Friday, February 22, 2013

Controlling Perfectionism and Procrastination

While at first glance perfectionism and procrastination may not appear to be linked, there are significant correlations between these two behaviours. Gordon Flett, a York University psychologist, found that students are more likely to procrastinate when they feel external pressures to achieve perfection ( This strive for perfection can in turn result in procrastination, as students may fear finishing a paper that does not meet their unattainably high goals. As such, the two coexist in a cyclical manner and make overcoming one difficult without overcoming the other. However, all is not lost! It is possible to manage the cycle of perfectionism and procrastination, and we’ve got some useful tips to help you in controlling these habits.

What is perfectionism? Perfectionism refers to the act of self-defeating thoughts and behaviours aimed at achieving excessively high and unrealistic goals. Although often seen as valuable and necessary for success, perfectionism often stands in the way of achievement. Some causes of perfectionism are a fear of failure or making mistakes, a fear of disapproval, or an all or nothing attitude. Some possible outcomes of perfectionism are frustration, anger, impatience, test anxiety, or poor grades.

Strategies to control perfectionism:
  • Set realistic goals. Be sure to set reasonable and attainable goals based on the timeframe you are working within. Remember to be flexible – life often gets in the way!
  • Embrace your mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning! Try and see these mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve because failure is an integral part of success.
  • Focus on the process. Value the process and not just the outcome. Rather than focusing solely on the finished product, try and recognize what you enjoyed about the task.
  • Aim for less than 100%. This will help you realize that the world will not end if you do not achieve perfection. Instead try aiming for excellence – this will allow you to work strenuously, not obsessively, to achieve your goals and still succeed.
  • Avoid negative thoughts. Don’t beat yourself up if you do not achieve 100%. Reward yourself for your accomplishments and recognize the hard work and effort you’ve put in thus far has helped you get to where you are today!
  • Get help when needed. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. Rather, it is the smart thing to do!

What is procrastination? Procrastination is the act of putting off/delaying work that needs to be done. It is the act of thinking that there is going to be a better time to do a certain task or that you should wait until you are in a better mood/mindset to do something that needs to be done. Some causes of procrastination are a fear of failure or success, a fear or separation (from family or friends) or losing control (“I’ll decide when to hand this paper in!”), or as a result of bad habits or distractions. Some possible outcomes of procrastination are stress, disappointment, low motivation, test anxiety, or poor grades.

Strategies to control procrastination:
  • Divide the task. Break your large task into smaller, manageable tasks. Plan ahead to work in segmented time slots to avoid doing too much of the same activity in one sitting. This can make your studying/assignment seem more manageable.
  • Set realistic goals. Be sure to set reasonable and attainable goals based on the timeframe you are working within. Remember to be flexible – life often gets in the way!
  • There is no time like the present. Avoid putting things off. By dividing the task into smaller sections, the task can appear less daunting and more feasible for you to begin right away. Focus on one thing at a time and use the “D.I.N. rule” of do it now – making even minimal progress on a task increases the likelihood you can and will finish it.
  • Take time to relax and reward yourself. Try to intersperse rewards, relaxation, and gratification within your work schedule for work completed. This will make you less resentful toward the task and the work that still needs to be done.
  • Monitor your progress on the small steps. Create a task list of things you need to complete each day and prioritize them from most to least important. Keep track of the segments of your tasks and how they fit together, reassessing time commitments as necessary. Assess problems as they arise and deal with them quickly and efficiently.
  • Get help when needed. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. Rather, it is the smart thing to do!

Information on perfectionism and procrastination resources for graduate students at the University of Guelph can be found through Learning Services at the following link:

This post was adapted from Simon Fraser University’s ‘Perfectionism’: (, Simon Fraser University’s ‘Procrastination’: (, University of Dundee’s ‘Perfectionism’: (, University of Guelph’s ‘Controlling Procrastination’: (, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s ‘Overcoming Procrastination’: (, University of Reading’s ‘Perfectionism (and procrastination)’: (, On Campus’ ‘Perfectionists tend to procrastinate: York U. psychologist’ by (, and Massey University’s ‘Procrastination and perfectionism’: (

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Graduate Student-Advisor Relationship

