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Friendships can Help or Hinder your Academic Experience by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 8 comic book final edited Friendships can Help or Hinder your Academic Experience by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

During high school and Undergrad, I had some pretty solid, nerdy, helpful friends, who coincidentally I still keep in touch with today. However, things were different in Grad School. It’s like I skipped all those moments in Jr. High and High School when you figure out the difference between a good friend and a bad friend, and had them in my mid-twenties instead. I think it was because nerdiness was finally cool, and that meant I actually wanted to get in with that in-crowd, or so I thought.

 

The first close friend I made in Grad School was a highly intelligent and ambitious young woman, who also turned out to be extremely emotionally draining. Like the friend in panel #2 of the comic strip, she would get upset if I had something else to do and couldn’t hang out with her. I spent a lot of my Grad School experience feeling guilty and walking on eggshells as a result, and to make matters worse we were in the same program, so it was hard to ease my way out once I realized that the friendship wasn’t serving me. The whole experience took a lot out of me emotionally, making it hard to put the energy needed into my essays and readings, and subsequently hurting my grades.

 

I also learned a lesson about colleagues copying your work, like in panel #4 – Yes! That still happens in Grad School. My classmates and I shared office where we’d often discuss our readings before class. One day when the Professor called on my classmate she repeated almost verbatim what I had said during our informal office discussion, leaving me tongue tied once it came time for me to contribute. That experience taught me to be more careful with who I choose to share my thoughts and ideas with. Grad School can be a bit cut-throat for some folks.

 

Now, not all my friendships were toxic.  I came out of the two year experience with some wonderful friendships that endure to this day; however, it certainly did teach me how important the relationships we form are to our overall well-being and success. Incidentally, Associate Professor Janice McCabe, Dartmouth College, found a correlation between the characteristics of friendships and academic performance in her recent study of Undergrads, whereby 100% of students who reported their friends as providing academic motivation and support graduated while only 50% of students who reported that their friends distracted them from their studies managed to graduate within a six year period. As Professor McCabe concludes, friendships can have both academic and social benefits.

 

So, what kinds of things can you look out when choosing the right friends for you? I don’t know exactly what you look for in a friend, but I can tell you my top three qualities:

 

OPEN HEART, OPEN MIND: I can be a stubborn person, but overall I’m open to new ideas, creative processes, and the next adventure.  I find it really draining to be around individuals who are set on one particular viewpoint or way of doing things. It’s interesting at first if it’s something I haven’t heard of before, but after a while it gets stale. This trait is not only important because it makes that person more fun, but also because it makes conflict resolution smoother too. I find people who are more open are also more apt to admit when they made a mistake, attempt to understand a different perspective, and work towards a consensus. Thus, for me, I find I get the most out of friendships with other people who enjoy growth, change, challenges, and exploration.

 

CLEAR COMMUNICATION: Even though I teach communication all day and spend a lot of time analyzing texts and data in my work with students, I don’t particularly like to do that in my friendships. That’s way too much effort!  I prefer people who can communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and directly. I hate it when people expect you to mind read, which people often equate with intimacy when actually I think it’s just a sign of under-developed EQ. Think of an infant, they have fairly simple needs – eat, sleep, diaper change, attention, etc. – and even parents who spend a lot of time with their little baby have a hard time knowing exactly what they want. Why? Because they can’t use words to express themselves. In an adult friendship, I don’t want to have to guess when something is wrong or what someone wants. I want to be able to have an open discussion and work towards a solution. Life is stressful enough as a student or young professional; I want friends that I can chill with and know that what is being said is what is meant.

 

TAKES RESPONSIBILITY: Being the oldest child of three, I’m naturally responsible (regardless of what my younger brothers might say!). As a kid, that meant getting chores done before my parents got home, and bossing my brothers around to ensure they did their fair share too. As an adult, that means taking responsibility for my actions and their impact on others, as well as, being true to my word. If you’re responsible and end up hanging out with someone who is not, it can get tiring pretty darn fast because you’ll soon find yourself doing all the work on the school project, around the house, or even in resolving conflict. Therefore, whenever I’m making a new friend, I pay close attention to how well we resolve conflicts as the friendship progresses. If I find myself apologizing and putting in more effort to repair situations after a misunderstanding than the other party frequently, that’s a red flag for me, especially if it only seems to get worse after I bring up set imbalance. Being able to be fully responsible for one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions in the world, without blaming yourself for other’s mistakes, is probably the most important trait I look for in a friend as I think it is very closely linked to self-worth and self-confidence. People can learn better communication skills or slowly dip their toe into new experiences, but if you don’t like who you are, no amount of encouragement and positive vibes from my side can repair that.  You gotta do the work and heal yourself.

