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

by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 27 01 1024x205 Learning how to sell yourself successfully: The art of a good scholarship application
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?

HealthyRelationshipsComic 1024x205 Healthy Relationships Start with Healthy Communication by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang
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.

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.

AddDropComic 1024x205 Should I stay or should I go? Tips on adding/dropping courses by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

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.

IMG 20190209 143304 541 e1549740980594 691x1024 Should I stay or should I go? Tips on adding/dropping courses by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang
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. 🙂

4 Tips on how to Maximize your Holiday Break

It is easy to promise yourself that you will get caught up or get ahead during the holiday break, but once family come over, the parties start, and all the distractions begin it becomes almost impossible. Then, before you know it, you are back to work and even further behind that before. Here are four simple things you can do to try to make the most of your time off, while still enjoying the festivities. Check out our YouTube video 

Happy Holidays!

PFAU 21 Christmas Card Comic smaller file Happy Holidays!


Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Clients:

I thought that this year I would do something a little bit different and write you a Christmas letter about all the changes that have been happening at PFAU: Academic writing, editing, & coaching experts over 2018.

As some of you already know, we moved into our own private office space at Room 34, 300 Bloor Street West in February 2018. This space allows PFAU to have multiple students and tutors working at the same time. It also provides privacy and consistency for students. Most of all, I hope it creates an overall feeling of warmth, welcome, and calm that is often lacking in our hectic lives on campus or starting up new careers.

We have also hired a couple new tutors and editors over the past year or so, including: Lief Strong (ESL Expert), Ebony Rose (Law School application process coach), Diana Sparling (technical editor), Christie Wong (Art History & Psychology tutor), and Patricia Huang (student intern). We are hoping to hire more tutors, editors, and coaches in 2019 to meet the growing subject specific tutoring and standardized exam preparation needs of our clients.  Feel free to refer any friends or colleagues to me that you think might be interested in joining our team.

I recently got over my fear of social media, and have started posting daily content on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m also active on LinkedIn, YouTube, My Google Business Page, and of course our website blog. You can find us and follow us by searching for @pfau_academicwriting or Lisa Pfau on any of these sites . My goal is to provide comprehensive tips and support to students and young professionals of the classroom. Plus, it’s kinda fun coming up with inspiring, yet funny content. Looking forward to engaging with you as part of the online community.

Finally, after a long-time in the dreaming stage, PFAU is going to offer a series of student events that are geared towards helping to resolve practical issues that many young people face, such as: financial literacy, budgeting, mental wellness, stress relief, and finding a job after graduation. There are currently four event series scheduled each month between January and May 2019. If all goes well, we hope to continue these mini-events into the following academic year. Our first event will take place on Wednesday, January 16th from 6:00pm to 7:30pm in our office space (see EventBrite for more details). So, please come out and gives us your feedback. Subscribe to our blog or add us on social media for regular updates.

Have a wonderful holiday break and I look forward to hearing from many of you in the new year!! J

Sincerely,

Lisa Pfau

Sleep-Study Balance by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 20 edited 01 Sleep Study Balance by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

 

It’s the day before your exam. You sit down to review those final 10 chapters. By lunch time, you’ve only managed to get through two. You start reviewing Chapter 5 while eating your dinner. It’s 9:00 p.m. and you’re only halfway through Chapter 7. Midnight creeps up and you still have two more chapters to go. Your exam is at 9:00am. Do you still up late and keep studying or go to bed and get at least 7 hours of sleep? Studies show that a good night’s sleep has a positive impact on your memory and recall compared to cramming in those last two chapters before your exam late at night.

 

Great, you say, but what if I go to bed early and miss important concepts that are then on the exam! Yeah, that’s a problem too. The key is to create a balance between study and sleep. Here are a three tips to help you out:

 

Start studying 1-2 weeks in advance: Of course, the most obvious and repeated advice is to start things early so that you aren’t stuck at the last minute. “Easier said than done”, said one procrastinator to another. As a rule of thumb, I would not study any new material the night before the exam, but leave that night for review only. That way if I don’t get through all of my review notes, I am confident that I have the materials somewhere locked in my brain. “Easier said than done,” said the other procrastinator to the first one. Right, so how to put this into action?

 

First, mark a reminder in your calendar at the beginner of the semester that notifies you three weeks before each exam to sit down and make a study plan. This will force you start thinking about the exam earlier than usual.

 

Second, during that week, sit down and review all the units that you need to cover before the exam. Figure out how many days you have to study. So, if you are starting two weeks in advance, realistically you 9 days to study (14 days – 1 day for review + 2 weekends where you’ll probably goof off = 9 days).

 

Third, figure out how many chapters you need to cover each day in order to finish up in 8-9 days. Make sure to account for the other exams you also need to prepare for.

