Papers are due. Exams are looming. Considering doing something you shouldn’t? Do these things instead.

4 things to do when it feels like you’re facing academic disaster

April 12, 2021 | Campus Life
A few months ago, a brand new semester was beginning and you were getting ready to crush it. Now you’re just crushed. Whether it’s a paper you just haven’t managed to finish or an exam you know you’re going to bomb, here are some things you can do that don’t involve compromising your academic integrity.

1. Talk to your prof

This probably isn’t what you wanted to hear, but if you’re in a difficult position when it comes to a paper, project or exam, the first thing you should is to talk to your prof.

“It’s always better to reach out and have a conversation with your prof than it is to engage in any of the other potential ways out,” says Dr. Paul Sopcak with MacEwan’s Academic Integrity Office.

Even if it’s right before (or even after) the deadline. Even if it’s 2 a.m. (and you’re not expecting an immediate response). “If you’re in a pinch, the most important thing to do is to send the email,” says Dr. Sopcak. “That said, there are a few things you should consider first.”

Take a breath. Instead of firing off a hasty, panicked email mid-meltdown, take a few minutes to think about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.

Be polite. Begin your email with a salutation (if your prof prefers to be addressed using “Dr.,” make sure to do that).

Explain the situation honestly. If there are extenuating circumstances, describe them.

Ask about potential options or solutions. It’s true that if you don’t ask, you don’t know. It’s also true that unless there are reasons for your prof to make an exception, giving you one could be an unfair advantage.

Remember that you’re not the first or only person to find yourself in this position. “Most professors understand how strenuous and unusual our current situation is,” says Dr. Sopcak. “They also know that although everyone is experiencing stressors due to the pandemic, we are not all affected in the same way. Honestly describing the circumstances you’re in and what you’re facing is the best approach.”

2. Do the math and consider your options

Even when a situation seems bleak, it might not be as dire as you think. What would one bad grade on a paper or exam do to your class mark? Your overall GPA?

If you need help figuring that out, your program advisor can help (if you don’t know who that is, check in with the Academic Advising Centre.)

Advisors can also help you explore your options, which could include withdrawing from the course. If you drop a course before the withdrawal deadline (check the academic schedule for dates), the course will appear on your academic transcript with a “W” and won’t affect your GPA.

3. Talk to someone

If you’re struggling to make a decision, your situation is weighing you down or you just need someone to talk to, there are lots of options.

  • SAMU’s Peer Support Virtual Hub is a student-operated service that provides a safe space to talk with other students (who are also trained listeners) about tough situations. 

  • SAMU’s Advocacy Office can help you unravel university policies around appeals and processes. If you want to know what’s involved in appealing a grade, they’re a great resource.

4. Get the facts

The Academic Integrity Office offers confidential services and can help answer difficult questions – everything from whether not attributing a photo counts as plagiarism to if it’s okay to post an assignment online.

“The Academic Integrity Office’s role isn’t to catch students cheating, and MacEwan’s main focus is on prevention and education over policing and punishment,” says Dr. Sopcak. “We’re here to help students find the answers they need and to make good decisions, even in challenging situations."



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