Friends! Hi, I hope your school year is coming along smoothly.
This is one of those “in-between weeks” where not a lot is going on, but the preparation for midterms and final projects is creeping into my study life. I have a lot to get on with, but I think I’ve finally found the best way to schedule my life by using timetables and software. Since my last blog, I am happy to say that using timetables to establish a routine has been beneficial! Ensuring that I set aside time to do specific tasks makes it easy to know what I must do. In turn, that limits my indecision from moment to moment.
I generally write out my schedule the night before and try my best to follow it the next day. I have a main to-do list for all the big lectures, tutorials, and practice problems I have to do for each course. Then I have a calendar of all the tasks I have to do each day. I enjoy that spike of dopamine each time I click something as done. Dopamine generates feelings of accomplishment and happiness, but it also motivates me to do the next task. I might check off the most mundane thing, like making my bed, but it gives me a sense of accomplishment: “I can do this.” Although I don’t always complete every task, knowing what I have to complete and what I have already finished brings me a feeling of peace. At least I know I haven’t forgotten anything important. I highly suggest trying timetabling out. It finally feels like after years of changing scheduling methods, it has finally come together.
I’ve also mentioned in the past that I had an issue with organizing notes, as I drown in all those binders and papers. It seems like no matter what method I use my notetaking will never be perfect (and that’s perfectly fine—good enough is okay by me!). I write my notes 100% digitally using OneNote and other programs, though during tutorials I tend to take handwritten notes. After reading week, I am going to start writing everything digitally. There’s something satisfying about the undo button, not having to use whiteout, and never seeing eraser shavings all over my desk. The organizational system and easy transfer to Queen’s OneDrive is a benefit as well. If you work and concentrate best in an organized and tidy environment, I highly suggest writing digitally.
The SASS site has material on taking notes, which I’ve been reading through to develop my notetaking. Now, I change up my approach to what I write depending on the task and the course. For some classes, like chemistry, I annotate on the slides that my professor provides. Annotating frees up mental space for me to listen to my prof as a lot of information and detail is already on the slides. For other classes, like physics, I just handwrite notes from scratch because physics seems to be about understanding concepts. When I handwrite notes, I can focus on really understanding everything that I’m writing, instead of just copying down what the professor is saying.
One method I’m excited to implement is the “after-class summary” SASS recommends. I’ve always had trouble writing down only what was necessary because I have huge FOMO when it comes to course content. I think writing a short summary after class—one paragraph about the key ideas/concepts—will force me to truly focus on concepts. I definitely would like to do a weekly summary, but I’m going to take a small step and focus on the after-class summary first, rather than both. Let’s try together—and I’ll let you know how it goes!
In terms of social media, there has been a lot of troubling news about discrimination against Asians. With more news comes more awareness, which has greats sides but also bad sides. As an Asian individual, I am happy that attention is being brought to the racism against Asians, but each new post is a reminder of the racial injustice, which can heavily affect my and others’ mental health. Staying updated with the news and educating ourselves takes a mental toll, and it’s not so easy to delete social media. I, for one, communicate with my project teams on Instagram, where all of this is taking place. That’s where the line is blurred – fighting racial discrimination but also keeping my mental health in check. I think the best thing to do is use social media sparingly, and only advocate when I have the mental capacity and am not stressed by other factors. Seeing racial discrimination and violence is stressful itself, and should not be compounded with other stressful situations. Here is to hoping that someone creates a distraction-free Instagram, but also that the world also becomes a kinder place. Rahul recently wrote a blog on decolonizing the classroom; you should check it out.
Have a great reading week, everyone! I wish you a restful week. In return, please wish for clear skin for and no stress for me!
Hello friends! How is your winter term coming along? I hope it is going well and that you’ve been finding a bit of time for self-care.
My last blog was the first blog of 2021. I wrote that before the winter term started. Since then, it has been absolute chaos. Juggling seven courses, club meetings, design projects, and other extracurriculars is a struggle and a half. I had to take time off from my job at the beginning of January (which I had planned to do so since September 2020) because I knew how hectic the month was going to be.
At times I wish was just sitting and relaxing as comfortably as this frog on a cake. But I’m just not there right now.
The reason these past couple of weeks have felt like pure chaos is the massive amount of content to learn for each course. There are hours of lectures, tutorials, quizzes, and labs, and since the fall term, I haven’t been to more than five Q&A sessions. It seems like no matter how productive I think I’m being, things just haven’t been working. It’s frustrating. Though, like always, we have to push back on the complaining and continue forward. Harsh as it is, I don’t want to waste time complaining about things I can actively change about ourselves. This week was where I did the thing I’ve always been scared to do. I gave myself a timetable.
