Archive | September, 2008

How to Start a Youth Group in Your School

When I was fifteen, I made a decision that would completely change my life. Inspired by a Report Card on Child Poverty in Toronto, my brother and I decided to start a youth group in our school to tackle child poverty in city. I had never been in a “leadership role” before, so to say that I learned a lot, would be quite the understatement.

That being said, being inexperienced and never having even been in a school club before, we made a lot of mistakes. But that’s okay, because there’s nothing as educational as learning by doing – and that involves making mistakes.

Now I know there are a lot of students out there who might have an idea or an issue important to them, and want to start a youth group or school club, but just don’t know where to start. Hopefully I can help you with that.

What follows is a basic, step-by-step guide to help you set up your own youth group or school club. Hopefully, with this guide, and a bit of passion and confidence, you too can turn your idea or passion into something amazing.

Step 1: Identify an Issue You are Passionate About

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How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay – Part 4: Revising the Essay

Congratulations on finishing the most gruelling part of the application process – writing the essay. Although the finish line is in sight, you’re not just done yet. But before we go on any further, there is one very important thing you need to do first.

Take a Break: Come Back in a Day or Two

Yes, you heard me right. Put down your pen. Get off your computer. Go outside, call up some friends, or even grab some homework to do. Whatever you do though, don’t read your essay for at least a day.


You have just been through a fairly intensive thinking and writing process. At this point, your mind is very exhausted, and it is unlikely you will be able to think straight. Not only do you deserve a break, but you need one. You are not going to be able to revise your essay properly if you’re not in a good state of mind.

In fact, because you have been drilling certain ideas into your head recently, you are going to have a very biased point of view about your essay. Sentences that normally would not make sense to you, all of a sudden appear perfect in your essay. Ideas that would usually clash, now seem to magically flow well. Don’t fall into this trap. Take a break!

Rested? Okay, Let’s Do One Personal Revision

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Stop and Think: Don’t Fall into the Trap of Autopiloting

A few days ago, I had my first peer tutoring session of the year. Last year I tutored chemistry to first year students, but this year, I am now also tutoring first year biology and mathematics. I love teaching and helping students succeed in general (this blog itself should make that obvious!), and I am really hoping teaching plays some role in my career.

The very first student I tutored this year needed some help with chemistry. She was very enthusiastic, and was obviously keen on learning, which I like a lot. However, I quickly noticed the reason why she was having trouble with the chemistry problems; it was the same thing I have seen many times in numerous students who were not prepared for the jump to university.

I remember one question she asked me in particular. It was a chemistry problem that provided a chemical equation, as well as the mass of one of the reactants (I’m not going to go into too much detail for those of you who have not taken chemistry, because there’s a more important point I want to get across). We read the question together, and then afterwards, she immediately started converting the mass of the reactants to its amount in moles. However, after reading the question again, I realized that the calculation she was doing was pointless; the calculation she was doing was irrelevant to the answer. But she was doing the calculation anyways because she was on autopilot.

What is Autopilot?

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Mastering Interview and Application Questions: The Art of Questioning the Question

I was sitting in my Advanced Biochemistry class the other day, and the professor was talking about a well-known scientist (that I can’t remember) who helped pave the way for some very important discoveries in biology. The professor said that the reason why the scientist was so successful was not because he knew all the answers right away, but because he knew the right questions to ask.

Asking the Right Questions

Whenever you are solving any type of problem, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: what is the question really asking? Because if you don’t understand the question, then you’re never going to get the right answer. And the best way to understand a question, is to question the question itself (this sounds kind of tricky, but really it’s not!).

Being able to look at problems by asking the right questions is an important concept that applies to anything, and is something I find particularly useful in my undergraduate life sciences studies. Last year, I began tutoring first year chemistry students as part of the chemistry department’s peer mentoring program. Students would come in with chemistry problems they were having trouble with, and we would help figure them out.

While some of the other tutors just solved the problems for the students in front of them (and granted, that’s all some of the students wanted), I don’t feel this is the best way to help the students. Because if the students knew how to approach correctly, well, they wouldn’t need to be asking for help in the first place. So in general, I don’t like just solving the problems for them. What I try to do is guide them through the process of answering the question, and I do so by asking them questions. I ask them the questions they should be asking themselves while doing the problem.

I ask the students things like: What is the question asking us to figure out by the end? What information do we need to figure that out? Okay, so once we have that information, how do we get to the next step? etc. etc. When I do this, my hope is that the students retain this questioning method of problem solving. At some point, when this process becomes ingrained in you, you don’t really think about the questions consciously while say doing a test, but it’s essentially what you are doing while problem solving.

So What are the Right Questions to Ask when Approaching Interview and Application Questions?

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How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay – Part 3: Writing the Essay

At this point, you should know what you are going to write. That is, you should have completed the outline for your essay which includes all the information and ideas you want to get across to the scholarship judges: what you have achieved, the lessons you’ve learned, how you got started, etc.

