Improve your Communication Skills by Engaging with Poetry
Creative Writing Pfau Pfau cartoon icon Improve your Communication Skills by Engaging with Poetry

Most people think of poetry as an abstract art form reserved for only the most accomplished literary masters, but that is not the case at all. Poetry is one of the most accessible written forms. It is around us everyday in in our thoughts, snippets of text, broken conversations, and of course, song lyrics. Whenever you put your headphones on, you are listening to poetry. Can you decipher the meaning behind the lyrics? Do you enjoy what you’re hearing? YES! Otherwise, you wouldn’t listen to it.

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Anyone can write a poem. Poetry is both an art form that has fluid flexibility and rigid structure. You can decide what kind of poet you want to be, or use a combination of different forms depending on what you prefer. The best part about poetry, unlike a research essay, is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. As someone who spends her days editing and “correcting” other people’s work, I find poetry liberating. It allows thoughts, feelings, and words to flow out of my brain through my pen onto the page. I don’t need to worry about making a mistake. I don’t need to hold back my intensity. I can just put it all on the page and let it sit there to digest.

BeCreative Improve your Communication Skills by Engaging with Poetry

Practicing poetry helps me to clear my head, release my emotions, and generate creative thoughts. When I was starting a research paper, I would sometimes make up a little rap on the topic to release some of my stress. Through that process I would no doubt also generate some ideas as to how to start my paper and have released enough tension to be able to put those thoughts down on the page. Poetry is a wonderful practice to help to improve your overall communication skills and confidence. The more you do it, the more easily you can combat writers block or being tongue tied and respond in the moment. So, rather than buy into the literary mumbo jumbo, why not give it a try?

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Join us on Saturdays from 3:00pm to 4:30pm for a poetry workshop with Christie Wong, which explores various forms, techniques, genres, and methods of tapping into your creative selves. It is a wonderfully inspiring, yet practical class that provides you with information and exercises to improve your writing practices outside of the classroom.

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Poet, artist, and teacher: Christie Wong

For more information, go to our events page. For daily tips and inspiration, follow us on social media – @pfau_academicwriting (links on headers and footers of the page). We look forward to helping you to reach your full potential on the page, and in life.

Holiday Hours

Happy Holidays ALL!!

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Happy Holidays from PFAU: Academic Writing Staff

We will be closed Tuesday, December 24th to Tuesday, January 14th. I will be checking emails intermittently while away, but will be off the grid for most of my trip.

I wish all of you a restful holiday seasons full of friends, family, and experiences that bring you joy.

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Lisa and Pfau-pfau enjoying Christmas season.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!!

Graduating with a BA doesn’t mean you’ll end up a Barista

This intimate Career Conference hopes to impart practical skills and inspiration onto recent grads and current students who are entering the job market for the first time, or want to brush up on their job search skills.

Conference Schedule:
10:am to 11:45am – Resume Writing Workshop
11:00am to 11:45am – Dress for Success Workshop
12:00 noon to 1:00pm – VEGETARIAN LUNCH
1:00pm to 1:45pm – Mock Interview Practice
2:00pm to 3:30pm – Career Panel: BA Grads with meaningful employment
3:30pm to 4:00pm – Conference Debrief

Pay-what-you-can (recommended $8): to cover the cost of lunch

Register here or email us directly for more information.

Midday Meditation

Join us for a weekly stress break to get re-grounded. Each session will consist of body movement, breath, and thought work.

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Celine and Pfau-pfau practicing some stretches.

Our teacher is Celine Cheung. She has been practising meditation for over three years, and is passionate about sharing what she’s learned with others in order to reduce their stress and become more in tune with their bodies and minds.

Drop-in: $12+HST
Punch card: $50+HST

Register here or email us directly for more information.

*No refunds. Can apply missed class to a future class though.

Creative Writing for Non-Writers Course

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Working on Found Poems

Join us for 8 classes of Creative Writing for Non-Writers starting on May 1st designed to help develop writing fundamentals, creative capacity, and confidence. Our ideal student is someone who needs a little extra push to put their self out there and write. It is an especially great course for those who are struggling with communication at work, learning English, or want a break from their usual routine.

