Top Ten Career Podcasts for Students

As a student, you want to make sure you are exploring your career options so that you can align your education and experiences towards your career goals. I’ve found the top ten career podcasts for students and listed them below, along with some recommended episodes. These are in no particular order (this is not a ranking), so make sure you read right to number ten!

1. Happier in Hollywood

This podcast is a spin-off from Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier, which she makes with her sister, Liz Craft. Happier is a great podcast, but it’s not specifically career-related so didn’t quite make the list. Liz Craft created Happier in Hollywood with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, to talk about how to be happier while living in Hollywood and working as tv and film writers.

This is in my top ten because I like to learn about different industries, and this podcast gives some behind-the-scenes details on what it’s like to work in the tv industry. Even though I work in a completely different field (education and academia), I find a lot of their lessons and tips relevant. They talk about how they work together, work-life balance, how to pitch, and – my favourite – when to swear in a meeting (which is industry-specific – in many industries, the answer is never).

They share about their own career paths and often interview others in their industry, to talk about career paths and goals. Whether you’re interested in pursuing those positions (tv and film writer, casting director, etc) or not, seeing the career paths of others can help you envision your own.

Picking a new work mantra is helpful for anyone! Even as a student you could use a good mantra! A phrase to remind you of why you’re doing this and why it’s worth it.

Climb the Wall and Enjoy the View talks about hitting the wall, but then finding the energy to celebrate your accomplishments (so important for students!).

In Make Your Own Relationships at Work, they talk about why building relationships at work is important, and also why it’s important to take time off.

2. Women at Work by Harvard Business Review

Although this podcast is aimed at women, so many of the topics are relevant to anyone who is starting, or even already has, a career. They cover topics from salary negotiations, leadership and work-life balance, to career planning and side gigs. It’s a good career podcast whether you’re a student or a mid-career professional, and you’ll find all sorts of great information here.

We Answer Questions from Early Career Listeners answers some excellent questions from early professionals, and I’m sure you’ve wondered about many of these. Questions are about career planning, dealing with weird work situations, and working well with your boss.

In Seeing Ourselves as Leaders, they talk about leadership – and not just for those in official leadership roles. As a student, you can start building many of the transferable skills required for good leadership, such as critical thinking, inspiring others and taking responsibility for decision-making.

Step into the Spotlight talks about how to be visible at work in a positive way – how to get noticed so you’ll get the promotion.

3. Ask a Manager

Unfortunately, this podcast recently ended. But I am keeping it on the list because the focus is on listener questions, and also because she includes some really hilarious questions and situations that will keep you entertained. This podcast generally focuses on useful questions, like how to deal with awkward work situations or how to figure out how to work best with your boss. But there are also episodes about lunch thieves, weird coworkers, and inappropriate bosses. Hopefully you’ll never encounter any of these, but if you listen to this podcast, you’d be prepared!

How to Say No to Your Boss is helpful for knowing how to set some boundaries with your boss. It can be hard to say no to your boss – and to know when you can and can’t do it, so having some guidance will be helpful for you.

You might like Help – I work for a Micromanager! because you might run into a micromanager at some point, and these can be difficult to deal with. This kind of manager probably got where they are by knowing everything that was going on and controlling it, but at some point that has a negative impact on their employees. What should you do in this situation?

How Do I Start a New Job on the Right Foot? will be helpful as you go into any internships, co-op positions or part-time jobs as a student, and then also when you are launching your career after graduation.

4. HerMoney with Jean Chatzky

Chatzky’s advice is really helpful when you’re starting out – she talks about paying of debt (student loans), starting to invest for your retirement, and maximizing your company’s benefits. There are also episodes about negotiating salaries and overcoming financial obstacles. What I like about this is that she is a realist – she gives advice and provides options depending on your situation.

An Insiders Guide to Cars: Buying and Selling will be helpful for anyone who is looking to purchase a new car.

Reinvent Your Career will be helpful, even if you’re inventing your career. This episode is really about figuring out what your career path should be, and will apply whether you’re chaning careers or just starting out. I’m very excited to read the book mentioned here, too! I’m sure I’ll post a review once I’ve finished it.

How to Earn Seven Figures is for the go-getters who have strong financial ambitions. This episode is an interview with Rachel Rodgers, who also has a wonderful podcast (I will give it an honourable mention, but I did not include it here because I consider it more of a level-two career podcast). Rodgers’ stance is that rather than having a restrictive budget, we should all figure out how to make more money, and I love that idea.

5. More Money

More Money is a Canadian personal finance podcast hosted by Jessica Moorhouse, and she’ll give you all the advice that’s specific to Canadians – which is helpful because so many personal finance podcasts and websites are US-based and not everything applies for us up here in Canada. Rather than learning about IRAs (American Retirement Funds), she talks about RRSPs and TFSAs, which you’ll find more useful here.

Why Getting Good with Money Doesn’t Have to be Complicated gives some great tips for having a healthy money mindset and simplifying your financial dilemmas.

How to Secure Your Dream Job During a Pandemic has lots of career-finding advice that will still be relevant outside of a pandy. I highly recommend this one when you’re beginning your career search.

How to Master the Art of Self-Promotion will help you brag about your accomplishments and show off your skills and achievements, without sounding braggy. This is such an important skill for networking and job interviews, and something all students should be working on.

6. TGIM

This is a podcast created by a Toronto-based networking group, Monday Girl, and they only have a few episodes so far but they are great. They interview women about career transitions and success tips, and about their career paths. It is so incredibly valuable for students to start exploring the career paths of others to see more possibilities for themselves and maybe even stumble on their dream career.

Stressed & Unemployed is an interview with a top recruiter, who shares her tips on how to stand out and get hired in a competitive environment.

Ryerson Grad to Raptors Reporter follows the career path of a sports reporter, and also talks about the discrimination she faced on her path. This is a good listen for POC and people who want to be better allies in the workplace.

7. Women With Cool Jobs

This podcast is exactly what the title sounds like! The host interviews women who have cool jobs, to find out more about their jobs and how they got there. This will help you see the millions of career options that exist out there and might open your eyes to your dream career! I have listed some recommended episodes, but honestly just look at the cool jobs in the titles and find ones you like!

Paleontologist Puts Dinosaur Fossil Puzzle Pieces Together interviews a paleontologist, which is fascinating becuase this is a job we all learn about in elementary school or on tv, but don’t actually know much about. The interviewee talks about her career path and what her work actually looks like.

VP of Casting at CBS Studios Finds Top-Tier Actors and Talent for TV Shows was fascinating because, as I mentioned above, I am fascinated by the film industry and always find takeaways in industries that are so different from my own. The interviewee talks about her own career journey and how she went from being an entry-level employee to a VP at a massive company.

Informational Interviews and How They Can Help You Find A Cool Job is exactly what the title says: a no-nonsense guide to why you should be exploring your career through informational interviews and how you should do it.

8. Career Contessa

I’ve put this podcast on the list becuase it will help you not just begin your career, but navigate it the whole way through. There are episodes for managers, aspiring managers, new employees – you name it, you can find advice here.

How Much Are You Worth And How to Ask for a Raise gives great advice on asking for a raise. This can be one of the more difficult topics for early-career professionals because we don’t tend to talk about salaries and wages in an open way in our culture.

The Dos and Don’ts of Making a Mistake at Work goes over how to handle making a workplace error. This is something none of us want to do, but handling a workplace error can mean the difference between getting fired or earning your boss’s respect.

5 Red Flags to Avoid in a Company tells us what to look for in our job-search to make sure we end up at the right company. The job-search process is not just about you finding a job – it’s also about screening the workplace and making sure you end up in an environment that you like, and that will support your career growth. This episode will help you find just that.

9. Frontburner

You might be wondering why I’m including a news podcast in this list. Some career advice that I received years ago was to keep on top of what’s happening in the world and in my industry. It’s helpful for making small talk, showing that you connect your job to the bigger picture (the whole company and the industry), and also for networking. Knowing what’s going on in the world can give you an advantage when you get the opportunity to spend some time with higher-ups.

I’m not going to recommend episodes, because you should just listen to some of the most recent ones. Frontburner takes a deep dive into a headline of the week and provides additional background information, so you can take 20-30 minutes to learn more about a story without spending a ton of time reading or watching the news.

10. Freakonomics

When I worked in a business setting, I was always finding ways to talk about these episodes at work, so I just kept listening to it. It’s kind of a random podcast, but if you sift through you’ll find ones that are either of personal interest to you, or relevant to your industry. These have helped me provide examples in business discussions, or start conversations, or just add some random facts in a networking situation. I’ve recommended my two favourites, but just take a look through them and find ones that are interesting to you!

I have gotten a lot of mileage out of the Trader Joe’s episode. You’d be amazed how many times I’ve used the contrast of Trader Joe’s business model in conversations. They also talk about decision-making and how much trouble humans have making decisions when there are lots of options, which can help you in working with colleagues and communicating options (keep it limited).

This episode on American Individualism actually talked a lot about cultural difference and used Hofstede’s model of national culture to analyse American culture. This model can actually help you to understand cultural aspects of communication and working that you may encounter, which is why I recommend this one. While the American individualism factor is interesting, you will also learn about other categories of cultural difference in this model.

Where to find these podcasts?

I listen to all of these podcasts on the Spotify app on my iPhone or iPad, where I can download them and listen to them on or offline. I believe most of them are available on a variety of services, or you can listen online through the links I’ve provided.

Want more career-focused content?

Check out my posts on University Student Career Exploration, Understanding Your Skills and Interests, and How can I explore my career options?

You can also sign up for the upcoming Beginning Career Exploration webinar on Eventbrite.

Share your thoughts!

What do you think are the best career podcasts for students? Did I miss some important ones? Share them in the comments or send me a message at email@chooseyouruni.ca.

Best Methods for Dealing with Student Stress & Anxiety

Thanks to Inna from The Daily Sunlight for collaborating with me on this post! We connected on Twitter over how difficult student stress and anxiety can be to deal with, and thought we could share some of our best tips. 

Being a university student is hard! Don’t feel bad for being stressed out or feeling anxious – remind yourself that you’re in a stressful situation. Dealing with university stress is challenging! The main thing is to try to alleviate some of that stress and anxiety so you can enjoy your time and focus on learning.

A Few Tips on How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety in University:

Blue marble background with a pink text box. Text reads: Reducing student stress & anxiety. 1. Use the available resources; 2. Organization is key; 3. Don't compare yourself to other students; 4. Be proud of your achievements (bit and small); 5. Everything does not need to be perfect; 6. Prioritize your health; 7. Eat well; 8. Don't be afraid to ask for help; 9. Explore your campus; 10. Take time to enjoy the experience. read more: chooseyouruni.ca."

