First Year Survivor
Exam advice to help you procrastinate
Entering an exam room can be intimidating. Where in this sea of chairs and desks would prove the best for productivity? Which seat will yield the best exam results? One of the most important factors in a seat’s potential is its neighbouring student. The people around you can have an enormous effect on your ability to focus, so it’s important to avoid what I call the five worst exam neighbours:
1. The Sniffler
Because students are stressed and abandon basic hygiene in December, colds and flus sweep through exam season. That means that you might sit next to a sniffler—someone who will spend the next three hours alternating between sniffling, coughing, blowing into a tissue, and—if you’re especially lucky—vomiting. You’ll want to put some extra space between you and this noisy peer. Early indicators: someone putting a tissue box on the corner of the desk.
2. The Sloth
You likely won’t recognize these students from class, mostly because they’ve rarely been to a lecture. The sloths will sit the exam but take the first 10 minutes to sharpen a pencil. After dedicating some time toward counting ceiling tiles, the sloths might take a well-deserved nap. An hour into the exam, you might see them write something—probably their names. Though not particularly loud, you will be distracted with disbelief, wondering how on earth these people made it this far. Early indicators: someone wearing sweatpants and asking, “which one is the professor?”
How easy is it to hand in a paper you didn’t write?
I approached the shop on Yonge Street a little nervous, uncertain of what I’d find. Chain-smoking felons? Security dogs?
I found a clean store staffed by an intelligent, personable man named Mike. I told him I wanted a run-down. He said that master’s graduates write all the essays and they have a writer for each subject, from biology to philosophy. He showed me a database on his computer screen with at least 30 names. I asked how many customers he had and he showed me a weekly schedule that appeared to show more than 25 essays per week. The price was normally $30 per page but would only be $25 per page for me since there was a promotion that day and I was wiling to wait five days. Next-day service was still $35 per page.
Mike wouldn’t answer me about whether I would be cheating if I handed in the essay as my own.
“We don’t really have that conversation here,” he said. “It’s all original work; it’s not plagiarized.”
Universities help first-year students with mentors and more
Shari-Ann Baker, who was born and raised in Jamaica, moved to Toronto in 2010 to attend York University. Her first assignment was an essay for a Canadian studies course. Baker got a B, a mark she was able to improve after learning about the school’s Writing Centre: Her next assignment, for a sociology course, received an A. York’s various facilities, programs and clubs, such as the Community of United Jamaicans, were invaluable in helping her get settled. “People say you’ll get worse grades than in high school,” says Baker, now 22, in her fourth year of a linguistics degree. “If you take advantage of resources on campus, I don’t think it’s a problem.”
First year is a precarious time, fraught with new challenges and responsibilities—both academic and personal. Suddenly, “the world sees you as an adult,” says Barry Townshend, manager of the Centre for New Students at the University of Guelph. “A lot of responsibility comes with that,” from getting to class on time to paying rent, not to mention choosing an academic direction that will help with a future career. It’s a lot of pressure, all at once. Universities are increasingly finding a way to support students through this transition with writing centres, advisers, academic coaches and mentors.
The link between health and well-being and cellphone use
Madison Potter has a routine before bedtime. After she brushes her teeth and puts on her pyjamas, she’ll plug in her iPhone and put it right next to her pillow. Then she’ll turn off the lights and fall asleep with the phone six inches from her head. “It’s just habit now,” says the 20-year-old fine arts student at the Alberta College of Art and Design. “I’ve been doing it for four years.”
The vibration from incoming texts will occasionally wake her up, but her cellphone is there as an alarm clock. Also “in case there’s an important message in the middle of the night,” she says, “which is completely silly because there never has been.”
She’s not the only one snuggling up to her screen. Curt Wetmore, a 25-year-old grad student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, keeps his cell under his pillow because his small bedroom doesn’t allow for a bedside table and the outlet to recharge the battery is right by the head of the bed. “It’s more convenient, and maybe a little comforting to know that I have my phone by me,” he says. “I don’t why, but I definitely feel comfort for sure—which is sad.”
