6 Tips from a Former University Teaching Assistant to Being a Better Writer in School and in Life

By Arisa Valyear

Photo by the Author

Being a Teaching Assistant is a lot like working in the dish pit of a restaurant—lots of grunt work and none of the glory.

I worked as a TA while completing my master’s degree in 2016. Since I worked in the arts discipline, a lot of the coursework involved essays, and students usually wound up in my office hours to discuss these essays (mostly to contest their grades).

In a lot of these student encounters I found myself repeating the same script. I was like one of those annoying automated voice messages you hear when you call into your cell phone provider. You know the ones where you have to sit through an hour-long spiel just to choose one option from the menu? Yeah, that was me. Except in my case, there was no menu because there was only one option, and students got it whether they chose it or not.

This isn’t because I was a bad TA and had nothing else to say, by the way. Trust me. I have a lot to say. Usually I can’t shut up! But in each encounter I kept identifying the same, increasingly worrying, problem: most of my students did not know how to write.

Not in the literal sense—they could put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard). But they were lacking several of the fundamental pillars of good writing. Clear writing. Effective writing.

To remedy this alarming problem I dutifully recited the same six tips. Sometimes the order varied and other times I focussed only on one or two, but I always relayed the same information in some form or another. While I initially wrote these tips specifically with academic essays in mind, I have since adapted them to be suitable for any type of writing.

  1. Think about what you want to say before you start writing.

Oftentimes we think we know what we want to say, get halfway through a draft, and realize we have no idea what we’re talking about. Yes there are words on pages, but they really say nothing of any value. Usually this happens when we lack clarity on what exactly it is we are trying to say. This is why it’s essential to define one central idea, opinion, or argument before we begin writing—an anchor to keep us from drifting. While this step usually takes us the longest it’s the most important. If you don’t know what you’re trying to say, neither will your reader.

  1. Craft an outline.

Now that you have a clear idea of what it is you want to say, you can focus on how best to say it. I know this sounds elementary, but starting with an outline will improve your writing experience tenfold. What pieces of information will you use to bolster your claim or idea? You can use anything from quotes to research statistics. Write these down in the order that flows most logically. Use bullet points or pictures in your outline to keep it short and simple.

The benefit of writing with an outline is that it will allow you to find flaws in your piece early on, saving you time and stress in the long run. You’re also making it easier on yourself down the road because the body of your piece is essentially done. All you have to do now is follow your outline and focus on the quality of your writing. Which brings me to my next point…    

  1. Avoid flowery language.

Not only is it distracting, but it usually leads to writers using long and complicated words out of context and results in clumsy writing. Maybe if I just thesaurus a bunch of verbose and intelligent-sounding words, I’ll write better… right? Wrong. All this does is make it harder for your reader to understand your piece. Focus getting your point across in the simplest most efficient way possible. Imagine yourself writing for a twelve-year-old. I’m serious. Write as if anyone could pick up your piece and understand what you’re trying to say. Your writing should be strong enough to stand on its own without having to hide behind complex and convoluted words.

  1. Always have a dictionary on hand.

Said ravenous but you meant radiant? Don’t know the difference? This is why you should always use a dictionary. As a Mac user, I always keep the dictionary icon in my dock, and have it open at all times when I’m writing. If ever I use a word and am unsure if it accurately conveys what I’m trying to say, I’ll look it up. If the definition does not exactly match what I was attempting to elucidate, I’ll use a different word. Know what you’re saying, and use the right words to say it.  

  1. Your first draft will never be your final draft (so start early).

I don’t think anyone in the writing industry has ever felt that their first draft was good enough to be their final. And if they did, I’m sure their editor disagreed. This is because good writing takes time, effort, and patience. Be prepared to go through several drafts before your piece reaches peak quality.

  1. Don’t let the dread of finishing keep you from starting.

It’s common to put off writing because you just can’t see how you’re possibly going to cram a bunch of information into a nice, neat, well-written package. You think of all the things that have to fall into place for the writing process to go off without a hitch, and this often stunts the development of the piece and prolongs the process entirely. Let yourself start, and understand that you will get it wrong a few times before you get it right. Even just writing a title or a few words will get the ball rolling, and you’ll find your piece unravelling and evolving a lot quicker than you ever thought it would.


Arisa Valyear is a writer, communicator, and content creator currently enrolled in Humber College’s Professional Writing and Communications graduate program. She holds a master’s degree in history from Queen’s University and is looking to build a career as an established writer, one article at a time. While she is interested in writing about current events, Arisa also enjoys writing about education, music, and culture

Canadian Stereotypes: Not Always Funn’eh

There are a lot of expectations that come with being Canadian. As an inhabitant of the Great White North for the entirety of my years thus far, I would say that I have grown accustomed to the pressures of belonging to such a country. Those that are not from Canada anticipate us to be proficient in both English and French, overly polite, obsessed with winter and the sports that come with the season, drivers of deer or moose, and addicted to anything and everything bacon or maple flavoured. These are just a few of the very common stereotypes Canadians must face on a regular basis. At times, they can be quite humorous. However, there are many moments where these expected and overused comments become not only repetitive but offensive as well. It makes it difficult for those belonging to other countries to appreciate us for the type of people we truly are. When all they see is a large igloo and hockey stick representing our great nation, what we stand for becomes easily forgotten.

We may be the target of several jokes and entertaining parodies, but there is a bigger issue that arises out of this type of comedic criticism. It is imperative that those living in different parts of the world, belonging to different cultures and practising different customs, do not judge others based off of what they think a particular type of person should be like. Stereotyping is deeply rooted in our society, and Canadians are no exception to it.

