If your professor gives you the wrong grade…

After my last round of exams, I logged on to my school’s online portal to check my grades. There, buried among the other grades, was an F. I stared at the screen in stunned disbelief for a good 30 seconds. Sure, I’ve failed smaller quizzes/tests/exams and assignments before, but not a full course. AND this course was a pre-req, so failing it would have set me back at least a year. This was also surprising because although I wasn’t doing spectacularly before the exam, I wasn’t close to failing either.

As these thoughts went through my head, I started panicking. After a few minutes in which my mood did one of these:

Mood over Time

I calmed down a little and tried to calculate what I would have had to get on the final exam to get that F. That turned out to be 0%. The professor hadn’t counted my final exam grade at all.

At this point I had no idea what to do. Classes were over, so it wasn’t like I could just see prof after class. The mark was submitted to the university and posted on the online student portal, which meant it was official for the time being. After a few false starts, it got sorted out. This was, however, quite a stressful situation.

So if your professor messes up your grade (or something else), try these steps:

1. Take a deep breath. Trying to get a professor to listen to you while you’re panicking just doesn’t work that well.

2. Get in contact with the professor. Call if possible. Otherwise, e-mail. Always follow good e-mail etiquette (which is also good phone etiquette). Tell them who you are and what the problem is. Do not accuse them of anything or put them on the defensive. If this grade is for an assignment or a midterm, wait to hear back from them (do not proceed as that would be overkill). If this is a final exam grade or a final grade, wait at least a day before you do anything else.

3. If you haven’t heard back from your professor, call or e-mail them again. Don’t pester them repeatedly by calling every 10 minutes though!

4. If you still don’t hear back from your professor, get in touch with the department which administers the course. Call the department secretary (you can probably find this information online) and ask him or her for advice. Explain why it’s important that you get this sorted out quickly and ask them to advocate or follow up on your behalf. In my case, the department secretary was really helpful and probably gave the professor a nudge. He then got back to me and the new grade was up and online in about a week.

5. If the department secretary is not helpful or you still haven’t heard back from the prof after three days, try to get in touch with the department head. This is going over the professor’s head, so make sure you give the professor a reasonable amount of time (at least 3 days) to respond. Otherwise, the department head will likely tell you to wait.

6. If you still haven’t found a solution (which is unlikely), get in touch with your faculty’s advising office. Speak to an advisor. He or she will then likely then follow up on your behalf. This time is really busy for the advising office, so going to them first without consulting the department won’t get you anywhere.

7. After you receive confirmation that people are taking care of it, sit back and wait. Depending on the situation and the amount of paperwork, it could take a few weeks for the change to be reflected in your student portal online.

Remember to always be polite and patient or you risk alienating potential allies. Start with the prof and work your way up.

*Pssstttt* Don’t forget to subscribe to SotN in the sidebar!



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 🙂

FYI Five: Study Resources, E-mail Help, and the National Anthem

Life is much more mellow after a long weekend, no? Here are some interesting resources/news for your reading pleasure.

  • Kevin from schools.com (a US website advocating the importance of higher education) sent me this wonderful article about online resources to help students with their studies. Although these seem to be mostly US-based sites, Canadian students should also find their content useful. If you’re stuck having fun in summer school, also check out my article on summer school study tips.
  • I recently discovered Boomerang, a Firefox/Chrome plugin that allows scheduling emails to be sent out at a later time. I’m going gaga over this plugin because it is so incredibly useful. Most email clients organize emails by the date received from most recent to least recent. That means when most people check their emails as they get to work at 9 am in the morning, they’ll see a email sent at 4 am that morning before something sent at 4 pm the previous day. Boomerang allows one to compose a email at 4 pm and schedule it to be sent at 8:50 am the next morning, ensuring it is at the top of the recipient’s inbox. This is an awesome tool for dealing with profs (i.e. they always see your e-mail first) and even bosses (pretend you’re at work on time early). Of course, there are tons of other uses for this amazing plugin. Edit (July 23, 2011): Alas, it appears that boomerang will have a limit of 10 delayed-sent e-mail per month for free accounts starting soon. I am searching for alternatives (so if you know one, let me know!). 
  • Google recently made some waves with Google+, a social networking service similar but not identical to Facebook (though only time will tell whether it’ll have sticking power). Has anyone taken it for a spin? Does anyone have an invite they could send me…? It’s all in the name of research and product testing of course 😛 Edit (July 23, 2011): I now have Google+. Yay! If you would like an invite, let me know 🙂
  • There are many great programs for Canadians. Here are a list of little known ones. Of particular interest for university students are the NRC Student Employment Program and the Grant for Students with Dependents. Definitely check them out if you’re in need of money for school.
  • Although Canada Day has passed, the entertainment value of “O Canada” from the Rick Mercer’s “Talking to Americans” remain undiminished. Here’s to a good laugh.

