to say, I really enjoy the work!

Guess what? SASS is currently hiring for a range of volunteer positions coaching and teaching other students in writing and academic skills. The deadline for applications is March 7, and you can read more about all our programs and how to apply here.

I know first-hand that school can be extremely overwhelming at times, and every now and then you simply need to take a break. As such, it is important that you find activities outside of school that interest you, whether it be a sports club or the debate team or something else entirely. I have learned over the years that maintaining a well-balanced lifestyle is very similar to maintaining a well-balanced diet: it takes a bit of commitment and lot of variety to achieve that fully satisfactory feeling. Never be afraid to try something new because you never know when you might just stumble upon a new passion.

See you soon!

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Crushing midterms in an unusual year

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2021

Greetings Gaels!

As midterm season approaches us once again, we can expect assignments, labs, and of course, tests to take over the next few weeks. But not to worry: in this blog, I’ll give you a few strategies that have always helped me get through midterm season. Although this midterm season might not look like those in past years, the advantage we have this term is having last semester under our belt. We’ve all been through one round of online-only tests and exams, wrestled with proctoring software, had to deal with distractions at home while trying to write a test, and so on. Taking a few moments to look back on last semester can help us make better decisions this time around. Think about what you could change this midterm season, and pick one small habit or strategy to try. Not sure what’s right for you? Here are four quick tips I’m using right now:

  • Interleaving: As a science student, interleaving worked wonders for me. By mixing up the topics I studied, I naturally made connections from one concept to another. This helped me to understand the course material rather than just relying on rote memorization. Most of my midterms were created such that I needed to connect two or three topics to be able to answer the questions—relying on just crunching through revision week-by-week wouldn’t have worked. As my studying technique resembled the requirements of my tests, I was able to answer questions confidently, efficiently, and to the best of my ability. You should try it too. Question both what you study and the order you study it in. Avoid long days looking at one topic only, or working week-by-week through the material when you’re reviewing. Mix it up!
  • Study groups: It can get frustrating when you constantly get stuck on a question or topic—and when we’re all online, sometimes there’s nobody to ask for help. At times last semester, it felt as though I was the only one who was struggling. Now I know that is far from the truth. After creating a study group with a few of my peers, I came to understand that many of us were stuck on similar topics. We helped each other throughout the semester in preparation for our midterms. I urge you to create a small study group of your peers, where all of you help each other become experts on course concepts! With remote learning, these study groups have played a huge role in preventing me and my peers from feeling isolated. If you’re stuck on who to ask, try looking for course-specific Facebook groups and posting to see if somebody would like to study with you.
  • Cue cards: I could honestly write a hundred-page essay on the effectiveness of cue cards. This has been my go-to studying technique for the past 5-6 years, and I have never looked back! Even the process of creating cue cards helps you get familiar with course content, and forces you to prioritize what’s most and least important (if you’re stuck, see write out a list of what your professor would think are the most important ideas in your course without looking at your notes). Testing yourself with cue cards is a form of active learning, as they require you to actively recall information—and, even better, by shuffling your deck, you’ll force yourself to do interleaving. Win-win! Try using an app like Quizlet to make your cards, since it will let you share cue card content with other students—helping each other revise for an exam together is a great way to find ways to connect socially and to make studying more fun!
  • Going for walks: Going on walks during the day was such a rejuvenating experience for me during midterm and finals season. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or mentally exhausted, I went on a walk with a friend or family member (socially distanced, of course!) around my neighbourhood for anywhere up to an hour. I got to catch up with other people, take a break from university, and also get in my physical activity for the day. I always felt refreshed and motivated to continue my studies when I returned home—indeed, the research says that the best kind of brain breaks are those that get you moving! While it was much easier to just pop on a sweater and head outside in October, I hope mother nature gives us some good weather for walks this month. If you’re stuck inside, why not try some yoga (like my fellow blogger Rahul) or a simple home workout. If you’re not sure how to get started, try booking a healthy lifestyle appointment with the staff at Wellness. They’ll help you, whatever your current fitness level, find ways to get healthy.
  • Turn off notifications. As I mentioned in my previous blogs, my goal this semester is to make my study periods as productive as possible. Since writing my last blog, I have tried to improve on this goal, but it has proven to be a very challenging target to achieve for someone whose attention span wouldn’t even make fly jealous! One day I feel like I am a productivity guru, but other days I need all the help I can get. With my favourite soccer team taking part in a major tournament and with the Toronto Raptors well into the NBA season, I seem to be refreshing my Instagram every few minutes to make sure I am not missing out on any new updates. With this in mind, my short-term goal is to avoid being tempted to check my phone repeatedly for updates. So far, turning off notifications from my ESPN app and Instagram has helped me improve my focus. Try turning off notifications from your favourite apps for the duration of midterm season!

I hope I’ve given you some motivation to accomplish your academic goals this midterm season. And as I’ve said, it’s just as important to take those breaks from studying—burning yourself out won’t help you get better. Stay safe and stay healthy Gaels!


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How to make it through the last stretch on top of the podium

By Victoria Wolf, 4th year French/Linguistics student

Transitioning from the sunny beach or your warm bed where you spent your reading week back into Stauffer and lecture halls in the thick of midterms can be tough. On top of that, the Olympics are over and Roll Up the Rim is coming to an end.  But to make lemons out of lemonade, I’ve decided to capitalize on that Olympic spirit in order to motivate myself to avoid burn-out and make it through the final stretch of the school year. Drawing inspiration from Olympians, here are five tips to help you make it through the last stretch of the semester on top of the podium:


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