 

Fourth, write these goals down in your calendar or a notebook, and make sure to start studying on the first day no matter what. Even if you don’t get far, at least you started and are beginning to building up momentum and get your brain set on studying.

 

Fifth, keep track of your progress, so that you know if you need to put in an extra day or late night. It is easier to catch up over a couple days than it is over a couple hours. Then, if the night before your exam you are focused on review, you can stick to a reasonable bedtime even if you don’t finish everything, knowing that you covered it all at least once.

 

Only study what you need to know: So often as students we get carried away with wanting to cover absolutely EVERYTHING. That’s not realistic. You need to study smart. There are a few things that can do to help you to identify what to study and what to leave out.

 

First, attend the review session at the end of term. The TA or Professor will often provide you with a study guide or at least drop some hints. Don’t hesitate to ask what will be covered in the exam a class or two before the end of term, if they don’t explicitly lay in out for you. You’re doing yourself and your classmates a huge favor.

 

Second, attend lectures and tutorials regularly. The Professor is usually only going to test what he/she covered in class, not the whole textbook. Reading the whole textbook may provide you with useful supplementary information, but it likely will not be necessary for doing well on the exam. Instead, focus on understanding the key concepts, definitions, and examples that the TA and Professor bring forth in tutorials and class. You can also check for bold text or sections in the textbook. These are usually important key terms/concepts. The end of chapter review pages also help you to identify key concepts/terms. Knowing what you’re heading into, can help you to get what you need done before the exam and sleep easier the night before.

 

Ask for help sooner, rather than later: If you don’t understand something, don’t wait until the day before the exam to ask for help. Ask a friend, your TA, or Professor, if there is a concept in class that you really don’t understand after going to the lecture and reading the appropriate chapter in the textbook. The Professor’s office hours are there for a reasons, so please use them. Moreover, showing that you are engaged and attempting to understand the materials helps you to build a positive relationship with the Professor and TA. This relationship will be important in the future should you require reference letters or want to discuss a grade appeal. Trying to understand a difficult concept while under exam preparation pressure is an almost impossible task, so give yourself a leg up by asking questions early.

 

Being realistic about your study plan means that you definitely will be able to head to bed early before your exam, and possibly feel more rested during the whole exam period so that your brain is fresh and ready to go on exam day.

 

**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.

 

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Avoid Plagiarism & Maintain your Academic Integrity by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 11 comic book thick edited final 01 Avoid Plagiarism & Maintain your Academic Integrity by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

 

Recently a well-known and prize winning American poet was accused of plagiarism by her contemporaries and her reputation completely sullied. Plagiarism is a major academic offense, and a very common mistake made by 1st Year Undergraduate students. In order to avoid a failed assignment or scary encounter with your Professor, there a few things that you can do to protect your academic integrity:

 

When in doubt, cite: Although you can be penalized for citing too much (ongoing debate among Law students), that is a far better offense than citing too little or not at all. You will not be kicked out for being honest about your unoriginality. Thus, if you think that the ideas that you are using in your essay are based upon someone else’s, make sure to cite the article or book that you got them from. Citations are not just for quotations, but paraphrasing as well. Paraphrasing means taking someone else’s words or ideas and putting them into your own. It is often taught in lower grades that paraphrasing can be presented as your original thoughts, but once you get into university and college paraphrasing without a reference is a serious offense. The main idea of a book, the argument/theory in an academic article, or a discussion by your Professor in class needs to referenced. Generally any evidence you are using to prove your point needs to be cited. If you are still unsure about whether or not your are plagiarizing, Turnitin.com has an interesting quiz where you can test yourself. Your analysis of the data is where you have a chance to be creative and present some original work of your own. In other words, you take other’s information and thoughts and provide your own opinion about them. If you are really creative, maybe someone else will cite you one day!

 

Consult a Style Guide: Another thing to watch out for when referencing material in your essay is the referencing style. Different faculties and departments use different referencing guidelines. The Social Sciences, for example, tend to use APA/ASA style, while Historians prefer Chicago Style and the English department sticks to MLA. If you are confused about the difference between these different referencing guidelines, it is best to consult a style guide and confirm with your TA/Professor. You can usually find reputable style guides in your university or college bookstore, or else online with a quick Google search. Look for one’s that have been published by or reviewed by academic institutions to determine their accuracy and relevance. One of my favorites is OWL Purdue. I find it easy to follow and comprehensive. I also really like how they give you the citation format for both in-text and bibliography, as well as a real example of what the citation would look like when input into your essay.  it is a resources I suggest to all of my First-Year students.

 

Take detailed research notes from the start: Many students avoid putting in citations because they find it tedious, or have lost their references. They read books and articles and know the main ideas, but haven’t noted exact page numbers or even the source while doing their research. Then, when it’s time to write the paper, they remember the content, but not where they have gotten it from. At this point, citing sources seems like a big pain in the butt.

