Sending Virtual Hug…That’s All Folks!

About eight months ago (in August of 2016), I got an email from my freshly activated UTmail account, containing an open position for first year students who wanted to blog. A huge introvert and avid writer, I didn’t hesitate to apply. When I got an interview, I was thrilled. When I got the post, it was amazing. Now, sitting here writing my last blog, I have to say, it’s been a wild ride.

Cheesy as this may be (and believe me, it’s going to get cheesy) I am honestly so happy to have been able to share this experience with everyone – even if I met so few of you face to face. Through unqualified advice, opinion pieces, and reviews, I hope my opinion was a little helpful. And if not, then maybe it was just fun to read. In any case, being able to write this at all has been great.

Even in times when things weren’t so great (ahem, November 9th last year), knowing I could at least offer some help was really great. And, better yet, we managed to survive those bad times – looking back on it all, it might have been much harder without a safe space to escape to. So, I finish off these blogs, I wanted to say a few things to you, my readers.

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The first message I have for my readers is this: we did it! Whether it was your first year or your fourth, we all made it through these two terms! We made it through the heavy assignments months of November and March, and through the exam periods of December and (soon) April. We made it through this school year. As it turns out, we got this! Even if you’ve still got years of University to go (like me), we made it through the fall/spring term. And that’s pretty awesome!

The second thing I want to say: thank you all for being a part of my first year! Beyond blogging, just around campus, I met some cool people – I bet all of you did to. And it is those people who really make the experience fantastic. Even if we’ve never talked or met, everyone has been a part of this for everyone else. There’s a sense of community on campus for me, and everyone is part of that.

While I may be very, very happy to personally not have to worry about assignments for four whole months, I’m a little sad that this year is ending. It was my first year, and through it, I gained independence, new friendships, and a sense of what I might want to do with my life. Being a UTM student is a huge part of those steps for me, and perhaps it is for you too. There’s something formative about the university experience, and I am glad to learn that with all of you!

So, I want to wish everyone luck on their upcoming exams – remember not to get too stressed out! And perhaps more importantly, enjoy your summer! Whether you’re working, doing a few summer courses, or just enjoying a nice long break, have fun! And (if this isn’t your last year at UTM), I hope to see everyone back next year-we got this!

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Dear America: Will Facts Still Exist in the Year 2020?

Ever wanted to be right about something even though there’s literally no factual evidence supporting it? Well, you’re not alone: the Trump Administration can relate. From false claims about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, to unsubstantiated claims about illegal immigrants, to false claims about Obama wiretapping Trump tower… The list goes on. And yet, a significant amount of people have prevented any unanimous condemnation of the administration’s actions. So, we have to ask, what has Trump done to truth, and is it permanent?

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It’s no secret that politicians lie – it happens, and usually it isn’t good, but it isn’t that frequent either. The occasional lie was forgivable for most. And in any other time, that’s what lies were – occasional. Yet, like it has with a lot of other things in America, the Trump Administration has turned truth on it’s head. Kellyanne Conway’s ‘alternative facts’ were just the beginning – hardly a week goes by when we don’t hear ‘fake news’ tossed out by some Trump team member.

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Maybe at a glance, what I want to call the ‘alternative facts’ trend seems like a joke – something liberals can use to make fun of Trump. Or, maybe it just seems like something they’re using in the light of a particularly bad presidency, to cover up Trump’s blatant inadequacy in the White House. If you’re particularly pessimistic, maybe it seems like the end of truth itself – and we in university can say ‘hello’ to Wikipedia research projects, because what’s true won’t matter if it feels right…

Let’s start with the RNC in 2016, when the first obvious sign that facts were going to take a back seat to feelings. As pointed out by John Oliver at the time, Newt Gingrich set the theme of the RNC – by arguing with a reporter about the violent crime rate. The reporter has it right – violent crime was down at the time, even if there were pockets where it was still high. Gingrich had a slightly different take, claiming that people didn’t feel safe, so therefore, the crime rate couldn’t possibly be down.

 

It’s a silly clip to watch, but it’s not insignificant. What makes it equally terrifying is that this is the sort of thing people will believe. Even with the right information, there’s going to be a part of the population that will take feelings as fact. And now, they have political figures backing them up. What was once a small group of die-hard conspiracy theorists now have a public office that watches their news and peddles the falsehoods they believe. Which, for the existence of facts, seems troubling.

