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Peer Blog: How I Chose My Major

Rahul, Psychology, Class of 2021

Dear First Year,

Since my last blog post on Adam Grant’s Think Again, and since my fourth and last year is ending, I’ve been reflecting on how I got to where I am right now. It all started with deciding to major in psychology. However, making hitting on a major was no easy feat! You might already know what you want to major in. But others (and perhaps this is you) might feel clueless. It’s important to check in with Academic Advising to see how and whether you can enrol in a given major, but I thought it would be helpful to share my journey towards psychology. The main lesson? Choosing what’s interesting to you will help you study better and more effectively: if you’re stuck in a rut, knowing that your major is leading somewhere is a great boost to your studies!

Illustration of profile of head between two doors

Meeting a Struggle 

I applied to Queen’s with med school in mind. Like many pre-meds in my cohort, I believed tht majoring in Life Sciences was the only way to go. I took PSYC 100 as an elective because it would help in completing a Life Sciences degree. At first, I struggled to accept that psychology was more interesting than calculus, biology, physics, and chemistry. Coming from an East Indian background, I had generally been encouraged to pursue the “hard sciences” and discouraged from “soft” sciences like psychology. Many from my community are encouraged to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Under the influence of these sociocultural norms and expectations, I figured that life sciences would be my only path towards becoming a doctor. On top of these sociocultural expectations, my first-year peers were set on majoring in “hard sciences”; none were looking to major in psychology. For a long time, I thought, “I’ll already have a community in Life Sciences, and that’s something I really like…so why be alone in Psychology?” Little did I know that I would find a fantastic community in psychology too!

Illustration with head and microscope, arrow positioned between the two

Navigating the Struggle 

I decided that sociocultural and peer influences were not going to hold sway over my decisions.  I wanted to decide on my behalf, to be proactive rather than reactive. I attended a couple of events held by the Psychology Department Students’ Council on majoring in psychology and about different upper-year courses in the program. I attended parallel events held by the Department of Life Sciences. I reached out to the undergraduate program advisor in the psychology department, to students majoring in the discipline, and explored the different upper-year courses on offer. Finally, I looked through Career Services’ amazing Major Maps to discover the employment opportunities I’d have on graduation.

These sources provided me with lots of information, but I had to actively seek them out. If you find yourself in my position, you will likely have to take the same initiative. If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to Academic Advising and the departments in question to see what advice they have.

Line drawing of icons: an "i" in a circle, a page of text, a body in front of a projector, and two heads in conversation

My Decision

I finally decided to major in Psychology. I didn’t declare a minor, as I only wanted to make one decision at a time. Even now, as I near the end of my fourth and final year of undergrad, I don’t have a minor. I’m happy with that! If you find yourself thinking about whether you should minor in something, just know that you can enroll in courses that lead to various certificates, that you can always declare your minor later on, and that there’s no rush to make a decision. Keep experimenting, trying new courses, learning new things, and you’ll be a healthier, happier, and smarter student!

Conclusion

Declaring a major is stressful. It’s one of the decisions you can’t really delay at the end of your first year. You will need to get as much information as you can to make an informed decision, so seek that information out and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know that if you don’t end up liking your major down the road, you are not alone—each of us has our own timelines. Whatever you do, though, try not to let others dictate your decision: if you’re enjoying your major, you’ll be more motivated and more likely to succeed. Whatever you do choose, I wish you the best of luck!

Sincerely,

Rahul

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Peer Blog: Smooth Sailing – Finally?

Sarah, Health/Environmental Studies, Class of 2022

My housemate and I recently had an interesting conversation about how we feel as upper-year students. We’re third- and fourth-year students in wildly different programs (shout out to Computer Science majors: I have no idea what you all do, but I’m endlessly entertained by stories from my computer science housemate). In spite of all the challenges of this year, neither of us feels like school is a “dumpster fire” right now. But reflecting on this, we weren’t sure why at first. The content is certainly not getting any easier. At times, it isn’t even enjoyable. So it’s time to figure out why we both feel like we’re navigating calmer waters right now (if you’ve been following my blog, you know I love a sailing metaphor!).

But, before we get too into this, I’ll share a secret about myself. It’s not quite Gossip Girl worthy gossip, but it’ll help you understand my rough experience of sailing the academic sea. I came to Queen’s in 2016, intending to graduate as part of the Class of 2020. I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I was in a mixture of courses I found interesting: politics, French, film, and psychology. To the profs’ credit, the content was always interesting. But I didn’t fit in or feel good. I was living in residence, incredibly homesick, anxious, and procrastinating. I didn’t feel good enough because I didn’t know what I wanted to study or what was happening at university. It didn’t get better. After talking to my friends, family, residence don, and professors, I just felt like it wasn’t the right time for me to be at university. So I left Queen’s.

