Thursday, November 21, 2013

Letting go of Perfectionism

This posting is from, a listserv from Western dedicated to helping students succeed in graduate school. E-mail questions, comments, or suggestions to: . This service is provided by Student Development Centre’s Learning Skills Services, Room 4100, Western Student Services Building, The University of Western Ontario, Canada;

“The opposite of perfection isn’t imperfection or mediocrity; it’s reality. It’s possibility.”
Tamar Chansky

Do you feel like the work you accomplish is never quite good enough? Do you delay turning in papers so you can keep working on them until they are just right? Do you feel that unless you give more than a 100 percent to everything you do, your work will be mediocre or even a failure?
If so, rather than simply working toward success, you may in fact be trying to be perfect. Perfectionism refers to a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors aimed at reaching excessively high unrealistic goals. Perfectionism is often mistakenly seen in our society as desirable or even necessary for success. However, studies have shown that perfectionist attitudes actually interfere with success. The desire to be perfect can both rob you of a sense of personal satisfaction and cause you to fail to achieve as much as people who have more realistic strivings. (Counseling Center at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2007)
As Psychologist Susan Meindl explains:  Because perfectionism refuses to compassionately admit to human limits, it continually undermines self esteem. It makes it impossible to accept the inadequacies and frailties which are the result of our individual uniqueness, which we must accept in order to accept ourselves. Because it proposes inhuman standards on self and others, it makes it impossible to ever feel successful, accomplished or proud... no matter how much good work has been done. At the graduate school level original thinking becomes part of the skill set that the academic program is trying to develop. When perfectionism limits spontaneity, flexibility, and willingness to take risks and explore imperfect partial responses, it also tends to limit or block creativity.
So how do we help ourselves relinquish perfectionism and keep reality in our game plan? Below are some excerpts Tamar Chansky’s article “How to Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Strategies for Making a Better Life.” For the full article visit
Do an Accurate Assessment
If our inner-perfectionist were cheering us on from the sidelines, that would be one thing, but if it's a rant and it sounds like: "This isn't right, this isn't good enough; what are you even thinking with that?" we need to pull the plug - not on the project, but on the perfectionist. To counteract those negative messages, get the facts. Ask yourself different questions and really answer them: What is working? What are you enjoying? What is the purpose of what you are doing? Are you meeting that purpose? Or, if things aren't working so well, don't give up - ask yourself why it isn't working. Maybe this is a clue about where you need to head next.
Is This a Difference That Makes a Difference?
Because we can get hung up on the smallest details, wanting every part of a project to be perfect, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. It’s important we determine if each part of the project needs so much time and attention, or if all of the extra effort on a particular part could be better spent elsewhere. A good way to figure that out is to ask: Is this a difference (my spending this extra time) that will make a difference in the long run? Yes, your resumé was perfect, but if you're late for the interview - well, you get the point. Rather than siphoning off your energy to pay the perfection meter, imagine how much better those resources could be spent, advancing the bigger goal of the project.
Let Go of All-or-Nothing Thinking
What sends us down the chute of failure and despair and convinces us we should abandon a project, or at least procrastinate working on it, is finding one thing not going well and then jumping to the conclusion that the whole thing is shot. Think in parts. If a leaf of a tree, or even a branch, gets damaged, does that condemn the whole tree? Make use of the word "some": Some things are working, some things are not. Take note of both.
How Important Is This Task?
Another helpful place for the notion of "some" is whether the success of this project or endeavor will impact all of your life forever, or whether some things will be impacted by the success of this project, but other things will remain unchanged. The pressure on the perfectionist is that every moment of stepping into the spotlight or every word you write, involves a permanent scorecard. Not everything can be of paramount importance in your life.  Some things do count more than others, when something doesn't count - let it go.

Counseling Center at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2007. “Perfectionism.”

Meindl, Susan. “Grad School Perfectionism Creates Stress, Anxiety and Depression Rather than Excellence.,-Anxiety-and-Depression-Rather-Than-Excellence&id=2210275

Chansky, T. (2012) “How to Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Strategies for Making a Better Life.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Grad Writing Drop-In

Perfect for getting over a hump in the writing road, kick-starting the next paper, or even finding a place to start the whole process -- from project to dissertation.

Every Thursday this semester
2pm - 4pm, half-hour sessions
Writing Central, 1st floor, Library

No registration required – just drop in.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Graduate Student Research Symposium and Schofield Memorial Lecture

This annual event highlights the current research of graduate students, featuring poster sessions in the morning and oral presentations in the afternoon.
The day concludes with the Schofield Memorial Lecture followed by an awards presentation and reception.
Click here  for the schedule of activities.
Time: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Location: OVC Lifetime Learning Centre
The Schofield Memorial Lecture presents "Influenza at the Animal-human Interface," a talk by Ian York, DVM, M.Sc. and PhD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.
Time: 4:30 p.m. (Reception and awards presentation from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.)
Location: OVC Lifetime Learning Centre, Room 1714

Friday, November 1, 2013

Academic Reading - what's the difference?

We all do it sometimes: read an article or chapter and not recall much about it.  Scholarly reading is very different from reading for pleasure.  Unfortunately many students don’t recognize the difference and instead try to read a textbook or journal article as if it were a novel.” 
Does this quote describe you?  Are you unsure how to read an academic article or book effectively?  Many graduate students find the process of academic reading difficult.  It can often seem like the stack of journal articles you have to read is never-ending.  Plus, the process of critically analyzing and evaluating content may seem very unfamiliar.  In order to help you get through all of the academic reading you have ahead of you, here is a framework that you may find helpful:
Stages of Academic Reading
Questions to Ask Yourself
Determine your reading purpose
What do I want to know?
What are my reading questions?
Preview the article
What can I learn by “skimming” the article?
What can I learn from the abstract?
Focus on major content
What do I need to “scan” to find?
What do I need to read in detail?
Critically evaluate and assess the content
Are there any problems with the research?
Does this fit with what I already know?
Does this fit with other research?
Record important information
Use: Margin notes?  Outline?  Summary?
Reflect and check comprehension
Did I answer my reading questions?
What do I still need to find out?
What further research do I need to do?
Organize and file
Where can I file this information?
Where can I use this information?

As discussed in the chart, two very important academic reading skills are skimming and scanning. 
Skimming is used when you need to quickly get a sense of what you’re reading, perhaps when you are trying to determine if the article is relevant for your research or to help you get the big picture of the article’s content.  In order to skim, pay attention to: titles and subtitles, diagrams, the abstract and the conclusion.  Don’t worry about details. 
Scanning is used when you are looking for specific information within the article.  To scan, guess where the information is most likely to be and look there quickly for key words. Once you find them, carefully read the appropriate section.
There is no time like the present to begin applying academic reading skills to the articles and books you have on your “to read” list.  If you would like further help developing your academic reading strategies, please email to book an appointment with one of the professional staff in Learning Services.
Adapted from
an e-mailout dedicated to helping students succeed in graduate school.