 

The best way to make citing easy is to take detailed research notes that include the authors name, date, text (if you are using the same author more than once), and page number in one notebook/document that is solely dedicated to your research essay. Every time I write down a quote or paraphrase an idea while reading a text, I write down a simple citation in brackets after each note, even if it’s from the same author and on the same page. It is unlikely that I will remember those details later when I’m writing up the paper.

 

It is also a good idea to add any materials that you are think relevant to your bibliography immediately. Many university/college libraries have software, such as RefWorks, to help you to organize your research materials and automatically generate bibliographies. Most libraries also provide free courses on how to use the library system and citation software throughout the year.  You can usually find this out by consulting your university library information desk.

 

Don’t risk your academic integrity! Cite any and all ideas that you believe not to be your own. Referencing others work gives credit where credit is due, as well as, helps you to engage in the ongoing academic conversation in a respectful and professional manner.

Exercise has a Positive Impact on Stress Relief by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

PFAU 19 FINAL 01 Exercise has a Positive Impact on Stress Relief by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang

We all know that feeling of relief after running around outside after a ball as a child. The sweat is dripping down our brow, we’re catching your breath, feeling light and free as if you have accomplished something. Well, you have. You have pumped your body full of endorphins and released it of cortisol and adrenaline. This process prevents you from becoming that kid who acts out in class or talks back to your parents. The whole point of recess is to let kids blow off steam. So, we know this about small children, yet once we become young adults, we seem to forget this it. It’s no wonder we’re all so stressed out!

 

Stress has been linked to heart disease, asthma, obesity, headaches, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression & anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, premature aging, and even premature death. According to Harvard, movement has a positive impact on both your physical and mental health; when you feel good, you perform well at work or in school. Stanford University has found a positive correlation between a positive attitude towards studying and academic outcomes. In other words, when your body and mind are in good shape and you feel positive about your studies you are more likely to study well than when your body and mind are riddled with stress.

 

The problem is not that we don’t know the benefits of exercise; but rather, that work, life, and school take time away from a much needed recess. Here are a few tips on how to integrate exercise into a busy lifestyle:

 

Walk Don’t Drive: The Washington Post reveals that individuals who live in neighborhoods that require them to drive are significantly more like to be obese than those who take public transit, bike, or walk. All those seemingly negligible jaunts on foot to the bus stop, running errands, or meeting a friend are start to add up. You may not realize it, but a 10 minute walk to the subway stop on each end adds up to 40 minutes of walking by the end of the day. That is A LOT more movement than getting into your car, driving to class, and walking from the parking lot to your next lecture. Walking saves your money and inches on your waist, so why not give it a try?

 

Make Exercise Social: One of the reasons that I enjoy group exercises classes or intramural sports is that I get chance to meet new people and socialize. Going to exercise becomes more focused on looking forward to seeing friends than burning calories. If you do not like classes, you can always ask a friend to become your gym, jogging, or walking buddy. By making exercise social, you are getting both the benefits of exercise, as well as connecting with people. Killing two birds with one stone.

 

Do Something that you Like:

Instead of getting into the latest fad, why not just choose an exercise that you enjoy? Something as simple as taking the dog for a walk each evening gets you moving and those endorphins pumping. Or, maybe you like playing a sport, like badminton? You can find lots of intramural options and drop-in classes at  your local campus  (U of T, York, or Ryerson), or free games at local community centres. Oxford Research demonstrated that enjoyment of an activity is a major motivating factor in starting and continuing physical activity. It’s a lot more fun to do something because you like it than because ‘it’s supposed to be good for you’?!

 

Invest in a Locker:  The biggest improvement I made to my workout protocol was to invest in a locker at the gym that I attend.  The locker totally eliminates the excuse that you forgot your gym clothes or shoes or water bottle or whatever. It also makes going to the gym that much more convenient. I don’t have to carry everything along with me, and at the end of the session, I can leave all the heavy gear like shoes and shampoo in my locker so I can truly relax after the work out.

 

Cultivate a Positive Body Image:  Going to the gym because you want to lose weight is a valuable goal; however, it can make you focus more on appearance that the overall physical and mental benefits of exercise. Olmsted and MacFarlane seem to suggest that high sensitivity to body appearance doesn’t correlate to high instances of exercise, but actually has the opposite effect. A focus on appearance can result in frustration once you hit a roadblock and are not getting the results that you hoped for. I find that I’m more likely to exercise when I focus on the fun, stress relief, and benefits to how my body feels; rather than, how it looks. I can’t escape aging, but I can make it a lot more pleasant by keeping active and making time for wellness.

 

Even though your regular gym session may be the first thing to go out the window as things get busy and finals approach, it is probably the last thing you should give up. A short session is better than no session. It will clear your head, improve your mood, and help you to manage the stress of finals.

 

**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.

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.