Ahh, what am I trying to say here? The never-ending quest of finding a thesis

Sometimes I believe finding true love is easier than finding a thesis. It’s hard to take a stance when you don’t know where you’re standing.

Let me be clear, I’m not talking about a dissertation thesis. I wish I was. The struggle for me is with ALL theses. At some point in my academic career, it wasn’t enough just to make an assertion and list 3 points to back it up. You have to compare, contrast, and arrive at grand conclusions about life itself – while being super specific.

My difficulty in finding a thesis reveals a lot about my annoying perfectionist tendencies. “No thesis is ever good enough unless I uncover a new thought never considered before.” To hop on the Frozen bandwagon, let it go. Especially in your undergrad, no one is expecting you to draft a thesis that changes the direction of the world’s orbit. Even if you feel that your thesis is not ‘unique’ or ‘has been done before’, it is the way you explore it that will differ from the other students in your class. The examples you use and how you articulate your thoughts are all valid and contribute to the discussion surrounding your topic.

Unfortunately there is not lost and found box for theses. My tips for finding one are feeble and minuscule, but I shall share them nonetheless.

  1. Talk to someone! A TA, a friend, a priest. Even if you have nothing to say – you at least have a topic (I hope).
  2. Do research! Sometimes I plunge into the research aspect without a clear direction. Once you have read enough about your topic you feel more comfortable about what you want to say.
  3. Read past papers. They can be your own or other papers on the topic. They offer a great starting point if you’re still stuck.
  4. Fake it until you make it. Write a thesis down. Go with it. Realize that it sucks later on, change it. Trial and error is sometimes the best method.

I’d hate to tear you away from your unfinished thesis, but I have accumulated a Storify that chronicles the thesis struggle for your entertainment. Have a look:

 

WANTED: Hours of Sleep

“Post-Class Posture”

The amount of sleep I receive is like a movie teaser – short and unsatisfying. However, sometimes it’s like a documentary that never ends and you can’t bring yourself to leave (the bed). Let’s just say you don’t see “sleep” on university pamphlets for a reason…

First off, if you’re reading this and you’re in university – you’re probably tired of hearing people complain about the lack of sleep they’re getting. Unfortunately, tired people don’t have the mental capacity for anything else. I’ve seen a shift, or rather a 180° flip, in my sleeping habits since I have walked through the doors of higher education. Going to bed at 2am has become the norm and there are days where I don’t see morning (Sorry mom). Let’s not be so quick to give university all the credit, I have always been a night owl. And yes, early birds – though a rare and ostracized breed – still exist in university. But one thing is for sure: you are considered a hero if you can get 8 hours of sleep a night.

Now enough about the trials and tribulations of tiredness and onto the tactics.

20-minute naps: Take a nap. If you want to feel revitalized without a full night’s rest – TRUST ME – have some faith in napping. 20 minutes is just enough time for you to recharge your batteries without the groggy feeling that comes with a longer nap. This is because 20 minutes isn’t enough time for your body to enter REM sleep, which is a period of deep sleep characterized by high brain activity.

You might not feel like you’ve ‘slept’ during this 20 minutes, but it makes a difference. Stop thinking that ‘sleep’ is only when you blackout and dream. You can be semi-conscious the whole time. The effectiveness of this method is wholly dependent on your ability to put faith in the 20 minute nap method and wake up after your 20 minutes are over. I’m not saying you will feel ready to run a marathon, but you will prolong your ability to stay awake.

Cup of coffeeCoffee naps: I’m not as strong an advocate for it, but I’ll include it for all you coffee lovers out there. It’s basically when you wake up, drink a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, go back to bed, and wake up ‘naturally’ 15-20 minutes later once the caffeine kicks in. Now I would still set an alarm because part of the success of this method is needing to pee after chugging a whole cup of coffee. That being said, everyone has a difference tolerance to coffee and caffeine is not some magic wake-up drug.

The Exercise Theory: Oh you’re tired? Why don’t you exercise! Seems like the last thing you would want to be doing, but apparently exercising helps to boost your energy levels. However, your workout is less effective when sleep deprived. Make an effort to do some activity every day, but it doesn’t have to be an hour gym session. I find exercise helps with stress relief, which allows for a more peaceful night’s rest.