1. Use the Available Resources 

Your campus is likely to have resources to help you deal with university stress, such as counsellors or student counsellors who may be able to support you. They may have tips for stress relief, or they may be able to talk you through some planning that could be calming, or they may know of other campus resources that may help. There is probably also a study skills centre to help you update your study skills so you feel more confident about your course materials.

Want more? Check out the post on The Top 5 People to Know at Your University to read about some university resources, and check out my Upcoming Workshops & Events for the next webinar on how to build confidence for university.

2. Organization is Key

Personally, I feel much less stressed out when I am organized, so having some good organizational systems can help. I work with a semesterly calendar and a weekly and daily to-do list. When I have a lot of deadlines (stressful!), I will go through my to-do list and figure out what can wait another day or longer.

The Eisenhower Matrix may also help – this is where you break your to-do list into four sections:
1) Urgent & Important (you have to get this done, it’s due soon);
2) important but not urgent (you need to start working on your final paper early, it’s important but you have time left);
3) urgent but not important (you have to fill out a form or do some admin work on a deadline);
4) not urgent or important (no deadline, not that important).
Go through your to-do list and categorize each of the tasks into the four categories. This may help you prioritize all of your tasks and focus attention on the ones that need to be done first.

I’ve also seen suggestions to only focus on the next most important task. Sometimes the urgent tasks take our time but actually aren’t very important, so make sure you think about what should be done next to reduce your academic anxiety.

If this particular method doesn’t work for you, the internet can provide a lot of advice. What do other students do? You can see how I stay organized, or go on any social media site to see more stress management techniques for students. Try looking for #studygram on Instagram for suggestions!

Want more? You can read about how I organize my time and priorities as a PhD student in my post on Time Managment and Prioritization for Students, or sign up for my online workshop on Time & Priority Management on Eventbrite.

3. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Students

Another stress management tip for is: don’t compare yourself to others. You might look around at students around you and wonder “How are they all doing so well? Why aren’t they struggling, too?” But you don’t know. They might not be doing so well, and they could be struggling, too. Don’t worry about them. Worry about yourself. You got into the same program – you’re just as capable as everyone else. What’s that quote? “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

You can also try leveraging your jealousy – use it as a motivator. Do you see red when the girl you sit next to in bio tells you she got an A+? Ask her what study methods she uses, or ask her if she wants to study together. Maybe she has some techniques that would be helpful for you. Be open to learning from others and you might learn something helpful.

Beach scene with a pineapple and white text that reads, "Comparison is the thief of joy. Focus on your own progress. Chooseyouruni.ca"

4. Be Proud of Your Achievements (Big and Small)

Make sure you are practicing gratitude and celebrating wins, even small ones. Did you submit your payroll form today? High five! Did you brush your teeth today? Excellent work! Take some time each day or week to recognize what you’ve accomplished. You got into uni. You’ve survived X semesters and you’re still there. You aced that exam last year. Your final paper in that one course was great. Or, the final exam in that one class was horrible but you still passed. Acknowledge the successes you’ve had. If you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything today or this week, write a ta-da list and put everything on it: made bed, brushed teeth, showered, made breakfast for mom, walked the dog, studied for 20 minutes… whatever you’ve managed to do.

What’s a ta-da list? I learned about tha ta-da list from Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier (episode 134 if you want to listen). Instead of making a to-do list where you write down what you haven’t done yet, on a ta-da list you write down what you already accomplished: ✅ made bed, ✅ brushed teeth, ✅ read newspaper, etc. This helps recognize what you managed to get done even though you might FEEL like you haven’t accomplished anything.

5. Everything Does Not Need To Be Perfect

Don’t be a perfectionist. Sometimes DONE is better than PERFECT. I feel that student stress and anxiety as I creeped closer to a deadline for an important assignment that I feel too intimidated to even start because I don’t think I could do it as well as I wanted to. But that procrastination doesn’t help – eventually you just have to act. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Sometimes just getting something done is better than being perfect. I would rather get 50% for a not-very-good paper than 0% for not handing in a paper at all!

The academic pressure of university is already quite high – when you add perfectionism to this, it can create additional stress. Focus on identifying your perfectionist tendencies so you can counterract them with logic.

6. Prioritize Your Health

Finally, don’t forget to prioritize your health, both mental and physical. Rest and breaks are super-important! I can’t stress this enough. I am often asked questions like, “How can I study for 23.5 hours a day?” Don’t do it – you need breaks, both short breaks between studying, and longer breaks to do something relaxing, get enough sleep, get some exercise, see friends and family, eat healthy food, etc. Which brings me to my next point…

7. Eat Well

As a student, you are busy and that could lead to bad nutrition. I know some people who eat a lot of junk food because they do not have time to cook. I understand if you do this once or twice a week but don’t eat junk food all day. It is not good for you. Take some time for yourself, cook and eat well. Eating well can also help you focus better with your studies and give you more energy than if you’re just fuelling with sugar-filled caffeinated drinks.

Taking care of your body will help you deal with all the student stress and anxiety that you have to face. Being well-rested, getting exercise, and eating nutritional food will help your body and mind stay sharp so you can focus on your courses.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

If you are new to the University, you might be shy to ask for directions or simply ask any question. Don’t be! Ask all the questions you have. No one is really going to help you unless you request help. The same goes for your professors. If you don’t understand something in the class, ask your professor during or after the lecture. 

If you need more information on how to deal with university anxiety, and feel that your stress has levelled up to anxiety, you may also need to speak to a mental health professional. If your stress or anxiety levels are so high that nothing works to help calm you, you should reach out to a professional for help. Sometimes just talking it through and coming up with a plan can help. Academic stress is a real challenge, and university students face very high levels of stress and anxiety. Make sure you take care of yourself by asking for help when needed.

9. Explore Your Campus

When you are on a lunch break or whenever you find yourself with extra time, explore around the University. Visit the library, check out the cafeteria, and go outside. Explore the beauty of the University on your own, you’ll get to see things and learn a lot of new things that might be helpful to you. 

Make sure you explore all the services that are available, too. You can join student clubs and associations to meet friends, access career and academic advisors, improve your research skills – universities have supports for all of these, but sometimes you might have to do some searching to find them.

10. Take Time to Enjoy the Experience

University is stressful but it is also a very enjoyable experience. You get to learn a lot of things but also get to meet a lot of new people. Some of them can even become good friends. It is important to enjoy the process. 

We all want to achieve our goals. Having good grades as well as maintaining them are usually a student’s main goal. But, we shouldn’t forget to take care of ourselves and take a break once in a while if we need to. We need to care about both our mental and physical health in order to perform well at school and deal with the stress and anxiety of being a student. University can help students achieve their dreams but we have to use the right resources that it offers and set timely, achievable goals in order for that to happen. Hopefully, we are able to focus on the right things and achieve our dreams. 

Exam Anxiety

Exam anxiety can be a very real challenge. You’re stuck in an environment that may create additional exam tension (due to distractions, temperature, one of those tiny desks that folds into the arm of the chair…). Additional exam pressure is created by the time limit.

So what can you do about exam stress? When you’re preparing, practice working under time limits, so that the day of the exam can feel less stressful. Get plenty of rest the night before your exam, so you can stay focused and finish in the time left. Start studying early, far ahead of time, so you don’t feel like you have to cram. These steps can all help you be more prepared and feel calmer as you go into an exam.

Let Me Know:

Are you a University student? If yes, how do you reduce your stress and anxiety? If you were a University student, how did you manage to focus on your studies and alleviate some of your student stress and anxiety? Let me know in the comments! 

Thank You to Inna from The Daily Sunlight!

Thanks again to Inna for working on this post with me! Her blog The Daily Sunlight is great – she writes candidly about her life and is very active in the blogging community. If you want to know more about blogging, definitely check out her work!

These are my favourite posts from The Daily Sunlight:

If you’ve ever felt a little bit lost in your life or career, you’ll probably relate to her post The Lost Girl Who’s Living in Her Own World. She writes about feeling lost and the anxiety we face when we have to come up with our big plans for the future. 

Are you a fan of Friends? I mean the iconic 90s tv show with the NYC roommates. I think we’re all fans of having friends in our lives 😉 If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably love Inna’s Blogmas 2020 posts where she posts Friends quizzes, trivia, and updates from her Friends advent calendar.  

Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Time Managment and Prioritization for Students

How I Organize my Time and Priorities as a PhD student

This week I’m sharing how I manage my time and prioritize my work. I’m currently a PhD student and I have a couple of part-time jobs. I also used these same methods when I was a full-time undergrad with a part-time job, and then working full-time and doing my Master’s part-time. As with study skills, each person has to find what works for them. Take what helps you from this and discard the rest. Take some time to experiment and figure out what time management and prioritization methods will work for you.

What is Time Management?

Time management is about how you organize your tasks and your time. It’s about how you plan and organize yourself in order to get everything done. Organization and prioritization are key time management strategies, so we’ll look at all of these together. Undergraduate students, like you, have a lot of competing priorities and demands on your time. The biggest benefit of effective time management will be accomplishing more and meeting your deadlines. Time management skills benefit students not just during your time at university, but also into your career. Gaining a reputation for being an effective worker who can meet all their deadlines and get all their work done pust you ahead of your colleagues. Especially if they have to ask for extensions on their work.

Organization & Prioritization

One of my top time management tips is taking some time at the beginning of each day, week, month, and semester to get organized and determine your priorities. I love to make lists and organize myself. I could easily spend more time on list-making than actually completing the tasks on my list. But that would be really ineffective!

Regularly checking in on what you have left to do will help you avoid missing any tasks or deadlines. Following my plan below, you’ll have a master list of everything you need to do. Then you will always know what the next most important thing to work on is.

Another great time management tip is not to get caught up in unimportant tasks. I’m sure you could easily spend hours making pretty cue cards for your upcoming exam. But is that the best use of your time? If it helps you learn the material, or helps you relax, then maybe it is. Otherwise, make your cue cards quickly and get on with more important work.

Semester Schedule

I create a semester schedule with all my deadlines on it so I can monitor them. My semesters have always been four months long, so I use four monthly calendars. I’ve used whiteboard calendars in the past. Right now I use a paper calendar. You could also use a digital calendar (Google, iCal, Outlook, etc). The reason I do not use a digital calendar for this is because it can be difficult to find a view that easily shows the level of detail I like. On a paper calendar, i colour-code all of my commitments and deadlines so it’s easy to glance at it.

