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Peer Blog: How I Chose My Major

Rahul, Psychology, Class of 2021

Dear First Year,

Since my last blog post on Adam Grant’s Think Again, and since my fourth and last year is ending, I’ve been reflecting on how I got to where I am right now. It all started with deciding to major in psychology. However, making hitting on a major was no easy feat! You might already know what you want to major in. But others (and perhaps this is you) might feel clueless. It’s important to check in with Academic Advising to see how and whether you can enrol in a given major, but I thought it would be helpful to share my journey towards psychology. The main lesson? Choosing what’s interesting to you will help you study better and more effectively: if you’re stuck in a rut, knowing that your major is leading somewhere is a great boost to your studies!

Illustration of profile of head between two doors

Meeting a Struggle 

I applied to Queen’s with med school in mind. Like many pre-meds in my cohort, I believed tht majoring in Life Sciences was the only way to go. I took PSYC 100 as an elective because it would help in completing a Life Sciences degree. At first, I struggled to accept that psychology was more interesting than calculus, biology, physics, and chemistry. Coming from an East Indian background, I had generally been encouraged to pursue the “hard sciences” and discouraged from “soft” sciences like psychology. Many from my community are encouraged to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Under the influence of these sociocultural norms and expectations, I figured that life sciences would be my only path towards becoming a doctor. On top of these sociocultural expectations, my first-year peers were set on majoring in “hard sciences”; none were looking to major in psychology. For a long time, I thought, “I’ll already have a community in Life Sciences, and that’s something I really like…so why be alone in Psychology?” Little did I know that I would find a fantastic community in psychology too!

Illustration with head and microscope, arrow positioned between the two

Navigating the Struggle 

I decided that sociocultural and peer influences were not going to hold sway over my decisions.  I wanted to decide on my behalf, to be proactive rather than reactive. I attended a couple of events held by the Psychology Department Students’ Council on majoring in psychology and about different upper-year courses in the program. I attended parallel events held by the Department of Life Sciences. I reached out to the undergraduate program advisor in the psychology department, to students majoring in the discipline, and explored the different upper-year courses on offer. Finally, I looked through Career Services’ amazing Major Maps to discover the employment opportunities I’d have on graduation.

These sources provided me with lots of information, but I had to actively seek them out. If you find yourself in my position, you will likely have to take the same initiative. If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to Academic Advising and the departments in question to see what advice they have.

Line drawing of icons: an "i" in a circle, a page of text, a body in front of a projector, and two heads in conversation

My Decision

I finally decided to major in Psychology. I didn’t declare a minor, as I only wanted to make one decision at a time. Even now, as I near the end of my fourth and final year of undergrad, I don’t have a minor. I’m happy with that! If you find yourself thinking about whether you should minor in something, just know that you can enroll in courses that lead to various certificates, that you can always declare your minor later on, and that there’s no rush to make a decision. Keep experimenting, trying new courses, learning new things, and you’ll be a healthier, happier, and smarter student!

Conclusion

Declaring a major is stressful. It’s one of the decisions you can’t really delay at the end of your first year. You will need to get as much information as you can to make an informed decision, so seek that information out and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know that if you don’t end up liking your major down the road, you are not alone—each of us has our own timelines. Whatever you do, though, try not to let others dictate your decision: if you’re enjoying your major, you’ll be more motivated and more likely to succeed. Whatever you do choose, I wish you the best of luck!

Sincerely,

Rahul

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Peer Blog: Lessons from Adam Grant’s “Think Again”

Cover of Adam Grant's book hink Again shows a match with a flame made of blue water

Rahul, Psychology, Class of 2021

Hello everyone! Since writing my last blog post on decolonizing the classroom—and thanks to Reading Week—I’ve found time to look over a handful of books on learning. Adam Grant’s Think Again taught me some lessons on intellectual humility, an important trait that I aim to develop more in the coming weeks and months.

Here are three of Grant’s key messages. I’m going to think about how to apply them to my own life and studies; why don’t you do the same and share the details of your plans on SASS’s social media feeds?

  1. Seek out information that challenges your views

“You can fight confirmation bias, burst filter bubbles, and escape echo chambers by actively engaging with ideas that challenge your assumptions. An easy place to start is to follow people who make you think—even if you usually disagree with what they think.”

