Peer blog: Sleep: my favourite, but often forgotten study strategy

By: Meghan White, 2nd Year Biology

I lost my ‘bedtime’ in elementary school but I would always go to sleep early anyway. In high school, everyone thought I was ridiculous for going to sleep early. They thought that I would surely change my sleep schedule when university came. Then I started at Queen’s, and some days I do rely on coffee, but usually I sleep 8-10 hours a night. University students aren’t well-known for their good sleep habits and I’ve had so many people tell me they don’t understand my self-imposed bedtime or say that it wouldn’t work for them. Not sleeping well is the norm, and is sometimes regarded as an accomplishment. Yet should it be?

Sleep is important, and exists for a reason. It has physical, emotional, and even academic benefits. It can help control metabolism, decrease inflammatory proteins, and reduce stress (Vyazovskiy 2015). Moreover, people are often much more joyful, energetic and attentive after a full night’s sleep; at least, I am!

Sleep is also key in memory consolidation and encoding, which is useful when you’re trying to understand and use complex new information in courses. Memory can be broken down into three parts: encoding (processing/acquiring information), storage (maintaining information), and retrieval (recalling information). Sleeping helps in the transition of taking in information to retaining it, making content-heavy courses seem more bearable. While you sleep, your hippocampus rearranges your memory and strengthens the emotional components of it, which can increase your creativity. Sleep also increases your attention span, which can lead to better note-taking, more effective studying and greater productivity overall.

My friends definitely notice when my sleep changes or if I’ve been awake for too long; I’m exhausted yet hyper, I’m unmotivated and I can’t focus for longer than 30 seconds. Sleep loss also has other effects:

  1. It decreases mood and energy. I’m definitely more stressed, more drained, and less happy if I haven’t been able to sleep well for a few days.
  2. It decreases motivation. Trying to stay awake requires all my energy and so I have little left to do anything else. When I find I have no motivation, 20-minute power naps are my best friend.
  3. It decreases productivity. I may be more likely to fall asleep in class, I often can’t concentrate taking an hour to read one page, or I lose all memory capability.
  4. It also weakens my immune system. I find that I get sick way more if I’ve been under stress or haven’t been sleeping. One of the best ways that I get over being sick is by sleeping.

Is the solution just hitting snooze and taking more naps? In some cases yes, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night. This may seem daunting, but the SASS website has a lot of tips for getting not only more sleep, but better sleep. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Sleep as much as you needed to feel refreshed, but not more.
  • Get up at a consistent time throughout the week.
  • Turn off devices and stop work at least half an hour before you go to bed.
  • Make a sleep routine that could include a creating to-do list for tomorrow, stretching, or breathing exercises.
  • Deepen sleep by getting a steady daily amount of exercise.
  • Use white noise to help drown out background noise and improve sleep.
  • Keep your room temperature a little cool.
  • Eat a light snack before bed as hunger disturbs sleep.

If you’re really struggling to sleep and are worried about its impact on your health, contact Student Wellness Services. If you’re just looking to improve your grades in a way that doesn’t leave you burned out and makes you healthier too, here’s to sleep: my new favourite study strategy!

Sources:

Vyazovskiy V. V. (2015). Sleep, recovery, and metaregulation: explaining the benefits of sleep. Nature and science of sleep7, 171-84. doi:10.2147/NSS.S54036

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/support/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

https://sass.queensu.ca/exam-prep/returned-tests-motivation-and-sleep/

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Peer Blog: “Everybody’s a Critic”: Tips for Critically Engaging With Secondary Sources You Agree With

By: Jack Williams, 3rd year English Student

This past winter, I had a first-year student come into an appointment looking for help with an annotated bibliography for a Sociology paper. It was her first time ever writing one, and she was understandably concerned about navigating the tricky business of incorporating and evaluating secondary sources.

“It says to critically evaluate my sources,” I remember her saying, “but this source is perfect for my paper. I agree with everything they’re saying and I’m having trouble finding any flaws significant enough to write about, but I can’t just say ‘it was good’ and leave it at that—what am I expected to do here?”

I chuckled to myself; this was a pain I knew all too well. Be it in SOCY 122, ENGL 200, or ENGL 375, I have always found it exceptionally difficult to do more than simply agree with a secondary source that complements my own position. After all, students work with the writings of professional academics, so it is easy to feel as though there’s nothing to add. I have often fallen into the trap of simply reiterating and reaffirming a scholar’s arguments, missing out on the evaluative element which is so essential to the effective use of secondary sources.