 

That’s my three cents on friendship. I hope that all of you find some solid friends who will have your back throughout your academic careers. No one can succeed on their own, which is why I’m extremely grateful for the people in my life who have been a positive influence and support in my own journey.

 

**All content in this post is the intellectual property of Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang. Please do not replicate any of this content without prior consent. You may share this post and other similar posts widely while making sure to give the authors credit, however.

Beat Exam Anxiety by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 4 comic book final LARGE 01 Beat Exam Anxiety by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

 

When I was in high school, and the early part of my Undergraduate studies, I suffered from terrible exam anxiety. Before my first Grade 12 Provincial Exam in Alberta, Canada, I remember throwing up my Cheerios in the bathroom sink. My anxiety stemmed from having tanked my Social Studies Provincial Exam in Grade 11, which I had opted to take a year early to give me a leg up on my other Grade 12 exams. FAIL! My poor grade was a huge disappointment since I had consistently had the highest grade in the school in Social Studies since Grade 9 until that point. I was also competing to become Valedictorian, and since Social Studies was not only my favorite subject, but also a required course and Provincial Exam scores accounted for 50% of our final grades in all required courses that one bad exam significantly impacted my overall GPA. So, by the time Provincial Exams rolled around in Grade 12, I was sick to my stomach.

As a result, I decided to rewrite my Grade 12 Social Studies exam in the hopes of overcoming my fear of writing essays on exams. Yes, the person who currently teaches others how to write academic essays used to find the process painfully difficult. In the end, Terry Smart (yes, that’s his real name!) beat me out for Valedictorian because my rewrite score was not eligible. Fortunately, these experiences taught me a few tricks that helped me to overcome my exam anxiety during my Undergraduate studies.

 

Create a Study Schedule: I was a terrible procrastinator until about Grade 12. Any assignment or exam, I would put a lot of effort into, but probably just a few days before it was due. I learned by retaking my Social Studies exam that I needed to start studying weeks, sometimes months in advance, in order to really digest all of the material. Studying in advance also helped with time management by encouraging me to breakdown all of the exam material into sections, assign a date and time for each section, and ensure I left a few days grace period to review everything. I generally recommend that for any mid-term or final exams students allot themselves a minimum of two weeks to prepare, if not more.

 

Find a Study Buddy: When I was in Undergrad, I made a few close friends in my major, Political Science. If we missed a class, we’d take notes for each other to ensure no one missed an important concept, assignment, or deadline. We’d also study for exams together, which meant comparing notes, discussing concepts, prepping potential essay questions, and even summarizing readings. Working together helped us to understand the material from the perspective of both student and teacher. It also made exam prep a lot less overwhelming because we were in it together.

 

Visualize Positive Outcomes: A TD Bank survey of 500 small business owners in 2016 uncovered that entrepreneurs who visualize success are more confident than those who do not; and, those who create a visual reminder (ie. Vision board) are twice as confident as those who do not. In fact, 82% of business owners who used a vision board from the beginning reported having accomplished more than half of the goals outlined on the board. Now, building a business is the ultimate test, so why not apply these same principles to your academic goals and studying? You can start by switching your storyline of blank faces, sweaty palms, and D- into a big fat A smiling up at your from your exam paper. How will that grade make you feel? What will you behave like and feel like while writing an exam with such a positive result? Put an intention out there and have that positive possible outcome motivate your studies.  Just like the Little Engine that Could, keep telling yourself – “I think I can! I think I can!  I think I can!” – and you’ll ace that exam in no time.

 

Think of it as a Game Show: I used to love trivia as a kid. One of my favorite shows was Jeopardy. Thus, instead of thinking of an exam as a pass or fail experience, I would think of my grade as a score in a game show. Each question I got correct, I was amassing points towards the ultimate prize of an A+. This way, even if I didn’t get 100% on the test, I still didn’t completely lose out. I still went home with some sort of consolation prize: B+. Thinking of exams in this way helped to take the pressure off of being better than my classmates or impressing the Professor; and instead, I created a competition with myself, where each correct answer and new tidbit of information was a step towards success. Somehow this made studying fun!

