10 New Year’s Resolutions for Students

Happy New Year! If you haven’t come up with a resolution for this year, here is a list of ideas you should consider as you get ready to commence the New Year and a new semester.

1. Keep a journal. After you’ve moved on in the world and you’re looking back on your university years with fondness, a daily (or weekly or even monthly) journal would be a priceless possession. These are special times! A journal is a great way to immortalize them.

2. Do all your readings. This one can be tough, especially when you have so much else going on. But it’s a worthy goal indeed.

3. Money management. This was my resolution last year, and it was well worth it. Get a piece of paper or start a document on your computer, and keep track of ALL your spending. From there you will have a better idea of how to keep from spending more than you have! More on this topic here: http://sites.ulethbridge.ca/james-forbes/2011/09/26/money-tips-for-students/

4. Join a club. It’s a great way to meet new friends, cultivate a passion, and learn new things. Club Rush Week is January 9th to 13th – that’s when you’ll have a chance to talk to members of different clubs in the atrium and see what they have to offer. See a list of current ratified clubs here: http://www.ulsu.ca/?p=3612

5. Start your assignments early. Down with procrastination! Check out a previous post on this subject: http://sites.ulethbridge.ca/james-forbes/2011/11/10/last-minute-homework-first-mistake-james/

6. Contribute to The Meliorist. Our campus newspaper gets its life from student input. Talk to one of the editors to see how you can add your voice to the chorus! http://themeliorist.ca/

7. Eat healthy. It’s never too early to start thinking about taking better care of your body. You only get one! Check out how another U of L student is planning to improve her eating habits and how you can too: http://sites.ulethbridge.ca/briana/2011/11/26/building-healthy-lifestyles-briana/

8. Go to a Pronghorns game. Support our school teams! Students get discounted admission. Info and schedules here: http://gohorns.ca/

9. Recycle. Save the planet, and (in some cases) save your wallet! http://sites.ulethbridge.ca/james-forbes/2011/08/30/it-pays-to-recycle/

10. Read this blog every week! Okay, I’m a little biased on this one. But hey, if you want tips on how to navigate more successfully through university, what better place to get it than on your very own computer screen? I’m looking forward to keeping you informed and enjoying university life right along with you.

Whatever your resolution, best of luck with it! This is going to be a great year. See you next week!

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Final Exams and Winter Break

Winter break is in sight! There’s just that one little hill to climb and then… wait, it’s a trap! Like vultures, a flock of exams swoop out of the air and attempt to thwart you from reaching your goal. But with a trusty pen in hand, you write those exams – slaying them with a sea of ink and knowledge, leaving your path wide open to achieve winter holiday bliss.

Silly analogies aside, isn’t it great to be completely/almost done?

I remember my first final exam… I showed up to my regular classroom not knowing that the rooms are sometimes switched around – and spent the next fifteen minutes (it felt like a lot longer) running around in a panic until I finally figured out where my test was taking place. Ah, memories… If you still have a test or two to take, you can avoid this by checking your exam schedule on the Bridge: click Registrar’s Office and Student Services, Registration, and then Personal Final Exam Schedule. Never assume it’s in your normal classroom!

If this was your first semester, congratulations on making it through! Take some time to reflect back on your first semester at the University of Lethbridge – it’s amazing what can happen in just a few short months, hey? Now you can look forward to a nice little break before beginning it all again in a couple of weeks…

Okay, so most of you probably don’t want to be thinking about school on your winter break. But if you need some reading material to occupy you during your downtime while home for Christmas, why not pick up some books from your reading list at the University Bookstore? On December 19th, you will be able to use the online TextFinder to check out your required readings for next semester: https://www.uleth.ca/bookstore/textfinder/. It never hurts to read ahead!

This is my last post of 2011. So I’ll end by wishing you all an enjoyable break. And be sure to check out this page as my weekly blog continues in the New Year!

Until then,


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Figure out your Final Grade | James

With the semester winding to a close, many of you probably have a good idea of how you did in your very first semester of university. But how EXACTLY did you do? You won’t have your final grade until all of your coursework and exams are completed and marked, probably sometime over the winter holidays. However, there is a way to figure out a good estimate of what your mark will be…

It just takes some simple math. Multiply your known marks by the weighting that each assignment is given. For the assignments that have yet to be marked, you can estimate how well you did (or will do) to give you a rough estimate of your final grade. (See example below)

I never used to do this – probably because I wasn’t that much of a masochist. But this year I got curious, and didn’t want to wait. You can try this at home! Bring out all your syllabi to see the weighting for each part of the course, and then dig up the mark you got on all your completed assignments. Then punch in the numbers like this:

Short assignment: 79% x 15% weighting = 11.85%

Mid-term Exam: 62% x 25% weighting = 15.5%

Essay: 89% x 30% weighting = 26.7%

Final Exam: 81% x 30% weighting = 24.3%

Then, for a total, add up all the bolded numbers. In this example, the student would have a final grade of 78.35%!