I bet you’re thinking that I’m silly because I’m scared of numbers on a schedule that dictates what I’m supposed to do every hour, but it’s true. I’ve always disliked that specific method of planning since I was afraid of the guilt I’d succumb to if I never finished a task as I had planned to.
Since last week, the week I dove headfirst into the second semester without a schedule, felt too spontaneous, I wanted that to change. On Sunday at 2 AM, I wrote down my schedule for Monday. Miraculously, on Monday, I abided by my list and it felt great. I didn’t finish everything I had planned to do, but that was fine. It was still better than diving headfirst without a game plan. So now, each day, I can see the schedule that I should abide by, and then check off the things that I completed on my Notion. Finally facing my fear has been anticlimactic, but I still felt proud and satisfied.
In conjunction with my new schedule, I’ve also been using the app Flora, which I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, and a timekeeping app that grows a tree each time you put your phone down for a specific time. It has been useful to stay off my phone when I need to be productive. I also found that Santosh’s (another SASS blogger!) tip of leaving your phone behind your laptop has been extremely helpful. Since it’s out of sight, it’s also out of mind. Now I’m finding it easier to get started and to stay focused!
Another reason I’ve been feeling the heat of the second semester is the Ontario Engineering Competition, for which my friend and I qualified. We were tasked with making a twenty-minute presentation, full script, and abstract in three days. This wouldn’t have been terrible had the weekend been calm, but my partner (he’s an ambitious one) signed himself up for Hack the North the same weekend, and again, we had several quizzes, assignments, group reports, and lectures to finish. Neither of us knew how to write an abstract either (though you can check out this tutorial one of SASS’ staff made for a 3rd-year Physiology course for some abstract-writing tips). Just to ratchet up the nerves further, my partner’s internet kept cutting out. Eventually, we found our way and submitted the required documents at 11:57 PM, two minutes before the deadline. That night was the night I truly felt like a university kid, racing to complete everything I needed to do on a Sunday and barely getting any sleep the night before—but it’s not an experience I can recommend or that I want to repeat regularly.
Although my studying and school-life isn’t picture perfect, it is improving, slowly but surely. There are always things I might not finish (extra homework, readings, and practice problems), but I’m still going to try my best. I’m in school full-time. I guess it’s my job to do this, for me, the school, and my future. As Dory says, “Just keep swimming.”
I hope all of you had a much-deserved break over the past two weeks. I know I used this time to catch up on all the lost sleep over the past four months. On a more serious note, the winter break gave me the chance to relax, enjoy time with my family, and reflect on my first remote semester. Fall 2020 was an unprecedented semester for everyone, but we all learned a great deal on how to achieve success while studying online. Here are a few things I noted about this past semester:
Some of the things that worked for me:
Creating a daily list of tasks helped me to keep a good work/life balance and was a source of motivation.
Taking breaks throughout the day. Simple things like going on walks, playing video games, and chatting with my friends and family relaxed me when university got a bit stressful.
Using the Pomodoro method to make sure I was focused during my studying periods: 25 minutes of studying without distractions is better than 1 hour of studying with Netflix in the background.
Joining Facebook group chats. Group chats are a great way to communicate with peers about the course content. In addition, you can meet new people and build study groups over the semester. If you’re stuck, search for the Class of 2024 group as a start.
Being active on discussion boards and going to office hours to fill in content gaps. Don’t wait until the exam period to ask your questions; go get help today!
Stay on top of your coursework throughout the semester so you can have more time to do the things you love to do. Even a little work every day—5 or 10 minutes to get you started—adds up over 12 weeks.
Some things that did not work for me:
Studying on my bed: this is a trap! It feels comfy, but it took me several instances to learn my lesson that the bed is created for a person to sleep and not to study.
Having my phone near me while I am studying this is another trap! Keep it out of your sight so you even forget that it is there.
Having Netflix or YouTube open on a different tab: yes, another trap! It’s all too easy to switch to the fun stuff while you’re working on a tough problem for class.
Another really helpful thing that I did early last semester was to thoroughly look at the syllabus and timeline of each of my classes. The syllabus is an amazing resource that provides the course content, grade breakdown, and required materials needed for the course. Taking a look at it will help you understand how to best allocate your time to maximize your grade. The timeline, meanwhile, gives you an overview of due dates and a general understanding of the work that must be completed each week. Exploring the timeline from one class and comparing it those from other classes can prevent unnecessary stress from building up when you have three large assignments due in the same week for multiple classes (true story, unfortunately). Overall, just looking at these two resources helped me have an idea of how the fall semester will unfold and to stay on track by getting to work on big tasks during quiet periods, while having a careful (but not too burdensome!) plan for busy weeks. I recommend doing this for the winter semester if you haven’t already!
