Quickie: 5 Things to do this Summer

It is finally feeling like summer! I know most of the country has been experiencing heat waves and forest fires, but where I live has just begun to heat up – yay!


If you’re heading to post secondary education in the fall, this is your last “huzzah” summer before you have to worry about jobs, tuition, and even summer school (unless you have lots of money and/or are really good at school and so don’t have to worry about these trivial things). So… what to do with your last few precious months of freedom? Consider these suggestions.

  1. Travel. I know it’s a terribly cliché suggestion, but most people don’t travel a lot during university. And that is probably because of the afore mentioned jobs, tuition, and summer school. So if there is somewhere you really want to go… go now, or hold your peace for another four years.
  2. Do something fun. Maybe travelling isn’t your thing, or you are stuck flipping burgers at McDonalds have to be in town for whatever reason. Don’t despair and take the time to fully relax. Don’t worry too much about university and don’t try to pre-study the material. Clear your head, do something different, and recharge for the school year.
  3. Try something new. ‘Nuff said.
  4. Crash a class. If you are near a university or college, even if it’s not the one you’ll be attending in the fall, consider attending a couple of classes. Look up their class schedule on-line and find an introductory class into something you’re interested in. I know I said above to not worry too much about school, but if you’re curious about what a university class is like, go check it out. Do not show up to every class and frantically take notes. Rather, observe. See how the prof teaches and how the students learn. Note how different the class is from a high school class and how easy it is to lose track of what is going on (yes, you’ll be lost because you probably don’t have enough background knowledge, but notice how many other students seem confused)! Don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed – you’re already leagues ahead of your classmates who have no idea what’s coming (unless of course, they read this blog :P).
  5. Get your finances in order. This is the inner economics geek in me speaking, but how will you pay for university? Who’s paying for tuition? Living expenses? Travelling costs? Figure out the deadlines for student loans, scholarships, and bursary applications. If you are applying for loans, know the terms! If you get approved for a large amount of money, don’t feel pressured to spend it all. You will have to pay it back (you’d be surprised at how many students don’t figure this part out until they’ve already spent the money). If you don’t think debt will be a problem (and if your family/trust fund isn’t going to bankroll everything), check out this article in the Globe and Mail. The average Canadian student will come out of university with $15,000 (Quebec) to $35,000 (Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) in debt. That’s a lot of money and it is absolutely worth your time to figure out how you can minimize it. If there is interest, I will do an article on money management in the future (let me know in the comments).

If you still have time, check out some more things to do before classes start and read some of these other blog posts to prepare for your upcoming academic journey.

Happy belated Canada Day and Independence Day!


5 Things to do Before Classes Start


Image "Prepare" courtesy of Flickr User Photo Monkey, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The start of the new school year is a hectic time for first year students. New environment. New people. New skills to learn and use. To make starting university a little bit more smoother, here are five things you can do now to get ready for classes.

1. Get your Student Card – ASAP

Long line-ups at the Carding Office is a unique but often unwanted experience. If you enjoy lining up for half an hour to get your photo taken by a tired and stressed out photographer and then waiting another 15 minutes for a tired and stressed out office worker to print out your card, then by all means wait until school starts. Otherwise, go now and get it done without line-ups and hassles. Ditto for library cards, bus passes, key cards, or any other paraphernalia you have to get.

2. Walk Around Campus and Locate Your Classrooms – 2 weeks before school starts

While walking around with a tour guide is a great way to learn some useful information (this place sells the best falafel on campus) and trivia (nuclear waste used to be stored in this building), taking a solo trek around campus is the best way to get a feel for the culture and pace of the school. While summer tends to be a bit more relaxed, the atmosphere really doesn’t change. This is also your chance to gawk like a tourist and still get away with it or pretend you’re not a first year student and see if you stick out like an Arts student in the Engineering building. Also take the opportunity to locate your classes and plan how you’ll get from one to the next within the allocated amount of time between classes. Do a “dress rehearsal” if your campus is large. You may get some help with this if your school has a good orientation program for new students.

3. Register for classes – ASAP

Registration times tend to vary in universities across Canada, so if you’ve already done this, great! If you haven’t, plan out your courses carefully before your actual registration time. Don’t make the same mistakes I did! If you don’t know what courses to take, ask a friend who’s a couple of years ahead. If you’re new to the area and don’t know anyone, walk into a cafe (one of the 10 billion Starbucks or Tim Horton’s) on campus during slow periods and chat with other students. This may sound a tad bit creepy, but explain that you’re a new student who doesn’t know anyone on campus and would like some course suggestions. Alternatively, e-mail you faculty or department and ask them what courses are popular with their students. You could also try asking if they could put you in touch with an older student or mentor.