 

Take a few Deep Breaths & Calm your Mind: Even after doing all of these things, come exam day, as soon as the Professor put the exam paper in my hand, my mind would go completely blank. It turns out that this black out is a natural response to stress designed to help our primitive selves to escape a dangerous situation by putting all of our resources into our physical fight or flights responses so that we can run away from a tiger or something. At the same time, this fight or flight response reduces stimulation of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that allows us to have abstract thoughts. It is usually abstract thoughts that we need to answer those pesky exam questions. I was not aware of the connection between stress and the prefrontal cortex at the time, but I did notice that if I focused my attention away from the exam to my breathing for a few minutes, my mind would clear and all of the answers to the questions would slowly resurface. Therefore, I developed a practice of spending the first 5 minutes of an exam taking deep breaths and clearing my mind of worries, and then, I would flip to the longer essay questions and jot down some random thoughts related to the questions before focusing on the more intense and specific multiple choice and short answer questions. Essentially, I was meditating for 5 minutes at the start of every exam, a practice that has now been largely linked to the strengthening of the prefrontal cortex and calming of the amygdala.

 

So, before you FREAK OUT about your next exam, try some of these simple suggestions. Writing exams is stressful.  There is no avoiding that, unfortunately. However, with the right strategies, attitude, and supports, you can definitely make exams a lot less painful than they have been in the past, and maybe even a little fun!

 

 

**All content in this post is the intellectual property of Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang. Please do not replicate any of this content without prior consent. You may share this post and other similar posts widely while making sure to give the authors credit, however.

 

 

Party Safe by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 18 edited 01 Party Safe by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

I know this post is one weekend too late, but maybe you’re at that point where you’re reflecting on your Halloween debauchery and wondering how you let X happen… I really hope everyone reading this had fun at Halloween parties without getting hurt, but that is not always the case. So, what can you do to ensure that you have fun, but also avoid personal harm? Well, there are a few simple steps:

 

  • Have a party buddy – I think it’s so important, especially for young women, to have a close friend or classmate that you trust to go out partying with. This buddy is particularly important if you are going to a party at someone’s place that you don’t know. When I was in Undergrad I was a super nerd, so I didn’t really go out much or even get drunk. However, in Grad School it was a whole different story.  I had broke up with my long-term boyfriend of five years and I just wanted to have. Unfortunately, that fun sometimes got me into trouble, including meeting questionable men, puking on lawns, and going to work hung over.  Yep!  Even us nerdy folks make mistakes. However, I manage to avoid complete catastrophe by making sure each time I went out, I brought one or a posse of female friends. Even though all of us were there to have fun, we also looked out for each other, and if we saw anything questionable going on, one of us would pull the plug and call a cab.  It’s much easier to leave a bad situation when your friend is telling you that you’re going to miss your ride, than get out of it yourself. So, make sure you have someone who has your back when you’re going out on the town.

 

  • Plan a safe way home – Know how to not only get to the party, but how you get home. This includes knowing when the last bus is if you plan on taking public transit, or having Uber, Lyft, or your favorite cab company saved in your phone.  You may even want to write down a phone number, in case your phone dies. Or, and make sure you have cash to pay for the trip, or the number of a friend to call, if you are truly stuck.

 

  • Make a curfew – You also may want set a time when you plan on leaving the party. Things usually get more shady as the evening creeps onward. It might seem like a cool idea to stay out until the wee hours of the morning and find out how the drama turns out, but usually it isn’t what you hoped for. Most likely, it’s a bunch of people passed out, sick, or really agitated by the end of the night. So, have you fun and head home at a reasonable time to get the sleep you need to have a productive day the night after.

 

Halloween parties and college parties are wonderful.  You can make new friends, get a little goofy, and just let loose. But, make sure you are doing all of that in a way that protects your health and safety.

When should you drop a course? by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 17 edited 01 1 When should you drop a course? by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

It can be a difficult realization to discover that your original academic plan is not working for you, and you’re struggling to meet the expectations of a particular course. Should you drop it? Or, you should you ride it out and see if you can pass?