During your graduate experience, the student-advisor relationship is one of the most significant relationships you will form – some even view this as the most important aspect of your graduate education. This relationship can be one of mentorship, wherein the professor can pass along their expertise, guide students through the intricacies of the university system, lend moral support, and provide helpful career advice. While this is not always the case and there may be road bumps along the way, a strong and successful student-advisor relationship can lead to higher and faster completion rates, as well as significantly influencing the developmental outcome of students’ personal and professional goals. It is therefore essential to carefully select your advisory committee to meet your needs as a graduate student. Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure a strong and lasting relationship with your advisor.
  • Maintain clear and frequent communication. It is helpful to have frequent, scheduled communication to build an open and effective relationship with your advisor. Use this line of communication to clarify any questions you may have, seek advice, get feedback, etc. Maintaining this communication can build trust and rapport between you and your advisor.
  • Clarify roles, responsibilities, and goals. Clearly outline for your advisor what is most important for you in terms of your advisor’s role, and have them outline their expectations for you as a student. It is helpful to make your advisor aware of your personal, academic, and professional goals to aid in the assistance they can provide you with.
  • Develop an agreement of your mutual expectations. Be realistic with your expectations! Take the time to outline together your expectations in terms of what is to be completed and when. It also doesn’t hurt to become aware of each other’s work styles to understand how one another will approach any given project.
  • Select and plan a suitable and manageable research topic to pursue. Develop a work plan that includes both short- and long-term goals, including the deadlines to meet these goals. This plan should be a preliminary roadmap of your entire program of study, including courses, proposals, research, writing, and defense. However, be aware that things do not always go as planned, and therefore being open and flexible to change is crucial.
  • Be responsible. Make sure you meet deadlines, make time for meetings, and follow-up when necessary. Be proactive in your relationship with your advisor – you will not only get more done, but you will also gain respect from your advisor. 
  • Be open. Do not assume your advisor can read your mind. If there is something you need or want, be open and assertive with your advisor to get the results you desire.
  • Don’t take it personally. Criticism is a natural and necessary aspect of your academic growth – your advisor is simply trying to help you produce the best product possible and your project will be stronger because of it.

If you are struggling with your student-advisor relationship, you should first contact the Graduate Coordinator of your program, then the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) of the College or the Assistant V.P. of Grad Studies.

This post was adapted from University of British Columbia’s ‘Building an Effective Graduate Student-Supervisor Relationship’ (, University of Western Ontario’s ‘Relations with Supervisors – A Guide for Graduate Students’ (, Grad Resources’ ‘Professor/Grad Relationships: Maximizing the Mentoring Potential’ by Nick Repak (, Boston College’s ‘IV. Advisor-Student Relationships’ (, Michigan State University’s ‘Student-Advisor’ (, and University of Guelph’s ‘The Student-Advisor Relationship’ by Cecelia Paine, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stress Management

As the semester progresses and more and more assignments, tests, and deadlines creep up on you, it is likely you may start feeling a little stressed out. Pressures, expectations, time constraints…these are all fuel to your stress fire, but don’t let these get you down! There are many healthy and effective ways to deal with the stressful situations you may find yourself in throughout your time in grad school and they all begin with change: either changing the situation or changing your reaction to it. Rather than allowing stress to define your graduate years, try out some of the following techniques for managing stress. After all, how well you deal with stress will help determine how satisfied you are with your graduate experience!
  1. Identify your sources of stress. Ask yourself what exactly it is that causes stress in your life – academic issues? personal issues? financial issues? Try and pinpoint your sources of stress to know what needs to be addressed, what needs to change, and what needs to be avoided.
  2. Avoid unnecessary stress. Determine what sources of stress may be under your own control and aim to control the “controllables”, i.e. avoid persons and environments that stress you out.
  3. Anticipate stressful events and plan ahead. Pare down your to-do list to distinguish between what “I’d like to do” and what “I must do” in your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. It can be helpful to transform any that you possibly can into "I'll do my best to get as much as possible done, and I'll start on the most important first". Set priorities, deadlines, and timelines to reach your targets and try to build in extra time for unexpected events or to catch up.
  4. Alter your mindset. Keep things in perspective – avoid catastrophic thinking and instead focus on what the most important thing to do right now is.
  5. Alter the situation. If you cannot avoid a situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things to prevent the problem from presenting itself again in the future. This often involves changing how you communicate and operate in your daily life (i.e. being more willing to compromise, being more assertive, etc.).
  6. Adapt to the stressor. If you cannot change the stressor, change yourself. Adapt to the stressful situation and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude (i.e. reframe the problem, adjust your standards, focus on the positive, etc.).
  7. Accept the things you can’t change. Accept that there will always be challenging circumstances and what is, is. Some sources of stress are unavoidable and although acceptance may be difficult, in the long run it is easier than railing against circumstances you cannot change. 
  8. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, ensure you get enough sleep, or try some relaxation techniques.
  9. Make yourself a priority. Take time out of every day and every week to focus on YOU. Take time out of your schedule for fun and relaxing activities because in doing so, you will be better prepared to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come. Stress research tells us that those who take 20 minutes every day to do something just for themselves are less stressed than those who do not!
  10. Look for social support. Friends and family are a great source of empathy and emotional support. Also try speaking with students who are further along in your program or professors who can offer advice, because they too have been in your shoes at one time or another!
To learn more about these tips and other approaches to Stress Management, please check out the information that the University of Guelph has to offer at the following link: or contact Kathy Somers directly at Also be sure to check out the Stress Smart blog at and on Facebook at