4. Check out Ratemyprofessor.com and Google your Profs – Before or As Soon as You’ve Registered

Do this before you actually show up for class. While the ratings on ratemyprof are subjective, the comments can be really helpful. If 20 people mention that one prof cannot stand tardy students and give pop quizzes frequently, make sure you’re never late! Don’t use the comments as your sole source of information though and take them with a grain of salt (especially when they seem to contradict each other). Another way to get a feel for the professor is to Google them. Go to their research or teaching page analyse their tone. Unless someone else wrote that prof’s page, these pages often reveal the professors’ attitude towards teaching. Even armed with all this information, try to show up on class with an open and positive mind (especially for profs with extremely low ratings). As Harry Potter (and decades of research) clearly shows, prophesies tend to fulfil themselves. Expect the prof to be good and they just might be. Expect them to be bad and they most certainly will be.

5. Stock up on school supplies – 1 or 2 weeks before classes start

You will need a lot of paper. I mean, A LOT. Unlike high school, you’ll have to print most of your own course material, problem sets, and notes. Printing at school can get expensive, so buying a printer and stocking up on paper is a good idea. Shop before school starts (not in the first few weeks after it does), especially if the only place you can shop is the campus bookstore. It will be ridiculously crowded the first few weeks of classes as all students head there to buy course material and school supplies.

What about buying textbooks? I recommend buying second-hand whenever you can and buying after classes start if you can’t. Check out the textbook buying guide for additional tips.

Good luck with your preparations!

Lessons From Course Registration

Funny Error Message

Image "Not Found" courtesy of Flickr User chiaraogan, Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Course registration was a couple of days ago for my year at my university. As my registration time was early, I parked my not-quite-awake self in front of the computer to monitor the number of open spots left. After ensuring no last minute changes were necessary and frantically clicking “refresh registration status”, my registration finally opened. I clicked “register all” and waited for the “all courses registered successfully” message to appear. It didn’t. One of my required courses just wouldn’t register. After re-clicking “register course” several times (it could have been a computer glitch…) I realized that the system didn’t think I had the first year pre-requisites for that course. This was when my “darn it! How could I have been so stupid” moment kicked in.

In first year, I did a “special” program with course codes that differed from the typical first year course codes. These “special” course codes are usually included in the pre-reqs alongside their equivalents, but not for this course. Furthermore, I assumed that like most courses, I could register first, then wait for humans to sort out the pre-reqs later. Unfortunately, this course doesn’t do that and just bars anyone without the listed pre-reqs from registering.

My “how could I have been so stupid moment” stemmed from the fact that I knew my “special” course codes weren’t listed as pre-reqs. However, I just assumed that I could register for this course first and wait for pre-req checks later. I would have realized this wasn’t the case if I had just done a test registration (yet another mistake). After a mini “aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!” moment, I e-mailed the course coordinator while watching the number of available seats in the course decrease. Fortunately, this was sorted out soon after and I made it into the course.

Although this issue was resolved quickly, it was a headache that could have been avoided easily. Here are some of the things I learned from this process:

1. Don’t be complacent! Remember to check pre-requisites carefully, e-mail the course coordinator/department if there is even a tiny concern, and do test registrations if possible. It’s better to be careful early than to realize too late that things are screwed up, especially if you’ve done something that’s not the norm. Be vigilant even if you’ve registered for courses before without trouble!

2. Don’t assume! This goes for more than course planning.

3. Learn from other people’s experiences. If I had asked the students in the year ahead of me (who did the same program I did in first year) about this course, they would have told me to e-mail the course coordinator first. On the flip-side, some sources are more reliable than others. When conflicting opinions arise, go to the official source.

4. Have a Plan B. Think briefly about what to do if something goes south (before it does!). Know where to find the contact information of people who could help, fix, or speed things up.

5. Take action and be patient. In my case, I ended up e-mailing the course coordinator and my first year program’s coordinator. I also asked people from previous years and my year whether they had any trouble registering for this course (a little too late, but better late than never). I didn’t have to contact so many people, but doing something made me feel less helpless as I waited. Try a few different routes to solve a problem without going overboard. If you’ve exhausted all options, calm down or move on to something that could keep you occupied.

Hopefully your course registration went/goes more smoothly than mine did!  (Comments? Write them below!)

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!

Summer School Tips

Beach Umbrella

Image "Beach Umbrella" courtesy of Flickr User Steve Webel, Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It is finally starting to feel like summer! The sun’s shining and the temperature’s warm. Add in some Stanley Cup Fever and… well craziness ensues (*cues mad honking*).