I think it is no surprise when I say that hockey is more than likely to be number one on any list of iconic, and if I must say so, annoying Canadian stereotypes. What is even crazier is that if you are Canadian, and are not obsessed with hockey or even Tim Horton’s for that matter, people start to believe that there is definitely something wrong with you. The fact that everyone believes Canadians are hockey aficionados is quite confusing seeing as how it is not even the sport most Canadian adults play. Although many play both, golf is just as popular as hockey for some.

Yes, many NHL players hail from the Great White North, but when you grow up in such frigid and unfortunately, frostbitten weather conditions, there is nothing more satisfying than putting on a pair of skates and playing a good game of hockey with your friends and family. But hockey does not define our nation. Rather, it is something that Canadians feel gives them a sense of national pride. We may know the Hockey Night in Canada theme song by heart, but that is because we simply enjoy the sport and the way it brings us together.

In regards to the Tim Horton’s reference, I cannot say I do not agree with our love for this particular brand of coffee and the delicious treats that accompany it. However, I think it is safe to say that Canadians are addicted to caffeine, no matter where they choose to buy it. Those that are not from Canada may think the classic ‘double-double’ is synonymous with being Canadian but maybe, just maybe, they got it right this time. Nothing can compare to the feeling of being at a rink, with a Timmies hot chocolate in hand, watching your son or daughter play the beautiful game most of us love. For Canadians, that type of moment is not just a simple pastime. It’s home.

The next stereotype is the politeness and passiveness of Canadians. Now, many of us may catch ourselves being overly courteous most of the time, but who knew others viewed that as a bad thing. Why is it that we are mocked for our well-mannered behaviour? We may be polite but that does not mean we cannot show our more aggressive side at times. The larger issue that arises out of this is that others start to view Canadians as, dare I say, pushovers? It is as if people think they can get away with doing something unfair towards a Canadian, such as abruptly pushing them out of the way because, in the end, the Canadian is the one to most likely say sorry. So yes, we may apologize a lot and we may even be sorry that everyone thinks we are, so sorry, but sorry, not sorry. If you do not treat us the way you want to be treated, then do not expect to always receive our Northern hospitality.

The third and final stereotype is the hatred Canadians have for Torontonians, and that Torontonians even hate those living in their own city. I understand that those that do not live in Toronto regard the city’s inhabitants as obnoxious, but with the many wonderful things the city has to offer, such as well-known musical artists, talented actors, diverse street festivals, and historic neighbourhoods, it makes it quite difficult for Torontonians to not be proud of where they live. Many view Toronto as the centre of the country, often overlooking other Canadian cities such as Vancouver or Ottawa, but you can’t help but love and appreciate the Six for what it continuously brings to the table (and I don’t just mean Timbits).

In regards to locals having a strong distaste for one another, I think that is common in every city. How often do people like their own kind? It’s quite rare. There is always something we find to complain about. In Toronto, the suburbs hate downtown and downtowners hate the suburbs. We complain about our commutes, taking streetcars during rush hour, rubbing up against more than a dozen sweaty strangers in what feels like a slow-moving sardine can on wheels, Toronto’s real estate market, raccoons making their way into our garbage cans as if they are buffet tables, and the issues that arise out of municipal elections. It is only natural for us to think negatively about certain aspects of our city, but to say that Torontonians despise Torontonians is not a fair assumption.

With having said all of that, I believe that most of these stereotypes are quite accurate. However, that does not mean I do not take offense to the constant mentioning of them. Furthermore, I am often left wondering why these are the most common beliefs people have of Canadians. Are they simply making this stuff up or is this how we truly are? I believe it’s a combination of both.

Yes, most of us do love hockey and Tim Horton’s, but that does not mean we are mindless, eyes glued to the TV on Hockey Night in Canada evenings with an extra large Timmies coffee in hand kinds of people. When others mock us for loving the things that make us feel more Canadian and tie us together as a community, it is difficult to not regard their comments as negative and hurtful. I believe a lot of stereotyping, no matter of who or what, is the result of ignorance. When you hear someone ask a Canadian if they ride a deer to class or if they live in an igloo, it’s hard to not roll your eyes out of your sockets. Pick up a book and educate yourselves, please.

I must admit, I am a lover of Tim Horton’s and sometimes a frequent user of our well known ‘eh,’ but I have become more self-conscious of liking these things and using these terms because I know other non-Canadians will judge me for the mere mentioning of them. But we should not be ashamed of where we come from. We need to embrace these things. If people want to believe I spend most of my time wearing snowshoes, then let them. I know who I am and what I stand for and I think I am not the only one when I say, I am damn proud to be Canadian.

Cannabis and Creativity : How smoking weed makes me a better writer

Cannabis and Creativity

By Maia Leggott


Every single person who smokes weed believes it makes them better at something.

Painting.

Playing music.

Being productive.

Physical activity.

Making sandwiches.

Solving the quadratic equation.

Video games.

For me, it’s writing. There’s something about the laser focus and naked honesty that puts me in the zone. Ideas that were sitting, stagnant, are stirred to life and suddenly get the boost they need to come to fruition. Hesitant hands start flying across the page or the keyboard, unable to keep up with the flow of ideas.

I’ve been using cannabis for a long time – almost half of my life. The frequency varied, peaking in my early twenties and seeing me through some difficult shit. I always loved the way it helped me to relax, encouraged me to putter with painting, crafting, writing and making.

There was nothing better than sharing a joint with pals and waiting for the stories to start flowing: hilarious commentary on the uncanny ability of The Simpsons to accurately predict the future; contemplations on the universe and how humans fit into the chain of being; tales of appreciating the simple beauty of a walk on the beach that cleanses an aching soul.