Micromanaging: Instead of sitting down in front of your computer and telling yourself “okay, I have the whole night to do this assignment!”, break it up into smaller tasks. If you micromanage, allocating 1 hour for this assignment and 1 hour for that reading, you will be more productive. When you only have one hour to do a reading, you tend not to spend your time twirling your pencil. The hard part is staying within the time limit – do not be your own worst enemy and continue to extend the time constraint. If anything, you can go back and finish the rest of the reading once you have taken a ‘break’ with your other assignments. Effective time management will leave you with more time for sleeping! Yay!

Now I realize this post is teetering on a tedious length, so I’ll try and wrap it up (so you can sleep). University students need sleep. They need sleep so they can perform their best for an education they are paying loads for. It’s not even about achieving high grades on assignments, it’s about being able to be present for that phenomenal lecture you’re dozing off in.

Earn Your SleepIn university, the importance of sleeping is harmed by a celebration of the ‘sacrifice your sleep’ attitude.
Go hard or go home.
I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
Earn your sleep.
I’m guilty of perpetuating this attitude and glamorizing sleep deprivation. It is based off the typical attitudes of young people who still think they are invincible. But we’re not. Why do you think naps are so commonplace in university? We clearly understand the importance of sleep but are less inclined to do something about it.

It’s time we start shifting our focus to the long term. Cumulative sleep deprivation only harms us by stunting our growth, decreasing our mental capacity, and limiting the basic functioning of our body. We’ll get more stuff done if we get a solid nights rest rather than continue to live our lives mediated by a filter of sleep deprivation.

Wake up everyone, and sleep.

P.S. The typography used is created by the ever so talented Jason Vandenberg, I encourage you to take a peek at his blog.

Garbage Day Rhymes with Yesterday

This is an issue near and dear to my heart. I invite you to indulge in my rant on the garbage collection system in my current city. I will cover everything from the ineffectiveness of the irregular schedule to the lack of green methods of collection. But first, A Survivor’s Tale:

A Survivor’s Tale

It was late August; the sweltering hot days were met by cool nights in a euphoric cycle. I was still deliriously happy from my solo road trip. The sheer stress that accompanies moving into a new house mixed with excitement for orientation week training. To say I poorly estimated the time it would take for me to get settled in – is an understatement. I had no clue it would take as long as it did.

I didn’t have the time though. Training filled my days and every last bit of energy I had left was spent setting up the essentials – internet, curtains, but most importantly the former. As a result, we missed the first garbage day. Who could blame us? We barely had a fully equipped kitchen, nor a garbage calendar. The problem was that we had just moved in, so our ‘garbage’ wasn’t exactly ‘garbage’ as it was a mini-dump site manifesting itself on our porch.

No stress, we got a garbage calendar soon enough. Unlike most things, our dump site did not benefit with the passage of time – it only grew. It also grew into an issue when we missed our second garbage day. It was Orientation Week and as volunteers, we left the house on average around 6am and came home around 2am. No sleep. Thus, no time to think about putting out the garbage. At one point though, the mass amounts of piled up cardboard did lend itself as a temporary nap spot when one of my housemates forgot her keys.

Two garbage days missed – it wasn’t going to happen again. But it did. We had officially missed three consecutive garbage days in a row. Was it us? Was it the system? Did the garbage grow to love us and fear separation anxiety?

From that point on, we made a commitment to never have it happen again. We hung up the calendar and set reminders for the night before, we allocated the responsibility to certain people every week, and we were slapped in the face with the realness of responsibility. (And quite possibility the need to mitigate the risk associated with an unexpected visit from the parents)

This story is a cautionary tale. Before you jump the gun and state that the root of the problem was our laziness or utter disregard for garbage day, let me enlighten you to some of the structural complexities.

8 Day Garbage Collection System wah?
This means that every week, garbage is collected on a different day.

For example, this week pick-up was scheduled for Wednesday and next week it is scheduled for Thursday. Simple enough, but not when you come from a same-day system or when you are a busy student. Missed garbage days are a product of this disconnect between the current irregular system and the student lifestyle.

Side note: where I’m from we have green bins, which are essentially bins for compost/food waste. Here they don’t have them?!? The garbage collection system is out of whack and doesn’t even have environmental measures in place to decrease my disappointment.