Information that aligns with our views is comforting. We are more likely to be invested in it, but simultaneously, we risk getting stuck in a path resistant to corrections. If and when you find yourself arguing for a certain view (e.g., in an essay or research paper), consider finding counter examples or works that go against the argument you support.

When you start forming an opinion, resist the temptation to preach your own view. Otherwise, you might fall prey to confirmation bias—a shortcut in our thinking that describes our tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our prior beliefs or values. Instead, think like a scientist. Assume your argument is a hunch that is testable and fallible in certain circumstances. Once you view the counterarguments, you can better convey your ideas and thoughts into something more complex and richer. Exploring the opposite of what you already think might help you prove your initial argument!

Infographic showing head and two doors

2. Remember that less is often more

“If you pile on too many different reasons to support your case, it can make your audiences defensive—and cause them to reject your entire argument based on its least compelling points. Instead of diluting your argument, lead with a few of your strongest points.”

If you have an essay, presentation, assignment, or especially a research paper where you are trying to prove a main point, it’s probably in your favour to support your view with strong, thorough examples rather than multiple, weak examples. Quality will almost always trump quantity. If you find yourself rambling when you speak during a presentation or interview, sometimes overloading the audience can hinder your performance.  Adam Grant explains that when you’re negotiating or debating with another party, the more compelling argument comes from the one that tells a story with their examples; and a good story is full of details that draws us in: although academic writing isn’t usually the same as storytelling, the same applies in your papers.

Infographic showing person reading from notebook

3. Don’t shy away from constructive conflict.

“Disagreements don’t have to be disagreeable. Although relationship conflict is usually counterproductive, task conflict can help you think again. Try framing disagreement as a debate: people are more likely to approach it intellectually and less likely to take it personally”

Grant explains that it’s better to address conflict or disagreement early on in any work process. We can easily apply this rule when working on group projects! Don’t let problems build up and then react to them days before the project’s deadline. Even if you don’t know what those concerns may be, spend time with your group to figure out potential roadblocks. Everyone probably knows more than you about something, so find ways to boost your peers’ involvement and value their ideas and contributions. When trying to engage in constructive conflict yourself, ask several how questions to target the situation and not the people involved: how can we work together to resolve this? How can we find the best people for this task? How can we find the best and most efficient solution? How can we ensure we don’t needlessly argue?

Finding and responding to potential conflicts and blockages early on can be tough and frustrating, but it’s progress. Embrace it. Needless to say, learning is never perfectly linear; sometimes we have to persist through challenges to reach new heights. 

There are many more lessons you could take away from Grant’s Think Again. I encourage you to check out the book to learn more about how rethinking can improve your academic life!

Infographc shows two heads with speech bubbles against a big blue tick

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Peer blog: Decolonizing the classroom: What can you do?

Rahul Patel (he/him), Sarah Cho (she/her), Joseph Oladimeji (he/him), and Grace Okusanya (she/her)

Hello everyone; Rahul here! Since my last blog post on delivering a stellar presentation, I reconnected with my group members from a course where we delivered a presentation on decolonizing the classroom.

It should be no surprise that there is a growing need for instructors and students alike to facilitate building inclusive spaces at Queen’s. The QTBIPOC (Queer/Trans/Black/Indigenous/People of Colour) student community has faced ongoing discrimination. Since our first day at Queen’s, my group members and have experienced this discrimination. In our presentation, our aim was to bring awareness to our experience of discrimination in the classroom, and to explain what we think instructors and students can do to build a more inclusive educational community at Queen’s and beyond.

Now we want to share some of these ideas on this blog.

***

Have you ever felt that the methods an instructor used for assessing your learning didn’t fit who you were and the way you experience the world? Was the assessment style an inaccurate way to test your knowledge? Did your instructor give you another chance to show them that you “know”? 

That feeling of injustice is a common experience for many QTBIPOC students. Many of us have been forced throughout our education in Canada to follow a Eurocentric culture of learning. Some of us are lucky enough to learn the system before enrolling at Queen’s, but others have to learn the “rules” as they go. We shouldn’t have to do this, and institutions and community members should recognize the emotional and scholarly labour that goes into the process.

Here are three ways that, whether you’re a student or an instructor, you can engage in a process of decolonizing the classroom.

1. Belongingness

Courses at Queen’s that actively embrace other ways of knowing are few and far between (Indigenous ways of knowing, for example, are often based on oral expression of knowledge). Eurocentric assessments and class discussions can reproduce gender, socioeconomic, ethnic, or other cultural stereotypes.

