December 23, 2015

Taking care of you: the holiday edition

U of A trees in Quad - photo by Andy Grabia
The holidays can often be filled with stress and anxiety. The U of A Community Social Work Team shares their advice on self-care during the holiday season. 

For many, this time of year is traditionally a time of celebration, a break from the busyness of life, and an opportunity to see friends and family. While many of us will be enjoying holiday traditions, events, and activities, this can also be a challenging time. For a significant number of individuals, the holiday season can be filled with stress, tension, isolation, and loneliness. There are a number of reasons why this happens, and it is important to be aware that these challenges exist, so that if we begin to feel stressed or lonely, we can be better prepared to get through it.

Here are a few ways to take care of ourselves during this time, to focus on and contribute to our mental well-being, and to ensure that the holiday season is a time of connection and meaning.

November 13, 2015

Why is writing so hard? Common myths about the writing process

What is it about a university writing assignment that can fill even the most studious undergraduate with dread? Sharon Stearns, student learning advisor with the Student Success Center, identifies common myths about the writing process and advice for getting started.

While the causes of procrastination are varied, they often share an emotional trigger. In many cases the emotional foundation of procrastination is some combination of anxiety and fear — fear of inadequacy, fear of being perceived as stupid, fear of not being perfect. 

Another factor that may contribute to a difficulty with writing university assignments is the way in which writing is taught in junior high and high school. Writing is an uncertain and messy process that tends to proceed in fits and starts, but little of this tentativeness makes it into the school curriculum. How often are noted authors early drafts shared with students — reassuring them that even the most prolific authors struggle, too? 

The messiness of writing is not merely metaphorical. The internet is filled with images of first drafts of great literature filled with scrawls, written on random pieces of paper or covering walls, all interwoven with doodles, charts, and many crossed-out items. Too often, classrooms strip the process of its true organic nature and present it as a neat, linear sequence of steps that proceed inevitably from one to the next. Even worse, students are sometimes made to feel they should have figured out what to write before the actual writing begins. This sets up false expectations for how the writing endeavor really happens.

October 15, 2015

Taking care of you: academic self-care

As the semester progresses, how do you keep your course work manageable? Mebbie Bell, of the Student Success Centre, shares strategies that offer the highest impact to help you with your academic self-care.

Between juggling assignments and exam prep, it can feel difficult to stay engaged with all that you have to do. We often talk about  emotional and physical self-care, but self-care can also occur in our academics. Using high impact, easy to implement academic strategies can make the biggest difference in whether we feel in control of our course work. Try one or two of the following strategies. 

September 10, 2015

Asking for Academic Help: How to Identify Your Best Resource

Tristan Donald, Student Learning Advisor with the Student Success Centre, discusses the difficulty students may face in asking for help with their academics and how students can identify the resources that will work best for them.

I love campus at the start of a new academic year — students have a certain energy that is powered by high hopes of academic success for their semester. Having worked with hundreds of students over the past few years, I know that these earlier stages of the semester are when students begin to identify the areas they will find difficult in their studies. One of the most common regrets I hear is “I wish I had asked for help sooner.” Whether it is the fear of being judged, uncertainty, procrastination, or not knowing where to go, many students do not ask for assistance when they have questions or encounter challenges.

Here is the truth — all students have questions about their course work and struggle at times with their studies. The sooner students seek out resources and advice, the sooner obstacles can be overcome. Asking questions and seeking help is strategic, time saving, stress reducing, and increases productivity (which sends motivation into high gear). I often remind students that even the best athletes in the world have coaches, Nobel Prize winners have mentors, and professors have colleagues to whom they turn for advice. Students have instructors, teaching assistants, and a whole host of advisors from faculty and librarians to learning and writing specialists. They are all ready and willing to help students succeed.

September 08, 2015

Talking to Your Supervisor about Writing: Tips for Grad Students

Have you ever needed to discuss your writing with your supervisor but struggled with identifying the questions you need to ask? Graduate Writing Advisor Rob Desjardins with the Student Success Centre shares his insights on getting the most from your conversation. 

Here’s a pop quiz for graduate students. Which of the following things are you least comfortable discussing with your graduate supervisor:
(a) worries about your work schedule;
(b) concerns about your RA salary;
(c) uncertainties about your research methodology; or
(d) questions about your writing?


If you answered “(d),” you’re not alone. Many, perhaps most, of your colleagues would say exactly the same thing. There’s something about the writing process — and the way we think about it — that makes many students feel insecure and defensive. “I can’t ask her for guidance in drafting my lit review,” they figure. “I’m supposed to know how to do this. I don’t want to seem ignorant and unprepared.”