Currently a revision of the 8-day system is in order and a switch to the same-day system is popular because “people like their houses to be in order, and their lives.” YES. It’s hard enough keeping track of days – let alone deadlines – it would be so much simpler if we had to remember only one day. It would also mean a $7 increase per household, which causes most people to re-evaluate just how valid our complaints are.

I realize the nature of this post makes it only applicable to a select few. In the grander scheme of this blog, it is still yet another post wherein I realize the realness of responsibility. University isn’t the only place we learn, every day is a learning opportunity. There is also a 15% chance it could also be a garbage day.

Below is a video to motivate you to..er take out the trash? Hopefully the hard hitting Arctic Monkeys track will help make this tedious chore into something more.

Recipes for all the dinners I am not cooking

The freshman 15 is university’s way of easing the transition into second year. It allows you to store energy (in the form of extra weight) for second year when the only 15 you wish you had was 15 minutes to cook.

Image of Kitchen ClockThe second struggle in my series is the endless battle between kitchen and clock. Sometimes finding the time to cook is harder than filling out a position application.

This is an issue more for those who live off campus. When you come home from school, the decision between nap and nutrition is normally met with the predictable selection of the former. Even when you do find it in you to cook – the fridge is empty, which drains your initial motivation. To those without the privilege of a car, grocery shopping is a nuisance. The result is an empty fridge and equally empty hopes.

Unlike the application process, cooking is essential to, well, survival. My go-to solution when time and supplies were limited was to order out. Soon my bank account took on characteristics of my fridge: emptiness. This solution wasn’t sustainable so I needed to find alternatives. Here are some solutions that have worked for me:

Coming to terms with new methods of meal preparation
No longer can you spend an hour cooking a gourmet meal, the student lifestyle demands a change from traditional methods. When time is limited the focus of your meal should be foods with short preparation times that are highly nutritious. All these listed techniques work to minimize preparation time and mitigate supply shortages.

  1. Have ‘the basics’ on hand ALL THE TIME. The basics are the ingredients that can be used to whip up a fast meal when you need to. They include: eggs, oil, milk, cereal, pasta and pasta sauce, Nutella (essential), bread, butter, rice, cheese, and a spice rack.
  2. Embrace your inner vegetarian. Preparing meat dishes take time and can get messy. The best characteristic fruits and vegetables have is that they spoil – almost too fast. So you’re basically forced to create ‘super dishes’ that try and incorporate as much of them as possible. Also, vegetables are cheaper than meat so don’t be surprised when you find yourself eating more vegetarian in post-secondary education. Some veggie-heavy recipes you might want to check out are: Spaghetti Squash, Cauliflower Shepherd’s Pie, and Vegetable Ratatouille.
  3. Buy a spice rack. As students with varying cooking ability, a spice rack increases the taste of your meals by 100%. Spices last forever and allow you to bring your cooking to the next level. Image of Spice Rack
  4. Preparing in advance. School has a way of lulling you into a comfortable rhythm of work, then dropping every assessment possible into one week. When you have some down time on the weekends, prep for the busy week ahead.
    Big preparations: pre-cut vegetables you know you’ll be using! When you’re making pasta/rice, make an extra serving you can store.
    Small preparations: pre-cut ingredients you use constantly. In my house we cut loads of green onion, ginger, and garlic because we use them in almost every meal. Just like a spice rack, they are small additions that go a long way.
  5. A repertoire of versatile recipes. In the same way you look at your closet and don’t know what to wear, sometimes you look at your (full) fridge and don’t know what to cook. It is helpful to have some flexible recipes to resort to when in doubt. Dishes that don’t have set ingredients but that are super simple to throw together include: stir-fry, omelettes, sandwiches, and stews. Endless combinations! Such fun!
    I know what you’re thinking about stews, “but don’t those take hours?!” Yes, but hours of idle cooking time. I find once you get passed the initial stage of prepping the ingredients, you let time (or your slow cooker) finish the rest!

Cooking and grocery shopping take time, but they aren’t hard. One of my favourite blogs, focuses on helping people ‘get their shit together.’ Their no-mercy attitude and tough love techniques are something I have been receptive too. This conflict between kitchen and clock has an easy resolution. You need to put health as a priority. “I don’t have time to cook” translates into “I don’t prioritize my health.” There is a strong correlation between eating well and performing well academically. You can leverage all those hours you spend studying when you supplement it with a good diet. School, the thing that gets in the way of cooking in the first place, actually motivates you to eat healthier. It isn’t all “tips and tricks” about 5-minute meals or kitchen essentials, what brings about long term change is a change in attitude. Prioritize your health guys and prove everyone wrong who says youth is wasted on the young.

