Friday, November 30, 2012

In the midst of Finals Madness

Hello my fellow sleep-deprived, hardworking students!

Because we are at the stage of finishing up final assignments and preparing for those dreaded final examinations, it seems like it will be a busy time for everyone for the following weeks to come. So, I think it will be appropriate to write about relaxation for this week's blog.

While writing one of my papers, I came across an interesting article (by a Dialectical Behavior Therapist) that may help you relax during this very stressful time of the semester. Relaxing may be the last thing on your to-do list during examinations but this can be beneficiary to help you tackle and eventually, conquer your exams successfully!

When you are in a situation where there is little control you have in changing the circumstances that cause your stress, it can be helpful to have strategies to change how you react to the stressor. This can be helpful when studying for exams and you have anxiety that prevents you from doing your stuff. With those changes, then you can find calm in the midst of stress.

There are many techniques designed to help you calm the body, slow racing thoughts and quiet the mind.  The ability to use these strategies to change your stress levels often depends on trying a variety of strategies to find one that works for you and practicing on a regular basis.

According to Matta (2012), here are a couple of relaxation strategies that may be suited for you:

  •  If you're an auditory person, music can be an effective tool in reducing muscle tension and calming your mind. Not just the typical relaxation music (i.e. the calming sound of the waves of the ocean), nostalgic music can also assist in creating a calming effect. Nostalgic music calls to mind a sentimental experience that can give you the psychological comfort you may need to be able to relax. Listen to the music with your full attention; digesting the lyrics while letting the tone and tempo of the music capture you. You will become more relaxed as you continute to listen to your nostalgic music.

  • Physical techniques like progressive relaxation may be suited for you if you are having physical tension. Progressive relaxation involves tensing and releasing the muscles of your body until your body relaxes. An example can be: raise your shoulders to your ears. While straining the muscles of your neck and shoulds, you hold that pose for about 30 seconds. Then you relax, allowing your muscles to fall. Repeat. Also, I find physical techniques like going out for a walk/jog, yoga, and standing up and stretching your arms and legs can help.
  •   Lastly, I think the most helpful technique in the midst of finals madness is mindfulness. Mindfulness, or creating a focus for your attention, is a technique that can induce calm and provide focus. The central to the practice of mindfulness is breathing. TIP: Relax your body and try sitting quietly for several minutes. Breath slowly and pause at the top of an inhalation and at the bottom of an exhalation. These brief pauses can help you keep focused when your mind has a tendency to wander.

There is no one right way to relax.  Each person is different and different stressors might affect you differently.  However, relaxing during these stressful weeks can help you get your work done more efficiently. When you can solve problems and reduce external strain and pressure, it is helpful to do so, but when you can’t change the world around you, it’s essential to have strategies to get you through.


Matta, C. (2012).3 Ways to Relax in the Face of Stress. Pscyh Central: Learn Share Grow. Retrieved from

You can take a look at that article and some other strategies article found in this website.

Happy (mindful) studying!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Art of Interview Smarts

Hello everyone!

I don’t like exam season…I doubt you do either. I’m going to let Katrina work her magic and try to help us get through it.

Today, I’m talking about something completely unrelated…kind of. Magazines! Job Postings to be exact. It’s a magazine that the AA&CC subscribes to, and it’s linked to the website, which is pretty awesome.

At first glance, I wasn’t too keen on picking it up to read through it. Sure, the cover was interesting (a business woman with an epic mustache?!) but how could a magazine about job postings possibility interest me in the slightest? It turned out to be one of the most interesting things I’ve read all week (sorry profs, your textbooks aren’t as stimulating as you think).

In the November 2012 issue, various topics are discussed. Given that I’ll be seeking for a co-op job next semester, I was drawn towards the articles that discussed what to do during interviews. I touched on interviews in a previous blog post, but Job Postings has an added benefit: it includes interviews from industry professionals who are able to tell you exactly what is needed for success.

