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Peer blog: What do academics and the ocean have in common?

Sarah, Health/Environmental Studies, Class of 2022

Everyone who knows me knows I have an ocean obsession.

It started when I was 16 and out in British Columbia for the first time; the ferry to Victoria was a formative experience in my youth (“youth”, I say at the old age of 21). One of my favourite memories is being with friends, trying to time our jumps into the ocean with massive wave breaks. We’d rush the wave just as it started to recede, before the next wave broke. There would be times where we would get it right, slipping underneath a wave and swimming out into the ocean. Other times, we would get knocked down, kicking up to the surface and spitting out salt water.

 I can’t think of a better metaphor for university life. University can be a wild time. Balancing an education, extracurriculars, friendships, living independently, working part-time to support financing said education—all while getting a decent amount of sleep, staying active, eating well, and in the background, handling a pandemic. Definitely reminds me of getting my legs knocked out from under me by a wave I made the mistake of underestimating.

As many times as I’ve been knocked down by waves, however, I still love the ocean. And I still love being in school.

It’s midterm season. A combination of exams, assignments, caffeine, extra snacks (and sparkling water), and the anticipation of the first round of grades coming in. The stress is real. It feels like there is so much to do, and not enough hours in the day, exacerbated by an abyssopelagic zone of online content to work through.

So, what’s the best way to prepare for rushing the oncoming wave? I have a couple tricks that might work well for you:

  1. Figuring out organization as soon as possible is helpful. In my last entry, I mentioned my planner and a paper matrix. Paired with a visit to review course timelines on onQ at the beginning of every week to make sure I’m not missing anything, those things are working very well for me! Midterms might be fast approaching, but it’s not too late to start to find ways to keep on top of each week’s work, even if it’s with a simple weekly to-do list based on your course timeline (and if you really want to get ahead, look at SASS’s Assignment Planner!).
  2. Making time to talk to the people that remind me there is more than school. As much as I love my major and all things health, there are moments where I am apathetic and miserable due to the mounting pressures of deadlines and delivering high-quality material. So I make an effort to call my friends in my program to have a combined laugh/yell over all the work we have going on. Things are sometimes tough, but being able to laugh with friends over a Zoom call is a great help. This week, try reaching out to a friend, family member, mentor, or even a staff member from QUIC, SASS, Wellness, Four Directions, or another service on campus.
  3. Remembering the bigger picture. Third year is a lot. I seem to always have the grade thresholds for upper-year courses in my given graduate programs of interest in the back of my mind. Getting a high GPA in order to even be considered is daunting. But then, in the midst of panic, I remind myself that if I’m only doing schoolwork to achieve a certain GPA, that’s rough—and kind of sad. Learning at university is so much more than the GPA on your transcript. Think about what you really hope to achieve at Queen’s and whether it goes beyond those GPA numbers.
  4. When courses are a lot, remember the things that got you started in the first place. Super last minute, I got placed into a research internship course. If you were to ask me what my official role is, I think the best description is “sea sponge”: to absorb as much information as possible as to see how research actually works. Hopefully, this will set me up for a thesis in my fourth year. This is the thing I knew I had been working on when I was in second year, and it feels and looks very different than I anticipated. Here’s the funny thing about theses and projects at university: we all know what they are; a big and looming culminating fourth-year project. But, the consensus I have from peers in various programs is again, we know they exist, but none know how to approach doing one. So, my mission right now is to be a sea sponge—to take things as they come and learn what I can to prep for the future. That thought gets me going, and I am so excited to see what research is going to look like for me. It puts a smile on my face the way not most courses do. More to come on this development!

When things feel overwhelming and I feel like I can’t catch the wave break, I remember these tricks. Suddenly, ocean waves don’t seem so intimidating and I’m reminded why I love the ocean—and, even when it’s busy, university.