If you like to ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” you can try typing in hypothetical numbers for those parts of your course that are yet to be marked. For example, what if the student in the above example got a 49% in their final exam? That would bring their overall mark down to a 68%. What if they got 100% in their final exam? That would bring their overall mark up to an 84%!

It’s possible to scare yourself with the negative “what-ifs,” so try not to let that happen to you. Hopefully you can use this as a tool to motivate you as the semester comes to a close! Happy studying.

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Better ways to Study | James

When you study, how many of you find yourself staring blankly at your textbook, re-reading the same sentence over and over again, and absorbing none of it? There’s got to be a better way to study! This year I decided to try something different…

My whole university career I’ve studied the exact same way: by re-reading my notes and textbooks, occasionally jotting down important names and terms. This year I decided to try another idea in addition to that – audio study notes. I picked out portions of my notes and textbooks that I thought were important, and used my computer to record myself reading them. Then I saved the audio files to my mp3 player, and now I can listen to them as I walk to school, in between classes, and while doing housework. The downside, of course, is that it’s super weird to hear your own voice! But it’s very convenient, and it allows you to review the course content over and over again without having to stare at a book for hours at a time.

I didn’t have to get any fancy computer programs or anything either – you might have something you can use already built into your computer! The program I used was “Windows Movie Maker,” and I just used the “Narrate timeline” option to record my voice, and then saved the audio file afterward. Windows also sometimes comes with OneNote, which allows you to do the same thing. (If anyone knows the Mac equivalent, feel free to leave a comment below). From there you can use iTunes to put the files on your iPod, or just play it back from your computer. Alternatively, some mp3 players come with the ability to record hours of audio right onto the machine.

So that’s my new study technique! It seems to be working well for me so far – but of course, it won’t replace my other study methods of actually sitting down and studying the notes. After all, I don’t have time to record EVERY word from my notes. Just some selected highlights. If you try it out, let me know if it works for you!

Also, if you have any other great ideas of how to study without just staring at a textbook for hours, I want to hear about it! Leave me your comments below.

PS: Even though finals may seem like they’re still forever away, many of them start in only a couple of weeks. If you’re in a position to start studying now, do so! You’ll be glad you did.

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Deadlines, essays, exams, studying – this is the time of year when demands upon students are highest, and it can be STRESSFUL! It’s not uncommon for a student’s November schedule to have several essays due one after another, with a couple of mid-terms sprinkled here and there. It can be extremely overwhelming, and if you’re not used to coping with it responsibly it can have a negative effect on your health, happiness, and grades.

This is the time that separates the amateurs from the pros, and I know you’re no amateur! Think about it: you’re reading a student life blog! You’re obviously engaged in your education and willing to do what it takes to be a good student. Here’s your time to rise to the challenge. But how to deal with all this stress?

First, the U of L provides great resources for students who are feeling over-stressed. Here’s a great write-up about how best to approach stress, and I don’t think I could have said it better myself: http://www.uleth.ca/counselling/stories/im-stressed-how-can-i-handle-it-all. That link also has a list of upcoming events that students can take part in to help manage their stress – everything from meditation to stress workshops with free pizza.

Another thing to think about: With course selections coming up, now’s the time to think about what kind of course load you think you can handle next semester. Will you be up for a full five classes again, or was it too stressful this semester? Are you ready to go to the next level with some 2000 level courses? If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I’m an advocate of the three or four-course semester because of how it reduces potential for stress overload. But you have to consider whether that will mean graduating later or making up for lost time with summer courses. See my post on Summer Session for more information: http://sites.ulethbridge.ca/james-forbes/2011/06/11/summer-session-whats-it-all-about/.

Also, can I just say this? Don’t take it too seriously. I’ve heard of people who had such high expectations for themselves at university that they ended up having a mental breakdown. Remember, you’re in first year – you have lots of time to make mistakes, learn from them, and improve. It’s not worth your health to stress out too much. Take advantage of the resources that the university provides, find a healthy coping mechanism (ideas in the first link above), and take care of business!

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Last-minute homework, first mistake | James

It’s 10:00 pm. Your clear the clutter off your desk and boot up your computer. You stock the fridge with several cans of your favourite caffeinated soft drink. With longing, you throw a quick glance at your pillow. Regrettably, there is a good chance you will not be joining it tonight. You sit at the computer and roll up your sleeves. It is with some hesitation that you close the tab of your Facebook page; a rare occurrence, but these times make people do crazy things. Every moment is precious. Why? Because your essay is due first thing in the morning… You have exactly eleven hours to complete five pages, have it printed out, and be at school to hand it in at your 9 am class.

