• Race to a Cure Authors

October Student Success Box #3

This past month, Race to a Cure's readers submitted many insightful questions to our Student Success Box! In this article, we will hear from four Race to a Cure members who will share their insights on professional speaking, academic opportunities, and staying focused! Let's get to know the students we will hear from!

Michelle: Hey! I am Michelle Lam, and I'm a Grade 12 student from Mississauga, Ontario. I was born in Hong Kong, and I just moved here this January. I'm looking to pursue health science or life science. In my free time, I love cooking, baking, and playing sports!

Rajan: Hello! My name is Rajan Minocha-McKenney, and I am a grade 12 student from Amherst, Nova Scotia. I love getting involved in both my school and community in various ways and helping others in any way that I can. A few of my favourite hobbies include basketball, running, music, student/youth councils, and exploring STEM. I hope my personal experiences and advice can be beneficial to you in some way!

Edie: Hi, I'm Edie Whittington! I'm a Grade 11 student in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I'm interested in many things, from medical sciences to environmental stewardship and entrepreneurship. In my free time, I like to cook, go bike riding and play the piano.

Kelley: Hi! I'm Kelley Liang, and I am a Grade 10 student from Mississauga, Ontario. I am interested in various subjects like STEM and the environment, but I am not sure what I want to pursue. In my free time, I enjoy reading, listening to music, and sometimes playing sports.

Image is courtesy of bongkarn thanyakij via Pexels.

1. What are some of the best tips you’ve learned about interviews, presentations, and professional speaking in general?

Michelle: Interviews, presentations, and public speaking seemed very daunting for me years ago. I was a shy and quiet girl whose voice could not be heard by others when talking. When I was 6 years old, my mum signed me up for Speech Festival Competition. I had to recite a poem and present it with all sorts of facial expressions and movements. After all those years, I've found that confidence and practicing is the key to success. One of the reasons you feel nervous is due to a lack of preparation. Be prepared for every task, including exams, classes, and presentations. For me, this can boost my confidence and show my personality as well. Being unique and passionate is vital to everything. What I've found is that passion can boost your confidence and performance. In one of my public speeches, I was running for the head prefect at my school. Since I am really attached to my school, I am willing to show all my dedication to my classmates. Everything seems always to go easier when I am enthusiastic about it. Don't join activities merely because of popularity or academic portfolio. All in all, do what you like and stay true to yourself. 

Edie: As the Executive Director of a non-profit focusing on environmental education, I have a lot of public speaking experience. I can now say that I feel confident standing in front of a crowd, but it hasn't always been this way. It's easy to feel the pressure and judgment when presenting a speech in class or sharing a story with an audience. I've found that practise really helps by testing nerves and becoming more sure of yourself. Focus on what you do well and think of yourself as a confident, knowledgeable leader to put yourself out into the world. When you spread this positivity, you have the power to become who you want to be. It's all a process, and becoming more confident and secure takes time. But you also have to start somewhere. If you're always saying to yourself, I need to start dressing differently, having a better schedule, singing more, it can be quick to put it on hold. Start now! Start becoming who you want to be; we're all growing and developing at different stages. When you're sure of yourself and prepare accordingly for presentations and interviews, they go by easier with a lot less overthinking. 

2. What are some of the best places to find academic opportunities (volunteering, internships, fellowships, etc.)?

Michelle: I don't have a lot of experience in that, but I know a few websites and platforms regarding academic opportunities. If you are looking for volunteering opportunities, try this website: https://www.volunteermatch.org/. It provides all sorts of volunteer positions that match your location. LinkedIn is also a good spot. You can find volunteer opportunities, part-time jobs, or internships through the amazing social media platform. It is the largest business-oriented networking website for organizations or work-seekers. It also has a great job board. New opportunities exist on the LinkedIn site. You can save job searches and set job alerts to hear about opportunities. It also gives you the ability to showcase your profile, expertise, and recommendations. You can add skills and talents to gain social proof and build credibility. Plan your internship search and specify when you apply to an internship rather than a permanent position. As for fellowship, it is usually for graduates or graduate students. The website https://www.profellow.com/ is a good platform. You can customize your search based on your academic degree and work experience. There are more than 1000 professional and academic fellowship programs. At university, you will want to approach professors or academic advisors for student opportunities. There is plenty of information you can find on school websites or from counsellors at university. Remember, you have to be the one to find opportunities, as they won't come to you automatically.