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The importance of word choice…

The instructor, Lisa Pfau, is the founder and CEO of PFAU: Academic writing, editing, and coaching. She has over 10 years experience helping students to improve their writing skills in academic and professional settings, as well as editing/writing many academic, government, and professional documents and reports. Her real passion is injecting creativity into generally boring texts to make the reader laugh or engage. She also published a few creative works of her own, including a short story entitled “Cold War” in Horizon Magazine based on her experiences in China. She looks forward of getting out of her managerial role back into the creative side that drew to build her business in the first place – writing.


Class 1: Description

Class 2: Story Arch

Class 3: Character Development

Class 4: Perspective

Class 5: Dialogue

Class 6: Know your Audience

Class 7: Editing/Revision

Class 8: Final Draft Presentation

Drop-in fee $25+HST/class. Speak to me to register for multiple classes and receive a discount.

For a video of the class, check out our YouTube channel.

Register here or email me directly.

Learning how to sell yourself successfully: The art of a good scholarship application

by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

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Scholarships are a great way to help you to achieve your academic goals.

It is easy to sell yourself short and think you aren’t smart enough, hard working enough, or overall good enough to receive a scholarship, but that is 100% not true. If you have an academic goal in mind and work hard towards it, it is highly likely that there are plenty of scholarships, grants, and bursaries out there suited to you. You just need to know what you want, be creative and resourceful looking for funds, and learn how to sell yourself well.

Figuring out what you want:

One of the hardest things about applying for scholarships, and in life, is deciding who you are and what you want. It’s unlikely that you will find a scholarship/grant/bursary that is suitable for you, if you don’t know what you are looking for in the first place. So, how do you figure this out?

The best place to start is with what they call your “signature skills“. Your signature skills are the things that you are naturally good at, that you feel accomplished, happy, and respected whenever you apply these skills. For example, even since I’ve been a young kid, I was a decent writer. I liked to imagine things, making up crazy stories, and learn new words. It was difficult at times, and my dad put my assignments through several arduous edits. I was a terrible speller and I hated reading. But, somehow, I knew I was good at and I enjoyed it, especially when I did things like write articles for the local newspaper. People would compliment me on my humor and prose. It made me feel good. Of course, at the time, I didn’t really think I could make a career out of writing, but here I am. So, what kinds of skills do you have that you have always done pretty well, even when you were a young child? What do you people often compliment you about? Those are probably your signature skills.

Knowing your signature skills, can help you to think critically about what you want in life. What do you want to study at school? What do you think would be an interesting job? For example, being the genius that I am (*cough*), I received a scholarship for Engineering in Undergrad that was larger than any of my other scholarships, but I wasn’t interested in Engineering. I was interested in Politics, so I went into an Arts degree. In the beginning I didn’t get as larger a scholarship, as I would have if I’d enrolled in Engineering. But, in the end, I received several scholarships throughout my Undergrad, Graduate, and post-Grad years because I followed my interests and skills set, and developed those skills over time. It’s highly likely that had I enrolled in Engineering I wouldn’t have done that well, and I would’ve lost my scholarship after the first year, and just be miserable, penniless, and beating myself up. Knowing what you are good at and what you enjoy, can help you to choose a path that exemplifies those skills and passions. Then, you can start to look for scholarships related to your own specific gifts and goals, and be more likely to receive them as you continue to build up your qualifications and experiences.

Finding the right scholarship/grant for you:

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is important to know what you are looking for in a scholarship. There are gazillions of scholarships out there, once you start looking, so don’t waste your time applying for all of them. Instead, focus on the ones that you think are best suited to your own unique skills set and long-term goals.

For example, I studied Chinese Politics in Undergrad long before it was cool to be interested in China. In fact, most people thought I was crazy…but now, who’s laughing?! Anyway, I knew that I wanted to go to China, and hopefully learn Chinese, so I asked my Chinese Professors for advice. She was and still is an excellent networker, and she let me know about several scholarship programs through the Chinese government, Taiwanese government, Canadian government, and even a special program with a grant for teaching English in China. This process would be a lot easier today with Google because I could do a quick search of “Chinese Language Scholarships for Canadians” and find a bunch of these links. However, it is also extremely useful to have a mentor to point you to opportunities because they can also give you advice on what the scholarship committees might be looking for. Since it was still a bit unusual for a Ukranian-Canadian from rural Alberta to want to go to China to study Chinese, and I had passionately pursued a degree in Chinese Politics and History, when I applied for all of these scholarships, I got EVERY one of them, and had to chose where I wanted to go. Knowing your own special niche and searching for specific opportunities in that area, no matter how crazy everyone else thinks you are, can really pay off because you are putting your energy into applications that are best suited for your long-term goals, and can really highlights your own unique skills set.

