Dear Sheri: A Q&A with a sleep-deprived fourth-year

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By Sherina Harris

After three years at Ryerson, I like to think I’ve gathered some tips and tricks for student life here. I may be sleep-deprived, but I’m always in the mood to share some advice about classes, well-being and everything else I wish I knew in my first year.

Q: I just got my first course syllabus and I can already tell I’m going to be overwhelmed by the academic transition to university. What can I do?
— Syllabi shy

A: I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: Oftentimes, a syllabus makes a class look wayyyy more complicated than it actually is. That’s not to say you won’t have challenging courses at Ryerson—unfortunately, you will, but there are things you can do to prepare.

Take things day-by-day. Keep a list of all of your assignments and try colour-coding it with a different highlighter for each course (check out Muji in the Dundas Street Atrium for all your stationary needs). As the semester goes on, you’ll get a sense of which classes require the most work and which ones you can skim your readings for the night before lecture.

At the beginning of the semester, if you think you need it, you can apply for accommodations through Academic Accommodation Support (AAS). Ryerson recommends you apply for accommodations as soon as you can, ideally before the semester begins. You can find more information on the AAS website, including a helpful guide.

Here’s another secret: most university profs are, like, really cool. It’s not easy to ask for help, especially from the prof who stands in front of lecture halls and has an office on the 11th floor of a huge building. 

That being said, your profs and instructors can give you guidance on assignments and exams—but they can also help you navigate support services, talk about academic and career paths and act as mentors. In some cases, they can even be friends. So don’t be afraid to ask them for help!

Q: Is university really like all those memes where there’s a triangle and you can choose between “good grades,” “social life” and “sleep”? How can I balance all three, all while commuting, working a part-time job, going to the gym and having time for myself?
— Reluctant balancing act

A: I’m sorry to report that university is exactly like that triangle, plus all those other things mentioned. So it’s really like a heptagon (and yes, I just had to Google what a seven-sided shape is called).

The good news about the heptagon is that it’s manageable. I mean, chances are you balanced a lot of the same things in high school. Yes, the workload is going to be different and, yes, at times it’s going to feel impossible to balance everything. 

But there are a few things you can do to make it easier on yourself. You can stay organized by scheduling things that feel silly to schedule, like getting eight hours of sleep a night or spending an hour at the gym. You can also set priorities. Some days you may have to skip out on seeing friends to study for a test, or wake up early to finish an essay—and both of those things are okay, because you’re prioritizing what’s ultimately most important to you. 

You also don’t have to balance everything. Productivity consultant David Allen said, “You can do anything, but not everything.” University is a place where a lot of people learn to say no. It’s tempting to sign onto every new opportunity you see, especially when you see your classmates updating their LinkedIn every five minutes (chill, guys). 

And make sure your balancing act includes some things that you genuinely enjoy doing, too, like re-watching old Jane the Virgin episodes and sobbing (just me?) or hanging out with your family, sans technology. Spending time on those things will give you energy for the fewer fun items on your to-do list. 

You might feel like you’re wasting time, but you’re actually reenergizing. Ryerson’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling also offers bookable and same-day appointments, as well as appointments you can book in advance. They can also help refer you to other community resources. 

Q: Orientation Week seems fun, but I’m introverted. Can I still make friends once classes start?
— Missing-my-cat

A: Even when Orientation Week ends, the friend ship has not sailed (see what I did there?). Orientation Week is just that: one week, where you have a lot going on. There’s no timer that’s going to run out once classes start.

Classes are a great way to make friends. Strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, especially if they’re also sitting alone. 

Maybe they’re in the same program as you, or they’re taking the course as an elective. Either way, you probably have something in common, even if it’s not class-related. 

Exchange numbers and make plans to get coffee and review readings before your next class. It’s easier said than done, but it works.

If you’re not comfortable with that, don’t worry. You can also make friends by joining campus groups and clubs, or even by joining a (free!) class at a Ryerson gym. Lots of people also post on Facebook and Reddit to find people in their year and program who are looking for a study buddy, commuting partner or friend to grab breakfast with after an 8 a.m. lecture. 

Don’t feel like it’s weird to put yourself out there “virtually.” There’s probably someone feeling just like you on the other side of the screen, ready to talk. They’ll be happy that you reached out!

Q:  I’m already feeling so much pressure to build my resumé and match the experience of my classmates. How can I deal?
— Resumé envy

A: Try not to compare yourself to others. I know that’s exactly what you’re struggling with. Yes, you might not have accomplished the same things your classmates have. But you also haven’t lived the same life as them. So, of course you’re going to have different accomplishments. 

Even though an accomplishment might look glamorous on LinkedIn or Facebook, chances are you’re not seeing the full story. Maybe they had a connection to get that job, or maybe they worked their butt off to get there. If it’s the latter, try to feel inspired rather than envious. 

Try to think of it like this: as author Gretchen Rubin writes in The Happiness Project, people succeed in groups. If someone in your program has already interned at your dream production company, then guess what? That means the company most likely offers internships, and it means they accept people your age. 

Having said that, university is 100 per cent not about matching the experiences of your peers or filling up your resumé. Sorry to be cliché, but it’s really about learning, growing, and ~finding yourself.~ 

You can’t do any of those things if you’re not taking time to check in with yourself, get in touch with how you’re feeling and take care of your body and brain. 

Overloading yourself with a million clubs, extra-curriculars and other commitments isn’t going to benefit you if you’re too tired to do any of them properly. Instead, prioritize things you enjoy—and not things that look good on your resumé.

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