After the RNC, the whole ‘feelings as facts’ thing didn’t stop, either. Throughout the rest of the campaign, and now into the presidency, the Trump Administration has continued to essentially deceive their way through office. What makes the campaign a lot less worrying, though, is that at the time Trump’s lies had negligible consequences. If he lied, it was frustrating, but it didn’t matter. Now? He’s president. And what he says is incredibly consequential.

The most recent scandal to pass is, for example, the wiretapping allegations made against former President Obama. This report started, as far as I know, when a Brietbart report gave Trump a report based on questionable evidence from right-wing reporter Mark Levin. Trump then tweeted it out (misspelling ‘tap’ as ‘tapp’ in the process) and now here we are, weeks later, in the midst of an investigation of a claim that never had any substance to it in the first place.

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Where this becomes more than just a huge waste of time for the American Congress and security agencies? Well, recently, it has slipped into international relations. A British spy agency was accused of helping Obama with this fake wiretap. The British were, understandably, not at all happy about this. Then, Trump suggested in a joint press conference with Angela Merkel that she had also been wiretapped by Obama – to which she responded  with the most relatable look anyone could have when it comes to Trump.

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(Angela Merkel is all of us)

The point is, this all started as actual fake news – an unsubstantiated report meant to deceive people or to inflame people’s anger. Now, it’s been dominating the actual news cycle for a good three weeks. Instead of fully focusing real issues – the 24 million people who may lose their health insurance because of the American Health Care Act, for example – reporters have to focus somewhat on the wiretapping story. Given this case, the idea that facts are disappearing, then, is pretty compelling.

So, are facts still a thing in America? Or are we in serious danger of losing sight of real, evidence-based claims driving policy? Unfortunately, the media can only do some much – they have to report on these false stories, and when they dismiss them, they face getting called ‘enemies to the American people,’ among other things. Which, of course, may continue to enforce for hard-core Trump supporters that what they feel is totally factual, regardless of the evidence (or lack thereof). So… is truth in serious danger of disappearing?

A New Hope?

Believe it or not, the Toronto Star’s Washington Correspondent, Daniel Dale, who spoke at UTM’s Public Affairs Lecture, thinks there is still a chance of truth’s survival. He cited three reasons for believing that facts might still exist in 2020. People still want real news, for one. Investigative journalism really takes off in times like this, as getting at the truth requires a little more looking. And thirdly, the people who reject facts are small in number. Some are going to believe in falsehoods regardless of evidence, but they represent a smaller portion of Trump’s supporters; many are just misinformed, having been told plenty of dubious claims by far-right radio.

So, while CNN may have earned the presidential label ‘fake news,’ that won’t completely discredit them. Mainstream media (CNN, BBC, and  The Economist, to name a few) may attack Trump – but at least their claims are evidence-based, and they’re committed to trying to provide facts. And, most importantly, they’re being as objective as they’re able. Anyone who claims that the news is extremely biased against Trump specifically clearly hasn’t watched news coverage of Liberal or Democratic leaders.

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Additionally, as viewers of media, what we can do is keep to the most trusted news sources, and to take some time to fact check. Dale  (who has a ‘Trump Checker’ of his own) suggested that even a google search of any given story would be good enough – it’s not hard to find when something’s false. And, as people who at least somewhat like the idea of truth, we can pay attention – after all, politicians can do a lot, but they can’t destroy truth. Trump will be no exception.

Whether it’s by alternative facts peddled by the Trump Administration, or a fake news story that someone literally just made up (and the Trump Administration picked up as truth), facts are going to be under siege for a bit. We have the responsibility not to give into these blatant lies. And while that can be incredibly tiring, we got this!

Don’t hold out for Wikipedia-based research projects – facts are still going to exist in 2020, so long as we protect them.

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(A random picture of Obama’s dogs, because let’s be honest, we all need a pick-me-up at this point.)

Need to Sell Your Textbooks? Here’s How…

Having a huge stack of used, unneeded textbooks is not a great feeling. Clutter aside, those books are expensive, and not used much – keeping them around feels like literally throwing money into a trash can. The solution? Sell those textbooks to others who need them.

Selling your textbooks is a pretty obvious answer to a very easy question. Where things might get a little more difficult is how to go about doing that. As I see it, there are two main ways to go about this. This post will work through how to set up selling your textbook, so when the time is right, you’re able to do it. The first is through the bookstore. The second is through a facebook group.