The surprising results of Canadian student sex surveys
When you see a sexual health study sponsored by a condom company you may be skeptical, especially when the headline is that 51 per cent of students who had sex last year didn’t use a condom. Half? Really? It sounds like a ploy by Trojan—which commissioned the survey of 1,500 undergraduates in partnership with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada—to sell more rubbers. After all, this generation grew up with non-stop public health education on the risks of a sexually transmitted infections like HIV. Students couldn’t possibly be so careless, right?
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this number before. Canadian results from the National College Health Assessment, a survey filled out by 34,039 students at 32 Canadian schools earlier this year, also found that only half of students use condoms most or all of the times they have vaginal sex.
Advice from a woman who couldn’t find help on campus
I dropped out of McGill University because of depression. It was the type that begins as a barely perceptible malaise but quickly penetrates your mind and renders you nearly unable to speak, think, or even walk. Perhaps the most common misunderstanding of depression is that it’s simply an overarching sadness permeating your positive thoughts. In its most serious form, the illness may actually leave you unable to feel anything—comfort or happiness, fear or rage. It wasn’t until I’d reached this level that I finally decided to take time off from my routine and accept help. If you find any aspect of this story relatable, I hope that you seek help immediately.
I vividly remember the first (and last) time I used McGill Mental Health Services. My parents had been asking me to get in touch with someone for months. I’d always responded to these requests by saying no, I wouldn’t see anyone because I was “fine” and “therapists are for people who need attention.” But after two years of growing increasingly despondent, I knew I had to do something. So I temporarily abandoned my mask of confidence and called.
Why mainstream students need to get out and vote
When I attended my first student union meeting at the University of Toronto last February, I knew that many students involved in campus politics are radical leftists so I was unsurprised when those present passed motions endorsing the Aboriginal movement Idle No More and to lobby the provincial government to ban unpaid internships, in which students freely choose to participate.
But when the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) published a statement endorsing Idle No More and sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour calling for a ban on unpaid placements, they claimed to represent 46,000 University of Toronto students and that is simply not true. Many students have no opinion on these issues, while many others, like me, are strongly opposed.
We have no idea how most students actually feel because only 3,161 voted in the last UTSU election, a turnout of less than seven per cent. Munib Sajjad, the president, received around 2,000 votes, which means less than five per cent of students voted for him—despite running unopposed.
How to cut down on bad behaviour like at Saint Mary’s
Though I couldn’t wait for orientation to end, I did learn a few valuable lessons about respecting the students around me at an optional short conference on campus culture and etiquette.
The key word is “optional.” If frosh week had a mandatory component that taught all students about what’s expected of them, instead of just how to get drunk in the beer gardens, I think universities could prevent incidents like Saint Mary’s rape-referencing orientation chant.
Hundreds of ways to get involved at McMaster University
Teresa Ziegler is listening to a pitch from two enthusiastic third-year students who want her to join yet another club. Classes haven’t even started and she’s already committed to the strength and conditioning club, a medical club, a few volunteer groups and the rowing club, whose members are showing off 12-foot oars in neon t-shirts that read “Beat the freshman 15.”
How will she handle it all? “I’m just going to go them all and find out what I’m most passionate about,” says the first-year Kinesiology major.
Ziegler’s got the right approach to McMaster University’s Clubsfest, the annual outdoor fair where representatives from the school’s roughly 325 campus groups spend four hours recruiting members. It’s a frenzied competition for names and e-mail address where a capella ballads from the Gospel Choir compete with pop tunes from a Chinese culture club while representatives from the Disney Dreams Club try to entice women away from the Catholic Students Association’s table.
Avoid these freshman pitfalls
1. Fail to realize that, special as you are, you’re just one person on a huge campus. This has unfortunate side effects like clogging up busy hallways and other such silliness.
2. Buy brand new copies of every single book listed on every syllabus only to find out at the first lecture that half of them are ‘on reserve’ for free in the library.
3. Fail to speak up in class. This can lead to painful silences that are eventually filled by that one guy who lives to talk and whom just about everyone hates.
4. Go to every frosh event no matter how ridiculous. You’ll be fine if you don’t make it to “Back-to-School-a-Palooza” and “Frosh-Tastic Tastings” and “School’s In… Togas!” Toga parties are done anyway. The only good one happened 30 years ago… in a movie.
