Why you should go to University

After I graduated from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I initially chose to go to university as a kind of buffer between high school and the real world. What I ended up getting out of it was an edifying life-changing experience. Here’s why I’m glad I went to university, and why you should consider going to university too…

Learn what your interests/strengths are. I’m sure everyone has a general idea, but at university you will be exposed to ideas that never before crossed your mind, and subjects that you never knew existed. You will get to try your hand at a number of different disciplines too. If you already have a specific career goal, chances are good that university will help you in achieving that goal; if you are like me in First Year and have no idea where your life is going, university will give you the chance to explore a vast array of options – and set you up with the tools you need for whichever option you choose!

Pursue a curiosity. If you love to learn, when and where will you ever have a better chance than at university? I’ve had professors (and fellow upper-level students) who specialize in the most obscure and off-the-wall subjects. Maybe it was a childhood fixation, but it has become a professional pursuit. Only in the world of academia can a person spend so much time simply indulging in their love of knowledge. Spend some time studying in the Humanities and you’ll see what I mean.

Learn more about yourself. What is your passion? What are you good at? How do you view the world, and will that view change with time? What is the minimum amount of sleep you require in order to function as a normal human being? Are you the same person you were in high school? What does it mean to you to have a fulfilling life? I hope all of these questions feature prominently in your university career, as they have in mine.

University can be a big investment, and a big decision to make. But it could be the best decision you ever make. In my four years at university I have had the chance to research obscure topics, present papers at conferences, teach in an elementary school class (Education 2500), run for student government, work for the school newspaper, and write this blog!

Unfortunately, this will be my last blog post, at least for the year. Thank you for reading all this time, and I hope to see you in the halls of our U! It may just be your new home away from home!

‘Til next time,
James

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Alcohol Smarts

For some university students, year-end celebrations will be accompanied by alcohol. When handled responsibly, alcohol can be part of a safe and enjoyable evening; however, careless use of alcohol can kill the fun very quickly. With the approach of Last Class Bash, a year-end celebration hosted by the Students’ Union, students should be aware of these simple tips to make sure alcohol doesn’t spoil their party this week!

Take it slow. In pursuit of that optimal buzz, some people end up drinking too much too fast. The alcohol’s effects will vary depending on a number of different factors (such as how recently you ate), so give yourself time so you don’t end up going overboard! The obvious danger is that when your body has more alcohol input than it can handle, it will try to get rid of it. Getting sick is not the way you want to end your night.

Drink water too. Dehydration can lead to bad hangovers in the morning, so it is important to have a few glasses of water throughout the night in between alcoholic beverages.

Be careful. You want to be able to relax and enjoy yourself, but if your judgement is impaired and your awareness of your surroundings is limited, you can be very vulnerable to a variety of dangers. It helps to stick with someone you trust and protect each other from potential threats to the other’s safety. Make sure your valuables are secure, and make sure you have a safe way of getting home.

On Tuesday, April 17 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Alcohol Awareness Committee will be hosting a free BBQ in the U of L atrium. The event is called “Re-Fresh,” and it will feature speakers from Alberta Health Services who will provide information about safe alcohol use. There will also be prizes, mocktails, and activities like bumper balls! Sounds like a fun time.

The Canadian Public Health Association has an extensive list of tips that you should consider before drinking: http://drinkingfacts.ca/english/downloads/facts_safety.pdf. If alcohol will be part of your year-end celebrations, use it with care!

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3 Best Kept Secrets of Campus: Outdoor Locations

It’s spring time! With the weather warming up, it’s time to get out and enjoy the fresh air. I know we’re all super busy as the semester winds to a close, but I find that getting out for a walk really helps to lower the stress. So, where can you go to enjoy the outdoors on campus? Here are the 3 best kept secret outdoor locations on campus!

1) East Patio. You’ve walked by it a million times this year, but have you taken the time to go outside and check out this view? As soon as you get out those doors, to the left you have the historic (over a century old) train bridge, and to the right you have a dazzling view of the coulee and the Old Man river. Plenty of places to sit to eat or study.

2) Coulee Trail. Frankly, it’s Lethbridge’s most interesting geographical feature – and we at the U of L get to be right next to it. So why not check it out sometime? Grab a friend and a pair of good shoes and explore the coulee. The trail can be accessed from the east patio or by the path leading to new village. It won’t be long before you’ll start to see some beautiful wild flowers growing all along the hillside. See if you can find the bison while you’re at it…

3) Aperture Lake. A paved walking path will take you all the way around this beautiful little lake. Surrounded by trees, you will be able to enjoy the wildlife (plenty of ducks, geese, and other birds) and sculpture garden that inhabit this area.