It was not until I critically evaluated my working definition of “critical evaluation” that I figured out what I could do with those pesky articles I so inconveniently agreed with.

Drawing upon this (very recently acquired) understanding, I suggested to the student that she consider extending the argument rather than choosing between either supporting or criticizing it. Taking this kind of approach enables you to do a little bit of both; by identifying the relevance of a given article for a different but related issue or field of inquiry, you can express your support for the author’s logic and method while demonstrating critical engagement by expanding on the potential applications of their work. Understanding “critique” as encompassing the expansion of a source’s scope and the refocusing of its consequences in addition to disagreement or refutation is a helpful tool for thinking about how to converse with these sources in your own work and ensure that you are making explicit, meaningful connections which bolster the strength of your own argument.

For example, let’s say I decide to use the SASS website’s guide for writing critical reviews as a secondary source for this post. It outlines two different strategies for approaching a review, and sets out a number of useful questions to help kick start the reader’s thinking: there’s nothing there for me to refute or challenge. I could, however, extend it and claim that the various prompts it sets out are just as applicable to writing annotated bibliographies as they are to critical reviews, as the areas it addresses—scope, logic, evidence, objectivity, organization, style, and general value—are exactly the kinds of concerns which a good annotated bibliography addresses, and can serve as useful focal points for evaluating a given source.

I could extend its implications even further and claim that it can also serve as a useful guide for how to read secondary sources with an eye toward producing arguments from them. If you find yourself really agreeing with a scholar’s work, ask yourself—am I convinced by the evidence? The logic? The style? Why are these factors effective or ineffective? Are they appropriate to the point being made? How do they interact with one another? Could the work be improved by adding, taking away, or expanding on any of these strategies? Evaluative questions like these can form the kernels of arguments, which can help you determine the focus and trajectory of your paper. Thus, I could argue that the critical reviews guide has utility which extends beyond simply writing critical reviews.

Although working with secondary sources can, at times, feel intimidating (indeed, I have struggled with it for most of my academic career), I have found that viewing this engagement as a conversation rather than an argument per se has helped me make more effective use of secondary sources in my own work. As I hope to have demonstrated above, you do not have to criticize a source to engage with it critically: “criticism”, in the academic sense, is more helpfully understood as a holistic process of closely examining the form and content of a piece of writing in order to understand how and why it does what it does. In other words, you need not be a critic, in the polemical sense, to be critical.

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Peer Blog: Catching Up to Road Runners

By Becky Bando, 4th year Con-Ed/English student

If you have ever watched an episode of the cartoon Looney Tunes, I guarantee that at some point during that episode there was a chase scene. We see this same storyline occur in almost every episode between characters such as Sylvester and Tweety, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck, and Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny. But out of all of these chase scenes, the most intense ones would have to be between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Unlike other antagonists, the Coyote does not appear to have any other food sources aside from the Road Runner since he is out in the dessert. This makes him one of the most desperate predators, and the only Looney Tunes character that I have ever felt sorry for.

Why? Because whenever I am in a situation where I am extremely behind in my academics, I see myself as being in the position of the Coyote when I know I need to be in the position of the Road Runner. Every year I feel as if I am always struggling to keep up with my readings whereas all of my classmates are Road Runners who always seem to be on top of everything. It is important to know though that everyone becomes the Coyote and falls behind in school from time to time. Even those students who appear to be Road Runners are probably more tired of running than you think.

So, as a very experienced coyote myself (who did not do many readings over Reading Week), here are my tips for catching up in school:

#1) Look ahead

While it is important to finish readings that should have been completed earlier, it is more crucial that you look at upcoming readings and assignments. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to catch up that we do not pay attention to what we have coming up next. In Looney Tunes, the Coyote also uses this method by running to specific locations that he knows the Road Runner will come by in the future, rather than running off a cliff (which does happen at times). You can also can anticipate your own Road Runner’s next destination through using your syllabus. So, make sure that you still schedule in time for your upcoming readings and evaluations. Your schedule may also help you understand which readings should be done now, versus during the exam study period when you may have more time to catch up. Here are a few helpful scheduling templates: https://sass.queensu.ca/time-management/schedule-templates/

#2) Don’t fall for the procrastination trap!