I use this semester calendar to manage my priorities so I can allot the correct amount of time to them. At least once a week, look through and see what deadlines are coming up so you can get the tasks done. Look a few weeks ahead, too. That way, you can start any big projects ahead of time and have more than a week to finish them.

At the beginning of the semester, add all your course and project deadlines to this calendar so they are easy for you to review. That way you can always see what’s on your plate.

Weekly To-Do List

I also make a weekly to-do list, which is organized by topic (these are my courses and jobs: for example, EDUC 100, EDUC 200, research assistantship, bookstore job, personal, blog – whatever you have on the go). See how I do this in the image below. Each page in my planner is broken into four sections so I have eight boxes, and then each box is a category and I list everything I have to do underneath it. Normally, I have a lot more things on my lists – I took the picture before I finished populating it so it would look tidy for the picture, but hopefully it gives you the idea of how I organize myself.

I always note any upcoming deadlines beside the to-do item in brackets, just as a reminder. The most important items or biggest projects are usually at the top of the list because they are the first ones I add. I use my semester calendar and my course syllabi to fill this in, and then add more items as the week goes on. By the end of the week, most boxes are pretty full!

Anything that doesn’t get done carries over to the next week’s list or gets de-prioritized (which means it wasn’t very important). If you have items that are continuously not getting done, it is time to ask yourself whether they are actually important. It may be time to just delete those items, or save them for the semester break if you’re not getting to them.

Prioritization of my work each week. 
Picture of a notebook with a two-page spread broken into eight boxes. Each box has a title: Personal, Courses, Scholarships, CYU, Etsy, GA-Ship, PhD and a blank. Under each headline is a weekly to-do list for that topic. This helps me manage my time & priorities.
my weekly priority list by topic

Time Management

I like to organize my day the night before, but if I’m really busy I’ll do it first thing in the morning. Many people have different preferences for this! I use deadlines to set my priorities and review these and update my priorities when I make my daily list, so I don’t miss any deadlines.

Weekly/Daily To-Do List

As you can see below, I create another 8-box spread for my weekly to-do list and then have a list for each day. If I have a lot of meetings, I’ll list them at the top or bottom of that day’s box so I dont have to keep looking back at my calendar. I fill out the week as I go – although I will often plan ahead to future days. As you can see below, I have a lot of meetings that day so I don’t have very many tasks on the list.

How I organize my weekly/daily to-do list for time management and prioritization. A two-page spread broken into 8 boxes with the days of the week listed in them. The eighth box says "Whenever." Only the first box is filled in. At the top, there are three taskss listed, and at the bottom all my meetings are listed in a different colour.
my weekly to-do list

I also sometimes have days that are full of meetings – this year it has usually been Thursdays. I have to remind myself that on these days, it’s okay to get less work done and I need to lighten up my to-do list so I can go to my meetings without stressing.

Time Management Each Day

I look at my meetings, classes, or appointments each day and organize my day around those. Making sure to book some breaks and also find the blocks of time when I can get work done are really important each day. I usually aim to have a couple of study blocks that are 2–3 hours long uninterrupted. If I’m really busy, I might go up to 4 hours, but it’s very tiring and I can’t always focus that long, so I prefer 2 or 3 hour spots.

I take fairly long breaks between the study blocks and meetings. I usually work for a couple hours each morning, then I might have a noon or 1pm meeting, and then I’d take a one hour break before going back for another 2–3 hours. Then I might take a longer break and work in the evening, or take a shorter break and just work a little bit more before taking the evening off.

I have a dog and I dog-sit as well, so I often spend those breaks walking one or more dogs. I find this really relaxing, and it forces me to get up and out of my house, which has been particularly helpful during the lockdowns of 2020/2021, and on days when the weather is cold or rainy and I might not otherwise motivate myself to go outside. Leaving the house and moving around also make it feel more like a break.

More Pro Tips for Time Management & Prioritization

My Pro Tips

When I have days with no meetings or very few meetings, I will have more focused study sessions. I try to book new meetings on days that already have meetings so that I can have more days without interruptions.

I am also in a few study/productivity groups each week, and I have a group of fellow students I can message on Whatsapp to set up new ad-hoc (as needed) study groups. We meet in Zoom, set a goal and an amount of time we will work, and then check in at the end to see if we’ve met our goals. Some of the groups do timed pomodoros and tell you when to take a break – one that I’m in does 40-minute work sessions and then a 5-minute break, another one just works for 2 hours solid.

I am not strict with times. I often sleep late, so if I get up at 10am, I just have a bit longer day and will probably study in the evening. Some people function better by having a start-time that they stick to, but that hasn’t worked for me.

If I am having a lot of trouble focusing or getting started, I will start with an easier task, or use pomodoros so that I can just focus for 25 minutes or so.

Pro Tips from Others

Monotasking

It turns out that humans are not actually good multitaskers. Are you surprised? I’m not! Monotasking is the opposite of multitasking – it’s the act of focusing on only one thing at a time. There’s a whole book about this, called Monotasking by Staffan Noteberg, and I think the concept is helpful. Basically, you pick your most important task and you focus on it. Close your email, hide your phone, set an alarm and work for a set amount of time. When your timer goes off, take a moment to re-prioritize your work, and then either do another period of monotasking on that task, or switch to another task, whichever is most important.

The Golden Triangle

I read about this one in The Pie Life by Samantha Ettus. This book is not specifically about time management, it’s more about life management and trying to find balance when you have multiple commitments, like a career, a family, friends, and other extracurriculars you care about. Instead of using a scale metaphor for balance, she talks about life being a pie, which we can slice into the sizes we want. We just can’t add more pie. So if you are spending more time in one category, it will have to come from somewhere else.

But she describes the golden triangle for efficiency: most of the places you have to go should be in the area between the places you go most. So, if you are a university student, maybe the three places you go most are home, the university campus, and your part-time job. This means that your grocery store, bank, dry cleaner, dentist, and wherever else you have to go, should be in between those three places. This means that your commute should almost always be within the triangle, and you should be able to go one place on the way to another. This will save you commute time because you can stop somewhere on your way to somewhere else.

(And yes, I know there are numerous other meanings of the Golden Triangle, but this is what she calls it in the book so it’s the phrase I’m using here).

Conclusion – Try Something New

Like studying, you will have to experiment and find what works for you. I have tried less planning and also more structured time management, and I find that this is what works best for me. It may help you more to start at the same time every day – this is something I am still working on! You may find that you are a morning or evening person and have more focus at certain times of the day. Take some time to try different methods to manage your time and priorities and please reach out to let me know what works for you!

Workshop: Time Management and Prioritization for Students

I host an online workshop to help undergraduate (bachelors degree) students learn how to effectively manage their time and priorities. We go through all the tips above and more! It’s a short time management course that will help you get organized and get everything done. You can find all the details here and see when it will be offered next.

More Resources

My previous posts on Study Skills, How to Read Your Course Syllabus and Tips for the first Week of the Semester will also help as you plan your time and priorities over the semester.

You can also take a look at my Quora responses to see the other advice I’ve offered to students’ specific questions. And if you want to ask me something specific, please submit it through the Contact page.

sheCareer blog shares “16 Work-Life Balance Tips for Students” that may be useful. We all know students have to balance so many priorities, it’s a juggling act! Check out their post to learn more.

Sign up below to get on the email list – get notifications for new blog posts, webinars, workshops, and study tips straight to your inbox!

How to Read Your University Course Syllabus

The university course syllabus is almost like an agreement between the professor and their students, so you want to make sure you know how to read it. It spells out the expectations for the course. It will usually tell you what you are expected to do (assignments, exams, deliverables, readings) and how you will be evaluated (grading breakdown). The course syllabus may also provide additional resources, information on deadlines and extentions, and other course policies.

How to read your university course syllabus: 1) review all the details; 2) read the whole thing; 3) read it again; 4) follow any instructions. Chooseyouruni.ca
How to read your university course syllabus

How to read your university course syllabus

  1. Review all the details at the start of the term so you can plan ahead.
  2. Read the whole syllabus! Don’t skip anything – it could be important.
  3. Review it again when you are working on important assignments during the semester. There may be information in it that you forgot about since the semester started.
  4. Follow any instructions listed. If your professor wants to be contacted in a specific way, make sure you do that.

Grading Breakdown

How will you be evaluated in the course? Here’s the grading information to look for when you read your university course syllabus:

How many deliverables are there?

Fewer deliverables means you will have fewer opportunities to earn your grade. If you are nervous about a course, this may mean more pressure. On the other hand, like many other students, I don’t like taking exams, so if a course was just one midterm and one final exam, I would try to search for a replacement.

But of course, more deliverables means you will have more due dates. This is a different kind of pressure! Weekly discussion posts or short papers can really add up and take a lot of time, so make sure you’re prepared to devote more time to this course.

How is the grade weighted?

I would evaluate this similarly to the number of deliverables. Some courses only have a final exam, and it makes up 100% of the grade. Or you might see a course that’s 50% midterm and 50% final exam. You might also see a certain proportion of the grade for participation, or presentations, papers, quizzes, etc.

The main thing that you should look for here is whether the grading scheme plays to your strengths. If you don’t like to speak up in class, participation or presentation marks might be harder for you. If you are not as strong at research papers as exams, you might be able to find an exam-based course instead.

Assignment Details (Deliverables)

What kinds of assignments will you have to do in the class? How many are there?

When you have choices between courses, this can be really helpful. If the types of assignments are ones you are strong at, then you will probably find the course less stressful. You may also not have to spend as much time working on them. I really enjoy research papers, but I don’t like exams very much, so I would try to find courses with final papers instead of exams. If you work well under pressure and prefer to have exams, you can look for that, too.

You should also take a look at how many assignments there are. If the grade is broken down into 10 assignments worth 10% each, you might spend a great deal of time on low-stakes assignments. If you want to spread your work over the semester evenly, you might prefer this. But if you would rather just have a couple of big assignments, you could look for that instead.

Readings

When I was advising first-years, I would warn them about this because sometimes, you have to read the whole book! Yes, you might even be expected to read multiple whole books during the semester. I have seen this happen in undergraduate English and Humanities courses before, and I’m sure it happens in many arts, humanities and social sciences courses. I have also definitely seen this at the graduate level, although it hasn’t happened in any of my courses (yet!).

If you are a slow reader, or if you’re really not into reading, you may want to try and avoid these courses. But I will also say that just because a syllabus does not have a bunch of books listed, doesn’t mean you won’t be reading a ton in that course! You are going to university, so you should always be ready to read a lot for all of your classes!