Fine-tuning your personal sales pitch:

Once you know what you want and you’ve found it, the last important step is knowing how to sell yourself so that the selection committee believes they are giving the scholarship to the best person. Instead of thinking about all the ways in which you are going to impress them with a long list of high grades and extra-curricular activities, try to think about the selection process from their perspective. They will be sifting through piles of applications and reading about all kinds of people with lots of accomplishments. So, how can you make yourself stand out?

Well, in my case, I used my strength in writing and added some creativity to my application. I wanted to tell a story about myself. Now, this doesn’t mean that I made up any information or embellished reality. But, it does mean that I thought about what parts of my own academic and professional life would help me to succeed in a Chinese Language program, and how I could present those qualities in a manner that was interesting and relatable to the audience. Thus, I started with a quote from a famous Chinese story, and used that story as a basis to explain why I wanted to study in China, in what ways I was prepared, and how I was going to use my new language skills to achieve my long-term goals. By using this quote and story, I was able to show indirectly that I had an in-depth knowledge of China, and a passion for its history and culture. It also helped me to stay on track and focus only on the skills that were related to the application criteria. In the end, it seemed to work. Therefore, I recommend taking a risk and being a little creative in your next scholarship application. After all, what do you have to lose? They’re the ones giving you free money!

Scholarships can be intimidating. You may feel that you aren’t smart enough or hard working enough to qualify. But, I guarantee that if you are passionate and dedicated to something, there is someone out there willing to give you money to pursue your dreams, so give it a shot! Start thinking about what you want, where you can find it, and how to tell the best story about yourself. If you need some help getting started on this journey, please reach out to us for a free 30 minute consultation and find out what PFAU can do to help you to reach your full potential on the page, and in life.

All content in this post is created by Lisa Pfau and Patricia Huang. Feel free to share it widely; however, please do not replicate any of the text or graphics without our prior permission. Doing so is violating copyright law. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property rights.

Healthy Relationships Start with Healthy Communication by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

Healthy and constructive communication skills are not innate. If we are fortunate, we grow up in an environment with confident parents and clear non-judgmental communication. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most of us. We usually end up learning we need to work on our communication and relationship skills later in life. So, what can you do to help yourself now?

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Healthy relationships start with healthy communication.

Think before you react: It is common to want to spit back a reply or act out when we are feeling hurt, upset, or uncomfortable. However, it is in these moments of intense emotion that I find it is most useful for me to step back, take a breath, and think about what I need from the situation. Once I know what I need, it is easier for me to articulate what I want to say without blame and judgement. Count to 10! It’s not an emergency. The person will still be there to hear your response in most cases.

Learn to listen: We all love to talk, but listening takes work. It means that we need to quiet the thoughts in our mind for long enough to let someone else’s in. It also means that we need to step out of ourselves and focus on someone else. It takes time, effort, and patience to try to understand another person’s perspective, especially when it is in direct contrast to our own. But, you can’t really craft a constructive response to a situation, if you don’t understand it first. So, listen before you speak next time and see what happens.

Lead with “I” statements: The biggest issue in communication is blame, shame, and defensiveness. It is impossible to get anywhere in a conversation once you or the other person becomes defensive. Defensiveness is destructive, whilst openness is constructive. So, instead of focusing on being right and assigning blame, you could try focusing on what you are feeling, what do you need, what do you hope to get out of the conversation. Then, lead with “I” statements, instead of “you” statements. That is as simple as saying: “I really felt hurt and betrayed when you suddenly dropped out of the group assignments and didn’t do the work you’d previous agreed upon. I don’t feel comfortable letting you back into the group unless we can do things differently in the future.” That is much better than: “OMG! How dare you ask to rejoin our group! You’re so lazy and totally let us down last time. Forget it!!” Hmmm…which one do you think is going to escalate a situation?!

