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Peer blog: Taking notes and taking stock

Liyi, Engineering, Class of 2024

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!

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Peer blog: Exploring extracurriculars: The academic boost you need

Kate, PhD Psychology, Year 1 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon!

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SASS peer hiring is open!

Are you passionate about the academic success of fellow students? Been through a struggle this year and want to show other students how you got better? Are you looking for a great volunteer opportunity next year? SASS is hiring volunteers for our Peer Writing Assistant, Peer Learning Assistant, and Bounce Back programs.

  • Peer Writing Assistants (General, Science, or EAL) lead one-on-one writing appointments with students in first and second-year courses.
  • Peer Learning Assistants plan and lead workshops, outreach events, and study drop-ins.
  • Bounce Back mentors support up to 3 first-year students who need extra academic skills coaching through the winter semester.

All of our volunteer opportunities come with training, the chance to learn from our professional staff, and a team of awesome, enthusiastic fellow peers to work with!

Apply today at https://www.queensu.ca/studentexperience/opportunities/peer-programs

Questions? Email our peer coordinator, Mikayla Sebesta, at mms11@queensu.ca.

 

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Welcome to Student Academic Success Services!

Student Academic Success Services (SASS) offers academic support to students who wish to develop their skills in critical thinking, reading, learning, studying, writing, and self-management. We welcome Queen’s undergraduate and graduate students at all stages of program completion and all levels of ability.

We offer individual appointments to enhance students’ academic skills and writing skills, support for students with English as an Additional Language, workshops, outreach events, and online resources. We can help you

Our upper-year volunteers, the SASS Peers (PLAs and PWAs), also post weekly blogs during the fall and winter terms. Check out our archives for candid, helpful (and often funny!) posts on surviving and thriving as a Queen’s student.

 

 

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Self-Care and Mental Health – Taking Care of YOU!

By Jessica MacNaught, 3rd year ConEd Linguistics/French student

Take time to take care of the most important person – yourself. 

As all students know, it can be hard when you need to balance school, extracurriculars, and a social life. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to take care of yourself physically – to eat, sleep, and exercise enough to be healthy and feel your best. But what about your mental health?

Mental health is something we all have, and something that it is important for all of us to remain conscious of, even during stressful times such as midterm or exam season. It is very easy to get caught up in a hectic schedule and feel overwhelmed. However, it is always important to remember that your health is more important than anything else, and your mental health is just as valid as your physical health (and sometimes they can be interconnected)!

One way that you can take care of your mental well-being is to ensure that you practice effective self-care. Self-care is the act of doing something that makes you feel rejuvenated and at peace in order to maintain a healthy mind and soul. Self-care can be anything that makes you feel happy – whether it’s going for a jog, watching some Netflix, spending time with your pet, calling a friend, colouring, or more! Try to schedule in some time just for yourself each week, where you can check in with yourself and take care of YOU, the most important person.

There is a great resource from Queen’s Student Academic Success Services (SASS) that can help to reflect on how much you are taking care of yourself. You can find it here.  This sheet showcases a number of ways you can care for yourself, and look out for yourself (for example, asking for help from others or saying “no” to requests when you know you don’t have time) and allows you to evaluate your use of these methods. Using this resource made me aware that I wasn’t really taking the time to make sure that I was caring for myself as much as I needed to. When I took the time to reflect and take care of myself, I felt more peaceful and more productive. Another way to improve your mental health is to avoid stressors as much as you can. If you know that a situation makes you feel negatively, work towards avoiding or at least preparing for that situation. For example, If speaking publicly makes you nervous, you can minimize that anxiety by preparing in advance for a presentation – there are some really great public speaking resources here. You can write a script, practice the presentation with friends, or ask your professor if you can present to them one-on-one.