Through the UTM Bookstore

First, head to the UofT Bookstore website, and go to the heading “Textbooks.” Once you’re there, scroll down, and find this:

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Option one is just getting the idea of what price you can currently sell your book at. This will, of course, depend on the demand for the book and time of year. Click “go” for getting a quote, and you’ll come to this page:

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Once you’ve put in the ISBN code for the textbook you want to sell and clicked “check price” (I used a Writing History textbook), you’ll be brought to this page. What you click doesn’t affect the price.

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Finally, after hitting “continue,” you’ll be shown the price on a page like this:

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The price probably won’t be very high, full disclaimer – I’ve tried this with a few textbooks, and  it’s not much. Of course, having only social science textbooks that weren’t that expensive in the first place, it’s fair to say this may vary.

Now, going back to that page for selling textbooks. Option two will give you email alerts. Click “go” for buyback alerts, and it will bring you to this page:

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You can sign up for alerts if you like, and you’ll get email notifications when they’re buying back the books you enter the ISBN for.

Throughout the year, the UTM bookstore will buy back used books whenever they are open. When you bring your textbook to the store to sell, remember to bring a valid debit card – they’ll put the money on that. Also, be sure your textbooks are in fairly good condition (all pages present, no excessive highlighting/writing, etc.)

Through Facebook

If you’re maybe looking to make a little more money in selling your textbooks is to do it through the UTM Textbook Exchange on Facebook. Type in “UTM Textbook Exchange” on facebook, and you’ll find it. It’s a public group, but you’ll have to request to join – someone in the group will let you in!

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You’ll get all kinds of UTM posts here – from events, to apartment spaces for sale, to people looking to buy and sell textbooks. To sell your textbooks, make a post like this:

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The picture is not necessary, by the way. Anyhow, hopefully, someone will message you, and you two can work out a price and a meeting spot to exchange!

Note for selling stuff: remember that timing will be important when selling on facebook – right now, it’s unlikely someone is going to be looking to buy a textbook a course that only ran last term. So, if you must, time your sales for the beginning of next term, or for the summer – then, you will be more likely to find people willing to buy.

And that’s all there is to it – hopefully you’ll be able to clear some of those textbooks out, and make room for next year’s books – both in your bag and your wallet!

(Disclaimer: I would recommend the first way, through the Bookstore, if you want your book sold for sure.)

Stress for Success: Dealing with High Functioning Anxiety

You know those days when things are all sort of alright, right up until they’re not? When you can hold things together, right up until you reach some sort of “breaking point?” And then suddenly you’re on the ground crying for no reason for fifteen minutes while your cat just stares at you judgmentally… Needless to say, I have those days. And, though I’d like to blame myself for them, there might be a different culprit: high functioning anxiety.

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But then, what is high functioning anxiety? How is it different from other forms of anxiety? And, if any of this seems relatable, how are you supposed to deal with it in a high-stress environment? Dealing with this is hard, and in university, it gets harder. And while I’m not here to provide a cure (spoiler) I might have a solution that can help.

The Interesting Combination that is High Functioning + Anxiety

High functioning anxiety, sometimes termed ‘hidden anxiety,’ is a variant of general anxiety. It usually doesn’t seem like it exists – you can handle pressure, finish assignments well and on time, and so on. But, instead of being motivated by want or gain, you’re motivated by fear. That is, of course, a pretty simplistic explanation. But it’s the gist of how this works.

Now, this can manifest in a number of ways – working especially hard on assignments out of a fear of failing, going to all kinds of social outings out of a fear of losing friends, and so on. And maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but take the consequences of those things – not sleeping, not relaxing, not eating properly – and a dangerous situation emerges.

But, because this kind of anxiety is hidden, chances are people won’t detect anxiety. They’ll just see a so-called ‘try-hard’ with bad habits. In my own experience, making my high functioning anxiety known usually involves actually mentioning it. It can seem to simply be school stress, or being busy, or some other mundane reason. Misconceptions are common and numerous. One of them is mistaking high functioning anxiety for general anxiety.

High Functioning and General Anxiety

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(Someone so, so punny like me might say there’s a rainbow of different kinds of anxiety)

What makes high-functioning anxiety different from general anxiety is, from what I understand, the need to do stuff. Not just normal stuff, but things you might have anxiety about. I, for example, have your average social anxiety when it comes to social things, and high functioning anxiety when it comes to school.