“Interview Smarts” on page 12 talks to Lisa-Marie Winning, an HR professional at Investors Group. Her biggest tip was about how to approach interview questions. She’s looking for “someone who approaches the answer with excitement, not someone who gives me the sense that it was a taxing experience, that they are glad is over.” Don’t talk about your experiences like they were a pain. Talk about them as learning experiences, as challenges that you enjoyed and thrived in. Lisa-Marie wants a candidate who enjoys working really hard and is inspired by the results of their efforts.

On a related note is the article “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…”. It talks about how to answer the classic interview question: “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” Personally, this is one of the questions I dread. It’s so simple, but a small slip-up can make you sound incompetent or like you’re lying your pants off (even though you’re not). The article is great in providing a system to create the perfect (truthful) answer.

Check out Job Postings at the AA&CC (AC213). Drop by anytime and grab a copy; you’ll find it’s an invaluable resource when you’re job hunting!

I hope your exams treat you nicely!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reading: The SQ3R Method

Happy Wednesday folks! Wednesday blues got you? That pile of readings you need to do for your classes still at the back of your head, bugging you... but you try to convince yourself you don't need to do it now, because you have been attending the lectures diligently. I have been talking about doing the readings and always emphasizing that you should do your readings BEFORE the lecture. But you are still not convince, then this post is all for you!

You often ask yourself why should I be spending hours reading when my professor will be talking about these topics in class... But an important concept to always take note is that university is not like highschool, where you can go to class and understand everything the instructor is saying without reading further about it. The volume of reading you have to do in university can attest to this.

Professors always assume (or expect!) that you can read the textbooks yourself.. on your own time, so usually they would not teach from the textbook. This is not to say that the readings assigned by the professors are irrelevant to the topics being discussed in the lecture.What the professor is doing in class is expanding on important ideas from the readings and providing new information, which is not covered in class readings.

So why is it important to read before your lectures:
  • It will help you to have a better understanding of what it is going to be discussed in the lecture
  • It will help you take notes more efficiently in class
  • It will help you prepare for the midterms and final examinations better, as this can help you avoid procrastinating a day or two before the exam.
 I know that it is difficult to initially sit down in front of a thick textbook, and start reading (refer to my 5-minute plan blog post). Setting daily goals and cutting your tasks in portions can definitely help make the amount of reading that you have to do manageable. Also, make sure you keep up with your readings weekly, to avoid procrastination for exams.

A couple of tips when covering class readings:

SQ3R Method:
Survey the chapter before you start reading. Make an outline of the chapter, using headings, if the author has not provided one at the beginning of the chapter. Always start by reading the chapter summary first, which will “prime your brain” by giving you a sense of the major themes of the chapter.

Question while you survey. Turn headings, subheadings and/or titles into questions as a way to test your knowledge of the material. Write down any questions that arise as a result of your readings that you would like answered at your next lecture.

Read for comprehension. If your professor has indicated that some chapters are less important than others, you will want to set your priorities accordingly.  Make connections between the sections that you are reading. It may be helpful for you to form visual images if this is a strategy that helps you to learn and remember. Choose a method of recording key information that works best for you. Some methods include underlining or highlighting, making brief notes in the margin or post-its, developing diagrams, making up test questions, and listing key words.

Recite after you’ve read a section. Ask yourself questions about the material you’ve just read. Rephrase the
material into your own words in written form (make notes) as this will help you to better remember what you
have read.

Review your textbook notes within 24 hours. Discuss the material with a classmate or try teaching it to someone else. Try aiming for another major review of your textbook notes once a month until the final exam.

If you need to know your strengths and those that you need further developing, there is a small assessment at the back of this tipsheet that can help you figure out what those are exactly.  Also, for further strategies in reading refer to the tipsheet.

Happy reading,

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Be your own boss!

Job searching can be kind of a bummer…and even when you get a job, it might not feel like the one. You know what I’m talking about. The perfect, idyllic, dream job that you’ve been waiting for your whole life. Sometimes I wonder to myself…why don’t I just start my own bakery? I mean, how hard could it be?

