STUDY HARD AND CONNECT

ULIFE HACK #6

Sitting at your desk, you get a notification from your phone that your friends are planning to go out tonight.

‘Shoot, that sucks,’ you had a night of studying planned to try and catch up in that one class that always seems to take some extra time.

Looking at the clock, FOMO kicks in, ‘maybe I can do both? Maybe I can do this early tomorrow morning?” If you’re anything like me, you know deep down it’s not going to happen tomorrow morning, especially if you go out tonight. So, what are you going to do?

In this ULife Hack, we will add some crucial tools to the toolbox: communicating with professors, staying focused and time management. Because getting a degree is the reason we’re here after all! 

Balance time

While trying to balance spending time with friends and work, studying and sleeping, eating and staying active, the most important thing to keep in sight are your personal goals. Nobody is here to tell you exactly what to do because everyone has different goals, priorities and versions of success. How you measure your success is up to you.

If a course doesn’t fit into your schedule well or does not interest you, don’t feel pressured to take it just because your friends are! Prioritizing your personal academic goals could mean going to study groups, reaching out to the professor or sacrificing some fun parties for some more study time. For some, it might mean turning in an assignment not fully finished, knowing that it’s worth less than an exam the following day. For others, it might mean dropping a class to find more time to work and rest. Whichever path you choose, be engaged and active in your learning.

Stay on task

As we learned in ULife Hack #1 Adulting 101, many students mentioned keeping a planner or schedule of some kind to help them stay on task. Common themes included scheduling your day to be realistic, with breaks and time for adequate meals and rest included. If you’re not sure where to start, a rule of thumb I learned for initial course planning is for every hour spent in class, schedule two to three hours outside of class to study. Attending university can be comparable to a full-time job! Of course, some classes will require less or more study, and you can later adjust your plans to meet those needs.
 
In ULife Hack #4, Don’t go it Alone, we learned that there are peer supports you can make appointments with to help you create a study schedule. But whether or not you use outside help, it is essential to write down dates and deadlines for assignments and consider what percentage of your grade they make up. A project worth 30 percent deserves a lot more time and energy than one worth five percent.

Visit the library

At ULethbridge’s library, there are countless resources you can access, including borrowing scholarly material, of course! You can book a study room for group study sessions, book a session with the writing centre or schedule an appointment to get help with research. You can even find information about citing sources properly.

Visit the library online to learn more or book an appointment.

Connecting with professors

In your first year, professors might seem unattainable at the front of the classroom. In a class of 100, the professor might seem far away, especially for those coming from small high schools. But professors are people too, and if you have a question, chances are someone else does! Challenge yourself to raise your hand in class, go to office hours and send an email once in a while.  

One crucial aspect to consider is the responsibility that comes with being a university student. As an adult, communication must remain professional and courteous, even if you need to point out a mistake made (for example, a grade inputted incorrectly.) Another factor to consider is the tone of an online message. You may have meant your email to be interpreted positively, but conveying emotion is particularly difficult when writing a professional email.  

One communication tip I’ve found helpful is to start with ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements. ‘You inputted my grade incorrectly’ sounds more accusatory, while ‘I notice my grade does not match the marking rubric’ comes across as more informative.   

Starting emails with Professor or Dr., or another title requested, depending on which your professor prefers, and tailoring your email to match your working relationship can go a long way. Some professors prefer to have a first-name, casual basis with their students. Some do not. Start formal when in doubt—this avoids the risk of offending anyone.

Many students surveyed agree professors have hundreds of emails to respond to, so you might have more luck meeting in person. This also goes for emails that turn into essays—taking those concerns with you to a face-to-face meeting might be more productive for everyone.

If you have questions or concerns with a course that you are in, be sure to seek clarity or resolution from your professor or instructor. Refer to the chart below for help with your communication strategy and to find out who to contact, as it is important that you advocate for yourself.

Email format
  1. Greet your professor with ‘Professor’ or their preferred title with their last name (e.g. Dr. last name or Professor last name). If asked, call them by their first name.
  2. Introduce yourself (unless the professor knows who you are) and let them know which course you are in, as many professors teach multiple. Some professors will not reply to emails unless you put the name of the class in the topic bar at the top of an email.
  3. Explain your situation, question, or other reason for your email.
  4. Explain how you’re hoping they can help you.
  5. Be sure to thank your professor and end the email courteously.
Sample email

Hello Dr. XYZ,

My name is ____, and I am in your morning class, _______. I’m writing because as I was doing the practice problems, I realized that most of my answers were correct, except for question 52. Since I used the same method for this question as the others, I’m hoping you could explain where I might have gone wrong. Unfortunately, your office hours conflict with my afternoon class. Would you be free to meet this week? I am free every day at noon except Friday.

Also, later this week, I have a doctor’s appointment scheduled that I’ve been waiting over a month for, so I won’t be able to reschedule it. I hope this won’t affect my attendance marks, as it is out of my control. Please let me know if there is some way I can make up for missing this class—I plan to read that section of the textbook in preparation. I appreciate your understanding.