Sometimes we take so long planning that we unintentionally get even further behind. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a “worry-planner,” and the Coyote is also a prime example of this. He spends far too much time creating elaborate traps out of sheer desperation. He even makes a painting of a fake tunnel on a wall to trick the Road Runner into crashing into it. So while it is useful to plan ahead, make sure you do not invest all of your time into it. Trust me—a hand-written colored schedule with a color legend to decipher it is not always the quickest option in March. A great way to counter stress-planning is using a variation of the 50/10 rule, where you do 50 minutes of homework but substitute your 10 minutes of relaxation for 10 minutes of planning. The SASS Assignment Calculator is also a quick method of creating a plan without spending too much time on it since it can automatically break an assignment into a series of steps and deadlines for completion: https://sass.queensu.ca/onlineresource/assignment-calculator/

#3) Be realistic and prioritize

Let’s be honest, you were probably working your butt off when you fell behind. So how are you going to catch up to the Road Runner when you were already working your hardest just to keep up with him? The Coyote never faces the fact that the Road Runner is too far ahead of him, yet he still chases him. That being said, just because you cannot complete all of your readings, does not mean you still cannot achieve an acceptable grade. Also, remember that you should never sacrifice your health habits (such as sleeping, exercising and eating) in order to gain more time to catch up. For good health are what make academic success possible. In cases where catching up is impossible, it is important to consider your options. Try identifying which readings and assignments are more important than others; use prioritization strategies such as the ABC method: https://sass.queensu.ca/time-management/undergrad-time/

#4) Ask for help

The difference between you and the Coyote is that you are not stranded alone on a desert. There are several resources that can help you get back on track such as:

  • your professor/TA: It can be nerve-wracking admitting to your professor how far behind you are, but the worst thing they can say is that they cannot help you. Though most of the time they can offer more helpful course-specific strategies for catching up. Here are some tips for how to communicate with your professors: https://sass.queensu.ca/communicating-with-profs/.
  • your friends/peers: When I fell behind in my biology course, some of my classmates and I created a Facebook page where we divided up the note-taking on upcoming readings. While this is not the best method for learning course material, it gave us an understanding of the content covered in class and required for assignments.  
  • Student Academic Success Services: The Peer Learning Assistants at SASS offer several helpful workshops on topics such as time management and procrastination. There is even a “Catching Up!” workshop on March 12th (https://sass.queensu.ca/programs/workshops/)! You can also book free one-on-one consultations with Learning Strategies and the Writing Centre (https://sass.queensu.ca/programs/appointments/).

Being weeks behind in a course is one of the worst feelings as a student, and can turn us into the most desperate version of the Coyote. While it may seem as if we will never catch up to the Road Runners of university, we have a chance of getting back on track by staying calm (through following these tips) and not working to the point of burnout. Here are a few other great resources:


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Peer Blog: Finding Your Voice Through Community

Megan Vahabi, 5th Year Education Student

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I completed my undergraduate degree at Queen’s and truly loved every moment. As a Concurrent Education student, this year I started my second degree in Education. For some reason I thought my final year would be the exact same as the previous four I had come to love throughout undergrad. To my surprise, I noticed my life felt more different than similar. The loss of my friends graduating and moving home or to other provinces finally dawned on me. Before the school year, I was excited to have one final hurrah as a Golden Gael. Yet I was feeling something I had not experienced before. Call it grief? The feeling of being left behind? Not quite. Upon reflection, I realized there was a gap in my life—I felt I had less community. Only then did I realized how deeply important it is for me to have a supportive group.

In undergrad, I relied heavily upon extra-curricular involvement to help create balance and structure. Being involved outside of school offered a different kind of stimulation, one for the soul, which offset the stress of academics. The encouragement and validation from my extra-curricular communities helped me learn to feel comfortable in unfamiliar settings. The first risk I took was arguably the most impactful and important. By sharing my story, I hope to convey the value and importance of stepping outside your comfort zone.

Most of my life, I did not know much about my Ojibway heritage. I decided to change this narrative by accepting an invitation to lunch at Four Directions. I was very nervous and riddled with self-doubt. Would I actually fit in? Upon arrival, I was immediately met with open arms and unconditional support. The elders and advisors listened when I was stressed about school and offered tangible solutions. Amidst the hustle and confusion of first year, I felt at home. This was my introduction to the various kinds of “test kitchens” Queen’s has to offer. The new-found confidence gave me second-hand courage which I carried into classes. I became more vocal about my questions and concerns. I went to a professor’s office…they are real people and very kind. I highly recommend having a chat with your favourite prof.