Get more out of your campus! It would be a shame if you just came here to go to class or the library without enjoying the campus’ natural beauty once in a while too. With spring emerging, now is the perfect time. Know of any other best kept secrets on campus? Leave a comment below!

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Upper Level Courses: What to Expect

With your registration dates fast approaching, many of you will likely have already picked out your courses for your second year of university! But how do second year courses differ from first year courses? What can you expect from your course material in the years to come? A lot of times it varies from department to department, but here’s a guide for what you can generally expect in the years to come…

1) Smaller class sizes – The way it works in most disciplines (though not all!) is that your 1000-level course is often a huge room with a couple hundred students. Although profs try to encourage class involvement by asking questions, the format is usually a slideshow presentation and everyone just takes notes. Starting in second year, you will start to see smaller classes where the prof can really engage the class in discussion. Many profs make an effort to learn everyone’s names. By the time you get to third and fourth year, the prof will definitely know you by name and participation will be much more of a requirement!

2) Course material more focused – In a 1000-level course, you really only get to skim the surface of the course material because there is so much ground to cover. In first year, profs are faced with the challenge of presenting their entire discipline (often spanning centuries of scholarship!) in a short period of four months. A lot of profs have to work outside of their preferred subject matter as well (ie., an early modern historian having to teach the ancient history portion of the 1000-level course). But in second year, you get to see much more of a focus upon more specific subjects! And it only gets more in depth from there.

In history, we call the broad 1000-level (and some 2000-level) courses “Plato to NATO” courses, because they literally span that kind of vast period of time (over 2000 years!). It’s no wonder that it all rushes by in a blur. Upper level courses can actually be easier in that regard because rather than trying to learn such a broad mish-mash of terms and concepts, your studies will be narrowed to a more digestible segment of the discipline.

3) Expectations higher – You won’t be able to simply show up and take notes for your entire university degree. As you progress, you will be expected to engage with the material in class discussions and make informed analyses, as well as present the material through public speaking and essay writing. Don’t worry – you won’t be expected to do any of this right off the bat. These are the kinds of skills that you will develop as you progress in your education! Just keep at it, and you’ll start to see improvement.

If you haven’t picked out your classes for next semester yet, do so! You can find out what courses are available by going to uleth.ca/bridge. Also, have you considered sticking around for a summer session? Check out my blog post on that subject: http://blogs.ulethbridge.ca/james-forbes/2011/06/11/summer-session-whats-it-all-about/

For now,

James!

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Running for Student Government

So, the elections for the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union were held last week. I didn’t mention it before because I didn’t think it was appropriate to use my blog for self-promotion, but I actually decided to throw my hat in the ring this year! I ran for Arts and Science representative, one of six positions of its kind. It was a great experience, and if any of you are thinking about running for student government (or just want to know more about it), here’s what you can expect…

First, you need a reason to run for student office. Want to get involved in Students’ Union (SU) decisions? Have some ideas for how the school can be improved? You need to come up with a platform – a series of ideas and campaign promises that will define you as a candidate.

The nomination process doesn’t take long at all. You pick up some forms from the SU office, and you need to find about a dozen students to put their signatures and student numbers to paper, saying they support you running as a candidate. Hit up your classmates, friends, and maybe some of their friends, and you’re golden. Then you just need to get statements of good academic and financial standing from the Registrar’s Office and Cash Office (respectively). That and a modest deposit, and you’re in the running!

Next comes campaigning. There are several rules that each candidate must follow, including the dates you can campaign, where you can put your posters, etc. Breaking any one of those rules can result in monetary fines, coming out of your pocket! So know the rules and be careful not to break them. One of the most important things you can do with your campaign is to have an effective set of posters; successful candidates often use humour, and it’s also important to have a brief outline of what you stand for (three or four lines; point form works best).

Other aspects of campaigning include getting the word out online (through Facebook and other social media), and talking to students in person. You will also be expected to give a brief speech, but it’s actually a lot less intimidating than you think. I’m excited to say that my run was a success, and I’ll be serving as an Arts and Science rep. next year.

Not a lot of people ran this year. In fact, a lot of positions were uncontested. So if running for student government is something that interests you, you should totally go for it. In the mean time, you can get involved by volunteering on campus, getting involved in campus clubs, and staying informed as to SU goings-ons. All of these things will help make you a qualified candidate for next year’s elections!

P.S. There were even a few positions that were not filled this year, and will be decided at a by-election in the Fall. That could be your chance to get your foot in the door! Find out more information at ulsu.ca.

