February 21st, 2017

The (Hidden) Benefits of On-Campus Involvement

 

Guest Post: Chris Kelleher, PhD Candidate, Department of English

Few graduate students today are willing to entertain the notion of “more”: more work, more responsibility, more deadlines, or simply more to do. “More” is impractical, implausible, and oftentimes, impossible. For many across the disciplinary spectrum, if the immense workloads of research and teaching were not enough, grant applications and funding proposals are overloading the proverbial plates of many graduate students. And rightly so. These are the hallmark activities of higher education and the bedrock of leading research. They are also most crucial to pursuing careers, especially in academia. But this list does not even count the many balancing acts taking place outside of the university, where students try to maintain semblances of a personal, social, or working life. Many of these students have families to support as well. Finally, and at the risk of belabouring the point, let’s not forget too that “Grad Burnout” is both a very real phenomenon, and something to be actively avoided. In short, graduate students are very busy people. And so, it should come as little surprise when any talk of adding “more” to one’s graduate studies is usually met, at best, with polite laughter.

And yet, there are two myths to this all-too-common narrative worth dispelling. First, is the underlying belief in the chronic scarcity of time. In a widely circulated May 2016 piece from the New York Times, provocatively entitled, “The Busy Person’s Lies,” Laura Vanderkam outlines the perennial tendencies of working individuals both to underestimate the amount of time they have to complete tasks, and to overestimate the amount of time spent working. When asked to monitor, down to the minute, the amount of time individuals spent on various tasks throughout the day, participants in several studies tended to uncover more time in the day than their stressed minds initially allowed for. As Vanderkam writes, “By showing us that we do, in fact, have the privilege of free time, time tracking also nudges us to make wiser choices about how to spend it.”

Of course, taken to its extreme, time tracking may either open the door to a horrific, Benthamite maximization of each moment’s work potential, or, as this throwback from The Office illustrates, a risible exercise in “efficiency” that wastes just as much time as it creates:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGMe_ymho90

So now that you’ve potentially discovered more time in your schedule, how best to spend it?

 

comics.jpg.

 

(Source: http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1920)

The second myth worth debunking from the above narrative of graduate students and time is the notion that extra-curricular involvement is somehow a distraction from graduate work, or that it indicates a lack of commitment to a particular field of study. In fact, both off- and on-campus involvement may be one of the most productive and personally rewarding ways to divert your time. Apart from providing a mental reprieve and a more diverse set of experiences, both types of involvement confer a variety of benefits. On-campus involvement, however, can be particularly worthwhile precisely because it often falls within the “Three Pillars” of academic professional development:

  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Service

Having worked in several departmental and administrative roles related to promotion, tenure, and hiring, I can say with certainty that it is becoming increasingly important, even at the graduate level, for prospective faculty to demonstrate experience in on-campus forms of “service.” “Perfect,” you might say in frustration, “one more hoop to jump through on my way to completing a doctorate.” Perhaps, it is. But make no mistake, this is no arbitrary invention of evil hiring committees. Across today’s shifting landscape of higher education, even fully tenured professors are being asked to do more in the way of administrative work for universities in order to maintain their positions. Individuals who can bring a working knowledge of bureaucratic structure, and some experience of working with others on an administrative plane can prove themselves to be a great asset during the hiring process.

What’s more, is that often the work itself can be quite engaging. Opportunities in student programming, for instance, can allow you to work with, and directly benefit, other graduate students, often from a variety of other disciplines and departments. In many cases, these opportunities can impart invaluable experience in launching your own initiatives. Administrative opportunities, by contrast, can allow you to network with important figures on the managerial side of the university while allowing you to learn how the crucial machinery of a great university actually works.

What on-campus involvement opportunities are available for graduate students? There are plenty. Some examples include: your own department; your own graduate unit, or student association; The Graduate Student Union (GSU); and, the Grad Room. There are also many graduate student clubs and internship possibilities. Gradlife, a central resource for graduate students at U of T, may introduce you to many more, but they also lead Grad Escapes, a diverse array of social events that include outings to cooking classes, trivia nights, winter markets, ball games, and art studios.

These are but just a few places to consider, and which may, after all, introduce you to the many possibilities of more.

 

Chris Kelleher is a PhD Candidate in the Department of English, Chancellor Jackman Junior Fellow, and a Junior Fellow at Massey College at the University of Toronto, as well as a Community Animator at the Grad Room.