Be open to feedback? Personal growth is a process. There is no finish line in that process until you cross over to the other side (ie. death). Communication is a part of personal growth, so don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake or could do better. Instead, stay open to how your communication style impacts others. Can you do something different in the future? Maybe? Maybe not? But, at least you opened your ears and took the feedback as constructive, instead of closing yourself off from some potentially valuable information.

Remember that communication is a skill, not a in-born trait. It takes practice and lots of blunders, so don’t get discouraged. And remember, if you need some advice on how to improve you communication skills at school or work, you can book a free 30 minute consultation with one of our coaches. You can also check out our upcoming talk with qualifying psychotherapist, Jill Gillbert, on Tuesday, February 26th at 6:00pm. Check out the blog post and EventBrite for more details.

All content in this post is created by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang. Please feel free to share widely, but also please do remember to give us credit. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property rights.

Improve your Relationships: Healthy Communication Strategies with Jill Gillbert on Tuesday, February 26th at 6pm

Friendships comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

The third event in our Valuable Life Skills Student Speaker Series we will be discussing the impact of our relationships style and that of others on overall quality of life and academic performance. Relationships can provide support, care, encouragement, and opportunities for growth. Or, relationships can cause stress, trauma, hurt, and pain. Thus, it is important to reflect upon our communication and attachment style in relationships, and how that impacts both ourselves and others. Our guest speaker, seasoned student, and qualifying psychotherapist, Jill Gilbert will provide participants with some insights into how you might be able to improve your own relational realities.


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Jill Gilbert, MA, PhD, RP (Qualifying)

    Jill is a therapist with a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Guelph.  Jill believes that the root of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns are entrenched in our social relations. Our relationships have the power to both harm and heal us; thus, it is essential to be able to identify, cultivate, and engage in healthy transformative relationships. Jill’s own experience in Grad School deconstructing and reconstructing support systems propelled her towards the Toronto Institute for Relational Psychotherapy to train to become a psychotherapist who can help others to develop and expand their healthy relationships with themselves and others.  Jill has an affinity to students as she spent so many years within the post secondary system, and has a particular understanding of the struggles many students face on a day-to-day basis. Jill currently practices near Ossington station, in Toronto’s West End, while completing the final years of her training.

Join us at PFAU: Academic writing, editing, and coaching experts office for a light meal and enlightening discussion on Tuesday, February 26th from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. The address here is 300 Bloor Street West (Room 34 of Bloor Street United Church).

Please register via EventBrite!

Should I stay or should I go? Tips on adding/dropping courses by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

It happens to even the most planned and studios of students. There comes a point in our academic career when we are faced with potentially having to adjust our course schedule by adding or dropping a course part way through the semester.

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I was usually pretty good with planning out my schedule in advance and choosing the right courses by reading course descriptions, familiarizing myself with course requirements, keeping up-to-date necessary credits for graduation, and asking friends for opinions about Profs and courses. However, in second year, I registered for a French course in order to meet my language requirement, and found that I had no idea what the Prof was saying. I was terrified that I would fail. After careful consideration and discussion with my friend and the Prof, I decided to stay in French 100, but transferred to another instructor where the where requirements were slightly lower and I had a friend in the course to help me with problem areas. I didn’t do wonderfully, but I passed and got the language credit out of the way. This decision allowed me to focus on more important courses in the final two years of my degree. Therefore, when trying to figure out the best way to amend your academic schedule consider both your long-term and short-term goals.

I would say the most important aspect of planning your course schedule throughout your degree is knowing which courses you need to take and grades you need to achieve in order to graduate. It is common for most Bachelor’s degrees to have the requirement that you take a course in all disciplines in order to create an overall well-rounded degree, even if have a specific major and minor. You also will be required to take a certain number of courses in your major and minor in order to receive accreditation for them on your diploma.

For example, as an Arts student, I was still required to take a certain number of credits in Math and Science in order to graduate. I also had to take courses in languages, English, and Fine Arts, even though those were not my major or nor minor in order to receive a Bachelor of Arts. This requirements can sometime wreck havoc on your GPA if are not interested in them, or wired to do well at them. For example, university level Math was a bit daunting for me. The good thing about these courses is that you have more flexibility in how and when you complete them. I tend to recommend doing them earlier on in your degree with your grades are less important to getting into Grad School or professional programs. Doing them early also allows you to drop one, if you feel it is a struggle and taking energy away from more important course; and then, making it up in the summer or taking a different course in order to receive the same credit.