Weekly Schedule

Your university course syllabus will probably tell you what will be covered each week. When I teach, I include a table in my syllabus with the date, readings to be done that week, topics or activities in-class, and any deliverables. I use this to plan my own schedule and block off time for marking papers. As a student, I use this to plan my semester schedule, so that I know when I have to block of time for multiple deliverables. It’s also helpful if you have to miss class for some reason, because you will know exactly what you missed.

Instructor Information

The syllabus will likely contain your instructor and TA’s office hours and preferred contact info. If your instructor lists a preferred contact method, make sure you use it. If you are not available during office hours, do not be afraid to reach out to the instructor or TA to try to find an alternate time. They are typically on campus more often than just their office hours, and now everyone knows how to use video conferencing software (like Zoom of Microsoft Teams), so they can probably set up an appointment, either in-person or remotely, to meet with you.

Important Policies

The course syllabus is kind of like an agreement between the professor and their class. This means that your prof will usually include any important policies that you need to know about. This might include policies for late assignments (such as: can they be late, how can you get an extension, what are acceptable reasons for extensions, how many marks will be taken off…), academic honesty (what is acceptable and what is not), missing class, and information about classroom conduct. Even if the syllabus is long, make sure you read it so you are aware of any requirements or policies. If you ask your instructor something, one of their first responses will be “It’s in the syllabus!” so make sure you’ve checked.

Hints, Tips and Resources

Some instructors (but definitely not all) will include some hints, tips and resources in the syllabus. I have seen campus writing resources included for classes that require papers, or information on using specific style guides (such as APA or MLA), or even hints about what will be on the exams. Don’t ignore these tips when you read your university course syllabus! They can help you excel in your course!

Seven tips for reading your course syllabus: Policies: What do you need to know? Deliverables: What are the assignments? How many are there? Instructor: How can you contact them? Hints, Tips, Resources: Look carefully for these! Weekly Schedule: What will the semester look like? Readings: What are the readings? How many are there? Grading: How will you be graded? Chooseyouruni.ca
Seven tips for reading your university course syllabus

What would you look for in a university course syllabus?

I know that you don’t always have the option to change your courses, or find one that you’re better suited to. However, you can also use the information in the syllabus to help plan your semester. For courses that don’t play to your strengths, you will probably have to devote more time, and the assignment and deadline information can help you plan out your semester.

What is important to you when you are selecting and planning your courses? What do you look for (or what would you look for) when you’re reviewing a syllabus? Comment below!

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Tips for the First Week of University

Are you a soon-to-be university student starting in September? Or maybe you already started university but you are returning for the next semester? I recommend following these tips for the first week of university to get your courses started off right!

1. Make a Friend in Each Class
2. Attend Every Class
3. Meet Your Professor
4. Review the Course Syllabus
5. Do Your Homework
6. Update Your Study Skills
7. Organize Your Semester

Make a Friend in Each Class

Connect with at least one student in every class during the first week of each semester at university. They don’t need to be your best friend, but exchanging contact info with another student will be helpful if you don’t understand something, or if you end up having to miss a class for some reason.

If you’re an introvert, this can be especially difficult. I understand. But the benefits outweigh the awkwardness! Plus, as you go through the semester, that one person will probably help you meet other students (in a less awkward way), so this early investment will pay off. A lot of students don’t know anyone in the first class, so gather all your confidence and say hello to someone! They will probably be happy that you did.

Attend Every Class

In university, the first week is not a freebie! The first class is actually really important, so this is one of my top tips for the first week of university – you will get the course syllabus, which explains everything you need to know about the course: the assignments, the grading scheme, the readings or textbook, and often a week-by-week schedule for the course. The professor will probably also give details that are helpful but not included on the syllabus.

I’ll also highlight a significant difference between high school and university here: Your university semester only has about 12 weeks (depending on your university and schedule), so that’s only 12 classes. This is not like high school where you had classes more than once a week. University courses are packed, and even your very first lecture or seminar will be full of content. If you miss that first class, you could be missing some base knowledge that will be built on over the semester. Plus, if your professor reviews the syllabus, you might miss some hints or tips about how to get a high grade.

Meet Your Professor

Reach out and say hello to your professor! You can go to their office hours, or you can just go up and speak with them at the end of class.

Your professors are human, too, and don’t always get to know every student – especially in large lecture halls. Putting a face to a name will help you make a connection with them, so that if you do have questions later on, they will have a good impression and know that you have been showing up.

Are you shy or nervous to talk to your prof? Here are some things you could talk to them about: What made you choose the course? What are you most interested in learning? You can also ask questions about the course, but make sure they weren’t previously covered because it will seem like you weren’t paying attention. You can also ask if the prof recommends any particular study methods or resources that weren’t in the syllabus, or if they think there are campus resources you should check out (but, again, make sure you don’t ask something they already mentioned).

Review the Course Syllabus

This is one of the most important tips for the first week of university. Make sure you review the whole course syllabus. Key points to look for:

What is the grading scheme?

How will you be graded? This will help you determine what you will have to focus on over the semester. For example, if the course is 50% midterm and 50% final exam, you will be spending a lot of time studying before these exams and should allocate time appropriately. But if the professor requires many small submissions each week, you will have to make sure your time is distributed over the semester.

What types of assignments will you be doing?

What are the types of assignments that are required in a course? If the assignments rely on your strengths, then that will give you a smoother semester, but if not, you may want to start looking for resources early on.

For example, I am not great at memorization but I am very strong at essay-writing. I know that I will struggle in a course that is entirely exam-based and relies on memorizing dates, names, vocabulary or formulas, and I will need to spend more time reviewing and studying each week, and before exams. But if a course has research papers, I will be more comfortable completing it.

When you’re starting university, I would recommend connecting with resources for your early assignments. University essays are usually quite different and more complicated than what you’ve done in high school, readings are harder, and exams typically require you to direct your studies more. One of my top tips for the first week of university (or even earlier) is to research the resources available to you on campus. There are probably workshops and offices that can support you as you upgrade your research, writing and study skills, as well as your professor and TA’s office hours, so take some time to seek out these resources and arrange to make use of them for all your early assignments. See Update your study skills below for more information.

What are the important course policies?

Your professor may have information on assignment extensions, office hours, classroom expectations and more in the syllabus. They may indicate their preferred contact method, information about extensions or late assignments, as well as linking to important resources (like your university’s academic integrity policy).

What does the semester schedule look like?

If you know the types of assignments you’ll be working on, you can plan for the semester. At many universities you may still be able to change your schedule during the first week, so if you look at all the details above and find that a course is not a good fit you may be able to take it later or find an alternative. Be sure to check the policies for your program and university before you change your courses, though – you may have to pay a fee or receive a transcript notation for doing this.

Do Your Homework

Week one is not a freebie! You might think showing up is all you have to do, but you need to keep up on your homework as well, even during the first week of university.

I have heard that the first week is optional, but this is not the case. The professor usually reviews the syllabus and provides information about the course. The professor may also provide tips or hints about what you will be graded on. You wouldn’t want to miss that! Missing the first class has always made me feel like I’m starting out already behind, and I don’t recommend it.

Update Your Study Skills

Every semester, actually every day, is a chance for you to improve your study skills. You will naturally improve over time, but experimenting with different methods and finding out what works for others. I have a post on study skills, and your university will have resources for you as well.

Many universities run study skills workshops at the start (or even throughout) the semester. I highly recommend making time for these. You will think you already know everything, but there are still more skills for you to pick up.

Additionally, many universities offer one-on-one support where you can get feedback on your paper writing and other study skills. University is not the same as high school, so I do suggest looking these up and making time for them.

Organize Your Semester

I maintain several calendars for each semester.

Monthly/Semester Calendar

I use 4 monthly calendars to map out my semester. You can use what will work for you – I prefer to use paper ones. I add all my classes, regular appointments, and deadlines on this calendar. This calendar gets posted beside my desk for easy viewing, so I can always see my upcoming deadlines.

Weekly/Bi-Weekly To-do List

I have a smallish notebook that I use for my planner. I use a ruler to break each page into four boxes, for a total of eight boxes on each two-page spread. The 8 boxes on the first two pages are my weekly to-do list. I put each subject at the top of a box: Each course gets a box, my research assistantship gets a box, my part-time teaching job gets a box, personal items get a box, etc. Then, I write down everything I have to complete or work on that week in the box, with a little square next to it so I can tick it off once it’s done. I like to do this in pen and colour-code it but I realize that’s not everybody’s jam!

This means I might have a box with a title of English 101. Then, under that title for this week, I have empty boxes with tasks next to them. For example, the tasks might be: Read chapter 1 of text, post discussion online, start paper outline. If there are any upcoming deadlines, I note them next to the item like this: Read chapter 1 (Sept 10).

When I am in multiple courses, I update this list weekly because the tasks change so quickly. However, in quieter semesters, I will only update it every couple of weeks because I am continually working on long projects. As an undergraduate, you will probably need to update it weekly if you’re in courses.

Daily To-Do Lists

In the next two pages, where I also have 8 boxes, I put the days and dates of the week at the top of each box. In the 8th box, I write Whenever. These are my daily to-do lists.

Each day, before I start working, I plan what I would like to get done that day and plot it in that day’s box. If I don’t have time to work on something today, I might put it in another box this week. If I am really busy, I might put something on Friday so that I know I can ignore it fore a few days.

I find this system of a semester, weekly, and daily organization (calendars and to-do lists) works well for me. It helps me keep track of short-term deadlines, like weekly readings, as well as long-term projects that I need to start early.

What do you think are the most important tips for the first week of university?

Here are some additional resources and lists from other students and professionals. Please let me know if you find other resources that have been helpful for you, or if you have other tips! I am always looking for more. You can comment below or find my contact information here.

The sheCareer blog has a good list of the 5 Tips for your Start to University Life that you might like.

The Olden Chapters post on How to Prepare for a Successful College Semester, which is US-based but still helpful.

Another older post, but these things never go out of style, Chloe Burroughs posts on 7 things I wish I knew before I started University.

Gabby in the City has a rather old post, and US-based, but it’s still relevant. Check out 100 Things to Know Before College.

Let me know what you wish you knew when you started at university!

Understanding Your Skills and Interests

Understanding Your Skills and Interests

Part of the university experience is getting to know and understand yourself. This takes some awareness and self-reflection. Reflecting on how your personality and skills relate to different careers can be helpful. Understanding your skills and interests early on will give you an advantage for career exploration and even course and program selection at uni.

Even if you already know what career you’re headed for, continue to learn about yourself and your career options during your degree. Every career is nuanced and you’ll have to pick what kinds of organizations you want to work at, who you want to work with, etc.