 

 

 

 

 

February 10th, 2017

What’s stopping you from negotiating (more effectively)?

Our friends at the Conflict Resolution Centre (CRC) have written a great guest post this week on the importance of negotiation in grad school – read on to learn more!

Negotiation is an important part of graduate life. According to the Oxford dictionary, a negotiation is simply a “[d]iscussion aimed at reaching an agreement”:

  • Emailing back and forth about what time to set up a meeting? You are negotiating.
  • Discussing the purchase of a new piece of equipment for your lab?
  • Talking with your supervisor about taking your research in a new direction (or better yet, taking a vacation)? Probably more of a negotiation than you’d like!

Many of us get nervous or stressed out about the thought of having to talk with a supervisor or colleague about issues that are important to us, especially if we think that we might encounter opposition to what we are hoping to achieve.

Preparation is key to combating nervousness and increasing the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome.  Here are some tips for preparing for your next academic negotiation:

  • Know what you want and why. Given that the end goal of a negotiation is an agreement, you probably want to start by asking yourself – what do I really want?  Then, go one step further, and really think about why you want it.  Many times, the “why” question will reveal a deeper need or “interest” which may enable you to brainstorm a broader range of possible solutions (See: Fisher & Ury).
  • Imagine what the other person might want and why. This is really just a version of the old saying “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”.  You are trying to figure out whether there might be any shared interests and whether there are questions you need to be asking (to confirm or challenge your assumptions). It also helps in being mindful that you will not be the only person in the room who might have needs.
  • Get as much information as you can in advance. Is there a policy or practice in your department or at U of T that might be helpful to read?  Is there anyone who you can talk to (a peer, another faculty member, a staff member) who might be able to give you insights into what you will be negotiating about?
  • Prepare some key questions. As you think about what you want and why, you may find that there is information that you don’t have yet that could be really useful in making a decision or putting forward an argument.  Write them down and be prepared to ask during the discussion.  Remember that you can confidentially bounce ideas around with a G2G in preparation for an important discussion.
  • Preparatory power posing. Give yourself a boost by trying out a few “power poses” before you walk into the room.  According to Amy Cuddy’s controversial research, assuming powerful body postures can affect how you feel, behave and hormone levels – you be the judge if they work!

Remember, that you can control how much you prepare for a negotiation, the way you act during a negotiation, and when you decide to walk away from a negotiation.  What anyone else does before, during or after is not within your control.

If you are interested in learning more about negotiation strategies with the CRC G2G Peer Advisors we offer a three-part GPS series: Conflict Resolution Fundamentals: Conflict Resolution; Communication & Negotiation! (Registration is open for the session which starts next week: February 14, 21 & 28th, 1:30-3:30 (UTSG GradRoom)).

More tips & advice, including short videos, are available on the CRC website or make an appointment to talk to us!

source: PhD Comics

source: PhD Comics

January 22nd, 2017

Real Talk on Grad Burnout

source: google

source: google

We’ve done a few workshops in the past about avoiding burnout as a graduate student, but the importance of just how real of a possibility this is for students didn’t hit home until yesterday. Recently, I was asked to take on a new job that would could make securing a more permanent position post-graduation (in a few short months) a real possibility; of course, I said yes and accepted the job.

That means, though, that in addition to finishing my Masters and being a VP on my faculty’s student association, I also now have three part-time jobs. And I’ve also decided that I want to get my health back on track so I’ve committed to going to yoga. Suddenly, my life feels very much like a recipe for disaster. In an attempt to gain some much-needed focus and breathing room, I have turned to good old google for help.

A quick search revealed this list:

  1. Work with purpose.
  2. Perform a job analysis, and eliminate or delegate unnecessary work.
  3. Give to others.
  4. Take control, and actively manage your time.
  5. Get more exercise.
  6. Learn how to manage stress.
source:google

source:google

I can get on board with most of this: getting more exercise releases endorphins and can help us feel good in the long run (not to mention it makes us healthier in order to manage everything else going on), giving to other also makes us feel good because we feel like we’re contributing to others well-being and that’s an emotional boost we could all use, and actively managing my time and working with purpose deserves a huge asterisk as well – not getting sucked into a Netflix binge while telling myself “I’ll just have it on in the background while I work” is certainly a habit that needs to be broken.

