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Peer blog: Being in the midst of precedented, unprecedented times

Kate, PhD Psychology, Year 1 

Happy December! Congratulations, you are almost there! Cue the music from Chariots of Fire. Over the last three months, I have become fully engrossed in picking apart the meaning of the phrase “unprecedented times.” In March, the whole world agreed upon the fact that these were unprecedented times, but for how long must things remain unprecedented before they become… precedented?

As a student, it feels like we all unknowingly entered an alternative dimension. Navigating this semester has been strange at times. On the surface, everything seems to be running normally. Lectures get uploaded every week, assignments are the same. But every now and again, you stumble across a glitch in the matrix, like realizing that you still don’t know what your professors look like—even though you have now spent hours upon hours listening to them. One of my most jarring realizations has been that I have not had a face-to-face conversation with any of my lab mates or supervisor for nearly eight months now! Nevertheless, we trek on, knowing that this setback is only temporary. I commend you for carrying on! It has not been easy, but don’t let that prevent you from making the most out of this school year.

Speaking of “making the most,” I was finally given permission to work in my lab space at the beginning of November. Thus, my primary objective is now to get back into the swing of things, specifically, into the swing of lab work. Our lab just moved to a new location on campus, so the space is a little chaotic, but I missed it! Although the building is eerily quiet, there is something very comforting about climbing the four flights of stairs as I used to way back in March. Right now, I am analyzing rat brain tissue under the microscope for a colleague. I wanted to complete this analysis by the holidays, but because I was granted access to the facility only recently, I will likely have to carry this work over into the new year. In spite of this minor delay, I thoroughly enjoy just being back in the lab space and cannot wait to begin my own experiments.

So far, my progress on the research front has been steady. At the beginning of the semester, I stated that I was in the “gathering information” phase of the research process. To date, I have built up a pretty large library of resources. Before last year, I did not have a good method of organizing my literature aside from keeping a very large folder on my desktop labelled “Lit Review”. But then, I was introduced to Zotero and I am here to sing its praises. Zotero is a free tool that is compatible with both Mac and PC and allows for the seamless organization of journal articles. I highly recommend trying it out for any assignment which requires referencing. You can create separate folders for separate projects if you have multiple things on the go and, best of all, Zotero will create and update your citation list at the end of your document. That’s right, gone are the days of trying to, word-by-word, painstakingly follow some obscure set of citation formatting guidelines. Zotero is capable of formatting citations in dozens of styles (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) at the push of a button. You have truly never felt power until you click “Add Bibliography” in the Zotero “add-in” tab in Microsoft Word. If you take anything away from this blog, I urge you to try Zotero. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and you will never have to manually cite another article ever again in your life. Need I say more!?

At this time of year, it is the thought of the holidays (and break) that keeps me motivated! Although it is just slightly too early to decorate and play holiday-themed music, I look forward to the transition into December. I think we have all had enough of 2020, so, at the very least, I am looking forward to closing the book on this year. With good news of a vaccination not far away, I am confident that, as long as we all keep doing our part to stay safe and healthy, things will only go up from here!

p.s. My conference talk was finally uploaded to Youtube! See caption.

p.p.s. Make sure you try Zotero!

Kate presenting at a conference

Kate presenting her research at her first conference!

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Top tips for managing test anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety. It signals that something important is at stake and motivates us to make necessary changes to manage that task. We all experience a certain amount of anxiety or nervousness before a test. Try these strategies to keep anxiety at a manageable level.

1. Take care of yourself2. Start studying early3. Use effective study strategies4. Control what you can5. Use relaxation techniques

Take care of yourself

Overcoming anxiety is a process. It’s important to take care of yourself on a day-to-day basis—not just when you have a test coming up. Build in strategies for regular stress management and self-care:

  • eat well and drink plenty of water, including on the day of the exam.
  • exercise as a regular part of your routine.
  • get plenty of sleep on a regular basis. Sleep is directly related to your ability to think clearly, remember what you’ve learned, and deal with your anxiety.

Start studying early

Give yourself time to study well. Use SASS’s template to make a study schedule. Break down course content and structure your 3-hour study blocks. Want to know what a good study schedule looks like? Here is a sample plan (15 study hours over 5 days).

Use effective study strategies

Organize the information meaningfully (e.g., use the course learning objectives; make summary sheets and mind maps). Elaborate on the material (e.g., ask how and why; look for connections and relationships between concepts; apply to new contexts). In math, spend 20% of your time reviewing concepts and 80% of your time working on problems

But the BEST thing you can do? Self-test every time you sit down to study. Self-testing helps you learn better, identifies what you don’t know as well, improves memory through active recall, and lets you practice test anxiety management.

Control what you can

Control what you can by making sure you’re clear about the course expectations, how to prepare, what is allowed and what isn’t. Get comfortable with the online test environment. There is a lot of information available, including FAQs on remote proctoring and resources for how to work with remote proctoring tools.