While it’s not the easiest path in the world, entrepreneurship is a growing field. Nearly 2.5 million Canadians are self-employed! I bet it feels awesome to see your business grow and prosper, and know that it was the result of your hard work.

If you have ever considered starting your own company, or you’re thinking about starting one now, there are a few steps you might want to consider:

Step 1: Entrepreneurial Self-Assessment
Realistically assess your potential as an entrepreneur. Figure out the qualities and skills you need to have to run a successful business, and whether you have those skills. Make sure you understand what kind of an impact this might have on yourself, your family, and your finances.

Step 2: Explore New Business Ideas
Here’s where my cynical side comes out: don’t take your first idea as the perfect idea. Not every idea translates into a realistic business. Consider the following questions:
- Does the idea solve a consumer want or need?
- Is there a demand for the good or service?
- Will this be profitable?

Step 3: Feasibility Study
Evaluate whether it’s possible to turn your idea into an actual product.

Step 4: Develop a Business Plan
You need to figure out an action plan for your business. This will answer the questions: where do you want to go, and what are you going to do to get there?

Step 5: Secure Financing/Funding
You’re going to need some source of funding to get your business going. Popular sources include:
- The Summer Company program from the government of Ontario may qualify you for a loan of up to $3,000. Check out for more information.
- The My Company program, also from the government of Ontario, may qualify you for a loan of up to $15,000 for a full-time business. Check out for more information.
- The Business Development Bank of Canada is Canada’s small business bank, and they offer financial and consulting services, amongst others.

Step 6: Education and Development
There’s no such thing as too much education, especially if you want to start your own company! A popular way to gain some more insight into the business world includes joining clubs. Student in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship (ACE) and the University of Toronto Entrepreneur Club (UTEC) are all clubs at UofT that you can check out.

No matter what you choose to do, I'm sure you'll meet success! 

- Farihah

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting focused: The "Zeigarnik Effect"

Hi folks, I hope everyone's midterms went great!

I know I have been talking in my previous posts about getting organized and having a to-do list will help you get through your lengthy list of readings and assignments, but there is a book that posited that making a plan can actually help you get focused.

 So why is it hard, especially for students to focus sometimes? There is this phenomenon that is known as "Zeigarnik Effect".

Bluma Zeigarnik, 1921
Russian Gestalt psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik suggested that we remember uncompleted tasks better than completed ones. Furthermore, it has been theorized that the unconscious mind wants the conscious mind to complete a forgotten task, so it keeps sending little reminders. This has been demonstrated in several research studies.

In fact in a recent study, the researcher had university students think about their most important exam. Students in the control group were told to think about their most important social engagement on their calendar. Half of the students thinking about their exam were told to make a specific study plan: what, when and where they would study. No one did any actual studying during the experiment.

Then, all students were asked to complete word fragments that were specifically constructed. Depending on how the words were completed, they could refer to studying. For example, the word fragment re__ could be completed as the word “read,” but it could also be “real” or “rest.”

If thoughts of the unfulfilled studying were still on the student’s mind, the Zeigarnik effect should influence students to create more study-related words. This is exactly what happened, but only for those students who thought about the exam but didn’t come up with a plan. For the other students who developed a study plan, their minds were cleared of exam-related thoughts.

So how can you use the Zeigarnik effect to stay focused? If to-do items pop into your mind while studying, write them down and make a plan to complete them. As you become more proficient with your study plans, you should find yourself less distracted by pesky thoughts and more focused on the task at hand.

Baumeister, R. and Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower. New York, NY:  Penguin Group.

I hope this helps!

Till next time,

Friday, October 19, 2012

5-Minute Plan

Now that midterms and assignment deadlines are in full swing, it's definitely hard not to fall behind your readings and school work. Procrastination is a tough habit to break and students are among the most vulnerable groups. The reason for this is that the rewards for students are further along the future and that there are no supervisors overlooking your progression and productivity. Let's face it, everyone procrastinates. Procrastination can reflect poor work and bad grade. It can also take a toll on the students' mental health and well being. Also, high level of stress from procrastination can definitely prevent you from finishing that to-do list you intend on doing successfully. So, how to break out of this habit? That may be the ultimate question.. well, at least in regards to this blog post.