source:google

source:google

It’s numbers 2 and 6 that I am struggling with, and which I think are the main things that are going to turn my juggling act into a crumbling act. Given that we’re all graduate students, I’m sure we all share that competitive streak and were, to an extent, that student who maybe took on too much of the group project while we were growing up. As an adult, this isn’t always a good trait. In my new job, I’m being given the chance to lead a group of people, and part of nurturing a good team dynamic is being a leader who recognizes the strengths of their team and delegates accordingly; in other words, we ask for help. So, to myself and to you, don’t be wary of asking for help when you need it. We’re in a rich community of intelligent, hard-working, go-getter people who can definitely be counted on to support us and help us, just as we would help them in turn. Take stock of what you need to do, and then maybe take a deep breath and think about the things that would still be well-accomplished if you weren’t the person doing them…and then delegate. It could be something as simple as making an appointment with the Academic Success Centre to have a second pair of eyes edit your writing; those bodies are here to support our learning as students, so you shouldn’t shoulder the responsibility alone.

source:google

source:google

What strikes me as the most important thing on this list though, is google’s advice to “learn how to manage stress.” That is easier said than done, google, easier said than done. If we’re asking for help, though, and we’re taking care of our health and working with purpose so that our time is better managed, then I think some of that stress might take care of itself. For that leftover stress and feelings of anxiety though, what do we do? The best advice I’ve found is simple: find something that distracts you, and let it calm you. Carry a small colouring book and pencil crayons, take 10 minutes each morning to practice mindfulness, talk to people over coffee who can relate to what you’re going through so you don’t feel alone, run a little longer, have a solo dance party, take up knitting on your commute. The point is to have an outlet that’s not rooted in the source of your stress to help center your thoughts, bring you back on track, and reduce the feeling of anxiety. A lot of anxiety and stress comes from the fear that there are factors in our life we can’t control, and succeeding at something that we love and is not being graded or evaluated is a great way to help you feel more competent in other areas of your life. For me, it’s writing, which is why this post is so much longer than others! Whatever you do, make sure you’re taking care of your health first, and that you know what supports are around you to help you avoid the burnout.

Resources on Campus:

Writing Support – http://bit.ly/2jMWNpU

Grad Wellness – https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/gradlife/Pages/Grad-Wellness.aspx

CRC – http://gradcrc.utoronto.ca

Grad Escapes – https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/gradlife/Pages/Grad-Escapes.aspx

January 9th, 2017

New Year, New Cheer 2017

source: phdcomics.com

source: phdcomics.com

We all know it, 2016 was a little lacklustre. Ok, it sucked. There have been memes, videos, comedic skits, news reports, and more on the subject of the losses, tragedies, and political headaches (I’m putting this lightly) that made up our 2016 year…but that doesn’t mean we should head into 2017 thinking it’s going to be more of the same. While I’m a firm believer that a person can (and should) make resolutions for themselves throughout the year, and not just on that “magical” January 1st day, I am also a hopeful person, which means that I’m hoping the world, ourselves included, can use the countdown as a kind of reset on our mental states so that we can head into whatever is coming with a positive, “we got this” kind of attitude.  Hard? Definitely. Impossible? No way.  So, in the hopes of helping you to head into the rest of 2017 with some of the positivity that may have been starting to hide itself under the covers these past few months, here are our thoughts on how to start the New Year right.

And, to help us do that, we’re turning to some more professional people who might have better insight on the topic:

  1. Forbes (believe it or not, they’ve got some good things to say!): A neat article all about how to check our thoughts before they can wreck us; having a handle on what we think, how we think, and why, can give us the skills we need to develop some positive thinking skills that are always much needed as a grad student.
  2. CBC News: Probably putting into words better than we could about how to actually make New Year’s resolutions and stick with them; note that right from the get-go they advise us to accept failure (we’re human, it’s going to happen, just don’t let it stop you).
  3. Youtube: Ok, this one is really a dose of cuteness overload with a pretty good message about resolutions on Jan 1st. Is the little girl reading from cards her parents wrote? Probably, but that doesn’t make what she has to say any less relevant. Some mental floss and wisdom in one.

A while back, one of my own resolutions (not made at New Year’s) was to embrace who I was, and from that I learned how important it is for everybody to do the same. So, whether you decide to make resolutions or not, whether you actually follow the above links to learn some mental health skills, or whether you completely decide to just keep plugging away as you’ve been plugging away, that’s ok.