For those unfortunate dedicated students in summer school, here are some study tips for making the most out of your time. After all, everyone wants to watch as the Canucks win the cup, right? 😛

The most distinctive part of summer school is its condensed structure. A course can be as short as 2 weeks with three hour classes each day and labs on top. Due to the short time frame, it’s generally fairly easy to retain the information learned near the beginning of the course around finals. Unfortunately, information overload is common. First, recognize it is impossible to retain everything from a three-hour lecture. Each person can only remember so much stuff in one sitting that that’s usually a lot less information than what is covered in one class. Focus on the key concepts and let the details go out of the other ear. Working too hard to remember the little details will end up obscuring the big picture. Furthermore, mental fatigue will set in and nothing from the latter half of the lecture, not even a major concept, will sink in. If the course is detail-oriented and everything the professor says could end up showing up on an exam, record the lecture and fill in the details later. However, don’t get into the trap of thinking “oh, I don’t have to pay attention, I can listen to the lecture later”. Not paying attention in class is a waste of time and a sure way to screw oneself over (if you didn’t pay attention in class, you aren’t going to listen to a recording of it after).

As the courses are short, it’s crucial to stay on top of the course work. Falling slightly behind is normal. Falling really behind is serious trouble. Missing or not understanding a week of summer school is akin to falling behind a month in the regular school year. If the professor starts making less and less sense in class, take a hint and hit the books. Usually, understanding the main ideas between each class is enough, but definitely use the weekends to get firmly back on track. If you’re weaker on the basics or is completely lost about something, go to TA/Professor office hours as soon as possible. Sometimes missing one tiny piece of important information can throw the entire course off whack. Don’t let it!

Assignments in summer school will likely be due in two days instead of two weeks. If the exams are very much like the assignments, really put in the time to do the homework well. The marks are irrelevant – gleaning information about the exams and ensuring that you’re on the right track is. If the assignments aren’t truly representant of the exams, take the homework seriously, but don’t stay up all night finishing them perfectly. The time invested won’t be worth the extra 10% of the 6% (or my favorite, 50% of the 1%).

Unlike the normal school year where there are at least 2 exams, summer school courses may have just one final that’s worth 80% of the grade. Don’t panic. Everyone’s grasping in the dark. Due to the lack of a midterm to learn from, the best thing to do is just to hunt down as many finals as possible. Summer school version are better, though normal school year versions are also valuable. Look at the format of the exam, the way the questions are worded, and the way the answer key is structured. Unless a course changes drastically, the format and the way the questions are worded will stay more or less the same. The way the answer key is structured illustrate how the exams are marked. If the answer key has mostly key words, then TA will mark by looking for those words and it’s necessary to make sure you really hit those words. If the answer key has mainly ideas or instructions to evaluate ideas, then ensure that the answers you put down are fully fleshed out with plenty of support from the course or the exam. Do a practice exam under exam conditions. Can you finish it? If yes, do another exam with only half the allocated time. If you only have one exam, do the same exam, but with only a quarter or a third of the given time. Can you finish the exam? If you can, then chances are the exam isn’t a time crunch. If you can’t, really, really watch your time on the final. Although I don’t have any hard statistics to back up this claim, I believe that summer school finals are easier or are scaled up more to compensate for the lack of a “trial run” (midterm).

Work hard, play hard. Enjoy the weather, and GO CANUCKS GO!

In a Summer Rut?

Beach Bucket

Image "beach bucket" courtesy of Flickr User c. bueno (Christian Bueno). Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Ok, I admit it. I’m in a rut. I’ve started writing 3 posts in the last week and couldn’t get past the first few sentences. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of things to say but rather I can’t find the motivation to keep writing. Alas, since I’m less that peachy keen, here are some awesome ideas from other sites to kick of your summer.

If you’re taking summer classes, living in your parents’ basement, and are envious of your friends’ exciting summer plans, create a summer bucket list to alleviate your boredom and save your sanity. I’m really big on goals here at SotN. So list a few things you want to do and get to it! Speaking of bucket lists, if you’ve never seen the MTV show “The Buried Life” (I know, I know, MTV? Really? Really!), you should definitely check out an episode. While the show is quite entertaining all by itself, the idea behind it (make your dreams a reality *now* instead of later) is worth reiterating. You can watch almost all of the episodes online for free on MTV’s website.

If you’ve got your bucket list ready, but is just itching to do something a little different, unusual, or creative, but don’t really know where to start, learn to steal like an artist! This blog post by Austin Kleon is inspiration at its best – clear, direct, and unpretentious. What resonate most strongly with me is that you don’t have to completely know what you’re doing before you start. If you have an idea, let it germinate. Plan the best you can, generate new ideas by consolidating old ones, and fake it ’till you make it. You’ll be surprised by how much you and your idea grows in the process 🙂

So what are you waiting for?

Get out of your summer rut!

(And now on to your regularly schedule program… *cues frantic writing*)