How can you get to know yourself better? Identify your aptitudes and interests by reflecting and speaking with those who know you to answer the following questions:

What are your Strengths?

Make a list of all your skills – everything you are good at. This isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s much easier for us to identify the things we are not so good at. But it is also important to be able to identify your strengths.

Here are some suggestions that may help with your list, and there’s a list of some sample skills below in case you need some inspiration.
→What do you think you are good at?
→What do people come to you for help with or advice about?
→Ask your friends, parents, teachers, coworkers: What do they say your top skills are?
→Are there any school subjects that are easier for you? What are the tasks that are easier for you in your courses?
→What can you do that not everybody can do?

Examples of Skills

Here are some examples of skills or strengths:
→Language skills (such as reading comprehension, writing and written communication)
→Critical thinking skills (such as research and analysis, synthesizing research, analyzing situations and contexts)
→Creativity skills (such as communicating through a variety of media, looking at situations from different perspectives, and creating innovative solutions to problems)
→Quantitative and logic skills (such as math, stats, coding, debate)

Make sure to read my post about transferable skills here for another list of skills you have likely acquired in your university studies.

What is your Learning Style?

What kind of learner are you? Think about the courses that you do the best at, and also, for topics that you find more difficult, what helped you finally understand?
→Do you prefer courses that require memorization?
→Do you like building logical arguments off of research?
→Is it easy for you to analyze and synthesize information from a variety of resources?
→Do you enjoy doing research and learning a lot on a specific topic? Do you get lost in a “rabbit-hole” when you start researching?
→Do you enjoy writing and trying to find the best way to communicate an argument?
→Do you like looking for and finding research resources and reading old documents to find info?
→Do you learn best when you practice calculations until you know how to do them on your own?

What are your interests?

I used to have so much trouble answering this! I didn’t really do anything outside of school but read books and watch tv, so I wasn’t really sure what I was interested in. I would encourage any university student to go out into the world and try more things than I did until you can answer this question. Don’t just think about the activities that you love, but what aspects of them you enjoy. For example, the following activities may relate to these aspects:

Sports – Strategy, teamwork, physical activity
Art – Interpreting and communicating the world in creative ways, practice & patience, improving skills
Debate – building logical arguments, understanding different perspectives, analyzing situations
Gaming – strategy, teamwork, planning
Community activities (volunteering, school clubs, church groups, community work, etc) – teamwork, social support, giving back
Working retail/food service – teamwork, meeting new people, making sales, helping customers

Ask yourself these questions to help determine your interests:
→What do you get lost in and don’t notice time passing?
→What are your favourite subjects in school? What do you like to learn about?
→What do you like to do outside of school and what aspects of it do you enjoy?

Need More Help finding your skills and interests?

If you’re still having trouble understanding your skills and interests, there are a number of skills inventories or assessments you could do: Strengthsquest, MBTI, enneagram types, etc. Your high school counsellor or university career centre may be able to assist with this as well. They may recommend certain assessments or questions you ask in order to learn more about yourself.

There are many people who do not think that assessments like Strengthsquest, MBTI, or the enneagram are helpful. This is fine! Going through the assessments may help you realize something about yourself. And if the assessment tells you something and you strongly disagree with it, that may help you realize something about yourself or give you something to reflect on. I would encourage you not feel limited by these types of assessments, but to take what helps you and discard anythign that you don’t think is helpful. If you are really opposed to these types of assessments, you can also stick with talking to people who know you well about what they think your skills and interests are.

Next Steps in Exploring Your Skills and Interests

Now that you are coming to a better understanding of who you are, this knowledge will help you with course and program selection, and also with your career exploration. This post on choosing your major is a good next read!

Use this time at university to explore your career options and gain the experiences that will help you achieve your career goals. You have so many opportunities and supports avaialble to you as a student – make sure you take advantage of them!

For more information, sign up for the upcoming Beginning Career Exploration and Program and Course Selection webinars on Eventbrite.

Transferable Skills for Students

What are transferable skills and why are they important? Transferable skills are so important for students, and this is the best time to gain experience and build them. When you are just beginning your university journey, it may be difficult to identify and describe your aptitudes and experiences – but many of the aptitudes you are building are transferable skills. When I was doing my undergrad, I did not have a good understanding of the skills I was gaining and I could not describe them well on my resume or in interviews. It turns out that a lot of them were transferable skills.

What are Transferable Skills?

Transferable skills, also known as soft skills, are general skills that are important for the majority of workplaces and careers. They are transferable, meaning that they can apply in multiple settings and situations. These are skills that you can build through your studies and work experience, even if those things are not directly related to your future career. Just by getting a degree, students will have leveraged many transferable skills, and you may not even know it yet. What are some examples of transferable skills? I’ve made a list for you below!

RBC published a report in 2018 called Humans Wanted. It highlights shifts in the job market and trends that may impact young Canadians, like a shift towards automation of rote tasks and an increased need for skills like “critical thinking, co-ordination, social perceptiveness, active listening and complex problem solving” (p. 3). These are all examples of transferable skills that students have experience with.

Think about which of these skills you are particularly strong at and what you have experience in. This can help you understand yourself, and your strengths, better. It will also help you articulate and highlight clear examples of the transferable skills you’ve built as a student on your scholarship applications, resumes, cover letters, and in interviews. If you are not sure yet, have a look at the list and keep an eye out for where you see these skills.

Working Independently

A lot of your work at university will be done independently. Are you skilled at organizing your time to get a long-term research project done? Do you find it easy to motivate yourself to work on projects? Can you figure out how to meet an outcome when you don’t receive detailed instructions? Most employers want to know that employees can work independently and will be able to ask a minimum of questions in order to meet their work goals, so these are all helpful skills.

Teamwork

Do you enjoy working with a team and collaborating on projects? This is a necessary skill in almost any workplace. Employers don’t want to hire people who are difficult to work with or don’t get along with others. Think about the best team projects you’ve worked on. What role did you take on? What were your main contributions to the team? How did you facilitate collaboration and support your teammates? How did you contribute to resolving any team conflict? There aren’t many jobs where you can avoid working with others, so being able to show that you are an agreeable, collaborative and supportive coworker will impress your future bosses.

Teamwork and working independently are not opposites. You may prefer one over the other, but you need to know how to do both in order to get through university and in the majority of workplaces successfully. Your future employers will likely want to know that you can do both. Even if you are planning to have your own business or be your own boss, it’s very likely that you’ll have clients or other people you have to work well with, so don’t disregard teamwork.

Leadership

The traditional view of the leader as the “boss” is no longer accurate. The leader is not necessarily someone who tells others what to do. Leadership includes motivating, coordinating, and supporting others. You don’t need to be in a formal role of “leader” to do these things. Do you have other examples of ways that you’ve helped others find motivation? How do you coordinate and support others on your team? These are all important leadership skills.

Leaders are also ready to make decisions when needed, and to take responsibility when something goes wrong. Making decisions for a team can be difficult when you don’t have formal authority (when you’re not an actual “boss”), so you may need to rely more on convincing and persuading your teammates. Taking responsibility can also be difficult – but the best way to deal with an issue is generally to accept your role in it and figure out how to move forward.

Project Management

As a student, you will have multiple opportunities to organize longer projects. Maybe it’s a research paper that you start in September and submit in December, requiring you to figure out all the steps and then track the project over the semester to make sure you get it done on time. Maybe you join a club and get to organize the end-of-year celebration, or a case competition or a mentorship program.

The RBC Skills Report talks about “co-ordination” as a skill that’s going to increase in demand. Sometimes there are too many minute decisions and nuances in a process and that makes it difficult to automate. This may eventually change, but in the meantime, being able to coordinate the millions of small details for a project or event is an in-demand skill.

Research and Analytical Skills

Every research paper you write will help build these skills! This is about being able to research a topic, and then distill and synthesize what you learned into an argument of some kind. Research and analysis isn’t easy, but putting the time in to do this well at the start of your degree will benefit you until you graduate and probably beyond. Your university library is likely to have research resources, and your university might have a writing centre that can help you with this, too.

Quantitative analytics skills are also increasingly in demand. Organizations have an increasing amount of data about their customers, clients, or environment, and will need more people to be able to make sense of all that data, so if you have a the chance to refine your quantitative research and analytics skills, you may want to take advantage.

Organization and Time Management

You are going to really struggle with your degree if you don’t figure this out early on! As a student, you won’t have a lot of extra time, so managing your schedule and organizing yourself will be very important. Perfecting these skills and knowing how to organize yourself and your time will benefit you for the rest of your life. If you have to juggle university courses, a part-time job, and a role in a student club, then you can use your organization methods as a great example in future employment situation.

Communication Skills

I know sometimes we picture employees working alone in cubicles, but this is not realistic. Even if you do work alone in a cubicle, you’ll be required to communicate with others. This includes speaking with others, active listening to understand others, organizing and participating in meetings, composing emails and documents, and doing presentations. These are all things you’ll get to do in your time at university, so make sure you focus on building the skills and collect examples for your interviews in the future.

Presentations and Public Speaking

Apparently public speaking is one of the top fears around the world, but in a lot of careers, you’ll be expected to communicate information to an audience that may have multiple people in it. I used to be incredibly nervous to speak in front of crowds, and I definitely still get nervous, but I’ve presented to groups of 400+ students, and I can tell you the key is practicing a lot and continuing to do presentations. Embrace your fear and do it anyways – it will benefit you in the long run.

Information Technology and Adaptability

I am what I have seen described online as a Geriatric Millenial: I grew up without cell phones and the internet, but I’ve watched them both grow in popularity through my young adulthood. I didn’t have a MySpace account, but I could have (if that makes no sense to you, just keep going, it doesn’t matter). I had to adjust to all these forms of technology as an adult. I can tell you how my workplace phased out its fax machine; I can talk about scanning and digitizing all the records in one office I worked in; I can tell you about how another office I worked in shifted from paper memos to email; I can explain to you how a pager works. When I need examples of adaptability and learning new technology in a job interview, I can talk about any of these examples and many others.

You are probably much younger than me and much better at new technologies. What are you skilled at? What have you adapted to or learned? Think of examples that can showcase these skills, and remember to highlight any new technology that your future (older) boss may not be familiar with.

Problem Solving

The whole reason an organization hires employees is to solve its problems! You will have a better university experience and career if you can effectively identify problems and then solve them. Part of this is about your analysis and critical thinking skills – how do you identify and evaluate the problem – and part of this is about being able to come up with an appropriate solution to whatever problem you uncover.