It always seemed like cannabis elicited creativity in everyone who used it. Musician friends would jam for hours on a wave of inspiration, artists create a stunning canvas, writers fill a notebook with inspiring prose, and anyone could decide it was time to rearrange the living room on a whim.

Think about all of the famous pot-loving creatives out there — Bob Dylan, Carl Sagan, Lady Gaga (“I have to be high to be creative.”), Bob Marley (“Herb is a plant, herb is good for everything.”), Willie Nelson, The Beatles … the list goes on and on. Would “Rubber Soul” even exist without the inspiration-boosting green herb? I shudder to think.

Science Says

A 2011 study actually suggested that the psychoactive effects of cannabis could “lead to connecting seemingly unrelated concepts, an aspect of divergent thinking considered primary to creative thinking.” This ability to associate in different ways is more likely to generate unique ideas by breaking free from familiar thinking. Morgan, Rothwell, et al. called this ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts “hyper-priming” in their 2010 study.

Dr. Alice Weaver Flaherty is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School. Deep brain stimulation is her game, and she is interested in the mechanisms of creativity in the brain. She believes the answer to the cannabis and creativity question may be in the frontal lobe. Highly creative people show more frontal lobe activity than those with less, and cannabis use can stimulate this area. Her most recent research is focusing on how creative types “get in the zone,” she says. And a lot of it has to do with tolerance and dosage: “Somebody who’s trying to boost their motivation to be creative [can go] too far so they can’t concentrate,” she says. “A very anxious creative person may get some benefit from cannabis. In calming them down, it could help their creativity.”

I can definitely vouch for that. It’s not always a matter of being ‘stoned.’ I’m prone to crippling anxiety, about everything I do, and it sends me into unproductive spirals where I end up calling my dad in tears without being able to pinpoint one concrete reason for my distress. Taking CBD oil regulates my anxiety and helps me focus that would-be-nervous energy into something productive. Like overhauling my final project of the semester two nights before its due. Like overcoming the writer’s block that’s been crushing me. Like creating meaningful art.

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan once wrote, “the cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before.” I mean, that seems like proof of concept to me.

Cannabis Creatives

It’s not just scientists who are trying to understand the phenomenon of cannabis and creativity. A search on Leafly’s website reveals the best user-rated strains for sparking creativity–classics Jack Herer, Purple Haze and Lemon Diesel made the list, among many others.

Kevin Smith (the genius screenwriter/director behind Mallrats and Clerks) credits cannabis for getting him out of a creative rut. Alanis Morisette apparently smokes weed to get into the groove of song writing. Bob Dylan growled, “Everybody must get stoned,” and is credited for turning The Fab Four onto the creative benefits of cannabis . In 1988, Steve Jobs declared “The best way I would describe the effect of the marijuana and the hashish is that it would make me relaxed and creative.”

I’ve known many creative types in my life, and a large majority of them turn to cannabis to get the creative juices flowing. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and when I’m writing I often get caught up in the fears and expectations of sharing thoughts so openly. Taking a break to have a puff or a vape allows me to approach a difficult project with a fresh perspective and get out of my head.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times I smoke a bowl, sit down in front of my laptop flexing my fingers in anticipation, only to stare at the blinking cursor for 15 (or 45) minutes. But the times I wake up in the morning, have a sesh, a stretch and a (meditative) sit and write nine pages in a notebook without even batting an eye, make up for those moments.

Do you use cannabis for creativity? What else drags you out of productive limbo and encourages you to create?

Good Times Are Even Better When They Are Shared: The Importance Of Making Friends In University

Let’s face it. The thought of having to make new friends is always daunting. Up until now, friends have well, sort of just been there. When you look back on your earliest friendships, you know, the ones that consisted of making fake farting noises and eating glue, you can never seem to remember how those relationships formed. It was most likely along the lines of simply sharing a toy or asking if someone was in need of a bathroom buddy where you made your first attempt to be a friend. Of course, at that age, most of us did not think twice about the people we were bringing into our lives. All we wanted was a person to play and laugh with. Seems simple enough. But like anything in life, things never stay so simple.

Now fast-forward to high school. Graduation is slowly creeping up on you, and despite your excitement for the freedom you are about to experience, you cannot help but worry about what you will be leaving behind. Your friends. At this age, you probably have a better idea as to how you ended up in your current social circle. Most of us (if we were lucky) were able to continue on with our same group of friends because they would be the ones to join us in our secondary school ventures. But those times have ended, and now you are ready (not really) to dive into your postsecondary education.

It’s the first morning. You are obviously running behind schedule because you changed your outfit a good three times (you have most likely spent the last four years in uniform, and now is the chance to look your best), and unless you have met some cool peers either at Frosh or first-year orientation, you are as nervous as a deer on a firing range. You start to wonder how you will make it through these next four years, let alone what you will do with your degree in philosophy once you have graduated. Well, there is time for all of that, but right now, you need to face your first university lecture (which you have missed the first half an hour of because you had no idea a basement floor even existed).

You walk in, red-faced, and to your surprise, the only seats left are those in the front row (because no, no, no, nobody wants to be THAT student). So you are stuck, not only in an uncomfortable chair with a desk the size of a calculator but stuck in memories of the past. High school was your prime. You had friends, you knew the building like the back of your hand, books were free of charge, and everything was just a lot easier.

Currently, everything in your life seems so broken, but a wise woman once said that sometimes, good things must fall apart so that better things can fall together. And yes, to all you first-year students, it can and will get better. How?

