This blog has been reviewed by Rebekah Weinman and Pariza Fazal, and formatted and published by Béa Schueller.
Nicholas, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello! My name is Nicholas Murray; most people call me Nick. I’m originally from St. John’s Newfoundland, but I’ve spent most of my life in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m entering my fourth year at Dalhousie University to complete a Bachelor of Science with Combined Honours in Psychology & Philosophy. I’m looking forward to completing my honours thesis under the supervision of Dr. Raymond Klein; a very influential cognitive psychologist in attention research whose lab I’ve been very fortunate to volunteer in for the last two years.
I’ve always been interested in the philosophical side of psychology – I remember being 11 years old, sitting in the car on the way to Crystal Palace in New Brunswick, looking out the window and wondering: “How do I know that there is distance between me and the trees outside of the car?” I managed to deduce most of the visual depth cues we use to perceive distance, except for atmospheric gradient, which I learned about in a psychophysics class. I’ve since returned to my childhood interest in visual perception in my philosophy classes, where I’ve written about the metaphysics of perception. Currently, I’m interested in a wide variety of psycho-philosophical topics, such as humanistic psychology, attention in space and time, and the relationship between theory of mind and moral development.
Outside of school, I play guitar and bass in a funk rock band, as well as for the local United church now and then. I also love reading and writing, and I write about psychology, philosophy, politics, and more on my own blog.
What do you think made you successful as a student?
I’m very good at using insights about my psychology (sometimes called metapsychological insights) to figure out how to achieve my goals effectively and efficiently. For example, I try to adopt practices that maximize the value of each of my personality traits, as measured by the Big Five aspect scale. Here are the Big Five traits and some examples of how I’ve applied them to my life:
I’m very high in openness to experience (the creativity dimension), so I study in ways that allow me to be creative with the material I’m learning. One of my favourite study methods is to reorganize my lecture notes around concepts and examples I’m familiar with. Then, I create practice questions with my new notes, which I use to practice recalling the lecture info as if I were giving the lecture myself.
I follow a daily schedule that balances productivity with free time. This allows me to work diligently, which matches my high conscientiousness. This consistency prevents me from becoming overly stressed and burnt out, ensuring that I don’t fall into the blueness that often accompanies high neuroticism.
I engage in volunteering and extracurricular activities with relatively small groups of people. That way, I can be more personal and friendly with the people I meet, which works well with my agreeable temperament and my introversion.
What strength, skill, strategy, mindset, or habit allowed you to get where you are today?
Technical writing is certainly my most valuable skill. If you can write clearly, then you can think clearly, and if you can think clearly, then you can learn anything. But since I’ve already written a blog post about this (titled Strategic Reading for Clearer Thinking), I’ll give a second answer to this question.
I have a mindset centered on three values: Honesty, open-mindedness, and diligence. Honesty is necessary for true success as a student–if you’re a dishonest cheater, you will learn nothing. Even if you pass a few exams, your lack of knowledge will catch up with you. Open-mindedness is important for finding new and valuable opportunities, and diligence is necessary to make the most of those opportunities.
Honesty is necessary for true success as a student.
How would you invite other students to cultivate those qualities?
The blog post I linked above goes into detail about how to become a better writer. As for cultivating honesty, open-mindedness, and diligence, I think you have to start by trying your best to act those values out. That may sound like circular reasoning, but hear me out: Good values only work if you consistently implement them. It’s no use being honest 1% of the time if you’re going to be dishonest 99% of the time, and the same goes for open-mindedness and diligence. You first have to figure out a way to operationalize those values into a habit, then evaluate your results, and then modify your habit(s) to do better next time. Eventually, you will align your actions with your values.
Perhaps you can engage in a kind of cognitive-behavioural exercise in which you try something new for a week, and then journal about what worked and what didn’t. This point ties in nicely with my earlier comments about metapsychology: You can try a new habit, observe your results, and then journal about it, to figure out how well the habit worked — I’ve developed several of my favourite study strategies by doing this.
Whenever I find myself out of rhythm with my studying (i.e., procrastinating), I can usually get on track with a study tool called the Pomodoro study technique. You just have to set a timer to work for twenty minutes, and then rest for five minutes. The rest periods satisfy my inner procrastinator and the work periods keep me from falling behind in my studies. Sooner or later I end up back in the swing of things.
Good values only work if you consistently implement them.
Any last words you’d like to share with fellow students?
I’d like to end by sharing a quote from the great English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes:
“No man’s error becomes his own law nor obliges him to persist in it.”¹
This quote comes from Hobbes’ classic book, Leviathan. Hobbes argued that a judge who makes a bad call in one case has every right to correct his error in the next case. Similarly, I think we all can strive to do better than we have done before. I’d argue that just like a judge has a legal obligation to make his best judgment in the current case; even if he made a different judgment in an earlier one, we all have a moral obligation to ourselves to strive to do better than we have before. I believe this insight is fundamental to living a happy life., and I joined the Student Ambassador team at the Canadian Positive Psychology Association to share this with others.
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to comment below and share it with your friends. I encourage you to read more from the other great writers here on the CPPA Students Medium. You can also support the CPPA by joining as a member here. And for my fellow students, we even have a Student Zone with a number of other cool resources for you to check out.
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan–Revised Edition (Broadview Press, 2010), pg. 240.