This was me in my first year of university. The same scene could also be seen the night before a test for which I was attempting to cram. The lateness of the night wasn’t always so extreme, but it always meant some loss of sleep. And it always meant I had put off my school work until the last minute.

Perhaps it was in pursuit of some sick thrill. There was something invigorating about popping the tab of that fourth coke can, finally hitting the ‘print’ button only when the clock glowed a bright red 3:00 a.m., and finally hugging your cold and lonely pillow with a promise that you would never leave it again.

All I know is that it didn’t work. Grades were mediocre, stress was high, and sleep was nil.

The next time an essay was due, I decided to do something peculiar. I went to the library a few weeks in advance and actually started early. As expected, the result was a great improvement. I actually had time to fully formulate my ideas and allow them to develop. I actually had time to delve into further research at my leisure. I actually had time to study for my tests and digest the material.

If you still have a few weeks or even a month before your big essay is due, start it NOW! As a first year it is hard to appreciate the importance of starting early, but once you start to get into the upper-level courses, your assignments will require more extensive research than a couple late nights can offer. And the earlier on in your degree you get into the habit, the better.

Got a good story about completing an assignment last-minute? Leave your comments below!

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Wanna write a novel? | James

November is here! That means we’ll soon start to see an increase in moustaches around campus, in keeping with “Movember,” the month-long movement to raise awareness and money for men’s health issues like prostate cancer. We will also – unfortunately – start to see our first major snowfalls of the season… But some of us won’t see the snow at all because we’ll be cooped up in our basements, busily typing away at a word document on the computer. Why? Because November is also National Novel Writing Month!

National Novel Writing Month (shortened to the abbreviation NaNoWriMo) is an annual time where people commit to sitting down and completing an entire novel in a single month. It started as a small movement in San Francisco, and by last year it boasted over 200,000 registered participants. You can register at the official website nanowrimo.org, where you can track your progress and interact with other writers.

I’ll be honest, I have yet to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Writing a novel has been an aspiration of mine since childhood. But the main barrier for me is that it also happens to coincide with the most homework-intensive month of the Fall semester… I would assume this is a common barrier for many students who don’t wish to pursue their novel-writing dream at the expense of their GPA.

But for those of you who want to pursue the lofty goal of writing an entire novel in a month, the University of Lethbridge Library has a way to help! Every Saturday this November, the U of L Library will be hosting a write-in! You get to sit with other aspiring writers and get down to business writing your novel with group support. Just come on down to the library, room L950 from 2 – 5 p.m on Saturdays this November.

If you need some more incentive to get writing, there is an awesome annual contest open to all undergraduate U of L students that offers prizes from $250 to $1,500 for winning student submissions! This contest is for short stories (maximum 6,000 words) rather than novels, but that may even be easier to write if you’re strapped for time. Winners even get a public presentation of their work. For more information, see this link: http://www.uleth.ca/finearts/departments/drama/plays-and-prose-competitions-striking-prose-play-right-prize.

I have no idea if I’ll get to do it this year. But if you make the attempt to participate in the international phenomenon of NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you the best of luck! See you in print.

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Politics on Campus | James

I just voted in a campus referendum! Democracy can be exciting, and it’s great to participate in it right here on campus.

Occasionally the Students’ Union proposes a new initiative that has to go to the student body for a vote. It often generates a lively discussion on campus about the merits and downfalls of the decision, and people can be very passionate about whatever side they’re on. This time was no exception, with some students taking the initiative to design their own campaign posters or even stand outside with signs to bring attention to their argument.

The debate can add liveliness and colour to campus, and it can occasionally get heated. The issue this time was about a proposed universal bus pass, and there is money at stake for people on both sides of the issue, so a lot of students have taken notice. Regardless of your opinion on this issue, it’s great to see the students engaging in discussion and thinking about some tough issues.

It’s not just referendums that get the students talking either. Our campus has been a hotbed for a number of controversial issues throughout the years that I’ve been here, and this year has been just as active. There are occasionally political demonstrations on campus that attempt to bring attention to issues that students care about, such as a recent pro-life demonstration that got a lot of people talking not only about the pro-life/pro-choice debate, but also the medium of the message – in this case, graphic images displayed in public. Last year we had a similar issue when art students displayed some works containing nudity. Both instances generated a wave of debate on the merits and limits of free speech on campus. Again, regardless of your views on any of these matters, the discussion generated shows that campus is the place where ideas happen! To me, it’s a sign of a healthy academic community. And that’s something to take pride in for your university. That’s my U!