For me, community support is the ultimate recipe for academic success. I like to think of extra-curricular involvement as the test kitchen for the piece de resistance—my academics. The test kitchen is the ideal environment for risk-taking to help foster confidence and a sense of belonging. It is inviting unfamiliarity into your life with open arms and embracing change. Once you have found your “kitchen,” you can begin cooking up new experiences and relationships. So, how have I been creating in the kitchen lately?

This past September, I noticed I was quieter in class and shy. I experienced what I like to call “first-year confusion” once again. With so much of my undergrad community not on campus anymore, I was on the hunt for a new kitchen to whip up some courage. I knew the antidote to my shyness was extra-curricular involvement outside lecture. While on this hunt, I discovered some cool spots to network and meet other graduate students. Did you know every week in the JDUC room 352 there is a drop-in writing space? Or the third floor of the Grad Club is open for students to hang out and study? These kinds of spaces give me comfort, knowing that I can be productive and network at the same time. 

To get the most out of university, I cannot say enough about the importance of finding a community and feeling welcome. It gave me the strength to be more present in class and excited to be on campus. You can never have too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to community!

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Peer Blog: An Introvert’s Guide to Class Participation

By: Rachel Mackintosh, English, Class of 2019

Do you listen more than you talk? Do you like thinking deeply about something before speaking up about it? Do you often feel put on the spot in class despite having read the materials?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are you’re an introvert! And as an introvert, the classroom environment can often be a daunting setting. In larger first- and second-year classes, merely showing up often translates to a good participation grade. However, as class size decreases in upper years and large lectures turn into intimate seminars, your presence is no longer enough; you are now expected to speak up.

So what is an introverted student to do when 15 – 25% of your grade is affected by a core aspect of your personality? While people might tell you to “get out of your head” or “not to care so much,” it is often more complicated to turn this into a daily practice and permanent solution. 

After years of having a pounding heart and sweaty palms when raising my hand, I now find myself one of the main contributors to one of my 4th-year seminar classes. So, here are some of my tips to help you find confidence in your own voice. 

#1) Do some reflecting.

Take time to think deliberately about why you’re so nervous to speak in the first place. Is it the fear of sounding stupid? Is it the fear of being judged? Sometimes when you articulate these concerns aloud or in writing you can realize the severity – or lack thereof, of the issue. In the former instance, I would recommend booking a learning strategies or counselling appointment that will walk you through personalized solutions. 

#2) You have to prepare.

Last semester, one of my friends who participated in every single class, confessed to me that he hadn’t done a reading for the class in the last couple of weeks. Although frustrated by his extroverted ease, I realized that unlike him, I would never achieve this confident state without preparation.

You are more likely to feel confident if you come to the class discussion prepared and ready to engage with the material having read through everything in advance. To feel extra-confident, maybe do some additional research, or prepare questions. 

#3) Contribute in other ways than just voicing your opinion.

While we often think participation means voicing our opinion or interpretation in a long-winded way, or answering questions posed by the professor, some of the most meaningful conversation can be sparked in different ways. One of my English professors, Scott-Morgan Straker, gave me a tip that still resonates with me:

“The most valuable participation often happens when students ask questions. When students answer a question, that tends to shut discussion down: an interpretation has been found, and the conversation ends. But when students ask questions, that means that there’s some uncertainty or possibly controversy—in other words, something to talk about.

#4) Let go of perfection.

If you take time during class to think through ideas, the conversation will often change topics by the time you’ve decided on the perfect comment. In order to avoid the missed opportunity of contributing, accept that, while you might feel more comfortable thinking through your thoughts before speaking, what ends up coming out of your mouth does not have to be the most perfectly crafted answer. Speaking up in class is not like giving a formal presentation: you’re tone, language, and syntax will be informal, and it’s okay to hesitate or sound a little broken as you think out loud. No one expects perfection.

5) Set a goal for yourself.

Setting a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and trackable goal (see SASS’s guide to goal-setting) can help put what you want to do into action. For instance, over the remainder of the semester, decide that you will speak at least once per class for a course. Making one point each day, something that you can prepare in advance if necessary, is a small, digestible step in the very right direction.

