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SASS peers: Ask me anything

Have questions about your academics that you wish someone could answer while you study remotely? Ask a Queen’s SASS Peer Learning Assistant any question you might have about studying and study skills! Wondering how to stay motivated while completing online classes, how to take notes for a particular course, how to manage large writing assignments, and more? Our upper-year peers have the answers and are here to help you be successful in university. Submit your question(s) using the link below.

Peers will respond to your questions via your Queen’s email address as soon as they can.

Submit any of your questions here.

SASS Peers

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Embracing change in a new, virtual world and a new PhD program

Kate, PhD Psychology, Year 1

Happy September everyone! At the beginning of the month I successfully defended my Master’s thesis and am now officially beginning my PhD! Last time, I spoke of my enthusiasm to begin my research proposal, but my supervisor has put a hold on that for now. We have agreed that oxytocin, a hormone related to social bonding, will continue to be a main focus. I am genuinely excited about this because it was my favourite aspect of my research project. There’s some work to do before I can start my formal proposal.

My supervisor suggested I use the next few weeks and months to really flesh out my understanding of the oxytocin system in the brain. Thus for the fall semester I will be in the “gathering information” stage of the writing process. During my Master’s, I was much more focused on the neural circuitry of oxytocin rather than its neuropharmacology. As such, my supervisor and I believe the next logical step is to learn more about the latter. This may sound quite nuanced, but I promise you that behavioural neuroscientists are a distinct breed from neuropharmacologists! That being said, I am excited to round out my knowledge of oxytocin as it will hopefully give me some ideas about what I could do for my first set of experiments. Since I’m in this information-gathering phase, I’m embarking on a lot of reading and notetaking. There’s a lot to read through, but the APA has some great advice on tackling a huge reading list.

I don’t have too much coursework right now: “Biological Bases of Behaviour” is the only course I am enrolled in this term. Being registered in only one course definitely has its advantages:

  1. I only have to worry about one set of course deadlines,
  2. I have lots of time to dedicate to my research and scholarship applications, and
  3. I am engaging in more volunteering opportunities to offset the surge in free time.

But there are some disadvantages too. I am concerned that all of this free time will cause my focus and concentration to suffer and, I will thus get distracted and procrastinate like never before. Luckily, the SASS Academic Resources page has tips on how to prevent these things from happening—and SASS has teamed up with the School of Graduate Studies for a workshop on 23 September on time management just for grad students (register here).

I’m also trying three things to improve my focus by altering my working environment. One permanent change I made a few years ago was muting all of my notifications on my laptop in between the hours of 8:00 AM and 8:30 PM. This time range may seem a little extreme, but it drastically decreased the number of distractions I was being presented with every day. Another small change I plan on making is to remove the “Messages” icon from my taskbar on my laptop. Without seeing the icon, I believe this will curb my tendency to mindlessly check my text messages. The third change is something that I used to implement (and found very useful), but I have since let it fade from practice. I used to keep a small notebook on my desk and whenever I thought of something off-task, I took a few seconds to write it down. It could be anything: a chore I had been meaning to do, an email I wanted to send, something I wanted to look up, etc. and instead of breaking my concentration to do said task, I would write it down. Then, during a break, I would address all the things I had written down. I remember this practice being very effective when working from home because it is all too easy to stand up and start to do something else when in the comfort of one’s own living quarters. However, now that most, if not all, of us graduate students are working from home, I highly recommend making some changes to make your environment as work-friendly as possible.

All in all, I have had a very productive September thus far: I passed my Master’s defense, I got assigned fantastic courses to TA, I have some interesting assignments to work on (more on that next time!), and I am going to introduce some new techniques to help keep my productivity high as I work from home. As we begin a new school year, I hope this transition to a “new, virtual normal” goes smoothly for everyone. Although we have had to make some pretty large adjustments in order to continue our programs, just remember that change itself is not the beast. The beast is in how we choose to handle the change (hopefully with a smile and a “heck, yeah!”)

That’s all for now, folks!

SASS Peer: Kate

Kate with her Queen’s acceptance letter for the Psychology PhD program!

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Student Academic Success Services stands in support of the anti-racism movement that has been happening across Canada and the United States. In our particular Canadian context, we acknowledge and rebuke the violence that has been perpetuated against BIPOC communities. Let us be clear: Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. We echo the Principal’s statement about the need for sustainable change and pledge to create more space for BIPOC voices in our work.