Happy Independence Day to our neighbours below the 49th parallel!

Twitter Fun

SotN Twitter Page

Image "SotN Twitter Page"

I have an RSS addiction. Unfortunately, it is not an addiction I’ll be able to quit anytime soon (Is there an RSS anonymous?) Everyday, I click to my trusty Google Reader and inhale the latest articles from websites such as Lifehacker, Hack College, Study Hacks, I will teach you to be rich, Bargainmoose, xkcd, and a dozen other more. Yes, I have rather eclectic interests (and apparently people like to hack things). Often I’ll come across articles that I think SotN readers would enjoy reading, but that I don’t have time to write indepth discussion of (like in an FYI).

Enter twitter. For the rest of this month, I will attempt to highlight one article each day from all these sources that SotN readers might find useful. They could pertain directly to university or just be interesting or fun to think about. I hope you enjoy reading them! As usual, I welcome discussion, so feel free to tweet me back with your opinions.

What are you waiting for? Check out my twitter here!

SotN Updates!

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” – Henny Penny (a.k.a. Chicken Little)

If you tried searching for Scratches on the Notepad on Google (and possibly Bing or Yahoo!) in the last couple of weeks, you might have found yourself mired in a tangle of broken pages, tags, and pages. No, SotN is not on the verge of collapsing, but there have been some structural changes.

If you look to your right –>
you’ll see that the categories and tags are better organized so you can find what you’re looking for quickly and easily by topic, timeline, or associated tags.

If you look up ^, you’ll find a new FAQ page for your reading pleasure. If you look to the right of that, you’ll find an Opportunities page with ways to get involved with SotN. Definitely check those out!

Over the next month or so, SotN will continue undergoing renovations. We’re definitely still open for business, but if you find yourself on pages that doesn’t exist, be patient. Come back to the homepage and try looking under the new categories or tags. If something is seriously broken, do let us know!

What do you think of the changes?

Enjoy the sunshine 🙂

What if you miss an exam?

Puppy Dog Look

Image "Puppy Dog Look" courtesy of Flickr User Rhiannon McCluskey, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).

WordPress generates a fairly extensive set of site stats for this blog. One useful thing it tells me is what people type in Google (or other search engines) to find this site. Ever since the exam season started, there have been an upsurge of people looking for advice about what to do if they missed an exam. Thus this post is for everyone who find themselves in that unfortunate situation.

I suppose some disclaimers are in order before I start. One, I do not condone missing exams unless you have legitimate excuses, and two, I have never actually missed an exam, so I cannot vouch for effectiveness of these strategies. Use them at your own risk!

If you miss an exam, especially a final, get in touch with your professor right away. Go see them in person or call them. Use e-mail as a last resort as face-to-face or voice-to-voice will help you gauge your prof’s feelings (i.e. how mad are they?). However, do not stalk, leave 10 voice messages, or send 20 e-mails to them! You want your professor to be tolerant or sympathetic, not annoyed. As well, follow your school’s official procedure for missing exams if they have one.

When discussing (or e-mailing) your professor about the missed exam, be polite and courteous. Do not attempt to nag, guilt, or trick your prof into giving you a second chance. As well, avoid sounding defensive as though they are attacking you (even if they are!). Apologize and own up to your mistakes fully. Take full responsibility for your mistake. Unless you had a legitimate excuse, it was your fault you missed that exam. Don’t ever imply it was anyone else’s – or God forbid – the prof’s fault. Explain why you missed the exam. If you overslept, say so. If the bus broke down, let them know. Tell you the truth. An lie will bite you in the ass later. If you told your professor your grandmother died when you simply overslept and that professor finds out, you’ll have one very pissed off prof. Depending on school policy, your professor could even void your makeup exam and report you for academic dishonesty.