With the social anxiety, the name of the game is avoidance – not getting into uncomfortable situations, not doing things about which I get anxious. It’s about getting super nervous about doing something. So, if presented with, say, a party, my answer would be a very quick no. Translate that into university, and it may become avoiding a class because of Anxiety Reasons.

High-functioning anxiety works in an opposite way. In a social situation, that means fear of missing out. In a university situation, that means overworking, or when you’re not working, feeling guilty about it.

Take a homework assignment for example. Say you’ve got to write an essay, and it’s due in two weeks. High functioning anxiety means you will probably a) feel terrible about not starting it and finishing it right away, b) will spend way too much time on it (we’re talking staying up all night writing, not taking breaks, etc.) and c) pretty much be unable to handle the idea of it not being totally perfect.

So, basically, it’s the sort of anxiety that says, ‘hey, sacrifice your health and well being because You Must Pass.’ Not healthy, right? Well, maybe there’s some way to lessen the negative effects.

A Not-S0-Simple Solution?

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(Trying to overcome anxiety)

The downside of this is that barring official help, there’s not a whole lot of official instruction on how to deal with anxiety. Popular solutions are going to be different for different people, and unfortunately, may not fully work for everyone. But, don’t be disheartened. Because there must still be some rule of thumb that may help.

See, rather than focusing on the whole ‘cure my anxiety’ stuff, I think it’s important to look at how to stay healthy with high functioning anxiety. Which, believe it or not, may not be that hard. Now, while I recognize that bringing this all down to one solution is in no way going to help everyone, I think it still might be of some benefit.

So, what’s my way of dealing with high functioning anxiety? Making schedules, and sticking to them. Plan out your readings, plan out your time to write assignments, and if it helps, even plan yourself some relaxation time. This provides a little relief to the two Big Things about high functioning anxiety: overworking, and feeling guilty about not working.

With overworking, making a schedule means you limit your time to work on assignments. Of course, give yourself enough time to finish things well. But don’t spend all night on a paper. Don’t do it. Instead, work for the time you’ve allotted yourself, get as much done as possible, then move on for the day. And, if your scheduled time isn’t enough, then just adjust your calendar. The idea here is to not end up spending a whole night awake trying to finish a paper.

With feeling guilty about doing nothing, well, if you’ve scheduled a time to work, and you’ve followed your schedule, then you’re allowed to relax! Having done all you’ve scheduled for a day, you can (attempt to) rest assured that you’re not wasting time by doing whatever you enjoy. It’s a harder thing to rationalize, I get that, but it does certainly help a bit.

You Got This!

The central message here: high functioning anxiety is hard to deal with, unique, but not totally unbeatable. If my solution doesn’t work, then look into other ways to handle things. In the end, you got this!

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5 Ways to Save Money on Campus

If you’re looking at your bank balance near the end of the school year and thinking, “what happened?”, you are definitely not alone. Like many students befitting of the stereotype, we’re all a little broke – and if it’s your first year, there’s still some learning to do. After all, budgeting isn’t exactly a beginner-friendly sport. So, while it may be a little late to save this year, here are some saving tips to help you out in the future.

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(Relatable content)

First things first, make your own lunch. While eating out in one of UTM’s many food spots can be quick, don’t do it if you can avoid it! Or at least, limit yourself down to one UTM campus eatery meal a week. On other days, make your own lunch – and save a few pennies in the process. If you live at home, this means bringing things from home. If you live on campus, then do some grocery shopping!

After all, for five dollars, you could either get a sandwich in the cafeteria, or you could make a whole lot of sandwiches with a loaf of bread and whatever ingredients you like. Though it might take a few extra minutes of preparation, making your own lunch will definitely reduce food costs.

Second, plan out your errands. Whether you’re driving a car and paying for gas, or taking the bus and paying for transit, going out and about can cost a lot – especially if you’ve got multiple places to go. So, to get transportation costs down, you can plan the most efficient route, with the least amount of long travel time, and do everything at once;

By this, I mean you can designate an “errands day” – it’s exactly like it sounds. Choose a day of the week when you’re free, and make that the day to go out and do ALL the shopping for that week. That way, you won’t spend so much going back and forth from where you live.