Thank you,
Student name

Step 1—Speak to your professor/instructor

Always talk to your professor or instructor first as the direct approach is best. Most questions or concerns can be addressed quickly when speaking to them directly. It can seem intimidating, but they really do want to see you succeed. Stop by office hours or make an appointment for a chat, and always follow-up with an email to confirm the conversation.

Step 2—Speak to the department chair or program coordinator

If you are unhappy with the outcome of step 1, your next point of contact is the department chair or program coordinator. They have oversight of courses being taught within their department or program. They will work with you and the professor/instructor to help find a resolution. If you are unsure who to contact, you can ask your professor/instructor or locate this information in the ULethbridge directory.

Step 3—Contact the Dean's Office

If your questions and concerns are not resolved during step 2, please contact the Dean’s Office. They will work with you to find a suitable resolution. This step will take longer than the first two steps as they will need to consult with all parties involved in the dispute.

WHAT STUDENTS SAY ABOUT HOW THEY OVERCAME DIFFICULT ACADEMIC SITUATIONS

“The most difficult situation I faced academically was struggling in a course and feeling like I didn’t know where to turn to for help. I was in my first year, and this particular course took up so many hours of the week that my other courses started to suffer. I tried online resources to help, but eventually, I built up the courage to start going to my professor weekly for extra help, and this was more valuable than anything else I tried. I was able to spend less time every week struggling by reaching out for extra help. Professors are there to help you, and they want you to succeed, so don’t be afraid to ask them for help and let them know if you are struggling!” - Madeline

“The most difficult academic situation I faced was when I took my Professional Semester I (PSI) in the education program and was sick for six weeks simultaneously. Perseverance and confidence were key to slowly work towards the completion of tasks, as well as using a support group of peers. Time management for assignments and extracurricular activities was important as there were seven courses in this program over one semester. This semester took more fortitude than any other, and it was the semester that taught me to never give up on what I’m hoping to achieve. I still think about it today when I need inspiration. Despite being sick for six weeks, I received a 4.00 on my courses and a $1500 award for my performance. So, remember whether it’s at a slow pace or a fast pace, don’t give up on what you’re trying to achieve!” - Angelica

“The most challenging thing I did was take four hard computer science courses in the same semester. I had to work really hard at the beginning to stay ahead of things. If I hadn’t, I would have had to work all the time to get on top of all the projects and assignments going on at the same time.” - Jace

“I had a week mid-semester with two labs, a tutorial, three midterms and a paper which was quite overwhelming. I took about 15 minutes to plan out what I would spend time on and when throughout the week. Then I focused on one thing at a time, made sure to take breaks, and get enough sleep.” - Tabitha

“I struggled with health concerns that affected my academic performance. Dropping my workload was a difficult decision to make, but I had to make the call to give myself the space to take care of myself properly. Communicating openly with my professors about my abilities, and taking advantage of student services to support my academic performance helped.” - Alyssa

“My first year was super hard. I wasn’t used to living away from home, and I had a lot of life changes and adjustments to make and go through. I ended up doing a co-op to remind myself why I’m at university and to take a break from classes.” - Cassie

“I took four years off after high school, and then in my first semester at university, I took Calculus 1510. We had a pop quiz the first day, and I got 10 percent. A few days later, we had a test, and I got 20 percent. I was spending about 30 hours a week on the course, but I couldn’t keep up. I ended up dropping the class and enrolling in some other courses with more familiar math. After a couple of years, I took Calculus 1560 and did much better. All it took was more practice.” - Derek

“Academically, writing a university-level paper was difficult at first, particularly the critical analysis I had to complete for many of my classes. Booking appointments with the writing centre was quite useful, and they were able to guide me. I also had my peers read my work and provide input because they brought an objective perspective to the table.” - Anonymous

“Going completely online for my fourth year was extremely hard, but the professors were helpful, and everyone seemed to adjust together. I focused a lot on my studies and self-care and kept connected with my classmates. ULethbridge has great mental health support.” - Kourtney

“Getting through my first year was very difficult. I was not taking classes I enjoyed, and my grades reflected it. I found a discipline I loved, and it changed my whole life. When you enjoy what you are studying, it makes the biggest difference.” - Kathleen

“For me, it was recognizing my limits and forcing myself to drop a class in my second semester. I was so nervous as I didn’t want to mess with my graduation date and felt disappointed in myself for not being able to handle it. But I went to Academic Advising and the counselling office and was able to talk it through. I came to understand that by taking more off my plate, I was helping myself personally and academically!” - Cayley

“Receiving harsh feedback from a professor is tough. It’s important to remember everything is a learning opportunity. In the moment, you might feel emotional, frustrated, and disappointed in yourself, but you have to remember that it’s preparing you for the future. One day you’ll receive feedback from a boss that might be negative. You’ll probably have experienced a similar situation. Reflect on that experience and learn from it. You’ll be stronger in the end and feel more confident as you move through your career.” - Chloe