Personally, I find the hardest thing to do when tackling heavy loaded and time-consuming school work is starting. Being able to start a task even with weeks of planning can be really tough, especially when you're not in the right mindset. The best step for this is commiting to work on the task for atleast 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, you can do something else if you want to but make sure you make yourself come back and do the task for another 5 minutes. No matter how unpleasant the task is or whatever excuse you have for not doing it, you can talk yourself into doing something for 5 minutes. Then, eventually you would progress. After working on this for the first 5 minutes, the next couple of minutes will be so much easier! Getting some work done gives you that exhilarating feeling of completion and may be that kick you need to get you started. 

Sitting down, cleaning your desk, organizing your notes and books can actually help you put yourself in the right mindset to start on your task. I also find that thinking about the disadvantages of putting the task on hold can be that booster you need to start. You may not want to do the task because it may be boring, hard, or the fear of failure. However, if you procrastinated before, you would have realised that there is more pain in procrastinating than in not doing your tasks (i.e. bad grade for a paper or a midterm). So, make yourself do the task and stick to a schedule.

Remember to not overwhelm yourself. Thinking about all the things you need to do may be the reason for you procrastinating in the first place. So take one step at a time. Focus on one task for now or break it down into smaller tasks. After completion of one, move on to the next. You'll be done that exhaustive to-do list in no time!

Rewarding for completing a task can definitely help! It gives me that flow I need of moving forward. I would give myself a little treat like chocolate (I love pastries!) or even dinner with friends after completing one task. Positive reinforcement is a great way to reinforce a good study habit.. and eventually, procrastination will be a thing in the past! 

All the information from this blog post can be found on this tipsheet. So good luck and now give yourself that much needed 5 minutes to start working on your first task! :) 

Until next time,

Monday, October 15, 2012

We're Getting Personal!

Getting a Little Personal

Hello UTSC!

Continuing from my last post, those of you thinking about grad school should start sharpening up your writing skills. Most applications will ask you for a personal statement, or letter of intent. This is your chance to eloquently prove to the administration that you deserve acceptance into their program.

“Oh hey…a personal what-now?? There’s more??”

Ohhh yeah there is! Your personal statement is an opportunity for you to go beyond the generic application form and stand out from the other candidates. It could be the deciding factor on whether you’re chosen above someone else.

“Wait, so...what do I dooooo????????

There’s a few simple steps!

1. Research your program of interest:
Know what the school is looking for. You cannot use 1 application for all of your schools. They must be unique! Research the institution and department to understand their vision, goals, and what they look for in their students. For thesis programs, include information about professors you may want to research with.

2. Know your strengths:
Talk about your strengths and how they fit in with the program. To begin, take a look at your resume, ask friends and family, and even discuss it with a professor or TA.

3. Brainstorm:
Reflect on what your life experiences. Don’t start editing your thoughts; just write down everything that comes to you. Some questions to consider include:
-       What made you want to continue your studies?
-       What plan do you have once you’re done with your studies?
-       What unique experiences can you bring to this area of study?
-       Why does this program appeal to you?

4. Write your first draft:
Write your first draft, and be real – don’t try to fill your statement with fluffy words you think the selection committee wants to hear. Be confident, focus on specific experiences, and take a break after you write your first draft.

5. Edit:
After a break, re-read your statement and think about these questions:
-       Did you answer the application questions?
-       Does it reflect you?
-       Is it a cliché?
-       Have you chosen the right experiences to highlight?

If you still feel lost, bring your personal statement draft to the AA&CC and schedule an appointment for a personal statement review. Come by early! Appointments are going fast.

Best wishes with your grad school dreams!