Well, think back to those times at recess. Think back to those times where you just joined in on a game of soccer and ended up having a blast. Think back to when you shared your cream cheese and jelly sandwich with a classmate that had no lunch. You put yourself out there without even knowing it, and that is what you have to do here. You have to put yourself out there. Be the first one to say hello, or in my case, be the first one to make someone laugh. If there is one thing I had learned during my six (yes, six) years of undergrad, it is that good times are even better when they are shared.

I must say, Bill Withers sure had it right. We all really do need somebody to lean on. University can be tough, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to make friends in your first year, as it will make all the difference.

So yes, friends are great to have a laugh or share a few coffees with, but they are even better to have around if you need some advice or help when it comes to the academic side of things (unfortunately, it can never be just one big social). With how fast paced everything can be, you will want that one classmate to send you the lecture notes you may have missed or to go over an assignment’s guidelines with. When you make those connections in the classroom, you will actually look forward to going to class. You will have acquired some sense of security in the unfamiliarity of it all because you know that there is someone you can relate to. There is someone else that gets it.

However, if you find that you cannot make a friend in class – because it can happen and is totally fine when it does – try a different approach to meeting new people, such as joining a club or two. Sure, there is the obvious benefit of expanding your social circle when it comes to joining a student society, but what is also important to note is that with clubs, the opportunity to acquire new skills and broaden your knowledge of certain topics is also if not more beneficial, as these things are surely advantageous when it comes to future employability.

Employers want to see that you have had positions of responsibility, and as a member of any student association, whether it be your university’s student council or rugby team, you can definitely use your experience to show that you have communication, organization, and team building skills. If you take this step to join a club in first year, not only will you become more comfortable in your new school environment, but you will also be more inclined to join other student organizations as you move further along in your postsecondary studies.

With all that being said, I am almost certain that one final question is lingering in your mind: How do I make the first move? Well my fellow peers, the answer is quite simple. Just do it. You need to be okay with being uncomfortable. You need to put yourself out there.

I must admit, when I started university, I was not as outgoing and sure of myself as I am today. There are students that are extremely reserved and I understand that. But now is not the time to be afraid. Now is the time to seize each and every opportunity you have. Now is the time to grow and to learn who you are and who you want to be.

So when you walk into your first day of classes, remember this: Everyone is in the same boat as you, so put on a lifejacket and prepare to set sail. University might be difficult, stressful, and sometimes just downright awful, but it is sure to be one heck of an adventure.

Sabrina Atzori graduated from Glendon, York University’s bilingual college with an Honours BA in English before entering the Professional Writing and Communications program this year. She is passionate about writing, editing, and communications, and is looking forward to strengthening these areas during her time as a part-time post-grad student at Humber. When Sabrina is not ins school, she is working part-time as a sports monitor, binge-watching videos of adorable animals online, watching or reading anything thriller/mystery related, and adding to her collection of body art.

 

Remote Work: A “Dream-Turned-Reality” for a Millennial Writer

macbook pro on desk

When I first realized I wanted to be a writer, something everyone seemed to tell me was that I could write from anywhere. If I wanted to travel, I could write in different cities. If I wanted to move across the country, or the world, I could write from there. I always thought this was wishful thinking. Only now, a year later, am I truly understanding that I can make this dream a reality.

I know I’m not alone in having the desire to travel, make money and be successful all at the same time. In fact, according to Inc, 82 percent of millennials say they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. We’ve grown up around technology; why wouldn’t we rely on it to work remotely?

As a recent graduate of the Professional Writing and Communications post-graduate program at Humber College, I’m required to complete at least 400 hours at an internship placement within the professional writing or communications field. Funny enough, I scored two remote, part-time, placements in communications. During my time at both of these placements, I got an awesome taste of what it would be like to work remotely. From crafting social media calendars, writing blog posts, entering data, managing internal/external communications and attending virtual meetings, I didn’t ever have to be in a physical office.

My first placement didn’t have an office; everyone worked from home. My second placement had a head office about a half hour from my house, but my position was remote. I thought this was interesting because I had never been exposed to a remote working environment before. After conducting some research, I realized how common remote work is in 2018.

The potential for remote work is only just beginning

The reality is, remote work is the way of the future. The concept of working 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. is outdated by 200 years, says Forbes.  Who’s to say you can’t work perfectly well at night as opposed to the morning? What’s wrong with starting your day at 11:00 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m.? As long as you are able to complete quality work, collaborate when necessary and meet deadlines, it shouldn’t matter where you are nor what time you’re getting your work done.

According to Totaljobs, 28 percent of employees would move jobs if they were not allowed to work from home. Specifically, with millennials, there has been a huge shift towards prioritizing working remotely when looking for a new job. Businesses must appropriately tailor their remote working policy to attract top talent.

Not to mention the myriad of benefits that comes with workplace flexibility. Everyday expenses such as transportation and food can be almost completely eliminated. That’s less wear and tear on your car, less junk food intake on lunch breaks, and most importantly, less damage to your wallet. Yearly savings can range between $2000 to $7000, says Forbes, depending on how often you buy lunch and/or coffee and how far your commute is. However, time is money and the savings in time from remote work are phenomenal.

Take a doctor’s appointment as an example. You don’t need to stress about having to leave work in the middle of the day if you can only get an appointment at 11:00 a.m. on a Wednesday. As long as you don’t have an important meeting at that time, why not wake up a little earlier and use that time to make up for your appointment? Or, spend some time after dinner finishing up anything you weren’t able to because of that commitment.