Jerry Seinfeld once said that for every day that he completed his task of writing, he put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain” (Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret). Try this technique for every time you participate in class, add a checkmark next to that day on your class syllabus, and over time this daily practice can turn into a permanent solution.

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

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Peer Blog: When it All Goes Wrong

By Becky Bando, 4th year Con-Ed/English student.

The First Time I Experienced Stress

My family and friends often describe me as someone who never worries and always lives in the moment. In fact, I have had several close friends approach me in the past and ask how I handle my stress so well, especially when it comes to school. When I hear comments and questions like this, I agree that for the most part when I encounter a stressful situation, such as having five essays due in a week, my immediate reaction is not to panic. I have always approached these situations with the attitude that I will be okay and that I will be able to find a solution.

But almost exactly one year ago, I encountered a situation where I believe I let myself experience the physical and mental symptoms that stem from chronic stress for the first time. At the beginning of last year, my computer crashed and I lost two months’ worth of notes in three of my full-year English courses. On top of that, someone close to me had recently passed away and so I was already in low spirits. Normally, I look forward to the beginning of every year and treat it as a fresh start. So you can imagine how discouraged I felt to start off the year on the wrong foot.

I spent the first three weeks of my classes running to malls, computer stores, calling Microsoft and reaching out to friends who might be able to recover the data from my computer. I grew more nervous every time I was given back my computer with the news that they were unable to get the data off of it. During this time, I experienced constant headaches, insomnia, and shortness of breath, which made it impossible to focus in class and complete homework. I never got the data I needed off of my computer. Eventually, however, I was able to diminish my stress and reduce the severity of my dilemma through the following resources:

  1. Student Wellness Services: This resource at Queen’s offers a note-taking program where students are able to submit their lecture notes for those who are unable to make their own notes. As I had been a note-taker for several of my courses, Student Health and Wellness Services was kind enough to provide me notes for one of my courses.
  2. Professors: After telling my professor my problem, he created a Facebook group and told our class he would provide participation marks for those who uploaded some of their notes to a google doc.
  3. Friends: One of my friends who was in all three of my classes shared her notes with me. I felt ashamed when I asked her, but she made sure that I knew that she is always there for me and wanted to help me out.

After having this experience, I decided to develop my own solutions for how to mitigate my stress should another similar situation arise.

Strategies for Preventing Stress

  1. Understand the causes of your stress: It’s helpful to reflect on the sources of your stress. For example, for university students, deadlines are often a major trigger of stress, but the level a deadline causes anxiety may differ depending on the course and weight of the assignment. One way to better understand the severity of these triggers is to create a stress management journal where you record the things that you worried about that day and rate your stress levels on a scale of 1 to 10.
  2. Make a plan: Now that you know the main causes of your stress, you can make a plan for how you will tackle your stressors head-on. Some people argue that planning may just cause them more anxiety, and although this may be the case for some at first, I believe planning helps with anxiety over time. Stress is scary because we do not address the causes until it is too late. Making it a routine to understand and brainstorm solutions to stressful situations on a daily basis helps to normalize stress into our lives. In fact, it is better to think of stress in a more positive light by viewing it as a tool for recognizing the warning signs of a problem early on. Here are some good questions you can answer when developing this plan:   
  • What is the worst outcome of this stressor?
  • How much can I handle?
  • At what point will I take action?
  • What resources do I have available to me if this happens?  

3. Separate your work/stress space from your home: Attempting this step does not necessarily mean you can only do your homework in the library. It can be as simple as only doing your homework in places outside of your bedroom such as a common room or kitchen. While some people may argue they concentrate best in their room, it is important that when it’s time to sleep they find a safe space where there are no stress triggers.

4. Make your safe space a happy space: This differs for each person, but for me, I like to decorate my room with succulents and funny posters that ironically resemble a stressful situation. For example, I have a poster of a sad orange standing next to his mother who has been transformed into a glass of orange juice. This poster makes me think that although my life is not perfect, at least I’m not that orange. Yes – I have a dark sense of humour.

