With finals period now a distant memory and the add/drop period beginning, stress levels are subsiding as students leave the last semester behind. However, between harsh syllabi guidelines and stigma surrounding asking for help, asking for extensions is often the last thing students want to do. In a competitive atmosphere where prestige is valued over mental health, McGill fosters a toxic environment where students are reluctant to ask for extensions. But as we enter the new semester, hindsight is key—be it 20/20 or in 2022, and students should not hesitate to ask for extensions when they need them.
In many syllabi, asking for extensions is explicitly discouraged, with strict requirements in place to prevent students from pursuing them. Professors often plan out a grading schedule ahead of time, leaving students responsible to manage their own time for assignments. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, where health-care systems are already overwhelmed, medical notes might not be as easily accessible or be the doctor’s first priority. On top of this, assignment deadlines seem firm, unbendable, and unapproachable, contributing to the idea that professors are unwilling to provide any sort of leniency. This generalization, however, cannot be made for all professors; many of them are understanding and happy to extend deadlines.
A blanket overstatement of formality seems to be a common theme: Students often feel dissuaded from even emailing their professors. And the immense level of scrutiny and effort that students put into writing their emails is rarely matched by their professors. Though understandable, this kind of attitude deters newer university students from asking for help, clarification, or expansion of lesson material.
McGill, a university filled with overachieving students who are constantly being chased by the threat of academic burnout, is, at its core, a breeding ground for competition. A level of academic prestige, derived from the common high school mantra, “Professors won’t be this lenient in university!” often prevents students from feeling like it is okay to ask for help. Aside from being academically isolating, especially during the pandemic, a competitive atmosphere like McGill demands the impossible: Get perfect grades, and do it all by yourself.
Furthermore, with thousands of the best students from across Canada—and the world—competing for top grades, asking for an extension carries with it an academic stigma. Because everyone else is assigned the same deadline, if a student cannot make that deadline, it can falsely perpetuate the idea that they are somehow less competent than the others. Asking for extensions should be normalized, as there are often factors out of students’ control, whether mental, physical, or situational, that might affect their ability to complete an assignment on time.
Students need to do their part to combat this toxic academic environment and understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Beyond individual efforts, students should voice concerns to their faculty’s curriculum committees, or the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)’s VP University Affairs. Talk about supporting students throughout the pandemic has suffered from hollow and inconsistent follow through. Students should ask for extensions when they need them, raise awareness in committees that have the possibility to make substantial changes—such as re-instating the S/U policy—and push their student leaders to advocate for their needs.