You, as students, have a unique opportunity to find ways to bring misrepresented/neglected peoples and ways of knowing to the surface; by doing so you will bring forth justice for those whom western institutions typically marginalize. Ask yourself: can you include other ways of knowing in your assignments, presentations, and contributions to class? Can you draw attention to a positive example of knowledge from a non-European culture in your work?

By doing so, you will be showing that white, western people and knowledge should not be the norm. This might not work for every course or in every assignment, but where the opportunity exists, seize it—and if you’re not sure where to start, why not broach the conversation with your professor at office hours.

2. Engagement.

Even the experience of being in class can be a shock to some students. For example, learning the western scientific method asks some students to adapt their approach to the world to the demands of a different culture. Western students, however, are rarely asked to cross such cultural boundaries in return, leaving the marginalized feeling like their traditions, views, and approaches are irrelevant. We need to make it clear that such differences are natural and are valued, that students can be themselves, and that diverse students allow us to integrate unique knowledge, understandings, and perspectives that only they share.

We—students and instructors alike—can help this process of engagement by paying attention to our interactions with QTBIPOC classmates. Are we welcoming? Are we respectful of all opinions? Do we encourage connection and participation? Most importantly, do we value the contributions of QTBIPOC students? Next time you’re writing a discussion board response, speaking in class, or giving a presentation, ask yourself if you can express yourself in ways that recognize diversity of thought and behaviour—and prompt others to do the same. If you’re looking for a way to start, try working towards the intercultural awareness certificate jointly offered by QUIC and the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre.

3. Self-awareness

You might be privileged enough to have role models—people who look, feel, and think like you—in your faculty or discipline. Remind yourself that not everyone looks or thinks like you, and that not everyone may have a role model in your textbook or reading list. If you do feel represented, you can still ask, “What has been misrepresented and neglected in the past? Who has been relegated to the sidelines?”

Reflect on your current and past experiences: how can you facilitate an inclusive climate that increases self-awareness? Are people like you and ideas similar to your forms of knowing dominant in the classroom? If so, can you add to class discussions by sharing materials from beyond the traditional canon? Or showing how people from your background might perceive materials? You might start to think more deeply about your background and about representation in the university by taking some training in awareness, EDII, anti-oppression, and anti-racism.

In conclusion

We all have a role to play in decolonizing the classroom. Instructors, and institutions, have the weight of responsibility, but everybody can help seek epistemological justice for those who were voiceless in the past. Highlighting the invisible work that QTBIPOC communities have done and continue to do is essential. Remember that the goal is not to know everything. What’s more important is making sure that education is a system that encompasses and welcomes students’ lived experiences and ways of encountering the world.

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Delivering a Stellar Presentation

Rahul, Psychology, Class of 2021

Since my last blog post about living a healthy 2021, I’m happy to report that I have kept up with my commitments! I have been running and doing yoga regularly, and have even got started on another goal: to read one work of fiction for pleasure by the end of semester.

Since writing my last blog, I realized that I have a lot of presentations on my plate right now, so I’d like to give you some tips on making a great presentation—especially if yours is online or a group task.

I recently took PSYC 400—Applied Research in Higher Education. For one major assignment, our class was divided into groups; each group had to present an instructional strategy. We managed to apply what we were learning about ways to make students learn better to our own presentations—rarely is school so immediately beneficial! Here’s how my group went about planning our presentation:

Figure out what your audience wants to know

If you don’t have a predetermined structure for your presentation, what is it that you want the audience to remember from your presentation? Look at the learning goals from your syllabus or from your course modules and determine what your viewers are going to take away from your presentation—think about the big picture!

For my group’s PSYC 400 presentation on decolonizing the classroom, we wanted our classmates to know both why decolonizing the classroom is important to everybody and how we can go about achieving decolonization. We kept that at the top of our minds as we planned everything else.

Organization is key: break it up

There is nothing more dreadful than a presenter who presents a whole bunch of slides without any reference to the key ideas, important ideas, supporting data, and so on! If you already have an idea of what you want your audience to take away, delve deeper: what are some of the key ideas that can be turned into main slides? For my PSYC 400 presentation, there were four main ways of achieving decolonization in the classroom: by facilitating inclusivity in the classroom climate, curriculum, individuals’ indigeneity/identity, and assessments. We then broke our presentation down into these digestible sections, knowing that it would be easier for our classmates to understand our content, then started to build slides and content around those four key sections.