Filling up on Frustration: Applications

The complexity of writing 3000 words on the pros and cons of publicly funded media pales in comparison to writing about yourself. You – probably the hardest subject to master. Whereas my resume would highlight leadership positions I’ve held, it fails to shed light on the process it took to get there. The application process is time-consuming, frustrating, and by your fifth application you’ve about answered more questions about yourself than a dating site would ask.

The problem this week is the application process. I use the word ‘problem’ with caution, because it is less so a ‘problem’ than a time-consuming inconvenience your lazier self abhors. Now I don’t know how they allocate positions at other universities, but at mine they do it through a written application-interview process. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me to fill out a one page application to volunteer for something, but what about those big positions…

You know, the ones that will eventually grace your resume.

Those position applications could end up being 5 pages! (With essay questions!) Now you don’t have to be majoring in math to see how that adds to your existing workload. Eventually the constant bragging about yourself seeps its way into one of your essays and you end up writing something like “Hitler demonstrated his competence in communication by adapting his style for various audiences.” AKA complete and utter application jargon and buzz words.

Apart from dedicating valuable reading time to editing and re-editing applications, there is also the added nuisance of the ‘application cycle.’

Application Cycle: describes the quest for positions in which you have to justify your skills through past experience you’ve had. This becomes difficult when you’re applying for a position a bit out of your field of comfort where you lack the experience (but not the skills?!). How do you expect me to gain experience when every experience has an application barrier I can’t get through?

application cycle(I acknowledge that most volunteer opportunities do not require previous experiences or lengthy application processes. Volunteering is a great way to break this cycle)

The story this week will be short – my current experience in filling out position applications is literally me skipping out on readings to complete them. Sometimes there is an inevitable PDF error where I cry a little, e-mail the application coordinator, and have it resolved after endless hours of worrying.

Now onto the good stuff: learning points!! The best thing about surviving a struggle is learning from it. What I have taken away from this application armageddon:

  1. Seek guidance from others. Filling out applications can be frustrating. Look to your friends if you’re having trouble describing yourself or thinking of relevant experience you have. Chances are you’re being a little harsh on yourself and it’s getting in the way of thinking clearly. Find someone who has held the position before (optimal), or someone else who is completing the application (just as good), and talk to them about it. Brainstorming answers to questions is advantageous to all, and can help with any writers’ block! (Also talking about it helps you plan what you will be writing, the phrasing, the vocabulary, etc.)
  2. Start early. First and foremost, this allows you to edit, but also allows for your points to mature and strengthen (much like you my fellow student:). You’ll find if you really care about the getting the position starting early won’t be a problem; your enthusiasm will have you looking at the requirements as it comes out. Applications take a lot longer than you originally anticipate, so save yourself the stress and start early.
  3. Do a little each day. You did not become the great person you are overnight and neither will your application. I recommend jotting some notes down every day at the beginning, and later on (after a little research – see tip #1) working on putting all those lovely words into sentences. By breaking up a huge application into smaller components, a daunting task becomes less intimidating.
Typing

Working away

Tedious as the application process may seem, it really does have a silver lining. They say if you invest 100 hours into thinking about yourself, your passions, your goals, you will have a clear vision of who and where you want to be – without wasting money switching majors a bunch of times. ‘Self-branding’ in that aspect is highly valuable. The application process is similar to self-branding in the sense that it allows you to reflect on yourself. It asks you to contemplate your strengths, weaknesses, goals, and desires. It’s important not to think of self-branding as just your social media presence but living up to the expectations you have set for yourself; being the person you imagined. Reflection is valuable, and the application process forces you to make time for it amidst your busy university schedule.

P.S. A side note on rejection: it happens. Especially when you go to a big school filled with talented individuals and a limited number of positions, you will come to terms with the fact that you might not be the best fit. When that happens, remember that rejection is just a way to weed out the undetermined. The persistent will persevere and progress. Rejection is a feeble attempt to dissuade the motivated. However, it’s hard so here’s a link on how to deal with rejection. Hang in there guys.