As for myself, I get anxious about forgetting what I am doing next, so I use a schedule on Google Calendar to plan my day so I know I won’t miss anything important! Another way to make self-care a priority is to add it into your schedule.  I use cooking and baking as a form of self-care, and it makes me feel relaxed and productive, but you might like to do something else – and that’s okay, because there is no one way to practice self-care! Choose a few hours each week to dedicate to yourself, and make it a date! When you get back to studying, working, and living life, you’ll feel so much more refreshed and ready to face the day.

If you find that you need to talk to someone about your mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. The Peer Support Centre at Queen’s, which is located in Room 034 of the JDUC, is a confidential, non-judgemental, positive space where you can go to talk to a volunteer about any topic, and they are so supportive! Good2Talk, a hotline for post-secondary students, is also open 24 hours and can be reached at 1-866-925-5454.

 

Here are some ways to use self-care!

Photo courtesy of Sacha Chua under flickr Creative Commons License 2.0.

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3 Tips to Help Develop Your Essay Writing Style

By Micah Norris, 3rd Year History/Art History student

It may sometimes feel that the strictures of university essay writing limit our ability to develop our own personal writing style, but this belief cannot be further from the truth. A professor of mine once said that by the end of the school year, he could tell whose essay he was reading without even looking at our names. How? We all have a distinct way of writing that is just as unique as our talking voice. Writing style is the manner in which we express our ideas; this manner includes word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and tone. An effective style will keep your reader engaged and interested in your essay. Let’s look at three ways to further advance your writing style!

  1. Write Daily!

The best way to develop your writing style is also the easiest (bonus!). The more you write, the more you are able to understand who you are as a writer and be able to improve. Consider carrying a journal around with you and write about your daily activities. The subject doesn’t have to be complicated. Write about that cute dog you pet, what you ate for dinner, or anything that you think is worth writing down! You will begin to notice recurring patterns in your writing (such as certain phrases or words you tend to use) and can then decide what aspects of your writing work well and what needs to be developed more. Frequent writing will also help you develop skills in conveying ideas concisely and efficiently, which is a major asset for essay writing. I also encourage you to go back and re-read your past writing. You might be surprised at how much you’ve grown as a writer!

To learn more about how to incorporate writing into your daily life, check out Queen’s Learning Strategies advice on time management here: http://sass.queensu.ca/learningstrategies/topic-time-management/

  1. Pay Attention to Tone

 Just as when we speak, there is often more meaning in how we say something than what we’re saying in our writing—this is called tone. When you write an essay, think about the attitude with which you want to approach a given topic. Two important writing tools that help express your desired tone are adjectives and punctuation.  Consider the example below:

  1.  Due to the Union Army’s tremendous military success, they valiantly defeated the Confederates on May 9, 1865 and ended the U.S Civil War!
  2.  Despite the efforts of the Confederates, they were defeated by the Union Army on May 9, 1865, thus ending the U.S Civil War.

Using value-laden words such as “tremendous” and “valiantly,” and emphatic punctuation such as an exclamation mark, changes my tone. The second example’s more moderate tone is more appropriate to academic writing. Always remember to make sure that your essay’s language and punctuation match your intended tone.

  1. Explore Different Writing Styles

 Academic writing is meant to be formal and professional, but that doesn’t mean there is only one way to write essays. To figure out a writing style that best suits you, it may be helpful to explore different ways of writing. Perhaps you are used to persuasive writing, where you try to convince your reader of a certain idea or opinion by taking a strong one-sided stance in your essay. If you are looking for a new way to convey ideas, you can approach your writing with an expository style. This style focuses more on revealing facts to your reader in sequential points, almost like walking them step-by-step through your ideas. Keep in mind that different styles work best for different assignments, so being able to write in more than one writing style is very advantageous.

 Tip: A good way to explore different writing styles is to pay critical attention to the style of other writers. Next time you’re reading a book or newspaper article, think about how the author is trying to talk to you, the reader. Explore a variety of sources, both fiction and non-fiction. There is no limit when it comes to reading!