Assign roles

The last thing you want is to mash a presentation together and figure out who’s speaking what parts right at the last minute—so start on this early! Once you’ve figured out what you want your audience to take away, and linked your main ideas to this “big picture”, determine who is most comfortable presenting each part. This requires asking one another about the knowledge you already have, assessing what group members wants to learn more about, finding out what others are uncomfortable with, etc. Because there were four individuals in my group and four key ideas we wanted our audience to know about, we were able to take on an idea each and research it. When deciding who would take each idea, we considered both what we already knew and what we wanted to learn more about: the perfect balance of strong product and learning experience! SASS has lots of tools to help you plan your group projects in this way in our online resource.

Aesthetics

The aesthetics of your presentation are essential when it comes to engaging your audience! Nobody wants to see slides with garish colour clashes or, on the other end of the spectrum, dull slides with no visual interest at all. In assigning roles, find out who is good with presentation design and give your input on what you want to see: incorporate animations, a colour palette, transitions, videos, images, icons, etc. but do not clutter your slides! In the past, I have used Canva because of its easy-to-use interface and the fact that the tool has SO MANY beautiful templates to choose from. I’ve also downloaded these templates into Microsoft PowerPoint presentations to add animations and transitions—making the best of both worlds (or tools, in this case)!

Here’s an example of one of my group’s slides, designed on Canva, that points out one of the key ideas we delivered. It’s visually interesting, but uses simple colours and just a few key words.

I hope I’m staying true to my words about aesthetics, but the point is to make it look good and simple!

If using Zoom

Zoom is great for delivering online presentations, and all Queen’s students have access to a premium account using single sign-on (SSO) so make the most out of it! For engaging your audience,

  • Make sure you and your group members are the co-hosts. This will ensure you can do things like polls and breakout rooms, described below:
  • If you plan to pose a question, why not get some answers through a poll? These are engaging, and your audience is interested in seeing the results and what you make of them, but you have to prepare the poll in advance.
  • Breakout rooms. Don’t just put people into rooms and pose them with a single, general question. Give them a breakout room activity instead! Provide a series of questions and a worksheet (use Google Docs for collaborative writing) to document their engagement. To save time, you’ll need to decide how many rooms you want prior to the presentation.

Other useful tips

  1. Please, please, please do not wing your presentation! You’d be surprised as to how many things you need to revise when you actually run through your presentation, especially with a group! Practice in advance, do a little planning, and share your
  2. Know how to use Zoom. Do some practice as a group before the big day: try setting up a breakout room, running a poll, sharing your screen, and so on.
  3. Content is not everything. Lots of content does not equate to more learning (in fact, probably less). Try not to overwhelm your audience by bombarding them with details (not that our professors would ever do that…). Keep your eyes on the prize: those big picture ideas you listed at the start of your planning process!

I hope you find this guide to presentations useful—let me know how you get on, and I’ll see you all soon!

Resources

SASS’ guide to presentation skills

My PYSC 400 group’s presentation

Zoom polling

Zoom breakout rooms

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Peer blog: Living a healthy 2021 by choosing and meeting your goals

Rahul, Psychology, Class of 2021

Poster with 2022 is going to be my yearHey! My name is Rahul, and I’m a 4th-year Psychology major! As I’m writing this post, the break is about to end, and the winter term is about to begin. Not to be too pessimistic, but I can’t say I’m too excited for 2020, Part 2. I sense the feeling might be mutual for some of those who are reading this post. However, if things continue as they were in 2020, it might be time for a change.

Perhaps you weren’t on top of your schoolwork, your job(s), your health, or your friendships in 2020. But at one point, you thought things were going to change for 2021 when you set out your resolutions. If you have struggled with those resolutions already, I bet some of you are thinking that 2022 will be my year for sure

This mindset creates a barrier to change. We shouldn’t have to wait for 2022 for our lives to magically transform. After all, with the events of 2020, who knows what obstacles we’ll face in the future? If you want things to change, you need to start right now. Here are some tips that I want you to keep in mind as you pursue a better you—in whatever small ways that you can or choose to—in 2021. 