In my opinion, the biggest benefit is to be able to wake up, turn the coffee maker and the laptop on, and start my day. No need to drive in awful, bumper-to-bumper morning traffic; no need to stress and count the minutes until you arrive at work; and no need to worry about whether you have time to brew a coffee in the morning or pick one up on the way. It also translates to more time I get to spend with friends and family, and for that, I am grateful.

According to Upwork, about 63 percent of companies today have remote workers and we are only going to see this number increase. Why? Simple. The benefits are endless for not only remote workers but also for employers.

Employer benefits of remote work

Offices can consider going virtual, or at least cut down the need for a large office space, which leads to thousands of dollars in savings. The benefits to the environment are even greater, as fewer employees need to commute to work every day.

“Companies that refuse to support a remote workforce risk losing their best people and turning away tomorrow’s top talent,” says Stephanie Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, and I couldn’t agree more. Why restrict your talent pool to strictly those who are within commuting distance from your organization?

Thanks to new and improved video conferencing solutions out there, employees can connect from all over the country or the world and still feel like they are in the same room as one another. Collaboration and productivity are made possible no matter where you are. There isn’t a need to have in-person meetings because video conferencing is more convenient and, arguably, more productive.

Research shows video calls lead to higher retention, better knowledge transfer and better collaboration. According to Human Productivity Lab, we remember only 20 percent of what we hear from an audio call but combined with video conferencing, knowledge transfer rates jump up to 70 percent. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, which consists of body language and tone of voice. From my experience using video conferencing, it really does create an authentic and transparent emotional connection between you and the person you’re talking to—even if you’ve never met before!

The only drawback to remote work…productivity!

How can you use your time wisely when there is no supervisor watching you? How can you get your work done when there is always a list of housework accumulating around you? It’s important to have time management skills and to give yourself regular breaks to maintain productivity.

If you are someone who needs to feel pressured to get things done, try going to a local coffee shop to get your work done. Perhaps the busyness of that environment may motivate you to be more productive.

Try getting dressed in the morning as if you are going to an office and sit in your designated home office space. It’s important to have a workspace so you know you need to be in “work mode” when you are sitting there.

I sometimes go for a short run during my workday. Whether it’s during the morning or afternoon, this is a great way to get some fresh air and increase your productivity, especially when the majority of your work involves staring at a computer screen. Whenever I feel myself getting a little stir-crazy, I go for a run and once I get back, I am rejuvenated and ready to tackle what I need to complete for the rest of the day.

Final thoughts

Working remotely has heaps of benefits over drawbacks. There are so many technologies out there to make you feel like you are in the same room as another person that there isn’t a need to collaborate in a physical office, especially when you can collaborate just as well remotely.

Of course, remote work is not plausible for all industries; take the retail or service industry as an example. Typically, any position where you spend the majority of your time on your computer or in meetings, your job can be done remotely.

Productivity is critical to doing your job well, so experiment with a few tips and choose whichever method helps you to become the most productive.

Remember to get acquainted with this reality because remote work is only just beginning to become the new normal!

Carla Haddad is a content writer and recent graduate of the Professional Writing and Communications program at Humber College. She obtained her undergraduate degree from McMaster University in Justice, Political Philosophy and Law where she read voraciously within the field of philosophy. She will begin her master’s degree in Rhetoric and Communication Design in September where she will further study the art of language, philosophy, communication and persuasion. In her spare time, you can find her reading, writing, running or baking healthy, gluten-free snacks. 

“Never Flinch, Never Weary, Never Despair”: Winston Churchill and The Incredibles

“We’re superheroes. What can happen to us?”

– Elastigirl [Helen Parr]

Incredibles_Family
“The Incredible Family” by TEDDY NEWTON

It’s unusual for a movie to create as much controversy as The Incredibles did after its November 2004 release. Brad Bird’s defiant cri de coeur on behalf of promoting excellence instead of mediocrity has led to heated debate about the role of education in society. Bird has even been accused of supporting Ayn Rand’s theory that the gifted elite should rule for the benefit of all. However, this viewer thought that Bird’s influences weren’t Randian – but Churchillian.

Continue reading ““Never Flinch, Never Weary, Never Despair”: Winston Churchill and The Incredibles”

5 Things Successful Millennials Do Outside of Work

Using your spare time constructively could help improve your work performance and advance your career.

By: Mitali ColabawallaMitali Cover Image

Success has always had an ambiguous definition, but most millennials associate it with happiness, health and social networking, which provide the foundation for a balanced lifestyle.

Work-life balance seems to be especially important to this particular generation, however, only five per cent of 20-somethings are thriving across all these elements based on a 2017 Gallup survey.

According to experts, how you utilize your free time plays an integral role in your ability to have a successful career. Employees who are thriving in their personal life perform better at their daily tasks, miss fewer workdays, and are able to adapt to change at a faster rate, empowering them to stay with companies longer.

In a 2017 interview with Forbes magazine, Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow, said, “It’s whatever allows you to sleep well at night that you’re balancing your wants and needs properly to be a happy person. There is no wrong or right. Time off is important to avoid burnout.”

So, how exactly do successful millennials spend their time away from work?

  1. Exercise.

Good health and regular fitness is a consistent part of a successful person’s lifestyle for mental and physical well-being.

 Mitali Image 1

Exercising everyday forces you to create—and stick to—a routine, which is a versatile mental discipline to master.

Elyse Goetze, 24 year-old nurse at Toronto General, says, “Working out your muscles promotes blood circulation throughout your body improving the overall strength of your heart. I like to call it 30 minute of magic. It’s also a lot of fun, because you can do it with a friend and there’s so many unconventional ways to exercise like hiking, snowboarding, rock climbing…even bungee jumping for those adrenaline junkies.”