WHAT STUDENTS SAY ABOUT HOW THEY CONNECT WITH THEIR PROFESSORS

“It is so important to actually talk to your professors. I always thought my professors didn’t want to talk with me and that my grades would speak for themselves, but now I know this isn’t true. Even if you have great grades, if you never talk in class, your professors won’t be able to write a very good reference letter for you. It would also make asking for a reference letter incredibly awkward. Further, having professors that you are able to connect with helps you both academically and in terms of your network in the future. I never thought about this, in this way, as an undergrad.” - Makita

“Literally, just ask. Everyone wants to help if you are willing to put in the effort. The only person holding you back is you, and the answer will always be no if you never ask. If you try, your professors will recognize that and go out of their way to help. Be polite and work hard. Everything else will fall into place” - Katrina

“Students should know that it is so important to communicate with professors because it is the best way to form connections with them. Office hours are much better than email because they are able to place a face to a name, however, do not be afraid to email your professor if going to office hours seems intimidating.” - Julisha

“When I first went to university, anytime I emailed a professor, I made sure to be polite, professional and get to the point. I also found that office hours were much more efficient than over email as it can sometimes be hard to ask the question you have effectively over email. Office hours can be intimidating, but it’s also another great way to get to know your prof on a personal level, and I promise this will help later on in your degree if you want to do applied studies or a thesis!” - Skylar

“Sitting down with a professor and talking through problems and getting verbal clarification is always quicker and more helpful than asking long questions through email. If your question is hard to convey through email, the professor will likely have difficulty answering! It also helps to build relationships with professors when you see them face to face. I highly recommend going to office hours. You often get into awesome conversations with the professors that go beyond the scope of the course!” - Madeline

“Office hours will allow you to make a more personal connection to your professor and to use a far greater depth of their knowledge and advice. In my opinion, you receive the same benefit from a few minutes in a professor’s office then you will from numerous emails. I found professors inviting and personable each time I attended office hours. Most professors are willing to book a time to see you outside of hours if your schedule conflicts.” - Angelica

“It’s usually better to always go to office hours. Students rarely go to office hours, so if you have something that you don’t understand, you’ll have some one-on-one time to really get to the bottom of things.” - Jace

“Office hours are better than emails. You get the opportunity to speak one on one with them and get to know them better.” - Haley S

“I like the efficiency of emails, but if you are very confused about a topic, I recommend attending office hours.” - Elisha

“Professors do have a lot of education behind them (which can be a bit daunting). However, they are still just people. They are happy to help and want you to succeed. If you have a question, ask it. Emails are best for simple questions. Otherwise, office hours are great for more complex questions that can’t be answered in a sentence or two.” - Tabitha

“Professors get an insane number of emails every day! While an email is sometimes more appropriate (such as for quick, less urgent questions), they set aside their office hours for communicating with and supporting students. Questions that require more than a line or two to address in an email are always better saved for in-person meetings. Most professors are also open to arranging other times to meet if their office hours conflict with your schedule.” - Alyssa

“Your professor is not as scary as they seem. They are genuinely there to help you on your educational journey and were once in your shoes. Make an effort to meet them after class for five minutes or go to office hours. Your professors are way more likely to grant you an extension or boost your final grade if they know who you are.” - Ziara
       
“In my experience, every professor has their preference, and they will usually mention it on syllabus day (so it’s not a bad idea to write that down!). A good rule of thumb if emails are preferred is to send them after double-checking the syllabus, and to try your best to send emails during the week and during business hours.” - Amy

“Less is more. Ask professors clear and precise questions to fill your knowledge gaps. I found email communication was the most efficient for me. However, it depends on the professor.” - Derek

“I know it seems daunting at first, but as long as you’re respectful and professional, communicating with profs isn’t all that bad. Personally, I’ve always preferred to email as I can be direct about what specific questions I have, and we can usually set up a time to meet outside of office hours to chat, but if you’re not getting a reply, then dropping by during office hours is a good next step!” - Cayley

“Professors will frequently specify their preferred form of contact. Both emailing your professors and visiting office hours have advantages. I would always encourage students to email their professors because it is convenient and often less intimidating. However, because we are a smaller institute, I would strongly encourage students to attend office hours so that your professors can get to know you and you can build your network.” - Zaynab  

“Always write professional emails since professors may write you a letter of reference one day. Office hours are also great to receive quick one-on-one teaching for a concept you didn’t quite understand in class. They are always happy to help you succeed!” - Shannon


“Professors are people. I know they can seem scary because they pretty much hold your future in their hands, but just talk to them from adult to adult. Be polite and nice, and if you think you deserve a better grade, talk to them about it.” - Hana

“Present yourself professionally, especially when addressing them in emails. You will have a better chance getting help from a professor if you come to class regularly and participate, maybe even introducing yourself in person.” - Cassady