You can gain experience in problem-solving by resolving issues as they come up. Did some issue happen in your group project, and you figured out how to resolve it and move forward? Maybe you got to do this in an internship, co-op, or in a student club. Try to find examples where you’ve managed to identify and resolve a problem (maybe even before it became a problem) so you can highlight them later on.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is really about being able to look at a situation and context thoroughly and understand what’s going on (or what could be going on) outside your line of sight. One way to do this is through a SWOT or PESTLE analysis (or similar – there are dozens of iterations of these). Using these models regularly will help you assess situations quickly without them, eventually. This is esentially about being able to see a situation from multiple dimensions and perspectives.

Attention to Detail

When I used to post jobs, I would get hundreds of applications, and every time there were dozens that listed the wrong employer or position on their cover letter. Usually, these would get discarded because they indicated a lack of attention to detail. Attention to detail is about being able to find errors in documents, spreadsheets, and datasets, and being able to verify that everything is ready for a client. But you want to make sure, if you are going to tell someone you have an eye for detail, that there are no small errors on your application. Quadruple-check for typos and errors before you apply! Get a friend to read over your application before you send it in, too.

Dependability

Who would want to work with someone who is not dependable? Everyone has had to work with what I call a “flake.” The “flake” is the one who doesn’t show up, takes forever to reply to messages or doesn’t reply at all, doesn’t follow through on their portion of the project, and then shows up late on the day it’s due. Don’t be that person! Be someone who does good work and is known for it – you’ll be able to build a network much more easily, and you’ll get good references and recommendations that may lead to promotions and new positions.

Transferable Skills Resource: RBC Skills Report

Check out the RBC Skills Report from 2018 here for more information on the transferable skills that students need and how they are increasing in demand. Highlights include:
→Descriptions of possible career paths that include education and various jobs/careers over time.
→Summaries of shifts in hiring that are anticipated in the next ten years.
→Anticipated demographic and employment trends that will have a larger impact on the economy and future careers.
→Honestly, even if you don’t want to read the full report, just flip through and look at the infographics and you’ll probably find some helpful info!

I hope you found this helpful! Transferable skills are really important for you to build, and while you’re a student you have so many opportunities to do it. Learn what they are, and how you use them, and then you can also talk about them in job interviews.

For more information, check for the next Beginning Career Exploration and Program and Course Selection webinars on Eventbrite.

Study Skills for University Students

I have been answering lots of questions about study skills for university students over on Quora, so today I’m sharing all my top tips on university studying techniques. If you’re looking for the solution for low grades, read this post and try updating some of your study habits!

Active Study Methods Are Better than Passive Methods

Active study methods are those that require you to DO something: recall information, apply a formula, perform a calculation, etc. They help build connections to knowledge in your brain, which is what allows you to actually build your knowledge.

Passive study methods are those that require you to ABSORB: watching or listening to lectures, reading and re-reading notes or textbooks, writing and re-writing your notes, etc.

Both active and passive study methods are important, but when you are looking to master a topic or material, the active methods will help you gain a deeper understanding much more effectively and efficiently.

This is not to say that reading and lectures are not important – these are the first thing you’ll want to do. You need to know the information that you want to retain, or the formulas you want to apply. These will come from lectures and readings. But once you have this basic understanding, you have to engage in deeper learning by applying the knowledge you’ve gained.

Below are the study methods and techniques that work best for me, and I’ve provided some other options I’m familiar with, which brings me to my first point…

Experiment and find what works best for YOU.

How university students study will vary from student to student. One of your university study skills will be getting to know your own strengths so you can leverage them. For example, I am not a morning person! I very rarely get up early to study, but there are millions of morning people out there who prefer to study or work in the morning, and there are dozens of productivity gurus telling us we should get up early every day in order to accomplish more.

We also each have a different capacity for how much we can focus each day, and how long we can focus for. These characteristics can even change from day-to-day; One day you may be able to focus all day, but the next day it could be impossible. Experiment with what works for you, and be kind to yourself becuase sometimes it’s going to be hard. Don’t compare yourself to others, either. That’s always a recipe for feeling defeated!

Break your day into “blocks.”

I tried 3-hour and 4-hour blocks, but I usually work in 2-hour blocks on busy days. Then I pick what tasks I want to fit into each of those blocks. I might work on four tasks over the day, in 2-hour blocks with breaks between them. If I am in the zone and everything is going well, I might spend more than two hours on something.

I find that this method works best for me when I have long, open days with fewer interruptions. If I have a lot of meetings or appointments that interrupt my day, then I find time-blocking works better. On the other hand, for days when I am having trouble motivating myself or focusing, I sometimes reduce the length of the blocks and take more breaks. For more information on this, see the Pomodoro Method below.

Time-blocking

Time-blocking is a method for scheduling your day and to-do list together. I typically do this when I have a lot of meetings or appointments that I have to work around.

Essentially, time-blocking means you add your tasks to your calendar as though they are appointments – because committing to doing a task is really making an appointment with yourself!

If you need to study for an exam, then you estimate how long that will take or how much time you’d liked to spend doing this today, and you pop it into your calendar: eg. “12-2pm – study for history exam.” You can use your phone calendar, Google calendar, or a paper planner – whatever works for you.

How do I do this? First, I write all my appointments on a sticky note. I love sticky-notes, and don’t like crowding my Google calendar, but you could easily use a calendar for this. Once my appointments are written down, I will use another colour and map my tasks into the gaps between the appointments. Then I cross them out as I go through the day.

Here’s an example of what this might look like for me (using bold text for appointments instead of another colour):

8:30-9:30: walk dogs
9:30-10: shower, have breakfast
10-12:30: online writing group (work on research assistantship)
12:30-1: lunch & break
1-2pm: meet with PhD supervisor
2-4pm: research for thesis proposal
4-5pm: walk dogs
5-6pm: study group with students

Hopefully that illustration helps you see how I do this! Give it a try and let me know if it works for you. Like I said – this is only something I do when I have a more challenging balance of tasks and appointments. Most days I work from a traditional to-do list.

You can also see how I manage my time and priorities in a to-do list in this post (I even added photos of how I organize my weekly planner!):

Take breaks.

Make sure you are taking breaks! This can help you feel refreshed and give you energy to study for more of the day. I like to take long-ish breaks and take the dog for a walk, get outside, or FaceTime a friend. It’s important to get off the computer and away from your desk. Most of my work is on a computer (even my reading), so I also make sure I don’t spend my whole break on a screen. Sometimes when I’m really swamped, I’ll clean or do household chores on my breaks because it’s more active than studying and makes me feel accomplished. I can’t do that every day, though, because eventually I need a more restful break.

Pomodoros.

Pomodoros are a study technique where you set a timer for a certain amount of time, and then take a short break when it goes off. I’ve practiced this technique using 25-40 minute work sessions, with 5-10 minute breaks. I usually use this method when I’m feeling particularly unfocused. It’s easier to focus for 25 minutes than being faced with a 2-hour study block! Sometimes I use the timer on my phone, but there are tons of Youtube videos and apps for this. I recently found out about the Study Bunny app, where you keep your bunny healthy and happy by logging study hours. It’s adorable!

The Controversy of Pomodoros

Some folks love pomodoros and others hate them. My suggestion is to figure out what works for you.

I find that if I am in a flow state and actually getting work done, then being interrupted every 25 minutes can be really challenging. In these cases, I will just turn off the timer and keep going. I have also worked with longer pomodoros. One of my study groups does two 40-50 minute pomodoros with a 5-minute break in between. Again, sometimes I’ll just work through the break if things are going well.

I find pomodoros to be the most helpful when I am having trouble focusing or sitting down and doing work. Sometimes this is because I am just distracted, and sometimes it just means I’ve had too much coffee, and sometimes it’s because I have so many things to do I don’t even know where to start.

If I have too much energy, I will alternate 20 minutes of forcing myself to focus with 20 minutes of something more active (such as cleaning my apartment). This is less productive than focusing for longer, but much more helpful than not getting any of my studying done. Often, after a while, I will get more into the work and be able to focus for longer. But if not, at least I got something done that day.

Vary topics.

If you are spending a long period studying, I would recommend swtiching the subjects every few hours. Working on different projects or subjects throughout the day can be a way to refresh yourself. On days when I work in 2-4 hour study blocks, I would work on at least two different topics (unless I am trying to meet a deadline). This also helps you do different types of work. For me, I might read a bunch of articles for a lit review, and then work on data cleaning for my research assistantship, and then edit a paper or presentation for another project.

I have also read that it can help us to avoid procrastination when we leave work unfinished. Although normally we like to get to a logical spot to finish working on something, apparently our brains retain it better and want to return to it when we leave the project “open” or unfinished. I haven’t tried this since I read it, but if it works for you let me know!

Teal background with dark blue title that reads, "Study tip: Vary topics." Pink textbox with dark teal text that says "Switch topics every few hours to refresh your mind. Shifting types of work and sutdy through the day can help you prolong your study time." And at the bottom, text that reads "Chooseyouruni.ca."
Switch topics every few hours to refresh your mind. Shifting types of work and sutdy through the day can help you prolong your study time.

Avoid last-minute cramming.

Build a semesterly schedule and map out all your work, exams, and deadlines. This will help you to start working on everything ahead of time. It will all take longer than you expect. Be realistic in your planning as well! Planning to study for 20 hours per day in the week leading up to an exam is not going to go well, so don’t plan for it. I won’t pretend that I never end up studying or finishing work last-minute. This still happens. And it could still happen to you. Being a student is hard, and sometimes at certain points in the semester you will have a lot of deadlines. Work through it by prioritizing daily, and know that it’s hard and everyone goes through it! And if it doens’t work out, do your best, forgive yourself, and move on.

Light blue background with dark teal title that reads, "Study tip: Avoid cramming." Light pink textbox with dark teal text that reads, "Take time at the start of the semester ot map out all your deadlines. Reprioritize your work daily and weekly to remain caught up." And small text at the bottom reads, "Chooseyouruni.ca."
Take time at the start of the semester ot map out all your deadlines. Reprioritize your work daily and weekly to remain caught up.

Study Groups.

There are two types of study groups: study groups where you work together to understand course content, and study groups where you hold each other accountable by showing up (a study group could also be both of these).

Light pink background with dark pink title that reads, "Study tip: Build a study group." A light blue textbox has dark pink text that reads, "Accountability study groups help each other show up and stay on task. Subject study groups help each other learn the material." and small print at the bottom that reads "Chooseyouruni.ca."
Accountability study groups help each other show up and stay on task. Subject study groups help each other learn the material.