February 27, 2015

U of A Pride Week: A time to celebrate and learn

With U of A Pride Week taking place February 28 - March 7, Dean of Students, Dr. Robin Everall shares her thoughts on this exciting opportunity to celebrate our diverse and inclusive campus.

Pride Week 2015 Schedule
It is important to the Office of the Dean of Students that students of all sexualities and genders find support and care within our campus community. U of A Pride Week is one of many ways to showcase and share information about the resources and support we have on campus. It provides us with an opportunity to continue the dialogue around building and supporting a safe and respectful campus for sexual and gender minorities and allies. This exciting week is filled with a variety of events for everyone. From the festive atmosphere of the Pride Parade to the Intersections of Queer Symposium, students, staff, and faculty have a variety of opportunities to celebrate our identities and to learn how they intersect and impact one another.

February 19, 2015

Improve your self-esteem, improve your life

February is National Boost Your Self-Esteem month. The Community Social Work Team's Genevieve Jacques explains how self-esteem is a catalyst for our mental health and suggests ways we can boost ourselves up.

Students often find themselves wishing they could do better in school, become more relaxed during the day, or just find more enjoyment in the little things. Why do we have a problem achieving these things? For many of us, the answer is usually found in our self-esteem. The degree to which we value ourselves affects how well we can do in school and life. But what is self-esteem exactly?

Self-esteem is the beliefs that we hold about ourselves: our abilities, the kind of person we are, our limitations, our future expectations/achievements, etc. When we have healthy self-esteem, we have a positive outlook about ourselves. We believe we are deserving of respect from others and deserving of positive outcomes in our lives. When we have low self-esteem, we place little value on ourselves and focus on weakness or mistakes we have made. We also blame ourselves for our shortcomings and have difficulty recognizing our own strengths and positive aspects. These different levels of self-esteem have a deep impact on our mental health and, therefore, our well-being, affecting our daily lives.

February 12, 2015

Lessons from the Alberta Student Leadership Summit

The first annual Alberta Student Leadership Summit was held on January 31st at the U of A. Keanna Krawiec, undergrad student and communications assistant with the Office of the Dean of Students, attended the Summit and shares a few things she learned about developing leadership skills.

Lately, there has been much conversation on campus about leadership and the great opportunities for students to get involved or take on leadership roles. These all sound very exciting, but if you are like me, the idea of leadership is confusing and often overwhelming. This past January, I had the opportunity during the Alberta Student Leadership Summit to learn how students, staff, community leaders and entrepreneurs define leadership on their own terms. While I was hoping to develop a clearer understanding of leadership, I learned that it means something different to everyone, and that there is no one definition of leadership.

How do we become leaders? From the keynote speakers to the presenters throughout the day, I gathered advice on how to define leadership on my own terms. Brought down to the basic level, the advice was overwhelmingly simple and straightforward, and offers a best practice tip sheet that students can follow as we build ourselves into leaders right now, and into the future. 

January 29, 2015

U of A Round Dance: Sharing Traditions and Celebrating Community

You may have heard about the Annual U of A Round Dance, but do you know the traditions behind it? Shana Dion, Director of the U of A Aboriginal Student Services Centre, shares with us the history of the Round Dance and some of the experiences you can expect to have.

For many students at the University of Alberta, the Round Dance is an event they look forward to every year. Some students, however, have never heard of the Round Dance - and that’s okay! At the Aboriginal Student Services Centre, we hope to share with everyone in the U of A community a long standing tradition within First Nations’ culture.

January 19, 2015

Strategies for University Reading

Sharon Stearns, Student Learning Advisor at the University of Alberta Student Success Centre, shares her strategies for tackling your assigned readings this semester. 

The beginning of the new term is the perfect time to re-evaluate your approach to reading assignments. Most university reading is found in non-fiction textbooks, whose style may be clear and straightforward yet less than engaging. Thus, you have to develop a reading system that enables you to emerge from a text with a solid grasp of its content, no matter how dense. It is important to accept that reading non-fiction requires a fundamentally different approach than reading the latest, greatest novel. In general, you should consider a single reading assignment as being comprised of distinct stages and driven by specific strategies.

January 12, 2015

'This is not a tip sheet': Why reading about writing can only get you so far

Tip sheets are an excellent resource, but they can only help you so much in writing. U of A Student Success Centre's Rob Desjardins, Graduate Writing Advisor, explains. 

Eighty-five years ago, the Belgian surrealist RenĂ© Magritte painted his most famous canvas. It features a tobacco pipe floating over the handwritten caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”). Magritte’s point was clear: images, however realistic, can never bring us to the fullness of reality.