I’ve written a story on the strengths and flaws of the Canadian healthcare system for The Varsity this month. You can find it here.
Mission: To write an essay on (insert elaborate topic of desperation/ choice here) by (deadline inflicted on innocent students by sadistic professor(s)).
What the ideal student does:
1)Spends some time analyzing the essay prompt after which (s)he creates a draft outlining the initial ideas buzzing around the organ where the little gray cells reside.
2) Makes a plan of action which illustrates how much work needs to be done each day, in order to finish the essay two days before the deadline. Proof reading is important after all.
3) Visits professors’ office hours and inundates the TA’s inbox with inquisitive emails.
4)Does research- lots of it- and is friends with The Library and its formidable guardian, The Librarian.
5) Avoids using Google Scholar because (s)he knows how to utilize the help of The Library’s cousin, The Online Library.
6) Uses correct grammar and concise language.
7)Monopolizes office hours and TA mailboxes some more.
8) Temporarily feels guilty for this.
9)Delights the folks at the Writing Center with his/her company. Everyone deserves happiness and joy.
10) Proof reads. Multiple times. Three days before The Deadline.
What the rest of us do:
1)Glance at the essay prompt. Then spend twenty minutes of Facebook.
2)Check out the latest from the Trolls on Twitter and a (presumably sensible) few others.
3) Complain about how much university sucks and how the professor is out to “get us”.
4) Worry about what everyone else is doing. Panic calmly.
5) Scare ourselves silly based on what other people say they are doing on social media.
6) Try an ask a somewhat intelligent question in course groups on aforementioned social media.
7) Get coffee at (insert name of cheap caffeine supplier). When feeling Rich (or Foolish), visit Starbucks.
8) Panic frantically (two days before the deadline) when we realize we have no content to write an little time to think.
9) Start writing. Share tips on Facebook for “struggling students” while having absolutely no idea about how to proceed ourselves. Who said groping in the dark was worthless?
10) Start considering the merits of the Late Penalty. Pull one (of many) All Night-er.
There’s an unintentionally funny, tiresome practice ‘trending’ on campus- students are often found completely engrossed in the events unfolding on the screens of their phones and laptops. So essential is this daily practice to their mental and physical well-being that they often ignore anyone who tries to engage them in conversation , at best, or listen with their ears closed, at worst. The few people strong enough to resist the seductive screen stand out in the silent crowd gathered outside lecture halls and classrooms across campus. The pattern of behaviour is so ingrained that it seems futile to challenge, yet there are a number of reasons why doing so is crucial. The most obvious, but regularly forgotten, reason is that an individual should control the technology he uses- not the other way round. For the purpose of this article, the purpose of using technology is to use any instrument or practice that makes accomplishing a goal easier. In the case of social media — for instance, Facebook boasts that it enable users to “connect with friends and the world around you” — the result contrary to its purpose is achieved. And this why taking a break from social media and the screen is relevant to optimizing your university experience.
Count and record the number of times you check social media over the course of the week, and notice when and where you did it. I recorded about five times a day, usually when I was travelling alone on the TTC or when I was bored in class and needed a shot of adrenaline to stay awake. When I briefly disabled my account — as I (try to) practice what I preach— I realized that a massive amount of effort was required to pay attention to the details around me. Facebook allowed me to access a world away from me, providing me with an escape from the world around me. This had translated into a reduced span of attention that I could successfully exercise in the classroom. Across the world similar symptoms have been observed and the phenomenon has been described as “shocking” because, like me, other students seem unable to absorb the content taught “no matter how riveting the lesson.” Apart from disengaging students with academia in the lecture halls, Facebook and other kinds of social media also provide a constantly available distraction when students are studying independently. Quickly logging in and ‘stalking’ other people, checking the news or updating your own profile routinely diminishes students’ productivity levels due to the large number of minutes wasted.