Working with classmates to study course material can be really useful. You will probably each understand different parts of the course material, and sharing with each other will help you learn. Plus, explaining things to others is a good way to learn. Plus, if you go to office hours for help together, you can help each other understand what your prof tells you. You can also make some great friends. My closest friends are still people I studied with for a French Linguistics course nearly 20 years ago.

Accountability groups can help you show up and stay focused. Basically, this is where you meet with a group of students, set goals, and then work for a determined amount of time. Then, at the end, you all say whether you met your goals (and it’s okay if you don’t meet them!). You can do pomodoros, or you can just work through, depending on the group. When I was doing my Masters, I met with a classmate on campus every Saturday (because we both worked full-time) and we would just do homework all day. Now, with my PhD, I have been attending accountability groups online through Zoom. Some of the ones I attend are organized by the learning centre at my university, but sometimes we organize informal ones between classmates by sending messages in our group chat.

Use Feedback to Improve.

When you get your exams and assignments back, make sure you’re reviewing them and figuring out how you can improve. If you have questions, many professors and TA’s will be happy to give you more information because they want to see you succeed.

You don’t just have to focus on what you lost marks for – you should also look at what you did well. What are your strengths in the course? Make sure you celebrate those, and then take some time to look at where you lost marks.

Active Recall Methods.

Active recall is an active study method that you can use to review most topics. Basically, active recall means that you are forcing yourself to retrieve information from your memory rather than just re-reading it. The process of retrieving material from your own brain builds knowledge and helps you remember material more effectively than just re-reading your textbook or notes. Study methods like self-quizzing and writing practice tests are great active recall methods.

Active Recall Braindumping

Braindumping is exactly what it sounds like: dump everything from your brain onto a page! For example, if you were studying a textbook chapter, after you read the chapter (or you can do sections of the chapter first), you’re going to write down everything you can remember, withough looking, and leave some extra space on your page.

Then, you’re going to review these new notes against your textbook and fill in the key points you missed in a different colour – this is where you should focus your review. Not only does doing this help you review, it also narrows down your focus so you know exactly what you should be studying.

After doing a little more review, go through the process again. Each time, you should be remembering a little more, and filling in a little less!

Doing this once right after lecture, with your lecture notes, can be really helpful, but then you want to space out your review a little bit because it will help you really retain the information. You can do this over a few days, even.

How I Used Braindumping & Flashcards to Prepare for an Exam

Part of my PhD program includes a comprehensive exam, where we have to write three research papers related to our thesis topic. This is a closed-book, time-limited exam, and I had to still cite all my sources. How on earth could I remember 60+ journal articles well enough to do this? I used active recall and made flashcards!

First, I read all the journal articles (of course) and did my highlighting and made notes. And they were all articles I had previously read, so this was already a form of review.

Once I had all my articles, I made cue-cards for each one. The cue-cards were colour-coded by topic. For example, three of my topics were organizational change, whiteness at Canadian universities, and equity policy. Each of these topics had a different colour cue card.

One one side of the cue card I put the author’s name, title of the article, and year of publication. Then, on the back, from memory/without looking at the article, I used bullet-points to summarize the main points. I would then check this against the article and add any points I missed in another colour pen.

In order to continue my revision, rather than continually making new cue cards (although that would have also worked), I would self-quiz. I would pick a cue card and read the author, year and title, and then I would say, out loud, the main points of the article. After I finished, I would flip over the card and check my response. Did I miss any points? If I did, I would read it out loud.

Having these flashcards allowed me to easily review for short periods each day. I would do some review every morning when I woke up and at night when I went to bed but before I fell asleep. I would review on short breaks between tasks, even just for 10-20 minutes.

As a student who has always struggled with memorization, I found this very effective and helpful as I prepared for my exam. I am happy to say that I was able to recall at least 2/3 of the articles and cite them in my exam, and I think if I had just started this method a little earlier I could have fairly easily remembered all of them. (Also, I didn’t cite some of them because I was having trouble building an argument on one of my three topics, which was not related to memorizing the articles).

What if you get off track?

What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.

This quote from Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project and host of the Happier podcast) helps keep me on track when I have a bad day. Some days I sleep through my first planned study block and get up at noon. Some days I take a break and suddently it’s four hours later and I haven’t gone back to work yet. But most of the time, what I would consider “every day,” I work really hard and am a very productive student. Remind yourself of your successes, remind yourself of what you do most days, and remind yourself of what you have accomplished.

If you get derailed, first, remind yourself of the quote above. If you are off track for a few hours, or a day, then forgive yourself and just get back to work. When I wake up late, sometimes I think it’s not worth it to start studying. But it is. Even if it’s 8pm and I will only study for two hours, that’s better than nothing, so if I can get back into it, I will.

Next, ask yourself if there is a reason you ended up off-track.

Do you need a break?

Sometimes when we need a break, our brain will just take one. It will be less stressful if you plan for that break and fit it into your schedule.

Are you getting enough sleep?

As a university student, you are very likely to sometimes be sleep-deprived. But we can only function properly for a short time if we’re not getting enough sleep. You are not leveraging your best university student study skills if you’re not well-rested. I’m a huge advocate for sleep. Given the choice between studying all night or getting a good night’s sleep before an exam, I will almost always choose sleep.

Do you need to reprioritize your work?

Sometimes when I have a lot of things on my plate, I feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do next. Updating my priorities and to-do lists can remind me that I don’t have to do everything today. Then I can plot my work over the week and feel more in-control.

Were your goals realistic?

Did you think you could write a paper in one day? Did you plan to study for 24 hours straight? If that’s not what you usually do, how is it going to work this time?

Light blue background with light green leaf pattern. Dark teal text reads, "Study tip: Be realistic. Set attainainable goals and don't forget to make time for self-care and rest or you'll burn out. Understanding how much you can get done in a day or week is key to self-care and effective planning.
Set attainainable goals and don’t forget to make time for self-care and rest or you’ll burn out. Understanding how much you can get done in a day or week is key to self-care and effective planning.

Are you procrastinating?

Procrastination happens to the best of us! It can happen for a number of reasons, and identifying the cause of your procrastination can help you overcome it. Check out this blog post for more on procrastination:

It takes some experimenting to find your university student study skills groove and the study techniques that will work for you. Just keep trying new things, and abandoning the things that don’t work for you. University learning can be more difficult than it was in high school. Keep trying new things, and working on your study habits, and you’ll see it pay off in your grades.

Share your top tips on study skills for university students in the comments below or visit @chooseyouruni_ca on Instagram to share them there!

University Student Career Exploration

What is Career Exploration?

Career exploration is the act of intentionally starting to plan for your career after university by engaging in different types of career development activities. Sounds simple, right? Well, it can be! You have your whole degree to come up with your professional goals and learn more about the jobs and careers available to you after graduation. Plus, as a student, you have access to resources like your university’s career development centre and advisors. This post provides suggestions on how university students can begin career exploration.

Trying Out Different Careers

In an earlier post on university student career exploration, I mentioned prototyping, which is a term from this book by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans that means trying out different careers. Prototyping is a career exploration skill that will support you as you build your professional goals. Even if you are certain about the career you want, make sure you try some aspects of it out before you graduate! Your student years are a time to build skills to impress your future references and future employers. Do this work now to help your job search after graduation.

As a university student, you are in the ideal time of your life to be trying out different roles and finding new career development opportunities. Your university can connect you with multiple opportunities, you don’t have to stay in any role for too long, and you can build your resume at the same time!

Work that you do as a student can help build your transferable and technical skills. Plus, it’s a great way to network and find some supervisors to ask to give you references. Start your career exploration now so you can focus and refine your professional goals as you go through university. According to this article, a huge number of students end up working in fields that are not related to their degree, but this can be offset by starting your career research during your time as an undergraduate student.

What are some methods for university student career exploration?

Co-operative work terms

Also known as just “co-op,” these are semester-long work terms organized through your university. You still have to apply and compete for the roles, but the organizations know that they are hiring students who may have less experience. Students will typically have the support of your university’s co-op office in the application and competition process, and they can provide guidance on which jobs to apply for. They can also advise on crafting your resume and cover letter, and interviewing well. These are all skills you’ll need after graduation, so it’s helpful to get feedback and guidance as you build them.

Some institutions don’t have co-op for all programs, so if this is something you definitely want to do make sure you do your research when you’re applying to universities. University student career exploration should begin early.

Internships

Internships can be paid or unpaid, and this is up to each province’s labour laws. Federal laws DO permit unpaid internships, so some provinces can have them. For example, in B.C., unpaid internships are illegal and you must be paid for your work. In Ontario, unpaid internships are still permitted. However, this varies from province to province so make sure you check your local laws. An internship is basically a junior position in an organization. The employer is aware that you might not have as much experience and they’re willing to support you as you gain the experience. In some industries, this is the best way to make connections and build your experience to get hired after graduation.

Part-time work

This one is tough, because some institutions and employers don’t value part-time work as highly as they might value a co-op work term or an internship. It will be up to you to articulate the skills and experience that you gain through part-time work. You will have to communicate the value to any future employers. Your university’s career centre should be able to help you with this.

Many students work in retail positions, food and beverage service positions, or office administration roles. You may also be able to find temporary work on your school breaks, like December retail and summer jobs. I’ve met students who worked at Starbucks, bubble-tea shops, as receptionists, in call centres, at department or clothing stores, as bartenders or restaurant servers… the possibilities are endless.

One of my regrets from my undergrad is working at a low-paying retail job where I gained all the skills in the first year. I could have looked for a higher-paying job that would help me build new skills and give me additional references. But I did not realize the value I could gain from that. Don’t be like me! Take the time to find roles that will help you move forward in your career.

Volunteering

If you don’t have a lot of work experience, volunteering can be a good place to start. Volunteers are not paid for their work. Non-profit organizations will often take on volunteers with less experience, and you can build your resume that way. Many websites offer volunteer opportunities (for example: volunteertoronto.ca, volunteerconnector.org). Just make sure that you are volunteering at a legitimate non-profit, and not at a company that should be paying you. You can find this out by doing some research on the organization to confirm they are a non-profit.

You may also be able to volunteer on your campus. Universities often take on student volunteers to help with events, orientation, and other tasks. Your campus career centre should be able to connect you with these opportunities. Longer-term opportunities will typically be more advantageous on your resume than one-day events. Longer commitments allow you to build and showcase your aptitudes and get references.

Volunteering can be a good place to gain the first entry on your resume. This is especially true if you don’t have other work experience. Make sure you behave professionally and perform well so that you can ask for a reference.

