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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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Apps for time management and notetaking

Liyi, Engineering, Class of 2024

Happy 2021! The winter break has been rejuvenating and very much needed. I sat around a lot, I slept a lot, I ate a lot. It was fantastic. Now, we are back to school and back to the grind. If you did not know, first-year engineers at Queen’s had quadmesters during the fall 2020 term. That meant we only had a maximum of four courses in a quadmester, but we were learning at an accelerated pace – each course lasted 6 weeks instead of 12. Now, for the winter term, our courses are back to normal. Our courses are 12 weeks long, but we have SEVEN courses now, which is a tremendous jump from four. The days leading up to the beginning of the winter term were spent planning how to tackle seven courses and stay organized to maximize productivity.

In a previous blog, I discussed struggling to find methods to stay organized. At the time, I had some agendas and a daily to-do list, but I never found my perfect way to organize. I think I’ve found it now. Recently I discovered Notion, an app you can customize to fit your scheduling needs. A digital creator, Ali Abdaal, created a YouTube video to show all the great aspects of Notion.

Currently, my Notion looks like this:

Screenshot of calendars on Notion app

This page is extremely customizable; I got the template from Janice Studies. ‘Master Schedule’ shows all my big assignments and their dates, including midterms, assignments, etc. For each course under ‘Courses,’ there is a separate to-do list that is divided by weeks. This makes it simpler to see all the lectures I will need to watch and the quizzes/assignments to be completed for each week. Lastly, in ‘Weekly Schedule,’ I have all my reoccurring events listed so that I can remember what tutorials or Q&As I have that day. Of course, your Notion does not have to look like mine (I also promise I am not sponsored by Notion; I am just super happy to have found this organizational tool!).

In my most recent blog, I talked about two big things: trying to stay motivated without the goals from high schools and dealing with notes. Over winter break, I had a lot of time to think. In terms of trying to stay motivated without goals, I do have a goal now: to get some internships. For Module 3 of my Engineering Practice course, we had to interview a professional engineer. One of the requirements was to ask the engineer, “What are the skills desired by engineering employers?” When I asked my interviewee that question, I also asked, “How much do grades matter when applying for jobs? What about work experience, projects, and the likes?” We had a great discussion about why grades were important but weren’t the only thing that matter. I am going to work harder this semester and keep moving forward, hopefully boosting that GPA so I can show it off, but working on other projects too.

I think I’ve resolved some of my issues around dealing with notes too. I scrounged enough money to buy an Apple Pencil and the writing app GoodNotes, which helps to take notes or annotate PDFs. This means that I do not have to think about printing PDFs or organizing loose paper and notebooks. I linked GoodNotes with my OneDrive so that everything will be accessible on the cloud. I am ecstatic to start writing digitally, and I enjoy how much tidier my desk is because of it.

These next couple of weeks will be hectic: jumping from four courses to seven, getting familiar with writing digitally, and trying not to burn out too quickly. I hope I can get through it! Good luck, everyone, and again, happy 2021.




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Taking Notes From Lectures in Class and Reading Workshop

Lectures might seem like a blur: everything’s too complicated, explained too fast, and you just forget everything afterward anyway. Our notetaking class will help you pay attention to the most important parts of the lecture and your readings, organize your information in an effective way, and show you how to work from lecture and reading material when you’re writing assignments or revising for exams.

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