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What I Wish I’d Known in First Year: Course Selection! | James

Last week, the University of Lethbridge revealed the Spring 2012 timetable! While your turn to register may still be a few weeks down the road, it’s always a good idea to plan early. But while you’re perusing your options, there are a few points that you should not forget! Here’s what I wish I’d known in first year about course selection.

Note: when in doubt, you should always consult an academic advisor to make sure that you graduate on time and with all your program requirements. That said, the following is my own experience, and I hope you can benefit from it as well!

With your program planning guide is included a sample sequencing plan – a straightforward example of an order in which to complete your courses. I’ll be honest – I didn’t follow my sequencing plan at all. In some ways, I suffered for it. For example, I put off taking any science courses until my third year, which means that I am scrambling to catch up on my science GLERs now (for more info about GLERs, see http://www.uleth.ca/ross/calendar/part04.pdf).

But there are some benefits to straying off the beaten path. For example, just because you’re a first year, doesn’t mean you have to stick to first year courses! Now that you will have a full semester of 1000-level courses under your belt, you can immediately jump into 2000-level courses next semester. The benefit of doing this is simply that you get to save some of your 1000-level courses for later on in your degree (you are only allowed to get credit for 10 of them! So choose them carefully!). Just always be sure to take note of the pre-requisites to make sure you qualify.

What’s the point in saving 1000-level courses for later? A) When you’re stressing over a 20-page paper for your fourth year courses, it will be nice to have a less stressful first year course to balance it with, and B) You may want to try out a new department later on in your degree (maybe that weird word ‘sociology’ keeps coming up, and by golly, you want to see what it’s all about!).

Additionally, you should consider that there are several courses that only happen once in a while. This is not so much the case for the lower level courses, but once you get to third year and above, it’s a good idea to scoop up the good ones while you can.

Lastly, there are a lot of great courses offered at the U of L, so feel free to venture into unfamiliar departments when course-hunting! Did you know there’s a History of Rock ‘n Roll course offered here?! If I had looked around more back when I was a first year (this particular course is in the Music department), I would have taken it. But alas, no room left in my program. Don’t make the same mistake!

In the end, I hope course selection is an enjoyable process for you! For those of you who are not yet students at the U of L, you can access the Spring 2012 timetable online to see what our university has to offer! Check it out: http://www.uleth.ca/ross/timetable/timetable_201201.htm

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What I Wish I’d Known in First Year: Citation

After a nice relaxing Thanksgiving weekend, the last thing I want to see is a calendar full of deadlines! But if you’re anything like me, that’s the reality of it. Essays are due soon or looming on the horizon, and one very important aspect to writing essays is your citation! I don’t know how it was at your high school, but mine was very casual about citation for essays. By now you may have guessed that university makes citation a whole lot less casual, and it can sometimes be confusing. But don’t worry, I’m here to help! Here’s what I wish I’d known in first year about citation…

A citation style is basically the manner in which you reference sources. Coming to university, one of the first things you need to know is that almost every department or professor has a preferred citation style. When you get your essay assignment they will often specify which one you have to use (at the risk of losing marks if you fail to follow it correctly). For example, History will almost always be Chicago Style; English will almost always be Modern Language Association (MLA) style, etc.

Considering that most first-year students take about five courses their first semester, and each are likely to prefer a different citation style, you will most likely have to dabble in several different citation styles right off the bat. Fortunately there is a great online resource to help you! The University of Lethbridge library provides these basic guides to assist with citation: http://www.uleth.ca/lib/guides/research/display.asp?PageID=1.

Many aspects of citation are tedious, such as making sure you put the authors’ names in the right order, making sure you italicize book titles, put journal article titles in quotations, etc. But there is another aspect to citation that makes all of that look trivial. I’m talking about plagiarism. Your first day of classes may have included a solemn warning that if you are caught plagiarizing you will receive harsh penalties such as an automatic failure of the course, a note in your permanent file, and even expulsion from school. Well, now’s the time to heed that warning. Cheaters beware.

But it is also possible to plagiarize unintentionally by not giving credit to the proper sources at the appropriate times. This is where citation is very important. Don’t completely panic – they can probably tell when it’s an honest mistake and won’t throw you out of university for putting italics on the wrong words. But here is a basic guide on how to avoid accidental plagiarism: http://sja.ucdavis.edu/files/plagiarism.pdf.

The good news is that citation only gets easier the more you do it. And believe me, during the course of your degree, you will have a loooooooooot of practice. By the time you get to focus on a particular department (for your major), you will likely start to memorize the citation style. Just keep a citation guide handy and remember to give credit where credit is due!

Now, back to writing my essay…

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