You might remember that my goal for last semester was to manage my time effectively. It was a tough goal to accomplish but thankfully I felt as though I was able to achieve a good work/life balance by the end of the semester! This semester, I want to step it up a level by not only managing my time but also making sure that the time I allocate to certain things is spent dedicated to doing that specific task—and not aimlessly browsing social or watching TV in the background. I noticed that even when I was able to allocate my time well, I just wasn’t able to concentrate for long periods of time. Therefore, quality work hours is something that I am going to strive to achieve this semester. What goals have you set for yourself this semester?
Overall, I think we all learned something about how to (and also how NOT to) succeed in online university over the past four months. It’s very important to take everything we learned and create an ideal schedule for ourselves. I hope all our blogs have gotten you excited and prepared to start this semester off strong.
Good luck Gaels. Let’s conquer this semester together!
Happy 2021! The winter break has been rejuvenating and very much needed. I sat around a lot, I slept a lot, I ate a lot. It was fantastic. Now, we are back to school and back to the grind. If you did not know, first-year engineers at Queen’s had quadmesters during the fall 2020 term. That meant we only had a maximum of four courses in a quadmester, but we were learning at an accelerated pace – each course lasted 6 weeks instead of 12. Now, for the winter term, our courses are back to normal. Our courses are 12 weeks long, but we have SEVEN courses now, which is a tremendous jump from four. The days leading up to the beginning of the winter term were spent planning how to tackle seven courses and stay organized to maximize productivity.
In a previous blog, I discussed struggling to find methods to stay organized. At the time, I had some agendas and a daily to-do list, but I never found my perfect way to organize. I think I’ve found it now. Recently I discovered Notion, an app you can customize to fit your scheduling needs. A digital creator, Ali Abdaal, created a YouTube video to show all the great aspects of Notion.
Currently, my Notion looks like this:
This page is extremely customizable; I got the template from Janice Studies. ‘Master Schedule’ shows all my big assignments and their dates, including midterms, assignments, etc. For each course under ‘Courses,’ there is a separate to-do list that is divided by weeks. This makes it simpler to see all the lectures I will need to watch and the quizzes/assignments to be completed for each week. Lastly, in ‘Weekly Schedule,’ I have all my reoccurring events listed so that I can remember what tutorials or Q&As I have that day. Of course, your Notion does not have to look like mine (I also promise I am not sponsored by Notion; I am just super happy to have found this organizational tool!).
In my most recent blog, I talked about two big things: trying to stay motivated without the goals from high schools and dealing with notes. Over winter break, I had a lot of time to think. In terms of trying to stay motivated without goals, I do have a goal now: to get some internships. For Module 3 of my Engineering Practice course, we had to interview a professional engineer. One of the requirements was to ask the engineer, “What are the skills desired by engineering employers?” When I asked my interviewee that question, I also asked, “How much do grades matter when applying for jobs? What about work experience, projects, and the likes?” We had a great discussion about why grades were important but weren’t the only thing that matter. I am going to work harder this semester and keep moving forward, hopefully boosting that GPA so I can show it off, but working on other projects too.
I think I’ve resolved some of my issues around dealing with notes too. I scrounged enough money to buy an Apple Pencil and the writing app GoodNotes, which helps to take notes or annotate PDFs. This means that I do not have to think about printing PDFs or organizing loose paper and notebooks. I linked GoodNotes with my OneDrive so that everything will be accessible on the cloud. I am ecstatic to start writing digitally, and I enjoy how much tidier my desk is because of it.
These next couple of weeks will be hectic: jumping from four courses to seven, getting familiar with writing digitally, and trying not to burn out too quickly. I hope I can get through it! Good luck, everyone, and again, happy 2021.
As you look towards the assignments piling up for the end of the semester and wonder how you’ll be able to catch up on the material you’ve missed, Reading Week is a great opportunity to get ahead or back on track.
Our Peer Learning Assistants will work with you to produce a for the next week.
Most students find that they fall behind in one or more courses. It’s never too late to get back on track, so our Peer Learning Assistants have designed this class to answer your questions and produce a plan of action.
As you look towards the assignments piling up for the end of the semester and wonder how you’ll be able to catch up on the material you’ve missed, Reading Week is a great opportunity to get ahead or back on track. Our Peer Learning Assistants will work with you to produce a personal study plan for the next week.