Third, make treats – treats. Now, there’s little I like more than having a nice tea and scone at Second Cup. On occasion, splurging is totally fine! But, to have even just a tea every day can be a bit much. (I can already hear the coffee drinkers grumbling…stay with me here.) Worry not – what you need, you go get. If you need morning coffee, go for it. If you are super hungry and need to get something quick, don’t stop yourself. But when things are a treat – a cookie from Tim Hortons, for example – keep them that way.

Like our aforementioned errands day, you could also give yourself a nice treat day. Maybe make it every month if you want to save just a little more. On this day, Treat Yo Self! On the other days, then hold back on spending those extra few dollars on something sweet. It’s hard, I know that. My first few weeks were an illustration of reckless croissant purchases. Once that stopped? I found out that I was not spending nearly as much.

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Forth, use your resources wisely. There are going to be things that you’ll need to buy less frequently, and those things might be expensive. If you’re anything like me, that is hard to do – I see the first thing listed on amazon.ca, and I get it because I want to get the process over with. Usually, afterwards, I’ll find exactly what I was looking for. Only at a cheaper price. So, next advice: use resources wisely.

If you’re shopping online, see which sites offer what you want, and compare prices. If you’re at the book store, consider buying used, or even renting, textbooks (aside: if you’re renting, bring a credit card – the Bookstore requires you to have one on file for rentals). Even see what other students on campus might be selling on facebook. The point is, do some looking around before making a purchase, so you don’t accidentally end up spending more than you wanted.

Fifth, and finally, make a budget. Be it mental, on paper, or contained on some app or website, budgets are those Magic Adult Things that can really keep you on track. Problem? They’re daunting to those who have just started dealing with their own finances. That I really understand. But, having a clear budget can keep spending under control. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s not hard to make one.

Here’s a basic rundown of the process: find out how much money you’re willing to spend weekly or monthly (I prefer to do weekly budgets because neither math nor foresight is my thing). If you don’t have a job, you will have to use what you have. If you do have a job, then you get away with just using the money you earn. Put aside a certain, reasonable amount of essentials – food, transportation, clothing, services (the list goes on) – and put aside a small amount for extras like treats. And voila! You have made a basic budget! Don’t exceed your weekly or monthly allowance, and you’re in the clear.

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(If you’re reading this, you know for a fact that it’s not wrong.)

Remember that the key word in all budgeting is reasonable – don’t cut your funds so much that you’ll be hungry or really unhappy. Saving money is supposed to reduce stress about money, not increase it. So, whatever you choose to do, don’t push yourself too hard, and don’t get too worried. You got this!

“Lectures Are so Terrible” and Other Misconceptions About University

There is no limit to the unqualified, sometimes unwanted advice people like to spout when you’re headed to university. It’s like they’re all trying to recite phrases from some university help book – one that was poorly researched and only about half accurate. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if it didn’t stir up a whole host of misconceptions about university.

But, after a term and a half, I can say with slight confidence that I think I know a little better. I can say that much of what my parents (and other peoples’ parents) told me about their experiences doesn’t really apply any more. So, let’s take some of those misconceptions and make like a very underwhelming episode of Mythbusters: let’s bust some university myths.

Number 1: “Lectures aren’t fun/good/enjoyable.” I heard this one often and loudly from other people’s older siblings, and from my parents remembering their experiences. Even high school teachers seemed to imply that lectures were going to be hard. Generally, people weren’t too kind in talking about listening to someone talk for two hours each week.

We can stop that train of thought right here and now: lectures aren’t inherently bad, in fact, they’ve been the most enjoyable part of university so far (for me, at least). Go into them with an open mind, and desire to learn about the subject matter, and you might actually have some fun. Not to mention, most UTM professors are pretty great at not being excessively boring.

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(Only slightly related, yes, but still hilarious)

Number 2: “Your professors don’t care if you succeed.” As with lectures, I heard all the time that in university, students were numbers. Names, faces, these things were not going to be important. And professors caring about student success? Based on what I heard, I could forget about that.

Again, totally not true. Maybe it feels that way, given the size of classes. But if professors didn’t care about student success, why would they take the time to post slides online, make practice quizzes, or give extra help through office hours? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like this whole ‘the profs don’t care’ thing really doesn’t ring true to my experience thus far.

Number 3: “You’re not going to have time to have a social life.” Most people also mentioned that it would be either this, or it would be all social life and no work. I find that it isn’t a lack of time that’s stopping my social life. It’s a total, complete lack of energy. Who wants to be social when you could take a nap instead?