On-Campus Work

One of the benefits of on-campus work is that it can pay quite well. Compared to some of the minimum-wage positions students with less experience may qualify for off-campus, this is important. Since you are probably already going to campus, it may also be really convenient for you to work there.

Teaching Assistantships

You may have the opportunity to apply to be a teaching assistant (TA) while you are a student. A teaching assistant supports instructors by marking assignments, teaching tutorials, holding office hours, and other course prep tasks. Most of the time, teaching assistants are graduate students. Sometimes higher-year students with good grades can also have these opportunities. If you are planning on going to grad school (a Masters program), this experience can be especially valuable. Search your university’s website or ask one of your TAs to find out more about this.

Research Assistantships

Research assistants (RAs) help professors with research projects in different ways. This may mean conducting a literature review, research in a lab or through other qualitative or quantitative methods, or writing a paper or chapter for publication. Like teaching assistants, they are usually grad students (Masters or PhD students). Sometimes there are opportunities for undergrad students. If you are planning on going to grad school, this kind of work can be extremely valuable for your application. Search your university’s website, and talk to your TAs and professors for more information.

Other on-campus opportunities

In addition to the two opportunities mentioned above, universities will often hire students for a number of positions. For example: library work, events, student orientations, student advising, co-op positions, temporary positions, data entry, and more. Your career centre can let you know where these get posted – or you can search for the job postings on your university’s website. One benefit of these is that since they know you are a student, they may have more flexibility for your schedule than off-campus jobs.

Side Hustles

A side hustle is work you do on the side, that is typically more entrepreneurial and independent than a part-time job. I read Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau, and he gives tons of ideas of side hustles and tells stories of folks who have been very successful. The idea of the side-hustle is that it is something you can do in the time you have (for students, that would be a minimal amount of time) and on your own terms.

A side hustle can be literally anything. Personally, I have signed up for the Rover app and I look after dogs when their owners are out of town. I heard about this app from Chris Guillebeau’s book. Uber and Lyft can be side hustles, or food delivery work like Skip the Dishes or DoorDash. I have also met a student who started an entrepreneurship courses for high school students that they then were hired by high schools to come in and teach. I knew another student who designed items for in-game purchases for a particular online game. Many students also tutor high school students (independently or through an agency). The possibilities are endless! If you want to learn more about side hustles, I would recommend Chris Guillebeau’s website, or I Like to Dabble for more ideas.

Caution with Side Hustles

A caution with side hustles: Depending on the type of work you’re doing, it may be less valuable to future employers. For me, it would not be useful to list my dog-sitting experience on my resume or CV. I won’t really get any professional references out of it. I just happen to love dog-sitting, and I can make some extra cash with it. But I have also done tutoring through an agency. In that case I was able to get a reference from the agency and the parents of the students I tutored, so it really depends what you do.

Informational Interviews

Informational interviews are a great way to learn more about the diverse career options available to you and also build your network. Basically, this is where you meet with someone working in the field you are interested in to find out more about their own career. Someone once told me that “everyone loves talking to students,” and it is my experience that people love to share their career journeys and advice. Ask everyone you know about their careers – family, your high school teachers, professors, TAs… and you can also reach out to other contacts, such as at networking events or on LinkedIn, to learn more, too.

Finding a Mentor

Having a mentor is a key component in your career development journey. Whether this is an official mentor (through a program) or someone you meet who gives great advice, having people supporting you in your career is important. My biggest mentors were some of my bosses – one in particular who was really good at finding ways for me to develop new skills in the roles I was in so I could build towards the next role. Mentors can help you see what’s beyond the horizon in terms of your own professional development and take steps towards it. They can help you build your network and connect you with important people and positions for your future. Check what kind of mentorship programs are available at your university and also in your industry, and take advantage of them!

What to keep in mind

These are opportunities for career growth: building your skills and experiences, establishing your network, and getting some excellent references for future positions. You can focus on specific skills for a role, as well as your transferable skills. You also want to start building relationships with supervisors and colleagues. This will expand your professional network so you know people who can be mentors and provide positive references for you when you are applying for jobs in the future.

For more information on starting your career journey, check out this post on Early Career Tips for Students, and see this post on Top 10 Career Podcasts for Students for some great resources.

I also offer a Beginning Career Exploration webinar – check out when it will be offered next on Eventbrite.

Background of blue and pink circles with text that says: Trying out different career options for university students: co-operative work terms, internships, volunteering, part-time work, on-campus work. Chooseyouruni.ca

The Top 5 People to Know at Your University

Research shows that students who feel a sense of belonging on campus are more likely to be successful in their studies. Building strategic campus connections will also help you succeed in your degree. These are the top 5 people to know at your university:

Light blue box with dark teal text says: "Top 5 people to know on campus to support you at university." Pinkish-grey box with dark teal text says, "1. Classmates; 2. Teaching Assistants; 3. Professors; 4. Librarians; 5. Advisors" and dark teal text at the bottom says chooseyouruni.ca

1. Classmates

Number one of the top 5 people you should get to know at your university, you should get to know at least one student in each of your classes. This will be helpful in case you miss class and need notes, when you need a study buddy, and also when you just need to vent about how much homework you have.

But you should also get to know students outside your program. You might meet them through orientatino, clubs, elective courses, student government, or other places on campus. These classmates will help give you some perspective when your own program is driving you crazy, and know what’s going on in other parts of the university.

It can also be really helpful to get to know students who are in higher years than you. If you have opportunities to meet these students, you should definitely do it! This might be through orientation and events for new students, mentorship programs, or other programming. Higher-year students can support you because they’ve already navigated some of the challenges you’ll be facing, and they survived to get into third and fourth year, which can give you hope for your own future. They’ll also be able to give you tips for studying and course selection, and the low-down on the professors.

2. TAs (Teaching Assistants)

TAs are definitely one of the top 5 people to know at your university! When you are a lower-year student, you may be working with TAs as much or more than you work with your professors. TAs are usually grad students (or sometimes higher-year students) who are hired to support professors i. Because they are working in a course, they can help you with your course material, and because they are also students, they can help you with student advice and navigating university in general. They will usually be your first point of contact (before the prof) if you need help with course material or if you have questions.

If you are even faintly considering going to grad school, you should definitely get to know your TAs. Many of them will be grad students, and they can tell you about their own experiences. What did they do in their undergrad to be more competitive? How many tiems did they have to apply to grad school? What tips and advice can they give you about getting into a grad program?

3. Professors

A lot of students are afraid of their professors. They’re so smart, they know everything, and they control your grades! But they are human, too, and many of them will be happy to help you and get to know you. Office hours are specific times when they are prepared to meet with students, and often students don’t take advantage and go see them.

If you’re nervous about going to see your professor in office hours, plan out your questions. Be as specific as you can. Don’t just tell them that you can’t understand the course. Go through the material and ask detailed questions to show that you have put in the effort to understand. Try to find the answers to your own questions so that you can tell them which sections or specific topics are not making sense to you.

Remember that your professor is a person, too. You can ask them questions about their research or about how they became a professor, and they are likely to appreciate you taking the time to get to know them.

Finally, you may need a professor reference one day, whether it’s for and exchange, a research position, grad school, or a scholarship, so you want to make sure that at least a couple of your profs know you well enough to provide a supportive reference.

4. Librarians

Librarians are the under-appreciated hero in this list, but they are definitely one of the top 5 people to know at your university. Did you know that librarians specialize in supporting academic research? This means they can also support students who are learning how to do research. If you are having trouble finding research resources on a specific topic, or can’t figure out how to use a journal database, they can help!

Your university library probably offers online resources and workshops to teach new students how to do this work. You should definitely sign up for these! Academic research strategies are very unlikely to have been taught sufficiently in your high school. The librarian can also help you learn how to reference your papers properly and avoid accidentally submitting plagiarized work (which you can get into trouble for). Learning these skills early on will help you for the rest of your studies.

Many libraries also provide support for study skills. Many new students think they don’t need to learn how to study, but university is very different from high school and the adjustment can be difficult. Attend as many study and learning strategies sessions as you can! (And if you can’t access these through your library, see if your student services or student success office has anything).

5. Advisors

Your university probably has all sorts of staff and faculty advisors who can help you: Career and/or Co-op, Academic and Financial Aid Advisors are just a few that might exist. Take advantage of these resources while you are a student! Of course, these will vary depending on your institution, but here are some of the roles that exist at many Canadian universities:

Career Advisors can typically help you explore and prepare for your career. They can give advice in terms of selecting a career path and then building towards it, and also with more tangible skills like writing resumes and cover letters, networking, and interviewing. Their offices may also organize workshops to learn these skills and events where you can network and meet future employers.

Co-op Advisors are similar to Career Advisors (and at some institutions they may be the same), but they can focus specifically on helping you with co-op roles. This means they will guide you through finding, applying and complete co-op work terms. Like career advisors, they will probably help you with resume, cover letters, interviews and networking, as well as supporting you in finding an appropriate work term.

Academic Advisors’ roles can vary quite a bit depending on the institution. At a minimum, their role is to help you make sure you are meeting the requirements for graduation (required courses, electives, units/credits, grades/GPA, etc). They may also be able to help you plan more complex degrees (double majors, adding a minor, etc). They may be able to go into even more depth and help you explore different elective courses that may be of interest, alternative degrees, majors, or minors, and then you can leverage those conversations into career discussions.

Academic Advisors may be staff, or they may be faculty members (professors). Sometimes departments might have a Progam Assistant who supports students, rather than having Academic Advisors. They may be in your faculty or department or in a student services area. Make sure you seek out the folks who can help you stay on track, though! I have worked with students who applied to graduate but had to cancel to go back and finish one course – nobody wants that to happen!

Financial Aid Advisors are there to help you explore different funding options for your degree. They can help you with student loans, bursaries, scholarships and awards. And remember, financial aid is not just for students with financial need! Some funding options are highly competitive and can be prestigious – including them on your resume can highlight your excellence as a student to a future employer.

I’ve met students who paid for their entire degree (upwards of $40,000 of tuition) entirely with many smaller scholarships. Some are only $500-$1000 but these add up over the four years of university. These applications can take a lot of time and require you to write essays, gather references, and provide detailed study and career goals, so make sure you manage your time to make room for this.

Those are the top 5 people I would recommend you seek out on campus in order to build a support system for you at university. Have I missed anyone? Let me know in the comments or contact me.

If you’re seeing any unfamiliar vocabulary on this website, you can look it up in the Glossary of Canadian University Vocabulary.

light blue background with dark teal text that reads, "Top 5 people to know on campus to support you at university." Below the writing, there is a photo collage of images of students working together.