This post was adapted from’s ‘Stress Management’ by Melinda Smith and Robert Segal (, Queen’s University’s ‘Quick Tips – Managing Stress at Grad School’ (, University of Health Services – Tang Centre at UC Berkeley’s ‘Dealing with Stress in Grad School’ (, and Michigan State University’s ‘Stress’ ( 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Critical Reading Strategies

In order to successfully engage in effective research and effective writing, it is essential to sharpen your critical reading skills. As a critical reader you are not a passive participant, but an active constructor of meaning as you evaluate not only what the text says, but also how and why it says it. For the non-critical reader many texts offer “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, but for the critical reader any given text is but one person’s interpretation and portrayal of the subject matter. The following are some helpful hints to improve your critical reading skills.

·         Questioning.  Before you begin reading, identify the questions which you expect the text to address.  For example, are you reading to gain general information about a topic?  Are you reading to learn more about a specific methodology?  Are you reading to look for validation of a theory?  The questions that you pose will shape how you read and take notes.
·         Previewing. Previewing or pre-reading the text allows you to look over the material and get a feel for what you will be reading, allowing you to skim the content and organization of the text before reading in depth. This step allows you to identity why you are reading, what you are looking for, and how you will use what you will read.
·         Contextualizing. To read critically you must understand the the context (socially, politically, historically, etc.) in which the text was written. Take the time to recognize the context, purpose, and intended audience to better understand the author’s authority and agenda for writing this particular text.  Even in scientific research-based articles, the author is often adding new information to a “conversation” within a field or sub-field.  Understanding the academic conversation that has already occurred around the topic will inform your understanding of the new text.
·         Annotating.  Annotate based on the questions that you initially posed about the text.  In many situations, outlining the text’s main ideas and arguments in your own words will help you clarify your understanding of the text.  In some cases, you may only need to take notes on specific topics (for example, methodology) rather than the text as a whole.   It is also often helpful to dot down questions as they arise throughout the text.  These new questions may lead to a re-reading of the text, further research, or discussion with your advisor or other graduate students.
·         Analyzing. This involves evaluating the author’s argument by breaking it down into its two essential parts: a claim and support (often identified as the evidence or data) . A critical reader, rather than accepting the text at face value, takes the time to deconstruct the arguments being made and to assess if the support is appropriate to the claim.
·         Re-reading. Re-reading is a great opportunity to clarify, summarize, categorize, and organize information. This process allows for different levels of focus, breaking the text down to examine separate parts of arguments and how they come together to form the basis of the author’s thesis. In re-reading, you are giving yourself a richer and more meaningful engagement with and understanding of the text.

To learn more about these tips and other approaches to critical reading, please check out the information on critical reading consultations, workshops, and resources for graduate students at that the University of Guelph has to offer at the following link:

This post was adapted from Salisbury University’s ‘7 Critical Reading Strategies’ (, ‘Critical Reading: Deep Reading Strategies for Expository Texts’ by Jonathan LeMaster (, University of Minnesota’s ‘Student Writing Support quicktips: Critical Reading Strategies’ (, ‘How the Language Really Works: The Fundamentals of Critical Reading and Effective Writing’ by Dan Kurland (, and Colorado State University’s ‘Writing@CSU Guide: Critical Reading’ (