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Networking with Professors

A good relationship with a professor can mean a number of different things: someone to go to for advice about your academic career, someone who can let you know about opportunities that arise for someone with your interests, as well as the chance for intriguing conversation! But how do you get your foot in the door to establish that kind of rapport? Here are my top tips…

1) Excel in your classes. Don’t just show up, take notes, and hand in your assignments. Absorb the material your professors assign and be prepared to fully participate in class when the opportunity arises. Start your assignments early so that by the time they’re done you have a well-polished finished product that will stand out among all the other students.

2) Participate in a department-related student club. There are several clubs designed to enable students of a particular major to come together. Oftentimes these clubs will facilitate interaction with professors in the form of workshops, meet and greets, and even fun activities that the profs take part in. If such a club doesn’t yet exist for your major, maybe you should see about starting one yourself! The list of current ratified clubs again can be found here: http://www.ulsu.ca/?p=3612.

3) Ask the right questions. Show your prof that you are interested in the subject you’re studying by talking to them after class. Try to ask intelligent questions that go above and beyond the basic course material and show them that you share their interest in the subject and are passionate about learning more.

Many professors at the University of Lethbridge stand among the experts in their field, and will have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with you both in the classroom and (if you take the time to pursue it) outside the classroom as well. Treat them with the respect that they deserve; remember that most profs have spent somewhere in the ballpark of eight or nine years to earn all their credentials, and they have only gotten to the place where they are now because of much diligence, skill, hard work, and a major dedication to pursuit of knowledge in their field of study. Having a good relationship with a prof can open you up to a wealth of insight, opportunity, and good conversation!

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Reading Week: poorly named, but still awesome

Okay, so it’s no big secret that many students don’t actually use Reading Week to read. For some schools, the equivalent is Spring Break or Revision Week, but here at the U of L (and at many other schools in Canada), we call it Reading Week. I’ve heard professors jokingly refer to the week off in February as “Ski Week.” For many, it’s an opportunity to travel and enjoy a break from school, not to hit the books. So maybe in a way we’re kidding ourselves by calling it Reading Week?

Not in my case.

Commence bitterness now. Maybe it’s just because I’m an upper-level student with way too much on my plate, but the past two years I certainly have not been skiing during Reading Week. This week much of my time will have been spent with my nose in my notes in preparation for two tests coming up right after the break, in the library poring over historical archives for an assignment due right after the break, or at home banging my head on the desk. My professors had the best of intentions, I’m sure. 🙂

So for those of you out on the slopes this Reading Week, I hope you’re having a real good time! (Think they can sense the sarcasm dripping from that statement? No? Good.) For the rest of us, actually reading during Reading Week is just something that comes with the territory of being in upper-level courses. Sigh. Oh, to be young and carefree again.

In all seriousness, enjoy your break, and I hope to see you all refreshed and rejuvenated next week!

P.S., the course options for the Fall and Summer are available now! Check out The Bridge!

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Money Tips for Students: Entertainment Budget

After a long week of classes and homework it’s tempting to unwind by splurging on fun activities. But it only takes a couple of trips to the mall or the bar to end up with very little money left over at the end of the day. How can you still have a fun time without breaking the bank? That sounds like a question for a cheap penny-pinching so-and-so like me! Allow me to share my money-saving wisdom…

 

For a relaxing evening at home, it’s nice to pop a movie into the machine and recline on the couch with a snack. But if you have to buy a new DVD every time, your money won’t last long. Even rentals (where they still exist) will take their toll. Here’s what I recommend – go to the University of Lethbridge library and check out the DVD collection. It’s modest, but there are many golden nuggets to be discovered there. With your student ID, it’s completely free.

 

Here’s another tip you may not be aware of: if you are a student at the U of L, you can get a TAL card for free. TAL stands for The Alberta Library, and it gives you access to several participating libraries throughout Alberta, including the Lethbridge Public Library. This means that you can access the public library’s new Blockbuster Collection, featuring new releases in addition to a number of old classics. See if your chosen title is available by visiting this website: http://www.lethlib.ca/promotion/new-blockbusters-movies-week. You can get a TAL card by talking to one of the helpful staff at the front desk of the University of Lethbridge library.

 

For those of you who want a more active form of entertainment, there are several options that you may not have considered. First, your student ID grants you free access to many services offered on campus, such as the swimming pool (lane swim most days, open swim most Sundays. See the schedule here: http://www.uleth.ca/sportrec/content/max-bell-pool-schedule), rock climbing wall, gym, and running track.