Many others find first-year to be rough sailing. Even when I came back in 2018, after getting some of what I like to call “life experience”, I still struggled. My comp sci housemate also struggled in first year, so we mutually pondered how far we had come: what are we doing right now, as upper-year students?

All of our ideas came down to self-efficacy, which I touched on in a previous blog. Self-efficacy is, in short, the belief you have in yourself to do something. Here’s how we’ve motivated ourselves to be self-efficacious in our academic and non-academic lives:

  1. We joined clubs

In first year (both times), I wouldn’t say I had any great belief in my ability to succeed academically. Thankfully, I joined a Queen’s club as a peer educator, which helped me develop my self-efficacy. I didn’t feel like I had a clue what I was doing in my courses, but being amongst like-minded peers in a club that I felt passionate about was what I needed to set myself up for success in my second semester. It continues to, even while I’m only connecting with clubs virtually. If you have been feeling like you want to get involved, I highly suggest it. Plenty of Queen’s clubs advertise throughout the school year and hiring often begins in both the winter and subsequent fall terms. Take a risk, join something you’ve had your eye on. It might be the things that makes your Queen’s experience even better! If you’re not sure where to start, chat to the folks at the Peer Support Centre: they’ll be able to hook you up!

2. Figure out “balance”

If you ask both of us as upper year students how we balance our time, we’d probably laugh and shrug. In our minds, we don’t recognize the change as radical. It’s been a slow process figuring out balance. We both reminisced with slight jealousy about the people we knew on our respective residence floors who appeared to have “balance” right out of the gate.

I personally didn’t figure out balance until a few weeks ago. My housemate figured it out after coming back from exchange in Finland last year. If you had to ask us what helped us feel like we had a grip on things, we would both say it was our ability to say no and prioritize. At the end of the day, balance looks different for everyone—so don’t buy into any myths about what “successful” Queen’s students do. For example, I like to prioritize at least one or two courses each day, a lunchtime walks, and I almost exclusively take my Zoom calls in the morning. My housemate likes to prioritize waking up early for a morning coffee, working 7:30-4 on school, and playing guitar at night. While I cannot do 7:30-4 because it doesn’t work with my balance, hear about how it works for my housemate doesn’t interfere with my belief that I personally best engage in my schoolwork in 25-minute repeated blocks with many, many breaks in between.

3. Reflect on your progress

Think about how, for many of us, the place we are at right now is the place we two years ago would have given anything to be at. In other words, take time to reflect on what you’re grateful your university experience has brought you. In times where I’m bogged down in epidemiology formulas and health policy readings, my brain drifts slightly. I often think back to how I started in first year. I often gave up on tedious or long readings because I would great frustrated over how much there was to understand. Looking back, I give myself a pat on the back: I’ve come a long way by experimenting with what works for me. A sentiment of “go you!” has been at the core of the intrinsic motivation that has gotten me through many formulas, discussion posts and readings. My self-talk, as opposed to being overly critical, has shifted to sounding like a very supportive friend.

It took a long time—almost four years—since my first go at academia to get here. Yet here I am, not too far from graduation. While there are many challenges ahead even in this semester, and there are many things to do, there’s still time to make this semester sail smoothly. Reflect on what’s going well, give yourself some positive self-talk and, if you need to do, sail your own path: what works for everybody else may not work for you.

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A Hurdle in the Journey

Santosh, Life Sciences, Class of 2021

Hello Gaels!

I hope you have settled into the semester and are having some fun learning new concepts! As a science student, it’s been fun to learn some coding skills in my statistics course this semester. It’s very easy to forget to have fun learning during a hectic semester, but finding the fun always makes learning more enjoyable for me! As Aristotle once said, “the greatest of all pleasures is the pleasure of learning”.

Unfortunately, the first week of the semester was anything but fun for me. It was as though a whole (never-ending) pile of work was thrown at me in a matter of days. I felt drained and demotivated. I did have a lot to do: a quiz, two assignments, and a lab report. However, I think the thought of having to do so much work was more mentally draining than the actual work itself.

I tried to overcome this feeling as I trudged through my work from Monday to Wednesday. But on Thursday, mental burnout hit me hard. I had a few more assignments to finish, so Thursday and Friday was spent finishing those off—but this burnout really prevented me from maximizing my study periods. My overall mood was down, and I felt exhausted just thinking about university.

