Your First Day (Of University)

That Huge Lecture Theatre!

Hopefully your class isn't this big! (Image "That Huge Lecture Theatre!" courtesy of flickr user teddy-rised. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The first day of university is very much like the first day of elementary or secondary school (except without your nice first grade teacher and the bully that always stole your lunch money). Don’t believe me? Here is what you can expect on your first day:

8:50 am. You walk into the lecture hall for your first ever university lecture. The class is ¾ full and people near the door look at you, sizing you up, as you walk in. Miraculously you find an empty seat without tripping over a dozen people. Taking out your new notebook, pens, and a 50 pound textbook (that won’t ever be used in the lecture), you say a tentative “hi” to the people around you.

8:52 am. 8 more minutes to go. You look to the front, where someone – probably the prof – is setting up. People are trickling in through the doors of the lecture hall.

8:53 am. A quarter of the class seems to be asleep. A few people are looking around anxiously, almost furtively, as if they are puzzling out some great mystery. Your neighbour to the left is looking decidedly hang-over and is chugging coffee the way he probably chugged alcohol the night before. The two girls to your right look to be best friends and are chattering incessantly about that hot guy at the party last night. There are a couple of people with computers in the row ahead of you. Some are reading the course syllabus. Most, however, are on Facebook or playing distracting computer games.

8:56 am. The class is filling up and people seem to get just a tad bit louder. Your professor is looking at the clock on the wall, debating the best time is to start.

9:01 am. The prof introduces herself, then hands out the syllabus. It’s 8 pages long and contains her information, a summary of the course, the learning outcomes, and a schedule of the term. She details her expectations and talks about how performance will be graded. Most people listen (or at least pretend to), but a a few people sitting right behind you just won’t shut up. The professor draws your attention to the reading list. You realize you have to read 3 chapters – at least 50 pages with tiny words – each week just to keep up. You start feeling just a tad bit anxious.

9:15 am. The professor spends a few minutes demonstrating how to use the online system for the course. She tells you you are expected to check the website frequently for announcements. The website will also be used to assign additional readings and collect homework. The system seems way more complicated that it needs to be.

9:23 am. The professor asks for questions regarding the course. Someone in the first row puts up their hand and asks about scaling. The prof says something about not bell curving. A big sigh of relief arises from the person who asks the question. You’re not quite sure what is going on. A few more questions were asked, but you were starting to get distracted by the chatting behind you and the Facebook page of the guy who’s on his computer in the row in front of you.

9:32 am. The professor starts the lecture on the first topic. She says it’s mostly review from high school and that you should know it already. You don’t and struggles to follow along.

9:39 am. The professor asks the class some questions. You don’t even understand what she’s asking, but some one sitting near the front of the class rattles off an answer. The professor asks a few more questions. You still don’t know how to answer them. Not all of your classmates are struggling though, a couple of students consistently got the answers right, seemingly without any effort. They must be really smart, you think.

9:46 am. The professor finishes her lecture and reminds the class to pre-read before the next lecture. People positively swarms out the lecture all. You follow slower, feeling dazed.

10 am to 4 pm. You attend a few more classes and they pass pretty much the say way as the first one. Some of your professors were nice, others didn’t seem to care. Some spoke clearly and eloquently while others mumbled or had an accent you had to strain to decipher. Some profs looked at their students while talking, others seemed to have an intimate relationship with their laptop or the blackboard. Your classmates ranged from the very eager to those that fell asleep (and snored).

5 pm. You’re feeling drained and ready to crash. You go home, eat dinner, and starts going over the material from your classes, but you’re too tired and falls asleep early.

7 am the next morning. Your alarm wakes you up. You groggily starts getting ready for class while realizing you didn’t get any work done the night before and must make up for it tonight. *Cue mini panic attack*

Thus concludes your very first day. Welcome to university. Really.

So now that your first day is done, how can you ensure that the rest of the year goes more smoothly? Check out this post!


Email Management for Students

Gmail - Inbox (10 000)

"Gmail - Inbox 10000" Courtesy of Flickr user paperjam. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Dear New First Year Students: be prepared for war with your email inbox throughout your university/college career! The influx of school/course/club announcements, work-related emails, and SMA (Save My Ass) messages from classmates can be dizzying. Sometimes staying organized seem to be an illusion, and while there are many email organization systems on the internet not all are suitable for students. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here is an email management system that works for me. I hope it can help you on your quest to staying organized.

First a note on my e-mail habits:

  • I use Gmail* and receive 2 – 20 emails a day
  • I strongly dislike having unread e-mails in my inbox
  • I receive school, work, and communication from close friends in this e-mail. As well, my “official” school email is forwarded to this account
  • I do not receive facebook emails, twitter updates, product promos and other crap in this e-mail (that’s taken care of through a “crappy stuff” e-mail)
  • SotN-related email doesn’t get forward into this account, but I use the same system on my SotN inbox

* This system can be implemented for Hotmail/MSN/Window’s Live/Yahoo!/Your official school e-mail, but Gmail has the best set of tools for organizing and managing the email inbox.