When it comes to courses related to the major and minors, deciding to add or drop can be more complex as many of these courses require prerequisites and many not be offered every semester. Thus, you need to think long-term about how you will ensure you complete not only one course, but subsequent courses in time for graduation. In some cases, it may be better to bit the bullet and power through a prerequisite earlier on in your degree in order to create more freedom in your third and fourth year. However, you also need to keep in mind that the grades in courses related to your major and minor are more significant than optional courses. Therefore, if you truly think you may fail a key course, and have time to take it next year, dropping it and replacing it with another course you had originally intended to take next year might be a good option.

Of course, there are other elements to consider beyond career requirements, such as personal life, budget, academic skills, and social supports. However, knowing your degree requirements and being clear about your long-term and short-term goals is a great place to start. Once you know what you want to do, make sure you check add/drop deadlines and penalties so that you can make the most informed and best decision for you.

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What do you think? Should Pfau-pfau drop ECON 101? She is currently an Education major, with a focus on Psychology and Philosophy. What advice would you give her?

**All content in this blog post is created by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang. You are very welcome to share any of this content (written and images) as long as appropriate credit is given to the authors and creators. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property rights. 🙂

Overcoming Scary Standardized Exams by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang
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Overcome exam stress and excel.

I remember when I wrote my GRE. It was the most stressful exam of my life. The first time I took it, I wasn’t worried at all since I had no idea what to expect. I was smart and I was sure that I would score decently. Wow! I totally misjudged the exam.  First, you need  your passport, you go into a little cubicle, you can’t go to the bathroom for hours, you can’t bring anything in, and the questions start and disappear once the time is up, there’s no time to think…. The second time around I literally was crying in the hallway floor before heading down to the exam centre. So much stress!!!

Eventually, I did master the stress and exam though. There are a few things you can do to help yourself too:

Give yourself 3-6 Months to Prepare:

Unlike most exams in high school or university, you can’t just memorize all of the material in a short period of time. You need to understand how the exam works, identify different types of questions, and know the content so that you can answer everything quickly without the stress of the situation getting to you.

Use the Library:

There are numerous exam prep books out there. Instead of buying them all, check them out from the library and do as many practice questions as you can. You can also find lots of resources online. The best bet is to go to official test sites for practice tests, as well as well-known exam prep companies for books. Make sure that you have the most updated versions for practice tests, but you don’t necessarily need the most updated exam texts for practice unless there has been a major change in the exam. The majority of the questions remain the same, so don’t worry too much about using older editions for drills, as long as you have a few up-to-date practice exams from the official website that you can use for a full practice.

Create Flashcards:

There’s a ton of material to memorize in order to score well on the exam, particularly if there is a vocabulary section or math section. The best way to deal with it is to create flashcards and work on memorizing terms and equations while you’re riding the transit, working out at the gym, or waiting for an appointment. It is a good idea to keep track of what you remember and what you still need to work on by putting the flashcards aside that you feel you’ve already mastered and replacing them with others that you aren’t fully confident about. You can also find several free apps that generate flashcards and quizzes to help your review.

Do Short Drills:

Speed is a key element of succeeding on standardized exams. There’s no time to think about your answer, you just need to know it. Practicing sections of the exam under time pressure allows you focus on mastering certain types of questions while increasing your speed and accuracy. Different sections tend to require different skills sets, so once you feel comfortable with one section, you can move onto the next. By mastering one section at a time, it makes doing the full exam under time pressure a lot less daunting.

Note Your Mistakes:

Every time you get a question wrong, go to the back of the workbook and read the explanation. You will likely start to see patterns in your errors and certain types of questions that you struggle with. If you can identify those patterns, then you can slowly recognize the correct response in different cases. Don’t beat yourself up about making any mistakes, but take this as an opportunity to learn and improve. These exams don’t test your intelligence, but you’re ability to master the exam.

Cracking standardized exams isn’t easy, but it is possible. There is no secret weapon to getting a good score, but hard work, lots of practice, and understanding what the exam is all about sure does help.  And remember, if you need extra help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us to set up a free 30 minute consultation with a qualified exam prep tutor.

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Pfau-pfau gets frustrated with her LSAT practice.

The content of this post is created by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang. You are welcome to share this post, but please do not replicate any of this material without our permission. Thanks!