Friday, October 5, 2012

Midterm Madness

Happy October folks! I hope everyone had a good and productive week. Thanksgiving is just around the corner.. that means midterms (and/or assignment deadlines) are fast approaching. I hope everyone is settled into their classes and on top of their readings and homeworks. However, if you are not and still on that summer vacation boat.. don't sweat it. You have a week or so to prepare, as well as a long weekend to catch up on your readings.

We are halfway through the semester, but this also means that midterm madness is about to be on full effect. Like others, I'm not the biggest fan of this time of the year, because unlike finals, everyone still has classes and assignments on top of all that studying. If you are having a difficult time surviving.. no worries, here are few tips that can help you survive and hopefully pass your midterms and assignments with flying colours:

Prepare yourself. I know having 7-8 hours of sleep is almost nearly impossible to achieve when you're a university student but make sure to get that couple of hours of sleep before tackling a long to-do-list. Caffeine may not be the best over-all and only strategy to keep yourself going for the day (or even for the night). Staying hydrated, taking 10-15 naps in between your classes are only some of the ways you can fight off that sluggish feeling.You can check this article out from webmd.

Have a little nest for studying. I am one of the many students who can't study at home. There are just too many distractions! (i.e. my bed, tv, and even my puppy). If you are like me, then the library and study rooms in school are the best place for you to study for those dreaded midterms. Give yourself a couple of hours before and/or after your classes, to stay in school to finish a chapter or two. Turning off your phone and your computer can help as well. Also, either study alone or have a group study.. but whichever works best for you in absorbing all the materials, the better.

Keep a to-do-list nearby. Having a to-do-list is definitely a helpful reminder during midterms. While constantly having questions like "Is this due today? Or next week? What else I need to do?" keep circulating in my head as I try to finish reading a chapter, so, having a to-do-list in front of me helps me concentrate and fight off that anxiety. The feeling of checking off tasks in your to-do-list may also be the booster you need to get through that list. Plus, it feels amazing to see a complete to-do-list during this stressful time!

Note-taking. Note-taking can be time consuming, especially during these stressful times. Highlighting and writing small notes on the book or journal articles can be an alternative to note-taking. Or if you don't want to write on your books, I find what really helpful is taking small notes on post-its and sticking them to the pages on the book. Writing short summary on post-its or index cards can help you memorize important terms and definitions.

Break. Yes, it may not be part of your to-do-list but this may be one of the important ones. Having a 10 to 15 minute-break during an hour or two intervals keeps you going. It helps you refresh your mind and makes you concentrate better.

Study skills counsellors are here to help. You can book an appointment to help you improve your study habits and grades. You can do so, through your intranet, found under the calendar (on the left tab).

Good luck!!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Grad School....wait what?!?!

Hello again everyone!

Welcome back to a new school year.

As we look ahead to long semesters filled with studying, working, studying, sleeping, and studying, many of us are also considering graduate studies. If you’re in (or hoping to be in) the grad studies boat, today’s post is all for you!

Wait….did I just say GRAD SCHOOL? Ohh yes I did. If you’re in your last (or second-last) year of undergrad and you’re thinking about grad school, it’s crunch time! Application deadlines are looming fast and there are lots to do. But never fear, the AA&CC is here!

If you are considering any types of post-undergrad education, your first objective is to research different programs and schools, and figure out what works with what you want to do post-graduation. Essentially, you need to evaluate your goals and match them up with a program.

Grad school applications are much more rigorous compared to undergrad applications; they typically include an application form, specific pre-requisite courses you must take to be eligible, transcripts, references, and personal statements. They may also include specific test scores, resumes or CVs, writing samples or supplementary forms.

Your best bet with grad school applications is to start early! If you’re having trouble figuring out grad school applications, come in to the AA&CC (AC213) to ask questions or check out this tipsheet:

There will be a Professional & Graduate school fair this upcoming Thursday, October 4th from 11:00AM-3:00pm in the UTSC gym. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet representatives of each of the schools & programs and get an idea of what attending that school would be like. Everyone is welcome and entrance is free! See you all there :)