What to Do in a Stressful Situation

While it is often difficult to think clearly and logically when in a stressful situation, it becomes much easier if you follow some of the solutions below in situations that are only mildly stressful. By doing so, you can develop more of a habit of using your defense mechanisms in extremely stressful situations: 

  1. Take Action: Similar to the preventative strategies listed above, you can write down the main stressors you are experiencing in this moment and jot down ideas for handling them, especially in the form of specific actions. For example, if I am worrying about an upcoming essay, I will write down actions such as “create a time management plan,” and “develop an outline.” I will also write down dates/times to complete each action by.
  2. Talk to others: In many cases, it is much easier to focus on the problem than to find a solution. Even when something may not be a problem, we may feel inclined to find a reason to worry simply because we can. It’s a horrible habit! This is why talking to friends and family is so important in order to stay calm and remember that you will always be loved and valued even if you make a mistake every once in a while.
  3. Ask for help: On top of valuable resources like Student Academic Success Services (https://sass.queensu.ca/stress/) and Student Wellness Services (http://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/home), you should also reach out to your professors and TAs. They were once students too and have your best interests at heart. Although it can be intimidating approaching a professor, especially if you have never spoken to them before, the worst they can do is say that they cannot help you.
  1. Take a break: As I mentioned before, it is hard to think clearly when you are extremely stressed. As a result, you will accomplish more if you take a break rather than exerting too much energy trying to resolve the problem right away. My favourite ways of doing this are drinking green tea, going to coffee shops and restaurants like SIMA, and watching funny movies.
  2. Just Breathe: Have you ever heard of the phrase “smiling can trick your brain into happiness”? Well, the same goes for breathing! Here is a blog on some simple breathing techniques: https://sass.queensu.ca/how-simple-breathing-can-stomp-your-test-anxiety/
  1. Relax for one hour before bed: After the most stressful days, it can take a while for you to unwind. Sometimes I will listen to apps such as “Take a Break” and “Sleep Pillow,” or podcasts on YouTube. During this hour, I will not check my email, do any homework, and will try to avoid looking at screens in general.


More Great Resources

  1. “Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable”: https://sass.queensu.ca/university-has-taught-me-to-get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable/
  2. Student Wellness Services strategies for handling stress: http://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/health-promotion/health-resources/stress-management

Photo courtesy of MArtii under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Peer Blog: Your Health Comes First

By:Veronica Sewilski, second-year nursing student

Before coming to university, I never really had any major health issues and I am extremely grateful for that. However, that all began to change at the beginning of my second year at Queen’s. I was extremely fatigued all the time. I could not focus on anything; I would walk from one place to another and not remember getting there, and I just generally felt unwell. My friends and family even began telling me that I was not acting like my usual self. At the time, I attributed all my symptoms to the stress of a new school year and pushed my worries about what was going on with me to the back of my mind because school was my priority. Long story short, I began doing poorly on my midterms and my symptoms were getting much worse. This drove me to make a doctor’s appointment where I found out that I did indeed have health issues that needed to be dealt with.

It can be extremely challenging to cope with all the demands of academia. Toss in a health crisis and all of a sudden it can feel like life becomes so much harder to manage. After being a student for so many years, I had finally gotten a handle on how to manage academic stress. However, I now had some new stressors in my life that I had to factor in and had no idea how. Luckily, SASS has a lot of resources on stress and coping strategies that provide useful tips on how to think through stress and deal with multiple life stressors.

I also had to consider how I was going to get back on track academically when I had fallen so far behind. What worked the best for me in terms of catching up on my schoolwork was to really hone in on how I managed my time. If you are looking for time management strategies, the SASS website offers some great tips, modules, and resources.

The most important life lesson that I learned from this experience is that I was almost too focused on performing well in school. It took an ER trip and being put on medication to realize that I was sacrificing my health and well-being for good grades. Turns out that by not taking care of myself to do well, I ended up doing poorly in school anyway and hurting myself even more in the process.

The point I am trying to get across here is that sometimes school needs to take a backseat. If there are other things going on in your life that are demanding your attention, maybe it’s a good idea to stop for a moment and listen. Obviously, you are a student first and that is what we are all here for. However, if you are not putting your well-being first, you can’t expect other aspects of your life to fall into place. At the end of the day, you come first.

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Writing Assignments: Maintaining Your Train of Thought and Avoiding Obstacles on the Track

Josh, 4th Year, Kinesiology

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I have always preferred to focus on one project at a time. I tend to pick an assignment to focus on and immerse myself in it. Once I start working on something I want to keep working until it is finished and I can check it off my to-do list.