But, at the same time, there is more than enough time to balance a social life, school work, and even a job- provided you figure out what that balance looks like. Nonetheless, social life can exist (Yay!) which was not something I totally expected. The catch? That social life may have to be slightly limited. But, like me, I’m sure you’ll find a way to manage.

Number 4: “Your grade average will drop by 20%.” This was something a lot of people said to me, and often as well. It was like they were trying to prepare me (a very anxious person with unreasonably high self-expectations) for a new kind of failure. And I appreciate the sentiment, but as it turns out, it’s not totally necessary.

Though this may be true for some people (and there’s no problem with that), it is not by any means certain. If it does happen, no big deal. First year is a time to adjust to a new way of learning. GPA is not the end all, be all of your life. If not? Then great – no need to prepare mentally for getting different grades than you’re used to. Either way, this thing that people mentioned many times is not the Terrible Horrible phenomenon they made it out to be.

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(Unfortunately, this feeling never goes away regardless of GPA)

So, whether you’re already a UTM student looking back on the university myths from high school, or a prospective student looking into what student life is like, remember not everything everyone says is going to be completely certain. The individual experience is going to vary from person to person – and no matter what yours looks like, it’s going to be great.

 

3Tips for Keeping Your Commuter Sanity

I won’t be the first to say it: rush hour traffic is the worst. Like, I would rather just sit somewhere on campus for an extra three hours, just to avoid having to endure traffic. Because it’s either that, or sit in traffic and stare at the car ahead of you for so long that you begin to associate that car brand with the terrible traffic-related feelings (I got stuck behind a Saturn  for like 20 minutes once and seeing that logo makes me frustrated now). If you commute, then I bet you know that feeling exactly.

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(Parks and Rec articulates my feelings so well)

 

But, as a commuter, well, there’s not a lot I can do to change my situation. I don’t live in Mississauga, so I have to find a way to get there (I personally drive). Which means that, to get rid of that frustration, I have to find some way to cope with rush hour. Here are three tips I’ve been using so far;

1. Make yourself a driving playlist. Get together a bunch of songs that you find really groovy – songs that you wouldn’t skip if you were on shuffle, or that you sing along to when you’re alone. Put those on a playlist, and there you go! Something to distract you from the fact that you’ve been waiting at a light for what feels like an eternity…

2. Talk/think yourself through some studying. One of my big problems with commuting is the fact that it feels like I’m losing time. I start driving, and half an hour is lost, time I could have spent studying for some big upcoming test.

Solution? Make yourself a mental list of topics for a course you need to study for, and work your way through it as you drive. Test your memory; act as though you’re trying to explain the concept to someone who doesn’t know anything about it. You’ll get a chance to work on explaining things, which you have to do in essay questions on exams, and remembering things (for multiple-choice purposes).

3. Read/listen to a book you really like. If you’re not that into music/studying, then audio books are a great thing! Maybe there’s some old classic you’ve just can’t find the time to read (me, I’ve been holding out for In Search of Lost Time) or maybe it’s time to read Harry Potter again – whatever your choice, commuting is a good time for audio books.

A longer time spent commuting means more time to listen to your book of choice, now isn’t that less dreadful?

There you have it – hopefully these can make your commute through rush hour a little better. Remember, stay safe on the road, and don’t let it get too frustrating.

 

 

 

Love True Crime Stories? This Podcast Is for You!

I think I can speak for a lot of us when I say at the end of the day, I’m done. Completely, 100% finished with the very notion of doing things. Reading, watching Netflix, it’s too much work – I don’t want to have to keep my eyes open. And, ironically, I don’t want to go to sleep either. A week ago, that meant it was time to find an alternative.

So, I sought out a podcast. Now, in the past, podcasts haven’t really been my thing. I just never got into them, and I was skeptical. But entertainment for which I didn’t have to keep my eyes open beckoned, and so, a few lists later, I found what I was looking for: Serial.

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Hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig, Serial is currently a two season podcast that has eaten up my nights for the past week. Each season follows one story though about 13 hour-long episodes. Each episode goes into another detail of the same story – by the end of the season, you’ll have the “full story” (sort of- it’s complicated).

Season one presents the case of the 1999 murder of a high school student named Hae Min Lee, and the subsequent arrest and trial of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Where things get a little more complicated? Well, Adnan swears he’s innocent. And the evidence in the case isn’t exactly proving him wrong. But it’s not proving his innocence either.