Reflect

What is it that you want to change? Yeah, there might be a lot of things you want to change about yourself. But dig deeper—what is the most essential thing that you want to change for yourself? 

For me, I realized that my physical health was at a low as 2020 drew to a close. I know about the links of physical health and academic success: at the end of the day, you can’t study well if you’re feeling lethargic and unhealthy. I’ve heard that adults should get about 10,000 steps a day. But here I am, glued to my armchair, getting maybe 100 steps a day in. Ouch. I know that the pandemic doesn’t make it easier to do daily activities outside. But I’ve decided not to wait for 2022 to be “my year for sure.” Instead, I thought of ways to improve my physical health at the end of the break. You might be thinking that this is an academic success, not a fitness, blog. But you can use the same approaches to strategic and incremental lifestyle change in your study habits, whether you want to read more, write regularly, or get started on big new projects.

Here’s how I got started.

closeup of overwhelmed kid

Me coping with the fact that I need 10,000 steps a day when I only get 100…

Start small

It’s unrealistic to immediately get your 10,000 steps. Let’s say you do get 10,000 steps or close to it—your body might experience a physical shock to this new change, which could lead to soreness the next day or two. This effect can be demotivating. Instead, motivate yourself by setting incremental targets (1,000 steps on Monday, 1,500 steps on Tuesday, and so on). Or, if steps aren’t your thing, go by minutes (10 minutes on Monday, 15 minutes on Tuesday, and so on)! We truly feel a lot better and stick with our habits when we set ourselves up for success by starting small and setting measurable and realistic goals.

To start small, I started walking (with my mask—you should too!). In my first walk, I probably walked for about 10 minutes. Then another day, I went for a run for about 10 minutes. On my second walk, I timed myself to walk for 15 minutes. On my second run, I did the same. Starting small gave me confidence. Starting small allowed me to increase my limits. Starting small was realistic.

After 2 weeks in the break, I eventually ran 8,500 steps and found myself at the top of Fort Henry in Kingston! This shows you how you can build up new habits. Pick an academic (or a health) challenge, and commit to making a tiny step towards your goal today. You can always add more tomorrow, next week, or next month.

View of Kingston from Fort Henry

 

Expand

I know some of you might be thinking, I’m gonna pass out if I run or but what if I get tired from running or walking? I hear you! I knew that I didn’t want to run or walk every day and that there had to be other alternatives to mix things up. So, if you’ve already thought about an area of your life that you’d like to work on, what alternatives can you use to improve that area? 

I’ve always wanted to bend and reach down to the ground from an upright position. I mean, you might recall trying to do this in your physical education classes in elementary or high school. I then realized that there are a plethora of yoga videos on YouTube. This is where I stumbled across Yoga with Adrienne, who takes a personal approach to yoga. With YouTube and a free app like Yoga for Beginners | Mind+Body, I improved my physical health through another alternative. So, what alternatives can you really pursue to improve an area in your life? 

I started with yoga sessions every 2 days. Once I felt like this was a small enough and comfortable pace, I then did yoga every other day. Now, I’m doing yoga every day and hope to maintain this pace. I found a new alternative to improving my physical health, and on top of that, I started small! If you’re looking for academic tips, why not choose one thing you’ll change in your study habits, and try a new habit just 3 times a week to start with?

Rahul doing yoga tree pose

A tree pose, after a lot of practice!

2021: Your year

I can’t provide you with a step-by-step guide to getting your life together for 2021 during a pandemic, but I can give you some general ideas that you should reflect on. 

What is one thing that you want to focus on? How can you work toward this in a small and incremental manner? In what ways can you accomplish this one goal? 

Once you’ve applied these basic ideas successfully, move to a different and vital area of your life. Having worked toward one area in your life, you will be ready to improve the next.

Believe in yourself. 2021 will be your year, and you shouldn’t have to wait for good things to happen in your life! Begin now, reflect, start small, and expand.

See you soon, friends!

Resources

Yoga with Adrienne: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/yoga-for-beginners-mind-body/id1382141225

Yoga Apps: Yoga for Beginners | Mind+Body, Yoga | Daily Yoga

Find a community—yoga subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/yoga/

Find a community—running subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/running

Running Apps: Strava: Run, Ride, Swim; Nike Run Club

Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre YouTube | See videos related to physical activity: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCq5zzamjU8AOntSLEuamkQ/videos

 

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