As a student service, it is our job to provide students the tools and strategies that will help them be academically successful. What this often translates to is providing students tools and strategies that perpetuate existing systems and structures—systems and structures that subtly, and sometimes explicitly, value white histories, cultures, and languages over others. As a unit, we are constantly trying to find ways to reconcile empowering students to see value in their diversity with setting students up to be successful in a system that does not value their diversity. Despite our efforts, we can do better. We need to do better. We commit to continue educating ourselves and pursuing this important work so that we will do better.

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Graduate writing video series!

Introducing our new graduate writing video series! In our three-week series, experts from SASS and the Queen’s Library will talk you through simple strategies to develop your ability to write like experienced academics and ease the writing process using the latest software and writing aids. You’ll improve your chances of publication and speed up your time to degree completion.

Our three-part series is due to be released on SASS’ Youtube Channel over three weeks in May:

May 5: Disciplinary toolkit – Dr. Ian Garner explains how you can use style guides and SASS’ tools to understand and imitate the best writers in your discipline. The perfect series for students looking to work on publications this summer.

May 12: Editing tools – SASS’ English as an Additional Language Specialist Alyssa Foerstner shows you how to improve your own editing skills using SASS’ Editing Checklist, making the editing process faster, more effective, and less stressful.

May 19: Citation management and library resources – Librarian Siu Yu discusses using the pros and cons of the latest citation management software, an essential tool for graduate students juggling huge numbers of sources, and how students can access Library support while away from campus. Don’t miss out!

If you’ve watched the videos and want to work with our staff on the strategies described or any other aspect of your writing, appointments are available until the end of July! Book here.

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Q&A webinars: Studying from home

Do you have questions or concerns about learning and studying from home?

Join us for one or both of our live Q&A webinars featuring our academic skills specialist, Dr. Lindsay Heggie, who will answer your questions and concerns about distance learning and offer you helpful strategies.

Our webinars will be held on April 2 and April 9 from 12-1pm.

Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/146370607

Can’t make it? We will post the recordings of the webinars on our website!


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Online appointments available to ALL students during COVID-19 response

At SASS, our priority is to ensure the health and safety of our community while continuing to provide academic support to all Queen’s students. For that reason, we are moving all of our 1:1 services at SASS to online until further notice. Students can continue to book appointments with our professional writing consultants, our EAL specialist team, and our academic skills specialists via the online option. All appointments previously booked will be switched to the online format as of Monday, March 16. Peer Writing Assistant appointments will now be delivered online by professional writing consultants, and any peer appointments scheduled for after Friday, March 20 will be rescheduled with professional writing consultants..

While the Graduate Writing Lab will be postponed until further notice, we encourage graduate students to book 1:1 writing support with a professional writing consultant.

If you would not like to have an online appointment, you can cancel any time before the appointment starts. We respectfully request that you provide as much notice of cancelation as possible.

If you are feeling overwhelmed or concerned, please refer to the Division of Student Affairs website for information on services provided by Faith and Spiritual Life, Wellness, the Queen’s International Centre, Ban Right Centre, and others.

If the situation surrounding COVID-19 changes, we will re-evaluate and ensure timely communications are sent to your Queen’s email. We encourage you to stay informed by staying up-to-date with information shared on the Queen’s University COVID-19 Information page.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but we thank you for your cooperation and understanding at this time.

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SASS services through December

Please be advised that SASS’s services for the month of December and during the holiday break are as follows:


  • Writing Consultant appointments will end on December 4, 2019  and begin again on January 6, 2020
  • Peer Writing appointments will end on November 29, 2019 and begin again on January 13, 2020
  • Learning Strategies appointments will end on December 13, 2019 and begin again on January 6, 2020
  • Academic English Support appointments will end on December 6, 2019 and begin again on January 6, 2020.


  • Grad Writing Lab will end on December 5, 2019 and will begin again on January 13, 2020
  • Write Nights @ the QUIC will end on November 26, 2019 and will begin again on January 7, 2020
  • Drop-in Learning Strategies will end on November 28, 2019 and begin again on January 9, 2020
  • EAL Drop-in Support will end November 27, 2019 and begin again on January 15, 2020

SASS will close for the holidays on Tuesday, December 24 at 12:00pm and will re-open on Thursday, January 2.

Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

Happy holidays!

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