On one side, you have the very, very questionable witness, Jay, who claims to have helped Adnan in the murder and keeps changing his story. On the other, you have the fact that Adnan claims to not remember the afternoon when Hae Min was murdered, so he can’t provide an alibi. So, the question comes down to who’s lying? Someone has to be. Honestly, there are so many details in this case I can’t even begin to break it down in a way that would do it justice.

Serious in tone, but really easy to listen to and follow, Koenig investigates what she can of the story in a relatively fair manner. She’s not taking any particular side, so you can consider the evidence yourself. It’s absolutely gripping.

Season two takes on a different sort of case – and full disclosure, I’m only part way through, so I’m not quite sure where it’s going yet. Anyhow, in the second season Koenig investigates the case of Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years after having walked off his post in Afghanistan one evening. The key question: is Bergdahl an American hero, or a traitor to his country?

In every episode, of course, the topics are also retreated respectfully and fairly. As far as I know, no baseless claims are made, and no ‘alternative facts’ are employed – not by Koenig, at least. It’s the sort of podcast that might turn me onto other podcasts.

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(Sarah Koenig, who currently narrates my thoughts. I’ve been listening to this so much.)

And, bonus, it is the sort of end of the night thing to listen to that won’t scare you, but won’t tire or bore you either. It’s impressively well made, and it’s totally captivating. Which, when you’ve just come off reading about a billion pages of a textbook, is pretty great.

So, next time you’re feeling pretty done at the end of the night, get some tea, get cozy, and give Serial a try – if you like true crime, then you’ll be completely hooked. And, while you’re at it, comment with your other favorite podcasts – I know I’m going to finish Serial by the end of the week, after all…

5 Tips for More Efficient and Effective Note-Taking

Three hours.

That’s the usual amount of time suggested for homework per class. Maybe it’s a whole skew of math questions or science questions. Maybe it’s a chapter or three from the text book. Either way, you’re probably going to be summarizing and recording information in  a notebook at some point. But, and I don’t know about you, on most days I don’t want to spend all my free time on summarizing and recording information.

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Early last semester, however, I had no strategy for making that homework practice more efficient while not throwing away the benefits of note taking at the same time. 3 hours per class, day in day out. That, or I could take minimal or even no notes, and kiss a good exam mark goodbye (That option was quickly off the table).

But, even with my admittedly limited experience, I did figure a few things out. So, unqualified as it may be, here are my tips to taking more efficient notes when reading your textbook.

1: Read, then write.

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If experience counts for anything, stopping every time something important comes up to write it down is going to take forever. Not only that, but chances are, you’ll come across a sentence shortly after that will undermine the first sentence or phrase the point better, and you’ll have the erase and write a new note… You get it. It’s frustrating.

Instead? Take it a couple paragraphs at a time. Read for a bit, then stop, summarize the most important points, and continue. Aside from saving yourself a lot of time, you’ll get a chance to mentally edit and understand what you’ve read – which will be all the better when exam time rolls around.

2: One example is (usually) enough.

One textbook I have lists what feels like a billion example for every concept. It gets to the point where, well, I’m not reading any more. I’m looking for where the examples end. If I were to write every single one down, for every concept? It would take a whole lot more than three hours to do my homework.

So? Write down one example for any concept you understand otherwise. Obviously, if you feel you need more for something in particular, go for it – do what will help you learn. If you’re worried exams will come and that one example won’t be enough? Remember you can always refer back to that list of examples later. For me, though, one has always been enough, and it has kept my efficiency up. Instead of focusing on writing ten examples, I can focus on the key concepts.

3: If you can print, print.

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This applies pretty much exclusively to online papers or articles, evidently. I find that those are the hardest of all the read – I’m less inclined to take notes as switching from screen to notebook is hard my eyes, and the internet can be quite compelling when you’re reading something particularly dense. Sooner or later, I’ll be watching cat videos instead of reading a paper on political philosophy.

The solution? Print double sided, and only print what you need (If there are four pages of bibliography, you can probably just read that part online), but print what you’re reading. There’s a good chance that you’ll take notes, highlight important quotes, and just read things more deeply. Something about reading off screens just makes the information harder to retain. (Here’s some science to back that up.)

4: Know what you’re looking for.