5. Explore the fun and exciting world of parent-free alcohol consumption but go way too far. Most people drink in university but freshmen have a knack for ending up with their faces in toilets. Or garbage cans. Or friend’s roommate’s beds. It’s just not classy.
6. Sign up for way too many activities and force all your friends to sign up for way too many activities too because this is university and we must make the most of it!!!!!
7. You burnout, get sick, stop doing everything and come perilously close to failing. This is why it’s imperative to figure out which classes you can afford to skip occasionally.
8. Complain about how hard it is to budget when your parents aren’t around to buy groceries after spending all your savings on vodka and unnecessary textbooks.
9. Live on campus and wear pajamas or shorts all year long. We all know you don’t have to walk far in rainstorms and blizzards to get to classes but there’s no need to rub it in!
10. Date a high school boyfriend/girlfriend and Skype them for hours each night.
Do not be this roommate, freshmen. Nobody likes this roommate. Good luck!
Watch out for the curmudgeons and Christmas graduates
If you’re just starting university, chances are you don’t know anyone on campus. Orientation is a great opportunity to meet friends before homework starts to pile up. As someone who has been involved in McMaster University’s Orientation Week since 2009, I thought I’d share six types of people that you’re likely to meet and some advice on how to approach them.
The Curmudgeons: These people are vocal about what they dislike, and they dislike a lot. They think the events are cheesy, the cheers are dumb and despise football. In some cases, they just doesn’t know how to get engaged. In other cases, they may be homesick or having a rough time outside of university and that’s affecting their ability to have fun. Chat with them to see if you can help but remember that some people are just complainers. Don’t let them ruin your fun. Oh, and don’t become the curmudgeon yourself.
University means big changes to romantic relationships
Nearly a third of university students (32 per cent) who filled out the biggest-ever survey of health on Canadian campuses earlier this year agreed that their intimate relationships had been traumatic or very difficult to handle, tying it with sleep problems as the third most common worry after academics (57 per cent) and finances (37 per cent).
That’s not surprising considering that when a person moves away to school and leaves a partner behind, he or she will see far less of that partner and far more of other interesting people.
“The main reason students will tell us they end their relationships is because they weren’t able to spend enough time together,” says York University psychologist Jennifer A. Connolly, who researches young love. “Relationships often benefit from stability,” she adds. “Established ways to spend time and have fun together make the relationship easy. If that’s disrupted there may be disruptions to the relationship as well.”
Keep costs down with these 14 money saving tips
University is expensive no matter how you do it but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to save money—potentially thousands of dollars per year.
Whether you’ve moved from the other side of the world or are commuting from the other side of the city, here are 14 ways to keep costs down.
1. Get a student bank account.
All the major banks in Canada offer free banking for post-secondary students. At CIBC, for example, students get unlimited transactions for free while non-students might pay $13.95 per month. All you need is proof of enrolment.
2. Buy used textbooks online.
Many universities have websites with postings from students who are offloading last semester’s books at deep discounts. You can make dough selling the books back at the end of the year too.
National Student Food Summit shows students in action
Students often want to help the environment or tackle poverty but don’t know where to begin. The 10th annual National Student Food Summit, held this weekend in Toronto, showed that campus cafeterias can be good places to spark change.
Many students have no choice but to spend thousands of dollars per year on meal plans and so it’s hard to argue with them when they demand seats at the tables where major decisions about campus food systems are made. This weekend’s summit showed students using their seats at the tables to assert values that go well beyond food.
The gathering was organized by Meal Exchange, a non-profit that aims for affordable, healthy and socially just food. It’s known best for anti-hunger programs like Skip a Meal, where students donate meal points, and Trick or Eat, where they canvas for food banks at Halloween. One of the sponsors was corporate food provider Aramark.
New research shows how much early instructors matter
I arrived at the University of Guelph just shy of 10 years ago and was so excited to study marketing that I spent much of frosh week highlighting and making notes in my intro to marketing textbook.
By week three, I was skipping my marketing classes because the professor couldn’t speak enough English. He verbally stumbled through the same lecture notes that he had posted online and when asked in one early lecture to elaborate on some point, he couldn’t even find the most basic words. His response devolved into mime as he frantically fumbled with an imaginary steering wheel until some blurted it out: “he means car!”