Plus, the energy boost provided by eating healthy and exercising daily acts as a stress reliever and makes you more productive throughout the day.

  1. Network.

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Networking is more important now than ever; meeting new people can open doors to exclusive contacts, opportunities, and information.

“I have met a lot of people at my job, but I have met more people outside of it. Networking events are free and a lot of them are well-organized,” 26 year-old financial advisor at TD Bank, Rahul Kanda, recommends websites such as Eventbrite and Meetup for millennials looking to expand their social spider-web.

Millennials also understand the importance of keeping up with their online community to stay connected with their peers, so feel free to Instagram, Tweet, Facebook and Snapchat in the name of success!

  1. Spend time with loved ones.

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Successful millennials take time out of their busy lives to enjoy the people who make working so hard worth it all.

Sometimes we get so consumed with making money and advancing our careers that we forget about the importance of appreciating family and friends.

“I have met people who focus only on work and although they do move up the ladder, they alienate themselves from experiencing the basic human emotion of love,” Elyse points out.

Making an effort to check in with your family and friends can go a long way in your overall happiness and well-being.

  1. Travel.

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Travel is a unique way to push yourself outside your comfort zone and hone your ability to handle change.

Yes, travel can be pricey, but utilizing your thrifty and creative side can help you figure out ways to explore the world on a budget.

Not only that, but travel, especially backpacking, exposes you to a world of problem-solving, team-building, culturally-rich experiences.

“Learning is essential to our success, but learning through travel is just plain fun. Even if you’ve somehow become a pro in your field already, there’s always something new to learn and travelling exposes you to things you wouldn’t normally see at home.” Connor Campbell, 28 year-old foreman at Danik Electric, puts aside time to travel every year in order to appreciate everything life has to offer and utilize his money in a productive manner.

  1. Relax and Recharge.

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Being well-rested and focused is essential to success so that your mind is also being nourished and cared for.

Sleep is not just for the dead. Take the time to get some proper shut-eye every night—a lack of sleep results in lower productivity and a higher chance of sickness.

Meditation, yoga, even just a simple bubble bath, are great ways to reconnect with yourself and recharge your batteries.

“Meditating even just 10 minutes a day can help you clear your mind, improve your memory, and reduce stress,” Elyse informs us.

Journaling, drawing, colouring, and musical arts are great ways to unwind and unleash your creative side. Don’t be afraid to embrace any activity that helps relieve stress; there is no wrong answer when it comes to what you need!

But word to the wise, merely doing these things in your spare time does not guarantee success. If you choose to maximize on leisure time, then there is no room for complaints at the lack of accomplishment. However, finding that balance between working and living will help guide you toward a more rewarding professional life—and keep you sane at the same time.

Mitali is a student in the Professional Writing and Communications (PWC) program at Humber College that has always been engrossed in the world of literary fiction and non-fiction. It was at the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology (UOIT) she was able to seriously start to hone her skills as a writer. At UOIT she realized her talent for research-based writing. This sense of accomplishment and genuine joy led her to Humber’s PWC program. Humber’s PWC program has pushed and pulled her abilities, stretching them far beyond imaginable measures, teaching her that you really don’t know what you don’t know. In short, writing makes her incandescently happy. That happiness inevitably echoes through all paths in her personal life, enriching it entirely. 

Real talk: how the PWC program will actually help you succeed

April 3, 2018 | Laura Billett

For its first three years, the Professional Writing and Communications (PWC) graduate certificate program has attracted many aspiring writers. The program’s value hinges on whether those graduates become what the title implies: professionals. So, before forking out another year’s worth of tuition, you deserve to know: is this program truly what its website describes? Importantly, will you get a job out of it?Home office large

2017 PWC alumni Ardo Omer, Leticia Rodrigues and Sean White share their perspectives on the outcomes of the program.

Omer applied to the PWC program because it offered practical writing development. “Communications for me was more stable. It was a more career-oriented thing that would also give me the leeway to possibly pursue things like fiction,” Omer says.

The program opened her eyes to the nature of a communications role, and it gave her a better understanding of different sectors within communications. She was initially interested in writing for magazines but, after listening to the experiences of instructors and guest speakers, realized that it was not the industry that would bring her satisfaction.

The PWC program’s diverse classes exposed Omer to types of writing that she enjoys and uses in her job as festival assistant in communications with the International Festival of Authors (IFOA). “What you thought wasn’t your thing, becomes your thing. I never thought I would like writing press releases, but I know that’s probably the most fun I had writing anything, and I was really good at it,” Omer says.

In her internship with the IFOA, Omer was responsible for a range of activities—including writing and editing news releases. Now, she leads the IFOA’s social media activities, writes their blog and helps with research and marketing. As one of three on the communications team, Omer says her education brings weight to her voice: “I think both of [my colleagues] appreciate my insights with social media, which from an organizational stand point came from Humber.”

Rodrigues says the range of PWC courses has given her knowledge that helps her succeed. She completed her internship with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) before moving home to Curitiba, Brazil. There, she works as a copywriter for Nossa Causa, writing copy for blogs, email marketing and social media.

“I would say everything [from the program] somehow added up to what I am doing now,” Rodrigues says. “[PWC] helped me with not only my own work, but it gave me the right tools to be able to help other people with their work. For example, we have another person in the agency who is responsible for the planning of the campaigns, and I have things that I teach her from the [PWC] project management class to improve her management inside the agency.”

The broad scope of the program could also be seen as a downfall, White admits, but it’s what gave him the skills to succeed in the multi-faceted world of communications. As an intern with Prostate Cancer Canada, he wrote materials like news releases and articles. In his current role as a communications officer with CBC/Radio Canada, he writes more reactive communications, mostly on social media. White says every career requires constant learning, and “I like that [PWC] gave me options. It had a robust description of what the program entailed and that turned out to be really true.”