If your brain works anything like mine, a million ideas will pop into your head as you start to write or plan your essay and you just have to get them out. But sometimes that isn’t possible. Our schedules just don’t work that way. Between other classes, clubs, committees, and social life, you’re bound to have another commitment that gets in the way and forces you to focus on something else.

These interruptions can be a challenge when writing a long research paper or essay. However, like all of life’s challenges, there are strategies to help overcome interruptions in the writing process. Here are a few strategies that I use to help maintain my train of thought when I am writing long assignments over time.  

  1. Start early: This may seem like an obvious one, and I’m sure you have heard it before, but starting early is especially important for longer writing assignments that you may have to put on hold for a while mid-semester. Taking a quick look at the assignment instructions will help you estimate how long it will take and how early you need to start.If you anticipate interruptions, you will be able to plan ahead and you won’t end up scrambling the night before the deadline. If starting an assignment is often overwhelming for you, SASS has a great collection of resources on managing large assignments, procrastination and time management.
  2. Make an outline: Making an outline is an important first step towards writing any paper. It will help you organize and plan your essay, which will make the actual writing stage much easier. The outline will also provide natural sub-divisions of your paper that will help you set goals for completing different components over time. If you return to working on your paper after a brief time away from it, the outline will help you become re-acquainted with the work so you can get right back into it. Check out the SASS resource on developing an outline.
  3. Set goals: Long writing assignment can seem overwhelming, and people often struggle with where to begin and how to pace their progression towards completing the assignment. Settings goals for completing certain components of the assignment will help you budget your time, and will make the assignment seem much more manageable. Examples of such a goal might be “complete the outline by week 4” or “finish writing 5 pages by reading week.” The outline that you create may be a useful starting point for developing your goals.
  4. Write yourself notes: Many times I have been working on an assignment and suddenly I realise it’s time for class, a meeting, or an intense squash match. I’m in the midst of writing, with a whole paragraph or outline planned out, and I know that I’ll never remember my train of thought the next time I sit down to continue working. When this happens, I take the last 5 minutes before I leave to jot down everything I had been thinking or planning to write. Simple jot notes like “write about novel’s setting” or “use evidence from Smith et al. study”. Anything that will help you remember what you were thinking. By writing notes for yourself, you will be able to pick up right where you left off when you last worked on the paper.
  5. Keep track of sources: When you are writing in segments or over a longer period of time, it can be difficult to keep track of where you found your information. However, appropriate referencing is extremely important to avoid academic dishonesty and plagiarism. To keep track of my sources while writing, I will often paste the link of a source or the name of an author next to relevant information as a temporary placeholder to be replaced later by the formal citation. Reference management software like EndNote is also helpful, especially when using a numeric citation style, because it will automatically adjust the numbering if you add another source earlier in the paper.

Everyone has their own methods, and what works for me may not work for you. However, if you often find yourself trying to write a whole paper in one sitting, these tips might help save you some late nights, and you’ll be on the track to stress-free writing. Next stop: success!

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Peer Blog: New Year, New Me?

By Monica O’Rourke, 4th year Con-Ed History/English student

With the end of frost week and the realization that there’s more to being back at school than catching up with friends, the inevitable cycle of procrastination and cramming begins. Despite the well-intended New Year’s resolutions made on January 1st, it’s easy to fall back into bad habits such as putting off readings until the night before class. Luckily, that’s where Learning Strategies comes in.

Motivation is defined as, “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way,” and one of the biggest myths is that motivation will appear and allow you to do all of your work with a smile on your face.

Often, this just results in procrastination and panic. As humans, what makes us do something is the idea of the reward we will receive in the end; however, what most of us don’t realize is that that there are two types of rewards and one yields better results than the other. Extrinsic rewards are tangible things, such as your parents giving you money for a good grade. In other words, an extrinsic reward is an incentive, a false motivator. You’re doing the work for a material reward, not because you actually want to. This often means a job not done as well as it could have been if you were motivated by an intrinsic reward. While this type of reward is not tangible, it is a feeling you have inside you when you complete a task; be that task making you feel proud or satisfied or delighted, it is a feeling of elation you have within yourself. Now you may be wondering what motivation has to do with procrastination, and the answer is, a lot. People consider the mounting panic of procrastinating as motivation, however the reward for that is extrinsic (i.e. your teacher NOT giving you late marks).

The first step in making your resolution not to procrastinate is to acknowledge that it’s a habit and the most effective way to change a habit is to have a complete change of attitude and forming new habits.