 

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to stay in a class that you not doing well in:

DEADLINES: The first and most obvious question to ask yourself, is has the add/drop deadline passed? If the deadline has already passed, well, I guess the university has made the decision for you. Thus, it is important to make a note in your calendar at the beginning of the semester of any important deadlines, such as add/drop or submission for graduation. You don’t want an administrative oversight to jeopardize your future. There are actually two add/drop deadlines to pay attention to. The earlier deadline usually allows you to drop a course and get a full or partial refund. The second deadline usually allows you to drop a course, but you may not be able to get a refund for your tuition.  If finances are an issue for you, it is particularly important to note this difference.  As an aside, I am writing this blog post a week before the first add/drop deadline usually comes into affect in colleges and universities, so you may want to check your own university calendar too.

 

REQUIRED vs. OPTIONAL: Another important thing to note is whether or not the course you are considering dropping is a required course or optional. If it is optional and you are struggling, it may be easier to decide to drop it. However, if it is a required course, you need to consider when you may be able to take it again as you cannot avoid it completely. Some courses only run every two years, so you really need to check with your faculty and department before deciding to drop any required courses to ensure that you will be able to take it before your graduate.  In addition, you need to check to ensure that that particular course is not required for any future courses you want to take as that will also impact your timeline.

 

WORKLOAD: Finally, I would consider the impact of dropping this course on your overall workload. Will dropping this course help to give you more time to focus on other required courses.  It is important to get good grades in the courses that are directly related to your major and degree, so if dropping an optional course will allow you to do that then that might be a good reason to let it go. However, if you are struggling with the course for other reasons, such as not understanding the course content or other factors in your life that are impacting your ability to do well in class, you might want to look into resolving some of those issues before deciding to drop the course. For example, you could look into getting a tutor. Or, you might go to student services and see if you can get some other supports to help you to manage your time and adjusting to university better.

 

Dropping a course is not an easy decision, but sometimes it is easier to admit defeat than to continue fighting a losing battle. Remember it is about winning the war, not one little fight.

 

**All blog content is original created by Lisa Pfau and Patricia Huang. Please respect our intellectual property rights and do not copy any of this content without our prior permission.  However, please do feel free to share widely.

 

KICK PROCRASTINATION OUT OF YOUR MIND!! By Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 9 comic book edited final 01 LARGE KICK PROCRASTINATION OUT OF YOUR MIND!! By Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

“Procrastination may not take up a lot of effort physically…but it takes over the mind!” ~ Stephen Hall

 

To be honest, I procrastinated writing this post about procrastination…

…I put away my dishes. I filled my water bottle. I searched up some good music. I adjusted my writing lamp. I even posted a quote about procrastination to Instagram. An hour and half later here I am finally putting words on paper.

 

Procrastination seems to take little effort, but pretty quickly it becomes a job in itself, taking real effort avoiding the task at hand and filling it with other unproductive and likely unnecessary activities. So, what can you do to kick procrastination out of your head?

 

“Whatever form of procrastination comes in, learn to identify it, root it, and kick it out! ~ Jim Howard

 

Procrastination usually comes in for me in the form of small little administrative tasks or detailed searches on Google or unnecessary tidying or straightening up.  When I feel like I’m really busy scurrying around, but not really getting anything substantial done, I know that I’m procrastinating. I tend to do this when I’m nervous about a tasks or imagine it to be more difficult or painful than it is in reality, such as writing this blog post! Yeah, writing a blog post takes work, but once I get going it usually just flows. It’s the getting started that takes 80% of the effort. Fortunately, there are a few things I can do in those moments to get me back on track:

 

  • POSITIVE SELF-TALK: If I’m already worried about something, beating myself up about dragging my feet to face it will only make me want to avoid it more. Instead, I try to take a moment to be with my anxiety, acknowledge it, and reassure myself that it’s not as bad, hard, scary, whatever as I dream it to be. I also remind myself how many times in the past I have faced a similar situation and been successful. Finally, I even acknowledge that procrastination is normal, and take a deep breath and get started. As I said in the previous paragraph, getting started is often the hardest part.

 

  • I START: Even if I only finished part of what I planned for that day, I feel like I achieved something. Sometimes just putting pen to paper for 10 minutes is enough for me to get over the original obstacle that was holding me back and fueling my procrastination. Then, the next day it is much easier to get to work immediately because those 10 minutes helped to restore my confidence and reduce my stress. Instead of staring into a blank overwhelming abyss of possibility; there is something on paper and the finished post suddenly seems only a few keystrokes away.