Use relaxation techniques

Have some things you do to regain your focus and tolerate the discomfort brought on by anxiety.

  • Mindset shifts: visualizing success, noticing your own thinking and using encouraging words with yourself, and establishing good practices early.
  • Grounding exercises: five-finger breathing, squeezing lemons, chair-body scanning, and rhythmic breathing.

Student Wellness Services have also posted strategies for exam anxiety management, to help students maintain their physical, mental and social well-being as they study.

For more information to help you become aware of, accept, and take action against test anxiety, check out this resource, co-created by Student Wellness Services and Student Academic Success Services.

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Booking an appointment at SASS: How-to video

Students can book an appointment with a writing consultant, academic skills specialist, peer writing assistant, or English as an additional language consultant by using our online booking system.

You must register with our online booking system before you can make an appointment. If you have questions about the system, please see our FAQ tab. If you have technical problems, please let us know via email.

When you book an appointment, please indicate whether you would like to meet in person or online by selecting a choice from the drop-down menu on the booking form. Please note: All appointments are currently offered online only.

If possible, book early—our appointments are popular!

How to book an appointment in WCOnline

  • Select a date, timeslot, and a consultant. Available appointment timeslots are WHITE. (RED timeslots are already booked; BLACK timeslots are unavailable; GREY timeslots have already occurred.)
  • Note that all appointments begin on the hour or on the half-hour. For example, if you want to sign up for a 25-minute appointment at 10 am, reserve the time between 10 am and 10:30 am.
  • Click on an open (white) appointment time to open the reservation window.
  • When the reservation window opens, fill in the required information. We ask for this information to ensure you receive the best possible consultation. This information is private and accessible only to relevant SASS staff.
  • After completing the form in the reservation window, click “save” to finish. Your appointment will now appear on the schedule in red, and you will receive a reminder email with the date and time (check your spam folder if you don’t see it).

How to begin your online session

  1. Click on your appointment slot in the WCOnline schedule (where you booked the appointment).
  2. Then click on the link “Start or Join Online Consultation.”
  3. You will be redirected to the virtual appointment space. The space includes a shared whiteboard, a text chat box, and video chat windows. You have access to the virtual space as soon as you make the appointment, but your appointment will not actually happen until the time it is booked.

We encourage you to go into your virtual space before your appointment time to ensure that the connections and functions all work properly. Online consultations are best facilitated through a Chrome browser. We look forward to seeing you! If you have any questions, email academic.success@queensu.ca or call us at 613-533-6315.

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Peer blog: “How am I already behind?”

Sarah, Health/Environmental Studies, Class of 2022

This is the question I’m asking myself after the first week of the fall term. In my last post I mentioned I was a somewhat reformed “master procrastinator.” Now I think my lack of organizational skills are now contributing to falling behind in school and don’t help an inner feeling that I’m always lacking something. My organization has always been minimal. Armed with a journal and planner, I got through on-campus classes perfectly well in second year. However, online classes are a whole new ball game.

Matrix for organizing work

Currently, I’m trying to work with a paper matrix. I divide a large poster paper into 5 slots, one for each class. Then, at the beginning of the week, I write every assignment, reading, lecture—literally everything for this week—onto its own Post-It. Then, I arrange them by what is most pressing for the week. That gives me a simple visual to-do list. At the end of the week, when I’m finished, the notes go into a pile of miscellaneous paper to be recycled. This approach is a work in progress, and I feel a little like the Post-Its are just band-aids covering my disorganization. I’ll let you know how this system’s working out and how I develop it in my next post!

That isn’t my only time management issue right now. I find taking breaks with online school more difficult than I imagined. My eyes hurt from staring at a screen for many hours in the day, and my back aches from sitting in a chair for so long. There are at least two mugs from my coffee and tea rotation on my desk, sitting alongside the empty Perrier can that has now called my study space home for a few days.

Sarah's study spaceWatching Netflix is no longer really something I look forward to; I feel such animosity towards my screen. The constant pouring in of information, both audio and visual, is so much I can no longer really engage with the shows that helped me turn my brain off, as I have begun associating my laptop with online school. But I’m learning from mistakes and trying to take regular, different breaks. I’ll keep you updated on which strategies are working best for me over the next few weeks.

Tackling these organization and focus problems can be hard; and I find my confidence affected. I knew this would be a problem for me going into September. Even before the pandemic, I was incredibly hard on myself. I am highly self-critical, and known to be up late at night working away on a problem and trying to battle my problems with self-deprecating humour rather than following a healthier approach.

To help me out and avoid a spiral, I mind-mapped how I want my third year to look. I wrote down my goals, hopes and ambitions for the year, and keep the finished map visible in my study space. Reminding myself that there is an unprecedented global pandemic helps me to not be so hard on myself.