Winston Churchill once said, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

Meaning, if you let yourself get distracted, you’ll never get to the end or your goal. This is common enough – often as students we have a million and two thoughts running through our heads and get easily distracted as we remember yet another thing we have to do this week. I find that the best thing for me to do is to have an empty sticky note beside me and when I’m doing my work, if I remember something I have to do, I write it down so I’m not stressing about remembering it and detracting from my readings.

Some other tips and tricks courtesy of the Queen’s SASS website have some of my personal favourite anti-procrastinating tips including:

  • Setting realistic goals (Once, I told myself I could do an entire psych module in a night- NOT possible, however, a single chapter might have been more doable)
  • Create a weekly schedule (You get a visual of everything that is due for the week and what readings must be done when. I have an organizer that at the beginning of the semester I put down all my due dates and add readings throughout the semester)
  • Watch out for the “downward spiral” that includes falling way behind in class (ESPECIALLY if the class is challenging for you, go in and talk to your professor or TA)

These are just some of the strategies, you can find more at: https://sass.queensu.ca/motivation-and-procrastination/

And now approach the rest of the semester with the wise words of Michael Scott (Wayne Gretkzy) in mind: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So approach the semester with a can-do attitude and your anti-procrastination steps as your guide to really, actually achieve your New Year’s Resolutions (for once).

For more anti-procrastination tips, check out the Peer Learning Assistant run event ProcrastiNOTon February 3rd from 12:00-5:00 pm at Stauffer Library in the Speaker’s Corner.

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Peer Blog: Take a breather #Relatable

By: Hareer Al-Qaragolie 3rd year, History & English

My whole life, I knew I was going to travel away from Jordan to finish my undergraduate degree. It was a given, and I got used to the idea. If anything, I was excited. The only thing I was advised to do was to focus on my studies and adapt to them. Seemed pretty easy, so I didn’t give it much thought until move-in day. No one told me about the realness of homesickness, the added responsibility of being alone, the culture shock that occasionally hit me, or the bad grade that I would get on my first essay.  Coping with it all affected my academics, and I felt completely and utterly alone, thinking everyone was getting ahead except for me. It was moments like these where I would get lost and start losing sight of my priorities. I didn’t find a balance between my education and my mental health. All I knew was that one overthrew the other.

 

As a third year, I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it gets. What helps me the most is talking to my peers, housemates, profs, or anyone who may relate to my situation. It’s so comforting to hear that you are not alone when it comes to situations like this. Whether it is that you and your friend got the same not-so-good mark on a quiz, to ranting about how you stayed up all night at Stauffer to finish an essay, it gives a sense of ease and comfort to know you’re not the only one. However, it also puts things in perspective for you.

 

I started making daily plans, check lists, and time tables, as well as making sure I have a time limit for when I need to stop working so I won’t overwhelm myself. Trust me when I say once you feel like you have too much on your plate, you start to focus less. In time, you will start to realize you have your own academic strategies that fit your timetable, and you’ll naturally see your progress.

 

A few things to keep in mind when you feel like you are having a hard time in focusing:

 

  1. Use your resources: I can’t stress enough how helpful campus resources are. Also, they are free! So please use them. What helps me the most in keeping my grades up is definitely the Writing Center at SASS!
  2. Call your family: I know it can be a stretch sometimes for some people, especially with the busy lifestyle of a Queen’s student, but they love hearing from you! Try giving them updates, spilling some feelings on some hard courses, or ask on how they are doing. Also, calling your parents can be a nice little break from studying all that material before an exam. Listening to loving and encouraging words from people who love you is always good to hear.
  3. Talk to your friends and set up study dates: this can be tricky since friends can sometimes be a distraction, but there is nothing wrong with having a nice 15-minute break from studying where you can take your mind off of things a bit. Also, who doesn’t like to complain to someone about how hard the material is…
  4. Plan ahead: whether you use the ABC method, cue cards or to-do lists, start planning from the most important to least important task. I can’t tell you how relieved and accomplished I feel when I check a box off in my planner; it gets me motivated all the time.

 

 

I wish you all the best in your studies and your well-being. You are here to learn, so don’t push yourself over the limit when it feels too much. Remember there are so many resources on campus to help you in any way or need. Never hesitate to stop by the SASS office, or send us an e-mail if you have any questions about anything.

 

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