Maintaining the façade
Before digging into a gorgeously plated meal, almost everyone snaps a photograph of the dish and immediately posts it on Instagram. And if you’re really clever and keen, you can ‘share’ the image on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr. If you’re away from friends and family and cannot control the urge to spread the joy, you can send them the image on WhatsApp or WeChat, along with an implied message of ‘Look what you’re missing’. By the time the festivities are over, the food is cold. When somebody does the same to you, it is likely that you experience a feeling of sadness or inadequacy. The reverse may well be true: what you ‘view’ of other people’s lives, particularly if they are miserable students whining about the hopelessness of college life, you may build up a misplaced overconfidence in your own abilities. Projecting constantly happy versions of ourselves is an inescapable part of maintaining an online presence– after all who would ‘share’ their darkest moments with a bunch of strangers. The point is that apart from greatly compromising the spontaneity of life, and thereby making it a lot less enjoyable, maintaining an image is a high pressure job. The New York Times magazine defines it as “keeping it all up can feel like working as an unpaid intern for a Z-list celebrity known as Oneself.” In an academic environment as demanding and competitive as the one at UofT, we must ask ourselves if the effort involved is worth the result.
The case for continuous connectivity
There are a number of valid reasons why many of you will turn the page and move onto greener pastures. Now, more than ever before, it is easier to study in groups. Simply create a group on Facebook or create a Google doc and you’re good to go. Most students are part of online course unions and course groups. There is a plethora of advice available from upper years and if your peers are so inclined, the glorious potential of shared notes. It’s a great tool to supplement class attendance and self-study. Secondly, most of student social life is connected to their online presence. A friend, who goes home every weekend, recently commented that he does not miss much on campus because he is in touch with both his friends and the occasionally alive campus life at St. George. As I discovered in my brief, sans Facebook sabbatical, one can and will likely experience feelings of isolation once off Facebook due to loss of knowledge. To keep up with events, you will have to visit campus club offices, read the sparsely decorated soft boards, contact your College Registrar or Programme Coordinator ( if you’re at UofT) and —heaven forbid — actually speak to people you meet outside class. Your well trained fingers will itch to type in the domain name for Twitter and the Instagram icon on your phone screen will look even more inviting. Thirdly, if most of your socializing happens via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp it will seem — at least for the first couple of days — that most of your friends dropped off the face of the earth. And finally, the scariest part is that since it is unlikely that everyone in your life will concurrently abstain from social media you will feel disoriented and confused about how to proceed because everyone around you is part of a world you chose to abandon. Think Neo vomiting after he leaves The Matrix for the first time.
I have the following advice for anybody, should they accept this mission, braving this dark path
- Try to stay the course for one week. On the seventh day decide whether or not to log back in.
- Write a diary recording your experience. If all else fails, you can recall, at a later stage in your life, and laugh about that crazy thing you did a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
- Make it known to your friends, family and acquaintances when you’re logging off your social media and when you decide to begin using it again.
- Set a given time for your period of abstinence from social media. Evaluate your feelings on a weekly basis. It helps build the discipline and allows you to regain control over your technology. Alternatively, it helps to regulate the time you spend on your social media accounts when they are alive.
- Fill up the time you usually spend on Facebook with other real-time activities like going to the gym, reading or exploring the city. That way the temptation to log back on is limited.
I use Facebook to promote this blog, but have deactivated my account so that I am not tempted to share this and future posts there to boost readership. Watch this space to see how I hold up.
Freshmen are often told that they will “discover themselves” at university. The discovery happens both inside and outside the classroom. There are multiple possibilities; the changes that others have told one to expect don’t necessarily happen.
We are often told that we will completely change the course of our degrees. Often, students start with a particular subject and end with its opposite.
Disclaimer: All the instances cited here are based on empirical evidence i.e. what I observe around me, which may be flawed, biased, exaggerated and likely, hysterically funny. DO
NOT consider it the Gospel Truth.
The Oh-my-god, need to change majors/ faculties/ perspective on life epiphany
While the first semester of university does deliver many academic epiphanies to a student’s doorstep, they aren’t necessarily as dramatic as widely believed. For example, it doesn’t work like this:
Student: What a wonderful class! Based on this one class alone, I’m going to declare a major in this subject because, hey, all of the courses required to complete this major/ specialist/ minor are as fantastic. Guaranteed. And I don’t need to do any further research, talk to the College Registrar or to any upper year students. When you know, you just know.