Yes… this had all happened in the first week of the semester! I knew that pushing this negative feeling aside and continuing my work would not be sustainable. After all, the goal I set for myself in my last blog was to make sure I utilize my study periods to the best of my ability.  Once I finished my last task for the week, I knew that I needed to take a break and rejuvenate myself. Therefore I took the entire first weekend of semester to enjoy some time off.

If you are also burnt out, here are some things that really helped me to relax and re-motivate myself:

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Watch my favorite show
  • I made some of my favourite foods (homemade panzerottis) and ate them as I watched Captain America: Civil War for the 10th time.
  • I finished off creating my to-do list for the following week to get me primed for week 2!

In a few quiet moments, I felt like I could be a little productive, so I took the chance to do some light work, creating flashcards or writing notes for about just a few minutes. By Sunday night I was motivated and rejuvenated to get back to my normal schedule, which set me up for success for week 2.

Throughout the week that followed, I decided to stop doing work after 10pm. Instead, I took an hour or two to relax before bed! While studying online it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of work, so it’s even more important to take those much needed breaks to help propel you through the semester.

I’ve also been trying to work on that goal I set for myself to make my study periods more productive. This was an addition to my general time management goal from last semester. I’ve tried to experiment with new methods to see what works for me—and what doesn’t—when it comes to making my study sessions productive. Here are my takeaways from my first two weeks:

Do:

  • Use the Pomodoro method (work through a 25-minute block, take a 5-minute break, then repeat)
  • Have a goal on what to finish for a certain study block
  • Have a home set-up that stops you needing to move much or continuously get up from your seat. Have that coffee and all your materials ready before you sit down!

Don’t:

  • Go into a study session without an idea of what you want to accomplish. Even a small, rough goal will help your focus.
  • Use the study time to decide what you want to accomplish. Do it in advance, either that morning or the evening before.
  • Keep any distractions within arm’s reach. Put that phone in a different room altogether.

I still have a way to go before I can reach my potential with this goal, but I feel as though I have made a few baby steps since the first day of the winter term!

I hope this blog has helped you understand that if you have a setback, making an effort to fix it can really help you make vital strides forward! In this unprecedented academic year, we have faced so many hurdles that we need to appreciate the work that has been done!

Have fun and stay safe!

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Get It Done ! Drop-in Study Event

As the assignments pile up and exams loom, you’re probably thinking: how am I supposed to get this much work done without catered food, scheduled breaks, and the help of the pros?

We are too! So we’re inviting you to GET IT DONE: a day of supported studying and fun in Ban Righ Dining Hall, brought to you by Student Academic Success Services.

Bring your schoolwork and working minds, because we’ll have everything you need for success, including drinks and food, a comfy study spot, and a team of trained writing and learning assistants to improve your academic work.

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Stop Procrastinating Now! Workshop

It’s that time of year: deadlines are piling up and exams are looming, but you just can’t get started! We’ll show you how to beat procrastination by producing a simple, personalized plan.

Read More

GET IT DONE! Drop-in Writing Event

As the assignments pile up and exams loom, you’re probably thinking: how am I supposed to get this much work done without catered food, scheduled breaks, and the help of the pros?

We are too! So we’re inviting you to GET IT DONE: a day of supported studying and fun in Ban Righ Dining Hall, brought to you by Student Academic Success Services.

Bring your schoolwork and working minds, because we’ll have everything you need for success, including drinks and food, a comfy study spot, and a team of trained writing and learning assistants to improve your academic work.

Read More

Stop Procrastinating Workshop

It’s that time of year: deadlines are piling up and exams are looming, but you just can’t get started! We’ll show you how to beat procrastination by producing a simple, personalized plan.

Read More

GET IT DONE! Drop-in Writing Event

Twice per academic year, Student Academic Success Services and Queen’s Residence Life join forces to provide first-year students with the ultimate anti-procrastination tool — complete with snacks, supportive Peer Writing and Learning Assistants. Drop in for thirty minutes or five hours!

This event sets first-year students loose on a final paper of their choosing in a dedicated, (relatively) distraction-free space. The Peer Writing and Learning Assistants will be available to provide suggestions, while, in a nearby room, free snacks,  and excellent raffle prizes keep everyone motivated.

Through one-on-one consultations and mini-workshops, this event may help students

  • generate new ideas and map connections
  • structure a complex paper in a coherent way
  • sculpt an introductory paragraph or thesis statement
  • break a large project into smaller writing tasks
  • feel part of a larger writing community
  • get started on a major assignment earlier rather than later

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