More than a range of skills, the program provides an opportunity to build a strong network of friends and professional contacts. PWC instructors encourage students to network with professionals in the writing community, but “the best networking is really [with] the people at your level,” White said. “I establish an actual network that is not based on ulterior motives; it’s just based on genuine human connection and friendship, and then that becomes a network.”

When White was looking for work after his internship, it was the Humber network that helped him find opportunities. PWC instructors recommended him for jobs, and friends from the program passed on freelance opportunities. In interviews, “I had a lot of response like, ‘oh wow, that program a reason why we called you,’” White says.

Omer agrees. “I find that a lot of organizations, especially if you’re just starting out in a communications role, want to be able to see that you have that school credit.”

Learning continues after the program, so you’ll have to be prepared to ask questions and show initiative, Omer says, but “[the certificate] is something now that I can go into any organization with, saying, ‘Hire me because I know this stuff’.”

To find out how you can apply to the Professional Writing and Communications Ontario Graduate Certificate, visit our website: https://liberalarts.humber.ca/programs/professional-writing-and-communications.html.

Laura is an aspiring writer and avid reader. She graduated with a BA in English from the University of Regina and is completing Humber College’s Professional Writing and Communications program. Stories have always been a source of inspiration for Laura, and she hopes that her own writing will open new worlds and perspectives for readers.

 

Hashtags and Rabbit Holes: Confessions of an Academic Writer

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” – Alexander Pope

“I want you to take a Post-It and write, ‘Don’t write like an academic.’” said my new Digital Communications professor. “Stick it on your desk, your wall, your computer. Anywhere you’re working. And don’t forget it.”

I blinked. But, ever the conscientious student, I slowly wrote it out in my notebook. (Yes, in ink, on paper.) I underlined it twice.

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As a mature student, I had enrolled in Humber College’s Professional Writing & Communications post-graduate program. I came armed with 6 years’ experience as a teaching assistant in Brock University’s English department, and a Master’s degree which focused on 18th and 19th century literature and gender studies. I loved studying that period, where manicured sentences wound long and lush as a garden path, heroic couplets were the chosen form of intellectuals, and you could stand on a Richardson novel to change a light bulb. Sadly, no one ever did beat down my door after graduation to discuss Judith Butler or Mr. Darcy’s masculine performance in Pride and Prejudice. So here I sat in this classroom, fluorescent lights buzzing, OSAP accruing, determined to bridge the distance between the ivory tower and the landscape beyond.

And, over the next eight months, my writing changed. Write for screens! Know your audience! Drop those adjectives! Bullet points! I ducked red pens and track changes, as my clauses fell away like petticoats. Watched as my murdered darlings dropped breathless to the floor, certain I’d never recover from the sacrifice. In time, I learned to step over them.

But if I bristled at changing my writing, I positively shut down when I was told to sign up for Twitter. As part of a teeny generation that has recently been dubbed “Xennials,” I grew up with the luxury of picking and choosing the parts of digital life in which I participated – and Twitter was not one of them. I dutifully claimed my handle, but I certainly didn’t see how I would ever need it in the workplace.

Is a tweet different than a heroic couplet? Yes, that’s a silly question. And no, it’s not silly at all. Alexander Pope may not have constrained himself to 140 or 280 characters, but he did know how to pack a nice, salty punch into two short lines. I learned to make my peace with the fact that a tweet is a similar burst of information, deliberately chosen to display its author’s worldview. As with any writing, both form and content are debated. Some are written poorly. Some are politically charged. Some will send you careening down a bot-peppered rabbit hole into chaos. Some are profound, impactful, and memorable.

When I did my internship at House & Home Media, in the third term of Humber’s program, I was surprised at how many of my days were spent focused on their social media and online presence. From there, I did a short contract at the Toronto International Film Festival, where my work was solely for web. And when finally, happily, I was hired for the Journals Division at the University of Toronto Press, it was as their Digital Marketing Coordinator. Now, one of the largest parts of my job is to run their Twitter accounts. And I’ve been pleased to find out along the way that Alexander Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu both have hashtags, and that a “Swiftie” not only refers to songstress Taylor, but satirist Jonathan.

I slid back into the academic world like a hand finds its glove. I knew this world. I loved this world. But what was different now was that I knew how to promote this world. And I also knew that, in some ways, it would be a challenge. Part of each day is spent finding newly published contributors on Twitter in order to market their articles and gain a wider reach. I search for the handles of their university departments. I track and promote the work of grad students. Though they are often quite sparing with their words, I try to get scholars talking on social media. Much like I once balked, some don’t see the point of being on the platform at all.

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As humanities majors, we’re told we have a wide variety of skills; we just need to market them. But we are rarely taught how, and many of us are more comfortable curled up with a good book than we are singing our own praises to potential employers. One week into my job at UTP Journals, I went home to my own academic, a quiet historian who’s writing his dissertation in Russian history, and told him to make sure he uses social media to promote his research. That when the time comes to apply for one of those coveted academic positions, to show not only that he can write, teach, and produce, but that he can help promote the department on its digital platforms. Useful advice? Academics on hiring committees would know more than I.

Is the debate about writing for social media similar to the heated debates about the potential dangers of the novel when it first appeared? Poetic license with the sonnet? The modern, post-Victorian aesthetic?