Rajan: In my experience, finding academic opportunities in your current environment needs to start with YOU! Meaning, you need to take the first step to do the initial research, plan and reach out to clubs and organizations interested in where you want to get involved. I also recommend trying various new things and applying yourself in situations that will build your experience and help you better understand the fields you want to focus on in the future. When you open doors for yourself, the possibilities are endless. Additionally, good places to start would be talking to mentors, guidance counsellors, or experienced youth with whom you share common interests. Reaching out to people who have had previous experiences can guide you in the right direction and help you along the way. Also, signing up for trusted mailing lists can share beneficial and specific opportunities currently taking place. These mailing lists can provide an abundance of information and can be found at the bottom of your organizations' desired websites, but beware of spam and unsubscribe if you do not require that information anymore. Finally, if you feel as though you know what you want but can't find a group that offers it, you can always take the initiative to start something yourself! You most likely are not alone, and there are others just like you who are searching for that same passion you are craving. This is a more strenuous and ambitious task to achieve, but certainly not impossible. Take it one step at a time by doing your research, planning, and taking action to accomplish your goal.

3. How do you stay focused?

Kelley: To be honest, it is hard for me to stay focused on a task because I often procrastinate. Something that has helped me stay focused, however, is having the same study routine. I mean that every time I need to focus, I follow the same routine that puts me in a productive mindset. The first thing I do is organize my workspace because sometimes a messy workspace can distract me from what I should be doing. After cleaning my workspace, I feel more motivated to start working. I try to turn off all my notifications and put my distractions away by leaving my phone in another room and turning on my chrome extension that blocks social media websites like Youtube and Netflix. I think social media platforms are great and entertaining, but it is created to be addictive, which can be a distraction and way to procrastinate. I stay focused on a study schedule, where I plan out time blocks and what I will be working on at that time (the more specific, the better). I also add breaks to get snacks or walk around because I get distracted and tired quickly when working for long periods of time.

Michelle: Nowadays, staying focused is definitely a challenge for everyone due to distractions from social media or your mobile device. Like what Kelley said, I follow a specific routine to help me stay productive. The first thing I will do is to set study goals and timetables. Ask yourself why you take these courses and what your future career looks like. Once you know what you want, prepare a weekly or daily study schedule. This should include the time you wake up, eat, study, relax, and go to bed. Sometimes, it can be hard to follow a timetable, but make an effort to establish a routine. For advice on productivity, check out Race to a Cure's September Student Success Box, where we discuss helpful apps such as Notion, Focus, and the Pomodoro method. Another key point is to turn off your phone or set silent notifications for a few hours. Social media pop-ups are huge distractions. I find it very helpful to turn off the phone and focus on my studies. I don't turn it on until I finish my task, even during breaks. I even put my phone in another room and study in my bedroom. Moreover, work at a place you feel most comfortable. There is a range of places, including your home, cafes, libraries and so on. Some even play music in the background. I personally like to have a drink beside me, such as coffee or bubble tea. I used to study in fast food shops or cafes, but due to COVID-19, I currently have to stay at home. Depending on the task, I listen to my favourite music to help me stay focused. Studying or working is exhausting, so find your most comfortable spot and environment. Lastly, reward yourself after the task. Personally, I love eating. Sometimes, I will fix my goal of a cup of Starbucks or a bowl of ice cream in my mind to motivate me to stay focused on my work. If I exceed my expectations, I even reward myself with extra things. You can set any rewards, such as shopping, watching Youtube or Netflix, playing video games, etc. Basically, anything you enjoy will do.

Final Note

As students, advice on interviews, professional speaking, academic opportunities, and staying focused are definitely useful. We hope that through our Student Success Box, you could learn something new and discover insightful tips that can assist you in your aspirations!

Article Contributors: Michelle Lam, Rajan Minocha-McKenney, Edie Whittington, Kelley Liang

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Edie Whittington