 

For days with better weather (not too far around the corner, I hope!), you should consider visiting Nicholas Sheran park on the West Side, literally just a couple blocks from the university campus. It has a Frisbee golf course built in, which can be a great activity for a date or a small group. Otherwise it’s a nice place to walk and enjoy the outdoors.

 

My last bit of advice to you is sign up for the mailing list of a campus club you’re interested in, or several. Even if you don’t plan to be at all their meetings, you should try to be in the know for when they put on great free events like movie nights, group visits to local attractions, and many more. They may ask you to pay a membership fee, but some will not. Check out a list of clubs and their contact info here: http://www.ulsu.ca/?p=3612.

 

If you’re a student who needs more ideas on how to save money, check out one of my previous blog posts here: http://blogs.ulethbridge.ca/james-forbes/2011/09/26/money-tips-for-students/. Keep an eye on this blog for more posts with money tips for students!

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A Taste of Scottish Culture: Robbie Burns Day in Lethbridge

Haggis, bagpipes, Scotch whisky, and Burns poetry. That sounds like a night out to me! In a place like Lethbridge, the only time to have all these things under one roof is on Robbie Burns Day. It’s a great chance for students to enjoy a cheap night out while at the same time celebrating Scottish culture. This year I attended the event and had a blast! Here’s what it’s all about…

Robbie Burns Day takes place on January 25th every year (or the weekend prior to the 25th) in celebration of the birth of the 18th century Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Burns is famous for poems/songs like “My Love is like a Red Red Rose” and “Address to a Haggis.” But really, for many it’s an occasion to celebrate Scottish culture in general. You don’t have to be Scottish in order to attend one of these events, of course, and everyone can (and will) have a great time!

A common centrepiece in a Burns night event is a ritual in which the haggis is paraded into the room with bagpipe accompaniment, and then a resident Scot recites the “Address to a Haggis” by Robbie Burns. You will likely not understand what is being said in the poem, due partially to 18th century Scots-English dialect and partially to the thick accent of the speaker, but it has something to do with how wimpy other dishes are compared with haggis. Wimpy is my word, not Burns’.

Haggis samples are available for free throughout the course of the event, served on crackers. See below for a picture of me sampling some haggis! If you know how haggis is made, it may turn you off of the dish, but it really tastes a lot better than it sounds! It’s a dish consisting of ground sheep liver, oat meal, and spices. This is a challenge: try it if you want the full experience of Burns night. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Plus, according to Burns, you’ll be a lot more macho: “But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, The trembling earth resounds his tread…”

The rest of the night is filled with traditional Scottish dancing, music, and poetry. If you want a Scottish cultural experience in your own back yard, this is a great place to do it.

Seriously, next year you have to check out this event. It takes place at the Galt Museum on an evening near the end of January, and it costs only $3 for admission. If you wish to sample a dram of Scotland’s most infamous export, you can pay $10 for a set of five drink tickets. Haggis samples are included free with admission!

As they say in Scots Gaelic, “Sláinte beatha!”

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Starting university in January?

Most students start their university careers in September, but there’s a small group of us who started in January! Like some of you reading this, my first semester at the U of L was a winter semester. Our experience is a little bit different from the September-starters, let me tell you! If you’re just starting your university career this January, here’s what you need to know…

First, everyone else in your age group has a whole semester of experience on you. You’re immediately at a disadvantage because many of your peers have already gotten the hang of the campus, made new friends, and tried their hand at several university-level classes. Don’t let this discourage you, because it will take you no time at all. A great way to ease into the friend-making is to check out a student club, an easy feat with Club Rush Week going on in the atrium right now! Also, stay tuned to events put on by the Students’ Union, like the upcoming Meltdown 2012 on Jan. 19, which can provide ample opportunity for meeting new people in a fun setting.

The main downside that I came across as a January-starter was that some of my professors in the winter semester seemed to assume that since everyone had obviously just completed a semester of university, no explanation was needed for things like essays. Some profs are very specific about what they want, but others just assume that you’ll know to use a title page, or which citation style to use in a given department. If you find yourself unsure about one of the course requirements, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Otherwise, the best advice I can give you is that which I’ve already given to the September-starters. Check out this blog post for a set of CRUCIAL advice for starting your semester off right! http://blogs.ulethbridge.ca/james-forbes/2011/09/06/3-tips-for-starting-your-semester-off-right/

Oh, and one more tip that every student should know… The library has a self-serve renew feature. So if you can’t get your book back in time, log in and hit RENEW! Check it out: http://www.uleth.ca/lib/. Go to self-serve, then to renewals.

That said, whether it’s your first or not, have an awesome semester.

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