Most importantly…

  • Messages must be easily locatable
  • Messages not immediately useful is filed out of the way
  • Emails requiring reply are answered as soon as possible
  • Documents for course work are stored for record unless they exceed 50 MB in size

The Basic Elements are…

1. Labels and Priority Inbox

Gmail labels are awesome because they allow one message to have multiple affiliations. They are also the cornerstone of this management system. The labels I use include “university”, “work”, “miscellaneous”, and “awaiting decision” as well as the inbuilt “important” and “starred” functionality. Each incoming message is tagged with at least one label. Furthermore, I use Priority Inbox with 4 levels: “important and unread“, “all starred“, “all awaiting decision“, and “everything else“.

2. Filters

All incoming e-mail forwarded from my “official” school e-mail has “university” as a label. Those from my boss and coworkers are labeled “work”. E-mail with certain words in its title – such as the name of a school club – is tagged with the name of the club, and so on. When set up properly, filters minimize the amount of time spent manually filing e-mails, so its worth the time investment.

3. Keyboard shortcuts

Enabling this (in Gmail settings) greatly speeds up the email filing process. Press “l” for labels, “j” for the next email, “e” for archive, etc. Don’t know what shortcuts to use? just press “?” (question mark) for a full list right on your screen. If you’re new to keyboard shortcuts, this might take some getting use to. Accidentally pressing a key in Gmail can result in unwanted archivals, deletions, and mutes, so be careful.

4. Gmail Labs

Labs are amazing! My favourites are:

  • Signature Tweaks – a must as it puts the signature above any quoted text when replying to or forwarding a message (this is a lot more logical than the other way around so I don’t know why this isn’t the default…)
  • Undo Send – a must for anyone who’s trigger happy with the send button
  • Inbox Preview – shows a preview of the inbox while Gmail is loading and is useful for slower computers or turtle-speed internet connections
  • Refresh POP Accounts – useful for checking POP accounts (e.g. that “official” school email forwarding into Gmail) without going into email settings.
  • Some other useful labs: Filter Import/Export, Google Calendar Gadget, Send & Archive, Title Tweak, Preview Pane (New!), and Unread Message Icon.

Yeah… I really do love labs 🙂

So how does this all work together?

When I open my inbox, I first check to see if any messages can be deleted. These include random chain letters from friends, ads from websites I shop at, and the occasional junk email. If there is an email I have been waiting for, I open that first. If nothing jumps out, I open the first message in the “important and unread” section of the inbox and skim through it. If it’s some sort of announcement or something not requiring a reply (e.g. notice about homework from prof), I’ll make sure it’s labeled correctly and archive it. If it is something that requires a quick reply, I reply, ensure the labels are correct, and then archive it. If I’m in a hurry or the email entails doing something I’m not sure about yet, I ensure the labels are correct on that e-mail, add the “awaiting decision” label, and archive it. If it’s something really important and I know I’ll have to look at it again soon (e.g. exam location announcements), I ensure the labels are correct, star it, and archive it. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Once there are no more new messages, there should be no messages in the “important and unread” and “everything else” sections of the inbox (as archiving a message removes it from the inbox). Everything important has a star and shows up prominently near the top. Everything about which I have to make a decision has an “awaiting decision” label and shows up just below the starred messages.

After going through the new messages, I take a quick look at the starred messages. I note anything important coming up and remove stars from things that are no longer important. Then I move on to “awaiting decision” to see if I could make any decisions or reply to any emails. If I can, I do whatever’s necessary, then remove the “awaiting decision” label.

Whenever I need something, I usually use the search function, so you might ask: why bother applying labels if you’re going to search for something anyway? Let’s take the example of my coworker Bob and my professor Bob. If I want a message from my professor, I can limit the search to the “university” label. If I want a message from my coworker Bob, I can limit it to “work”. This is especially helpful when I try to search for something ambiguous like “report”, “deadline” or “meeting”.

As I don’t receive too many messages a day and I check my e-mail just about every day, this system works well and I rarely feel overwhelmed. However, I know this system isn’t for everyone (200 new incoming messages anyone…?) For more email management tips, check out this comprehensive source for some ideas. There are some great tips herehere, and here for Gmail users, and if you don’t use Gmail, switch to it! (but some general tips are here and here for those of you still dragging your feet).

How do you organize your e-mail? Do you use another tool I’ve missed? Share 🙂


Google Autocomplete for Scratches on the Notepad

Ok, so maybe I can’t compete again “is kevjumba a heterosexual bear wrestler“, but Google now auto-completes “Scratches on the Notepad”! If you type “Scratches on”, “the notepad” is the second suggestion, and if you add an “on”, “notepad” is the first suggestion (and above “scratches on the eyeball”, for which I am extremely grateful)!

AND this blog is the first result, youpi!

*Happy dance*

Now if only Bing would catch on…

Google <3 Me

Google Autocomplete for Scratches on the Notepad

Ok, so maybe I can’t compete again “is kevjumba a heterosexual bear wrestler“, but Google now auto-completes “Scratches on the Notepad”! If you type “Scratches on”, “the notepad” is the second suggestion, and if you add an “on”, “notepad” is the first suggestion (and above “scratches on the eyeball”, for which I am extremely grateful)!

AND this blog is the first result, youpi!

*Happy dance*

Now if only Bing would catch on…