It is likely that something similar to the next few scenarios will transpire.
A student, looking suitably disheveled from sleep deprivation/ whatever he or she was doing last night, walks into a lecture hall.
Student: This place is massive, I won’t be able to ask a question (because it’s bloody scary). 2000 people in one room- I’m outta here.
Another equally morbid, heavily/ under populated lecture hall. Same, long-suffering student.
Student: Hmm… that sounds interesting. The professor doesn’t put me to sleep. Tutorials are interesting. Maybe I won’t drop this course. Considering pursuing a major in this subject, or not. Oh wait, that’s not up to me- GPA’s the boss.
Note: The repeated use of the word “interesting” shows the student’s lethargy.
The student is alert completely engaged in the lecture. In love with the professor or, whatever he/she is saying.
Student: THAT WAS AN AWESOME LECTURE! MUST ALWAYS ATTEND THIS LECTURE! I’VE FOUND MY MAJOR.
(Breaks into some form of excited dance)
MUST ALSO VISIT THE PROFESSOR DURING OFFICE HOURS. EVERY WEEK!
Student aimlessly wandering, looks tired from too much sleep.
Student: Lecture? What is that? Where is it? Am I enrolled in that course? (Walks away in a daze)
The in-touch with nature moment:
Looking at that first snowflake/ ray of sunlight through the curtains. Violins playing in the mesmerized student’s head.
Student: Nature is beautiful. Life is beautiful. I should take up yoga.
Disclaimer: Weather conditions are subject to change, depending on one’s geographical location.
The realization that “cool” is a subjective word.
Student A: I spent the whole night at the library. There are so many readings, but I really need to work harder. G-panting- P-panting- A
Student B: That’s cool. I had a “sick” week! Was out every night, AND I still made it to class.
Student A: That’s cool.
Student C: Can’t talk now- busy with so many extracurriculars. That resume won’t build itself. (Runs out of room)
Students A & B: That’s cool.
From this we also deduce that word “sick” is also subjective.
You can’t possibly do everything- and it’s okay:
Before beginning university, every student has a “bucket list’- although the contents of each vary. I did too- my list is endless and still incomplete. With great difficulty, I’ve managed to one or two of the things I had originally intended.
Once the onslaught of assignments, readings and tutorial attendance begins there is very little time left. In addition to that, one has to learn to live independently (this involves eating healthy, without parental nagging), cope with homesickness and make friends. The last one is a crucial as maintaining a healthy GPA because, as sociology tells us, “man is a social being”.
Note: This may not be applicable to you if you enjoy being a hermit crab and living (i.e. hiding) under your bed.
You also need to sleep enough…..well…try to sleep enough.
Don’t kill yourself, worrying about everything you didn’t do this semester. There’s still a WHOLE OTHER SEMESTER and lots of snow to trudge through.
To be or not to be- Daily dilemmas of the regular UofT student
Shakespeare’s oscillating, moody protagonist left us a few wise words before dying. Let us explore how they our daily lives as (clichéd as hell) “leaders of the future”- a title bequeathed to young people across the world by multiple people, that I don’t know who deserves the credit for it (read: citations). Read on , and be amused (hopefully):
1. To drop or not to drop ( a course)
2. To exercise or not to exercise (everyday)
3. To sue or not to sue ( the campus catering)
4. To cry or not to cry (for that dying GPA)
5. To sleep or not to sleep (that extra hour)
6. To live or not to live (in Robarts/ “Insert any other preferred library”)
7. To pursue or not to pursue ( those “meaningful” distractions called extra-curricular activities)
8. To attend or not to attend ( class/that particular party, the weekend before major submissions/tests)
9. To fight or not to fight (with one’s roommate/ the cold weather outside)
10. To run or not to run (away from campus)
11. To be or not to be ( happy, despite the challenging, often heart-breaking UofT universe)