Today I saw a man reach out to another I follow on Twitter: “It grieves me that I’ve had to degrade myself to contact you over Twitter. Is there really no other way to reach you?” I trust by this point you know I understand the sentiment, but here is the truth, the raw truth for those of us who, as author Tim Bowling puts it, are “dragging the bloodied pelt of the twentieth century” behind us: social media is simply an exchange. A hand reaching out across a shrinking globe to create and participate in community. How does Alice not fall down the rabbit hole? If I ever find out, I’ll let you know. Sometimes I feel like I’m leasing space down there.

But here is what I also know to be true, as the world in which I once belonged shifts shape into something new: there is a way to marry the two, and still retain the integrity and traditions of the former.

I was recently in Washington at the American Historical Association meeting, and my colleague was attending the Modern Language Association convention in New York City. As I was tweeting from both, what struck me was just how many academics were reaching out to each other in kind and positive ways. During the worst of the January storms, there were offers of child-minding services for presenters if daycares were closed, promises to post grad student papers online if they couldn’t attend their sessions, and gentle reminders to tenured professors that a drink and a chat with a vulnerable adjunct can go a long way.

Can you fall down the rabbit hole, Alice? God help you, yes.

But you can also find support in an online academic community that will help you market your research, increase your career options, and put you in contact with new publications. You just need to make sure you’re opening the Twitter handle to the right door.

Tanya Rohrmoser is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at University of Toronto Press Journals, a freelance writer, and a graduate of Humber College’s Professional Writing & Communications Program. She holds an M.A. in English Literature from Brock University. Tanya currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, and is a lover of basil, toile, and William Morris wallpaper. You can follow her on Twitter at @TanyaRohrmoser.

Calling All Greasy Girls!

How women can and should be in control of their car’s maintenance

Google “girls and cars,” I’ll wait. All the hits are not safe for work, right? The narrative of girls being the ones who wash and model cars is indicative of a larger idea: women don’t know as much about cars as men do. I didn’t want to believe it — what does my gender have to do with anything? — but I was proven wrong at my car’s last six-month service appointment.

In early October, I took my 2016 Hyundai Elantra to the dealership for its regular service. In the final year of a three-year lease, I’ve had no issues with these services in the past.

During my appointment, the waiting room was unusually warm, like the temperature outside, and the seats as uncomfortable as expected. Just as I was getting drawn in to the CP24 story of Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper being in Washington at the same time, they said my car was ready.

“Hey Savoula, everything looks good,” the ever-affable Ben reported. I had to give the guy kudos—he repeated my difficult name a lot.

“Since I put on my winter tires last week, you guys didn’t charge me for tire rotation, right?” I jumped in.

I felt proud for knowing what usually comes in these six-month services. Truthfully, my knowledge of cars isn’t as detailed as I want it to be, so whenever I’m dealing with car-related checks, I pay close attention.

“Don’t worry, we didn’t rotate the tires. Here’s your total.” Ben showed me the invoice and I nodded. “Savoula, just so you know, usually every two years, cars have to go through a more extensive service where we perform a lot more maintenance. It’s usually $2,000 of work. Since you’ve reached that point in your lease, I’ll go ahead and add that total here and schedule you to come back.”

My eyebrows hit the ceiling; I couldn’t pick which expletive to start with. He spewed out words I didn’t understand, trying to explain why my car needed several different fixes. Ben’s geniality levels plummeted like a rock climber on a slippery foothold when he told me it didn’t matter what year the car was made—this service was standard procedure.

Thoughts 1 through 10 ran through my brain at the same time: should I just agree? But why wasn’t I warned about this upcoming $2,000 service before today? Is he just doing this because I seem naïve? Is it because I’m a girl? Wait…why is he typing right now?

“Sorry, Ben, I’m not going to be paying extra today. I need to think about it. Is there a pamphlet I can take home?” I meekly asked, feeling like not even his thick-rimmed glasses could shield the skepticism in his eyes.

“Sure, but you’re going to see it’s the right thing to do. Give me a call when you change your mind,” he replied, looking back to his computer and dismissing any other questions I might have had.

 

I couldn’t help but wonder if the same thing would have happened if I was an older driver. Or a dude.

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I’m not alone in feeling like my gender played a role in how I was treated that day. Studies still show women leave dealerships feeling uneasy, uncomfortable and uneducated about cars.

A study released in December by CDK Global highlights 43 per cent of women who completed online reviews for dealerships found their experiences differed from the experiences of men. The most common words used in their reviews included “stressed,” “overwhelmed” and “panicked.” Rather than wait around for a dealership services manager or mechanic I found trustworthy, I put faith in myself and got educated (largely with the help of WikiHow).

Most recently with the bad weather, I found where the washer fluid reservoir is under the hood of my car and learned how to replace the fluid when I run out. I also discovered where to get fluid from (you can’t just mix soap and water and use it as fluid….I asked).

Ladies, try a more worthwhile Google search, like “girls learn cars,” and arm yourselves with knowledge from like-minded women. Those Google hits look more encouraging: let the Vroom Girls share how much to pay a mechanic; watch Jessica Chou show you how to negotiate the price of a car; or read Grease Girl’s Garage DIYs on how to perform some simple service tasks for yourself.

If more girls learn the basics about car maintenance, we can hopefully make a dent in the current narrative and prove women can be just as knowledgeable about cars as men.

Spoiler alert: my car is still surviving without the $2,000 service.

Savoula Stylianou, Author 

Savoula is a writer, traveler, music lover and Harry Potter fan. She graduated from Queen’s University with her BAH and MA in Religious Studies before entering Humber’s Professional Writing and Communications program this year. The thing Savoula loves most about writing is finding the most creative ways to share an experience with readers, as so many writers she loves, like Judy Blume and Alice Munro, have shared with her.