 

  • BREAK BIG PROJECTS INTO SMALLER TASKS: Writing 50+ blog posts can seem overwhelming, but if I break it down into one blog a week that seems doable. Now, that I had a timeline, I can also start thinking of topics that might fit that time of the school year and plan ahead (in other words, use my usual procrastinating tactic of list making for good). This planning ahead will prevent me from getting trapped by my incessantly need to research and generate ideas when I’m avoiding writing an essay. No need to think of a topic for that week because I already have one planned out in advance. I can even break each blog post into parts (opening hook, introduction/personal story, tips, closing statement). Then, if I can’t get the whole post done at once, I can at least finish one section at a time.

 

  • SET DEADLINES: My blog post needs to be up every Wednesday morning at 6:00am, so I need to finish it before then. Granted, it is currently 9:45pm on Tuesday night, so I’m not setting the best example. But, come on, technically I still have 8 more hours to get it done. Of course, this situation tonight is not ideal and highly ironic given the topic of this post, but having a weekly deadline at least forces me to get it done. I also add other boundaries, such as my office closing at 10pm and not taking my computer home, so actually I only have 10 more minutes to finish up. But still, if I can’t finish by 10pm and I’m really stuck, I can take my computer home with me on the subway and keep working.  Not ideal, but it sure beats a 5:00am scramble. Setting mini-deadlines leading up to the big deadline can help to prevent an overwhelming scramble and poor job at the last minute.

 

  • REWARD YOURSELF: After I’m finished this post, in the next 5 minutes, I’m going to head home to watch a cheesy show about a Mountie and teacher in the early 1900s Western Canada on Netflix. The best part of all of that is that once I submit this post, it will be completely off my mind and I can enjoy my tv time and have a restful sleep without worrying about how I’m going to wake up at 5:00am to finish my post. Procrastinating by watching Netflix is fun too, but whatever you’re avoiding is lurking in the back of your mind, infringing on your R&R. It’s so much nicer when you can really enjoy a reward AFTER completing a task instead of  using it as a distraction.

 

Yeah, so we all know a lot of these tips.  In fact, you may be procrastinating by reading this article on procrastination RIGHT NOW!  That’s totally what I would do. Oh well…no one is perfect.  We’re all a work in progress. In fact, I went back the next day to edit this post one more time after it was online because I noticed some typos.

It takes time to break old habits and replace them with old ones (20-something days according to many lifestyle programs), so congratulate yourself for taking the first step and realizing you have a problem that you want to change.  Use that procrastination moment to your benefit and start to implement some of these simple steps to get yourself back on track. Just start, do your best, and let go… That’s really all we can do every day. 🙂

 

Both the written and visual content of this post has been created by and is the intellectual property of Lisa Pfau and Patricia Huang. Please do not replicate any of the above content without our consent. However, please do feel free to share this post and its authorship widely. 🙂

 

Before & After Editing Sample: High School English Essay Introduction

IMG 13221 2 300x297 Before & After Editing Sample: High School English Essay Introduction

Introduction for a High School Literary Essay – First Draft

Enigma Response

In the beginning of the play the woman, Helen, was begging the man, Paul, to “return” to her. Paul said that Helen had hurt him too much and would not change his mind. Helen begged and begged, but Paul still resisted. Then when Paul said that he can live without Helen, Helen decided to tell him the truth. She said because she just get to know love, she noticed that she never actually loved him. However she knows that Paul loved her and felt guilty about it. She said the only way to push him away is to hurt him. After Helen finished, Paul asked if she was leaving. Helen then brought up that that day was the day of their first kiss. Then she rips the calendar to pieces and exits. They would have reunited even if Paul stopped her or a simple embrace. Though Paul doubted her and didn’t do anything.

Introduction for a Literary Essay – Final Draft

How Do We Nurture Love?

At school, when two people coincidentally like each other, everybody expects them to go out and become a loving couple. However, just because they like each other does not mean that they are meant to be with each other.  In the play Enigma, by Floyd Dell, the two main characters – Helen and Paul – seem to be destined for heartbreak. Although Helen and Paul may be attracted to and care for each other, their actions and harsh words hurt each other over time.  They do not seem to be considerate, collaborative, and compatible, qualities necessary for a successful relationship.