Gingin Chien | Student Success Series

This blog has been reviewed by Katya Santucci and Béa Schueller, edited by Rémi Thériault, and formatted and published by Béa Schueller.

Gingin Chien, University of Toronto psychology student

Gingin, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi! I am Gingin, a fourth year student studying Psychology and Statistics at the University of Toronto. My research and study interests lie in social psychology and behaviour. Instead of thinking of psychology as a study to “cure” or “fix” people with mental health disorders, I think that it’s better for us to focus on how to be happy, stay positive, and work towards mental health disorder prevention.

Born and raised in Taiwan, I was taught by my parents and teachers that we have to be polite, modest, and tough. As a result, I became overwhelmed by the demands of the traditional mindset. As a child, I had little choice but to follow what I was taught, and being too modest caused me to have low self-esteem and lack confidence. Even when I obtained good grades and performed well in sports, I never thought that I deserved those awards — I kept telling myself that I should try harder. Never was I reminded that I could be polite but assertive, modest but confident, and tough but vulnerable.

Two years ago, I met a classmate in a social psychology course who inspired me to learn more about positive psychology, mindfulness, and well-being. That was when I started meditating at least ten minutes each day, listening to calming music when feeling anxious, and trying to implement self-care into my daily routine. I never thought that meditation would be my cure — yet being more mindful of my mental wellness really changed my life dramatically! The power of these practices are profound to me, which is one aspect that motivates me to be part of the CPPA Student Ambassador Program, advocate for positive psychology, and ultimately, keep learning more about it!

I never thought that meditation would be my cure — yet being more mindful of my mental wellness changed my life.

What do you think made you successful as a student?

Different people have defined success differently, and thus have various methods to reach that success. To me, being successful as a student means to know what you are passionate about and to make the most out of the courses you’re taking and the research experience you’re getting. It also means taking every opportunity to learn, maintaining a good work-life balance, and developing the time-management skills necessary to juggle heavy course loads and extra-curricular activities. That being said, I do think that time management and critical thinking, in particular, made me successful as a student. By managing my time well and planning ahead, I know how long I need to work on each task and therefore know when I can take some time off and relax (which is also important to nourish your mental health!). When learning new stuff, thinking critically instead of pure memorization or only studying for a good grade really keeps me passionate about the things I am learning. Although GPA and grades do matter, being overwhelmed by them might lead to excessive stress and might even cause learning to become unpleasant. Learning should be enjoyable and exciting!

Being successful as a student means to know what you are passionate about.

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

Although it’s cliche, I think that being disciplined and planning ahead really matters. Learning is fun, but it can sometimes be dull too when you need to memorize tons of specific terms and studies for your upcoming exam. During these times, being disciplined is crucial. In my experience, when I am in the final exam season, I try to remind myself of my long-term goal (e.g., getting into a prestigious graduate program where I can conduct interesting research or getting my dream job). Having goals keeps me disciplined and motivates me to study. Further, planning ahead and managing my time also allow me to maintain a work-life balance. Every Sunday night, I review my week, reflect on my progress, and plan my next week.

Having a growth mindset also helps. In highschool, I used to be afraid of not knowing what my classmates knew, not being able to finish a task, or not being able to be the best performing student — not only regarding grades, but also sports. However, I came across the concept of growth mindset vs. fixed mindset, and the importance of having a growth mindset in this ever-changing world. People with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges and do not think that they are capable of learning new things, which prevents them from growing and entering into different fields. For example, you might not be the most knowledgeable researcher in your field, the best performing athlete in your sport, or currently be in an ideal position to achieve your dream. However, the research on growth mindset suggests that as long as you take action and recognize that you can always practice and learn to be better, chances are that you would work harder and would eventually be closer to (or even achieve) your goal. Keeping these two mindsets in mind, I constantly remind myself to never stop learning new things and explore different possibilities. It is also by embracing this mindset that I start to actively search for different experiences and positions to learn new things as a student.

Growth mindsets suggest that as long as you take action and recognize that you can always practice and learn to be better… you would work harder and would eventually be closer to your goal.

How would you invite other students to cultivate those qualities?

I think the first step to cultivate self-discipline is to think of one’s goals, short-term or long-term. Some examples of short-term goals include meeting a paper deadline, or getting good grades in the upcoming midterm. Some examples of long-term goals are receiving admission to a graduate school, receiving your dream job, or even starting your own company. After setting goals, you will get a better sense of the steps you need to take in order to reach that goal, and making those goals visible could probably make you more disciplined by motivating you to avoid distraction or procrastination (this definitely works for me!).

I am fortunate enough to have a father that has taught me the importance of making plans at a young age. But for many people who are not used to planning, I think that the key to start planning and managing time efficiently is to start small. Instead of making clear plans for the entire week or even a month, start by planning your day tomorrow. For instance, you can start by listing all the time slots that are available for you to study or to do school work, then trying to fit in a small task in each time slot (maybe one for starting your assignment that is due next week, and one for reviewing your lecture notes). Try to plan for a few days, reflect on your productivity, then start to plan for a longer period of time.

In terms of cultivating or having a growth mindset, be open-minded and always remind yourself that you can always learn new things; you shouldn’t be afraid of challenges and criticism! It is impossible for anyone to be perfect, and the most important thing is that you stay open-minded, so that you will notice more opportunities.

The key to start planning and managing time efficiently is to start small: instead of making clear plans for the entire week or even a month, start by planning your day tomorrow.

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

Learning should be fun and should be life-long! No matter where you are studying, what major you are in, and which level of education you are now pursuing, there are definitely interesting things to learn and cool research to conduct.

Grades and accomplishments are important, but by no means do they define you. Try your best for every task you encounter, but do not forget to embrace your vulnerability and negative emotions, since no one is perfect.

Also, feel free to contact me or leave any comments to me via email: yuchun.chien@mail.utoronto.ca. I am definitely open to receiving suggestions or providing one!

If you haven’t already, please consider getting your Canadian Positive Psychology Association membership to join our wonderful community and check out our Student Zone! Plus, if you liked this blog or if it has helped you in any way, please take a moment to like, share, or comment!

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