In this article, I am going to walk you through some important concepts on how to put these ideas into the form of an essay in the best way possible. One thing I am NOT going to do is write the essay for you. If you came here expecting to see complete sample essays, then you’re in the wrong place. What I’m trying to do is teach you how to write your essay, and hopefully by the end of the article, you’ll realize why understanding these concepts is much more valuable than me simply giving you a template essay to use.

Don’t Write an Essay. Write Your Story.

Although we always use terms like “scholarship essays” or “essay answers”, realize that you’re not writing a formal essay for your history class. Think of your scholarship essay of more like a story. Your story.

Imagine you were writing a novel about yourself and your leadership/community experiences: what would you say? How would you say it?

There are a few reasons why you should write your scholarship essay as if you are telling a story, but the primary reason is because it helps you stand out. Scholarship judges must go through hundreds or thousands of application essays. Formal essays are not exciting by nature – but stories are. You want your scholarship judge, in the heap of a hundred boring formal essay answers, to be excited by something interesting for once: your story.

Think of your essay like a movie or a novel, where you are the hero in the story: a hero with a mission. Through your story, you want to convince the reader (the scholarship judge) to be on your side. It’s kind of like sports. Have you ever watched your favourite team compete in a championship game? How did you feel? What emotions went through you as you cheered for your team? That’s the feeling you want the judges to have about you.

By the end of the essay, you want the judge to be cheering for you, to want you to succeed. You want the judge to put down your application and think: “Wow, I need to meet this person!”

Write in the First Person

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Things Are Slowing Down…

University life is starting to take its toll a bit. Between classes and the time it takes for transportation, I feel like there’s not very much time left each day. It also doesn’t help that I have morning classes, and well I’m not a morning person, so I don’t get enough sleep everyday and wind up very tired at the end of the day.

So if I was awake I would definitely have time to write a few things, but I don’t write particularly well when I’m tired (who does?), and I think the readers deserve more than some tired attempt if I’m trying to provide something useful!

I appreciate all the comments so far from everyone. You are all very kind, and I appreciate that, as well as all your suggestions for future topics.

I’m looking to have How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay Part 3: Writing the Essay up by this Friday evening.

Also, with the release of the Loran Award Application and the TD Scholarship deadlines coming up soon, I would like to have an article up soon for advice for each of those particular applications.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about applying to universities, which programs to select, etc. so I will be trying to get some good articles up about that in October/November, since I know those of you graduating will need to be making some crucial decisions soon.

Hope everyone’s first week of school went well!

Making Sense

Imagine you are a scholarship judge or admission committees, and you are analyzing an application. It could be a scholarship essay, medical school essay, or something similar. Despite the specific qualities you are looking for, there is always one underlying question whose answer will consciously or unconsciously sway your opinion:

“Does it make sense?”

And I don’t mean grammatically (i.e. the sentences can be understood). For example, the medical school admissions committee might ask itself:

“Does it make sense for the applicant to become a doctor?”

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Back to School

Sorry for the lack of writing the past few days! My internet has been down since Friday, but it seems to be fine now.

So today was the first day of my 3rd year of Biomedical Sciences at York. I had been living on campus during my first two years, but decided to save some money and commute this year. I had been commuting home during the summer from York (because of my NSERC research job), but I had yet to experience the morning ride to York, especially during the regular school year.

Wow. Talk about a long ride. It took about 1 hour and 30 minutes to get to York by bus this morning. I find the bus kind of boring, since I don’t have anyone to talk to on my route. And since I get bored pretty easily in general… bad combination.

First class today was BIOL 3010: Advanced Biochemistry. Basically the entire course is about metabolism. Metabolism of beer, metabolism of poisons, metabolism of amino acids, etc. etc., it’s all on the course syllabus. Yay fun… (sarcasm for the gullible) Anyways, the professor was actually a pretty funny, laid back guy. Which is usually good, except for some reason, that always means harder tests. We’ll see I guess…

Second class was GEOG 1000: World Regional Geography. This course is kind of weird… the lectures apparently are going to be full of random stories and geographical history, and will often be biased (their words, not mine). Oh, and there is a map quiz where in a past year, students had to draw the entire map for a region from scratch. Umm yah, interesting…

Third (and last) class for today was PHIL 2060: Social and Political Philosophy. I’m probably not going to look forward to reading the material (because I tried that last year with this kind of philosophical stuff, and well sorry, I learned English in the 20th century, not the 17th…). But I do enjoy the concepts, and the professor seems very interesting and like he understands the stuff (and philosophy in general, which is kinda important). Not looking forward to the two essays, but pretty sure I’ll find the material very interesting.

Pretty happy in general that none of my professors decided to actually teach much today. I had that once for last year, and well, that wasn’t fun… hard to take class seriously on the first day.

Tomorrow I have Processes of Evolution and Molecular Biology I…. super happy to only have two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays!

Sorry for having no new articles up yet. I have a few in mind though, plus finishing up the Scholarship Essay series. I hoped to have that finished by the end of this week, but writing that piece is taking longer than I thought.

I think I’m going to write an interesting article for tomorrow about the importance of “making sense”. This is a super important and powerful concept, hopefully you find it interesting and useful.

Hope everyone had a good first day of school! =)