I am finding that this year it’s the little things that count, in spite of the mounting frustrations, screen animosity, and general “up in the air-ness” emotions I have been feeling. Queen’s Student Wellness Services has a great strategy to find positive emotions in difficult times. It’s simple: you write 3-5 things that you’re proud you did or that you are grateful for on a particular day. I’m changing the strategy up to describe 3-5 things I am proud of from the first two weeks of online classes and a unique third year in Kingston:

  1. Showed up and met my professors, formally introducing myself.
  2. Tried a few new ways to practice procrastination management and organizational skills.
  3. Was able to do 30 consecutive push-ups for the first time (ever!).
  4. Cut my Netflix usage down to about an hour and a half per day.
  5. Cooked myself a real meal last night.

So, I’ll leave you with this technique: what are 3-5 things you are proud of since starting school this year?

Good luck—see you again soon!

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Peer blog: 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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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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Fall services & programs: Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Many students are wondering what the fall academic term will be like. What you can be sure of is that SASS is here to help you, regardless of your year or program. Our FAQs page is one place to start, or you might explore content in the tabs at the top of this page. Welcome to SASS!

1. How can SASS support me?

SASS is here to help you be successful with study habits, note-taking skills, essay and report writing, time management, math problem-solving, and more. Students can start with our online resources, which are available 24/7 on our website and cover a variety of topics related to writing and academic skills. Students can also book individualized 1:1 appointments with professional writing consultants, English-as-additional-language consultants, and academic skills specialists. Currently, these appointments are all online using an integrated tool in our online booking system. Find out more about booking an appointment here.

2. Is there a specific resource that can help me meet academic expectations at Queen's?

Yes! SASS has developed Academics 101, a series of free and interactive online tutorials to help incoming students develop essential academic and writing skills. Students can do any or all of the seven tutorials at their own pace while learning how to be successful in an online learning environment. Academics 101 concludes by showing students how to make a plan to succeed throughout their first six weeks at Queen’s.

3. Can I book 1:1 appointments at SASS?

Yes! SASS offers 1:1 support for writing, academic skills, and English as an additional language support. Currently, these appointments are all online using an integrated tool in our online booking system. Find out more about booking an appointment here. (Please note that there are a limited number of appointments offered in July and August).

4. What if I would rather have an in-person appointment?

While we appreciate that some students prefer to meet a consultant in person as opposed to online, the health and safety of our staff, students, and the community is a priority. For that reason, we continue to only offer our services online at this time. Please check our website for the most up-to-date information about our services and programs, and stay informed generally with the Queen’s University COVID-19 Information page. If you have questions about online appointments, please email academic.success@queensu.ca.

5. Are workshops and drop-in programs still happening?

For Fall 2020, our workshop and drop-in programs will be delivered remotely, using a variety of platforms. Our first-year transition workshops will feature 50-minute Zoom sessions on a range of academic skills and writing topics, including online learning/learning from home skills, focus and motivation, and group work in an online context; peer volunteers will give a short presentation at the start of each session, providing clear and actionable strategies for improving learning, then lead group discussion on the topic of each workshop. Additionally, we will offer the weekly Write Nights at the QUIC, EAL Drop-In support, Drop-In academic skills support, and Grad Writing Lab. Please check our Upcoming Events section and social media feeds for the most current information.

6. I am an English as Additional Language student. Can I access EAL support in Fall 2020?

EAL support will be continuing in the fall. This support includes online appointments for the development of academic English skills. Write Nights @QUIC, Drop-in EAL Support, and the English Conversation Group will also continue in an online form. Keep checking the EAL page for program details.

7. What can SASS do for graduate students in the current remote environment?

SASS is here to help you be successful as you progress through your graduate studies. Students can start with our online resources, which are available 24/7 on our website and cover a variety of topics related to writing and academic skills. Students can also book individualized 1:1 appointments with professional writing consultants, English-as-additional-language consultants, and academic skills specialists. Currently, these appointments are all online using an integrated tool in our online booking system. Find out more about booking an appointment here

8. I am a parent of a Queen's student. How can I help my student access academic support?

Please see our page for Parents/Guardians with additional information about how you can support your student academically by referring them to our services and programs.

9. What if I need other supports?

There are many services available to support you with wellness, faith and spirituality, accessibility, career questions, and many other aspects of student life. If you are in incoming student, a great place to start is Queen’s Next Steps website. You can also refer to the Student Affairs COVID-19 website to see how you can access all of the services provided by Student Affairs.

10. I had an IEP / accessibility accommodation in high school. How can SASS help?

SASS works with all students to support them in their academic skill development, but we do not specialize in working with students with accommodations; we refer students with questions about accessibility or accommodations to Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS).

11. I have questions regarding refunds, course selection, and other general SOLUS inquiries, what do I do?

Please note that our office does not handle requests such as these. The Office of the University Registrar can support you with various inquiries including:

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