This is a lot easier said than done, I admit that. Me, I have one really helpful TA who hints at what is most important to make notes on for one course. For other courses, it’s just something to figure out on your own. Consider the aim of the course, consider what the professor tends to emphasize in lecture. These are the things that may turn out to be more important – though every course is different.

One big pointer would also be to look at the subheadings in any given textbook chapter – look at what main ideas are being presented, and base your notes on those. Or, if you’re reading an essay, write down the thesis and main arguments, with minimal examples (see above for more on the examples). Come exam time, this might make your studying more worth while.

5: Organize!

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This is almost self-explanatory; keep things in order, keep them labelled, and make sure nothing gets lost! It will save you so much stress, knowing that when you need to look at your notes, they’re all going to be there and grouped together nicely. Like topics should stay together, separate courses should stay separate, and binder/folders/bound notebooks are your friends!

So, there you go. Hopefully these tips (and their respective memes) will help make your note taking a little more effective. And maybe the point of homework isn’t to get it done quickly, but these tips will help with that too – it’s an added bonus. I know I certainly don’t like scrambling for good notes when exams come!

With that, happy note taking, and good luck in the rest of your semester! Let me know if there are any other note-taking tips and tricks that work for you!

Want to Write Better Essays? Take Philosophy

People usually groan when I tell them that I took an introductory philosophy course. They ask why I would take a course like that – and by asking that, they usually mean they want to know why I’m, “wasting my time.” Honestly? Not to slam the course, but, for a while there, wondered why I was taking philosophy.

Because the fact is, Plato won’t help me get a job, and Descartes won’t help me (eventually) pay taxes. Knowing what exactly ‘The Greats’ of philosophy-past thought about the world is not really something that applies to my life. And maybe that’s different for some of you, but the lack of practicality can be difficult for me to grapple with.

The first few months of that course (it’s a year course, so we’re talking back in September/October) felt kind of frustrating. I’d go to class twice and week, sit there, and wonder if I’d made a mistake. I thought: maybe all those people telling me I’d wasted my time were right.

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(Pretty much the entire discipline of Philosophy)

But then on one November day, while arguing with someone about…you guessed it… Trump, I figured it out! I finally had a reason to take that one, single, first year philosophy course. It wasn’t about learning about the greats and their ideas, and it wasn’t about trying to find some sort of higher truth, oh no.

Taking first year philosophy? It was about learning how to argue. Or, conversely, learning how not to argue.

Let me explain: as I see it, philosophy is a whole discipline based on people having discussions that continuously go back and forth on various topics. Whether it be about the actual existence of a physical world, the definition of piety, or the meaning of ‘self,’ it’s about people making and refuting arguments.

So, naturally, argument types is something they’re going to teach you about in first year philosophy. Lesson #1: learning that there are different kinds of arguments. That includes what it means to have something valid and strong. And with that, what it means to have something invalid and weak. Learning how to argue a point well is critical to succeeding in philosophy.

And as I have recently realized, that can help you succeed in other subject areas too – learning different ways to frame a point for an essay helps in pretty much any other essay-writing discipline just as much as it does in philosophy.

Then, you go another step further;

Lesson #2: how not to argue. because, after all, there are mistakes that can be made. Whether they be logical errors, where conclusions don’t follow from the points leading up to them, or other mistakes – they call them fallacies in philosophy – this course opened me up to things I was doing wrong.

Because when I used to argue, I realized, I made a lot of these formal mistakes without thinking, and I never would have known. What if one of those fallacies had ended up in one of my assignments? Suddenly a project is flawed just because I didn’t think about an argument that might discredit me? Not an appealing thought.

Learning how not to argue changed the way that I did make arguments and changed the way I listened to other people’s arguments. So much so that, one day while debating about Trump (again), I could say to the person I was debating, “Hey, that argument has a logical flaw.”

I meant that in the kindest of ways, of course, and in the end? Recognizing logical fallacies can make any argument in a debate tighter and more interesting. Same goes for essays, for papers, for lab reports. If they can be made stronger with the techniques of philosophy, then why not take a chance and learn them?

This is where I make my call to action to all you: if ever you need another elective, need to fill a humanities credit, or are just curious (as I was), then take an introductory philosophy course. It’s not likely to have a heavy workload, the assignments are not incredibly difficult, and you’ll learn some really helpful skills. Like me, you might learn that there’s more to philosophy than talking about philosophers.

And, maybe unlike me, you won’t have to soul search for a few months to find the point of it all.