Alvina Lai | Student Success Series

CPPA Students
5 min readFeb 7, 2023

By: Alvina Lai

This blog has been reviewed by Alexander Korski and Gladys Orobosa; edited, formatted and published by Nicholas Murray.

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Alvina, tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Alvina, and I am in the final year of my bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto, where I am double majoring in Psychology and Cognitive Science and minoring in Classical Civilization. My decision to major in psychology was primarily driven by my desire to help others, and I was initially going to enter into a therapeutic occupation. This quickly changed after the second year after I took my second and third-year courses in social psychology — especially Positive Psychology. As someone who has struggled with staying positive — at least towards myself — I found this framework immensely helpful and relevant to my life. I have been part of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association since the summer of 2021 as a blog reviewer, and this is my first blog post!

I hope to eventually pursue a career in academia and research in the field of social psychology, with a focus on wisdom and its contemporary applications — in fact, I’ve just finished applications for graduate school, so crossing my fingers on that! My research interests include intergroup conflict resolution, social media impact, and social movement dynamics. I believe further research into these topics is essential in developing insights into increasing kindness and empathy in social interactions. Outside of my coursework, I’m the co-president of the Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence Students’ Association, a research assistant in multiple psychology labs, and a mother to a Siberian kitty named Sevro!

What do you think made you successful as a student?

One of the things that I believe has contributed to my success as a student is my near-obsessive need to complete tasks before the deadline. One of my pet peeves is being late, and as a result, I use various productivity apps such as Google Calendar and Notion to track what I have to do. This has been particularly helpful in academic situations, as I plan out the entire semester before classes commence, note down all the deadlines from the syllabus, and calculate the grades I need to excel in the course. This strategy of planning ahead of time may not work for everyone, but I find that knowing what I can control helps to curb anxiety about upcoming assignments and tests, allowing me to focus on what matters.

Additionally, being interested in the topic being taught goes a long way. I found that when I could not connect to the material, I cared less about the work. However, psychology is so broad that it is impossible for an individual not to find anything within it that captures their attention and interest. Nevertheless, finding an aspect of the material that catches your attention can increase your level of engagement and recall. For example, I recently took a course in social cognitive neuroscience. I may not be the best at remembering the function of specific brain parts, and this is reflected in my first midterm performance in the course. So, instead of ruminating on my performance, I joined a study group with a couple of friends and dedicated a considerable amount of time perfecting my essay on a topic I actually cared about, parasocial relationships. Though I still didn’t get a perfect grade, my subsequent performance in the class was much better than the one I would have achieved otherwise.

finding an aspect of the material that catches your attention can increase your level of engagement and recall.

What strength, skill, strategy, mindset, or habit allowed you to get where you are today?

As you might be able to tell by now, I strongly believe in the importance of being as prepared as possible when it comes to managing anything in your life, whether it be academia, social, or work-related. As a result, I take pride in my organisational skills, which are strongest during high-pressure situations. Sure, it may be tedious to know the syllabus inside and out by reading it over and over again multiple times, but at least I know what’s expected of me as a student, where to find support from the teaching staff, and how heavy the workload is going to be so I can adequately manage other extraneous activities such as work and my social life. By preparing for as much as possible, I allow myself to take comfort in the fact that if anything goes wrong, it is probably due to something outside of my control.

How would you invite other students to cultivate those qualities?

Everyone is different, so my advice is to simply do what works best for you. After years of having routines and regimens imposed on me, I’ve come to realise that I need to set my own boundaries and goals and figure out what works best for my life, not someone else’s. Once all these expectations faded, I found it extremely easy to create my own schedule and stick to it because I knew what I wanted and how to achieve it. Additionally, it’s okay to go at your own pace — your only real competition should be with yourself in becoming the person you aspire to be. I try not to let anyone’s opinions affect my choices and path in life too drastically. That way, I know I’m staying true to myself and what I want to do. While not everyone may have their life figured out, that’s okay — starting small with your goals allows you to see step-by-step progress and motivate you towards bigger dreams.

Any last words you’d like to share with fellow students?

Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned something! You can reach out to me at alvina.lai@mail.utoronto.ca or add me on LinkedIn if you’d like to talk. Please also take the time to check out the Student Ambassador Program of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association so you can join our community and learn more about positive psychology!

If you liked this blog or if it has helped you in any way, please take a moment to like, share, or comment!

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CPPA Students

We are the Student Ambassador Program of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA). Find our website here: https://www.cppa.ca/Student-Zone