We laughed awkwardly that day but things became a whole lot less cute when he informed us that our 20 per cent participation marks would comprise four pop quizzes worth five per cent each. It was a desperate attempt to stop us from skipping classes where he did nothing but read lecture notes.
Students report rental fraud from Halifax to Calgary
When Adam Michaleski decided to move from Manitoba to Calgary after graduating from Brandon University this spring, he didn’t expect to lose $1,300 and a place to live. But a fake landlord he found on Kijiji who showed him around a nice place took his e-transfer for a damage deposit and then disappeared without a trace.
Rental fraud is a widespread problem for students. A landlord in Halifax recently made off with more than $10,000 after scamming at least 30 people out of their cash, reported CBC Nova Scotia. While the police caught that perpetrator, who pleaded guilty, many cases go unresolved.
Dana Drover, who investigates financial fraud for the Halifax Regional Police, says it’s important for renters to leave a paper trail. If the landlord is paid with a cheque instead of cash or e-transfer, “there’s solid evidence that the money left the account and landed in the account of the recipient.” The two peak periods for rental scams are when students come to university in the fall and when they leave in the spring, he says. A telltale sign of fraud is a landlord who seems rushed, he adds.
Why you should always go straight home after the bar
Students from two Ontario universities are no longer in legal trouble for dumb things they did while drunk but their cases serve as reminders that youthful indiscretions don’t just disappear.
At least not when newspapers write about the cases allowing Google searches to forever link names to drunken behvaiour that some (though not all) potential employers will look down upon.
Exhibit A: Two University of Guelph students, both 19, pleaded guilty this week to mischief for shooting passing cars with paintballs around 2 a.m. one January morning. They apologized and got absolute discharges from a judge but the Guelph Mercury still printed their names.
First year is two months away. Here’s how to get ready.
Hundreds of thousands of Canadians will be starting university or college a little over two months from now. If you’re one of them, you may be freaking out a little bit, so to help calm your nerves, here’s a list of things you can do to prepare, other than the obvious stuff—because you’ve already applied for student loans, paid tuition and picked your courses, right? Right!?
1. Stop worrying about making friends.
Most people will arrive not knowing anyone and that’s a good thing. It means the people living close to you will become a surrogate family for the first couple weeks of September. You’ll attend meals, football games and parties together. Then, like a real family, you’ll drift apart somewhat. But don’t worry. By then you will have made new friends in labs and group projects, at club meetings and on intramural sports teams, at parties and at the poutine shop at 3 a.m. Just give it time.
From Pong Flu to the Cinnamon Challenge
University sounds tame enough, but it’s actually a dangerous place. I’m not talking about Charlotte Simmons’ loss of innocence on the sex-crazed, alcohol-laden, fictional campus of Dupont or even the food fights and public urination in National Lampoon’s Animal House. I’m not talking about the obvious things either, like drinking way too much. I’m talking about the activities students think are innocent enough, but that can, surprisingly, lead to early graves. Here are five examples.
1. Pong flu
According to a recent Clemson University study, the ping pong balls used in beer pong games are rife with bacteria. That’s not surprising considering they often come into contact with the floor. When they are successfully tossed into cups of beer, players chug the contaminated brews, unaware or dismissive of the offending bacteria. Luckily, the potential danger of the game doesn’t mean you have to stop playing altogether. An alternative that many health-conscious—and germaphobic—students are resorting to involves replacing the beer with water and drinking clean beer instead.
I thought there would be more maturity in university
When I got out of high school and enrolled at the University of Alberta, I was particularly excited for one thing: the end of the dreaded group project.
In high school a number of different things led me to hate working with others. We would prepare arbitrary presentations and our peers wouldn’t listen to them anyway. I thought that studying English and Comparative Literature in university would mean never having to collaborate for meaningless group assignments again.
Boy was I wrong. In fact, I seem to be doing more group projects than essays lately.
When I first saw all the group assignment descriptions on my syllabi at the beginning of the year, I decided to be as positive as possible. Perhaps the maturity level of my groups would be higher in university. Boy was I wrong again. Group work only seems to get worse in university, and I can safely say that the biggest source of my school stress has come from working with my peers.
But instead of letting it get me down any more, I’m going to relive the worst group project I have ever been a part of and hopefully my misfortune will at least brighten your day.