If you are e-mailing your prof, remember to still follow the rules of good email etiquette.

Luckily, there are often already scheduled makeup exam times for people with conflicts and legitimate excuses at most universities. Your goal is to convince your professor to let you in on one of them. This could be fairly easy (I had a friend who’s prof didn’t even bother asking him why) or extremely difficult (no means no). However, you might find yourself writing that exam next exam season or even next year!

If it is not possible to make up the exam for whatever reason, ask if you could complete an extra credit assignment to obtain a passing mark on the exam or course. Think creatively. Use your resources and create an honest “deal” that your professor cannot refuse.

Sometimes, there are other people you could turn to for help. If for example, you are an arts student who missed a science exam (or insert any other two non-identical faculties/departments), head to your faculty advising and explain the situation. They might be able to send a note to your prof encouraging him or her to give you a makeup. It’s not a guarantee that your prof will, but it is an extra endorsement.

If all else fails and there is just no way to make up that exam, take a deep breath. Yes, you screwed up, maybe big time. It might feel like it’s the end of the world for a while, especially if you end up failing the course. However, don’t let this affect your mindset for the rest of the exam season. Hit the books for your upcoming exams and use this as extra motivation to do better. Be extra vigilant about exam times and locations, and learn from the experience and ensure that you never make the same mistake again.

Good luck on your exams, and Happy Belated Earth Day!

Have a story idea or a question? Contact me!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Academically Professional E-mail Samples

Delete Button

Image " delete " courtesy of Flickr User TheTruthAbout... Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

I am sorry this too me so long to upload! I had it all ready and just forgot the hit the “publish” button. These e-mail samples are not meant to be templates and variations are definitely welcome. As well, these samples are entirely made up by me and any resemblance to real e-mails are purely coincidental. Enjoy!

If you want specific tips on how to construct an academically professional e-mail, check out the article, The Ins and Outs of Academically Professional E-mails.

The Good:

Dear Dr. Smith,

My name is Jane Doe (Student number 111111111) and I am in your economics 100 (section 123) class.

I am e-mailing because I believe a mistake was made in the grading of “Assignment 1 – Demand and Supply”. The grade on my returned assignment was 9/10, but the grade entered into the online posting system showed 6/10. Could you please correct the mark? I would be glad to submit the returned assignment as proof.

Thank you for your time!


Jane Doe (111111111).

Yes, this message is very formal! And yes, it appropriate as a first e-mail to any prof. It is better to sound a little too formal than a little too flippant.

The Decent:

Hi Kate,

This is Lincoln from your Biology 100 Tutorial (Section 3-11). Is it possible for you to go over a few questions regarding Unit 5 (Plant Physiology) with me next Wednesday sometime in the morning? I know it is not your regular office hour, but I would really appreciate your help.

Thank you!


Lincoln Birch – 123456789

Biology 100 Section 3-11.

Undergraduate Student, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences


This message is appropriate for a TA, who is likely more relaxed regarding their e-mail etiquette. This could also work as an e-mail to a professor you know well and have e-mailed before. Note the use of the signature line.

The Bad:


Set up a meeting between Dr. Kerry (undergrad Advisor for mechanical engineering) and me for tomorrow at 2pm. We will meet in room 211.


Do not be presumptuous regardless of your recipient, especially if you are requesting something (even if it is not directly from a professor or instructor).


The Really Ugly:

Hi Dumbledore,

I am really confusing above your last lecture because it made no sense as your we’re going too fast and my neighbor is picking his nose on the way to class. You said that Emily Bronte write to Jane Eyre, which is not wrong and she wrote Wuthering Heights. Do you think she knot the book becomes popular when she lied? Can you give me 2% on my last midterm because my TA did not tink my grammar was better, but she will be wrong.



There are many, many mistakes in this e-mail. Is it exaggerated? Definitely! However, you might be surprised by the number of nonsensical or just plain unintelligible messages profs get. Check your grammar – the “Panda eats shoots and leaves”, not the “panda eats, shoots, and leaves”!