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

 

 

 

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Top 3 Tips of Where to Start When Editing Your Paper

By Cassidy Burr, 2nd year English/Art History

For many years of my life, I was against editing my papers. I thought I did enough editing as I wrote, and that what I had done was “good enough.” Well, let me tell you what a difference editing can make and how “good enough” is no longer good enough for me. Looking at your paper with fresh eyes, and reading it all the way through, can make all the difference, but it can also be intimidating. Here are my top 3 tips on where to start editing your paper.

  1. The Lonely “This”

Let’s start out with one that a lot of people miss, but is easy to fix. Look for any time you have written the word “this” without anything after it. For example: “The environment is negatively affected by this.” This what? Being specific will help make your argument clearer and get to what you are trying to say faster. “This” needs to be followed by a noun which is clearly connected to a previous idea. The corrected example could be something like, “The environment is negatively affected by this cataclysmic event.”

  1. Tightly-Packed Sentences

A general rule of thumb is that your sentence should not be more than 4 lines long. Sometimes including a long sentence is fitting, but it still has to be properly punctuated. Even if you use the right punctuation, it still might be confusing for the reader if there are too many ideas in one sentence. Check your writing: how many ideas are you trying to include in a sentence? If there are more than one, try to break it up. If you can’t see the divide in the sentence, maybe ask a friend to read it and look for where the divide could go.

  1. Common Commas

Most of the time while talking to my friends about editing our papers, we talk about commas, and I think it is safe to say that commas are one of the most common forms of punctuation with which writers struggle. One hard and fast rule to look out for is to never put a comma between a subject and a verb. However, good writers need to know comma rules –  for more details check out the Writing Centre’s simple explanation here (PDF).

Even though this list is short, I hope that these three tips will help you get started with editing your paper, or maybe convince you that editing is worth it.

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Transitioning Between Ideas In Your Writing

By Michelle Bates, 4th-year English/Sociology student

Figuring out how to transition between all of your strong ideas in a paper can be challenging. For some, it is the biggest road block in effectively communicating an argument! However, topic and concluding sentences in paragraphs are not to be feared. They can help focus your ideas and make all the difference in a paper’s coherence. I have three suggestions worth considering if you want to improve these key sentences in your work.

What is first basic to understand about topic and concluding statements is that they must begin and conclude only one complete thought. So, it is up to the topic sentence (the first sentence of a paragraph) to introduce this point, while the concluding sentence will explain why the information you have provided in the body of the paragraph is important. The next paragraph you write, and any after that, should not try to prove the same point. Once you understand their roles, you can try improving these sentences to be as effective and argumentative as possible through other techniques.

When considering how to make your opening sentences flow, you may try acknowledging the previous paragraph’s conclusions. There is a difference between making the same point and relating a previous point to the current one to make it even stronger. These types of transition sentences are most common in compare and contrast papers. However, in any type of paper they can effectively display an accumulation of valid points, reminding the reader of how these points relate to and support the main argument.

In addition to these two very useful pointers, the most important part of writing these sentences is that they always refer back to your thesis. Specifically, the topic sentence is there to introduce the paragraph’s point and how it supports your thesis, while the concluding sentence states exactly how this is accomplished with your evidence. This explanation is necessary for a great paper, and is most effectively accomplished by being as specific as possible.

Constructing these sentences is a little extra work. However, I can’t stress enough how much it can make the difference between locking down a strong argument, and having a sporadic, weak one. Hopefully these tips help; good luck with your future writing!

 

For more information on this topic, see:

http://sass.queensu.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2013/06/Transitions.pdf

 

Photo courtesy of nicodemo.valerio under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

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Exam Strategies? SASS has your back.

 

Welcome to exam season!

 

Student Academic Success Services has got you covered! Make an exam study schedule, or make a professional appointment with a learning strategist to hone your skills!

“Study smarter, not harder” is the cliche — but it’s true! Our “Preparing for and taking tests and exams” resources are thorough and will help you create a customized study schedule and teach you strategies for effectively preparing, no matter what type of test you face.

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