If you don’t mind though, Gradlife has gone ahead and made some resolutions for you on your behalf. Here are our hopes for you in the coming months:

We hope you find joy in the small things, that you take care of yourselves first, and remember to appreciate the obstacles you’ll encounter for the lessons they can become. We hope you appreciate who you are everyday and know that even if you don’t set any resolutions this January, you’ll still accomplish things this year that are resolution and celebration worthy.

We hope, most of all, that you don’t undervalue the strengths that you have, and that you’re able to carry these strengths with you to have a wonderful 2017. Happy New Year, and welcome back!

December 20th, 2016

Having Hope for 2017

As 2016 begins to draw to a close, I’ve been seeing more and more articles pop up all over social media about what a terrible year 2016 was, and how people who think 2016 was a good year are just plain silly. And it’s true, some pretty awful things have happened throughout the world this year, and no one benefits from ignoring the stories of others, but neither do we benefit from focusing only on the bad, and forgetting that there are stories of perseverance, of rising against the odds, of hope, of kindness, and yes, of love.

Given that the holiday for giving and for being a little nicer to each other is almost upon us, I thought we should end this year’s blog posts with a little reminder of the stories of hope that we’ve heard, and of the ways that you can go into 2017 with the idea of making the world a little bit better than it has been. After all, negative stories are only outweighed by positive actions. Here are some.

Story #1: I sat down with an incredible woman at the Human Library a few weeks ago, and she is literally turning painful memories into empowering stories. For people who have dealt with a trauma in their childhood, it can be hard to embrace the memory in a way that lets a person heal, move forward, and be confident about their identity. The woman I met listens to these peoples’ narratives and designs a piece of jewellery especially for them; a piece that tells their story from the lens of someone who sees the work that goes into healing and transforming, and gives these people a way to celebrate moving on from the past. A lesson we could all remember moving into 2017.

source:google

source:google

Action #1: There are too many murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada, but there are just as many people who are taking action to stop this number from rising. One of them is Brad Firth, aka Caribou Legs. This year, he ran across Canada in order to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, and he has done it all without an entourage or support system. He is incredible, and we can only hope that his actions in 2016 inspire others (including ourselves) to take action for what we know is right in 2017. Read more here.

Screen Shot 2016-12-20 at 10.32.54 AM

Story #2: A 6-year-old boy in the U.S. wrote a letter to President Obama saying that he would give a Syrian child a family. I love this for so many reasons. First, it shows that this child understands what’s important, and that his kindness knows no bounds. Second, it reveals a lot about his parents and the way they’re raising him. I once heard that the world changes by good people doing good things, one small thing at a time. If ever there were an example of that, this is it. Read more here.

Action #2: This action I saw just the other day when I was leaving a restaurant in downtown Toronto. I looked across the street, running to get inside because it felt like -14, and I saw a woman with a HUGE backpack on, the side pocket rigged to hold dozens of takeout cups. Then I realized what she was doing. She had thermoses of hot drinks in her backpack, and was walking around downtown to meet, chat with, and share a warm drink with people who don’t have homes. I don’t know this woman, and I didn’t find out her name, but it’s the small actions like this that remind me the world isn’t all bad, and that it could get better if we all took a leaf out of her book.

I could list a dozen other stories and actions that highlight the way people have cared, have shared, and have hoped for better over the past year; we want to leave you, however, with the simple idea that even though things have been bad, and that negative things will continue to happen, we don’t have to accept it as the norm. Our actions, our choices, can help balance out the negative that we know is happening; but it is a choice. We can either choose to accept that 2017 will be more of the same negative narrative, or we can choose to do good things in spite of that; I hope we choose the latter.

Wishing everyone a warm, and hopeful, holiday season with many positive narratives :)

December 2nd, 2016

Keeping Your Cool During Crunch Season

Today, as I sat stuffing envelopes full of pamphlets and student discount cards for the students in the MT program, I seriously wondered to myself why I had thought it would be a good idea to become a VP of the MT student association (MTSA) this year. Normally, I have a ball being part of the MTSA; I love connecting students to experiences outside of our department, putting on socials, and hosting phys ed events, but there’s something about this time of year that gets even the most optimistic person (aka me) feeling just a little bit overwhelmed (read: a lot).

I’ve already completed three assignments that I have due this week, but I’m still staring down two major research papers, a professional portfolio, a conflict & education case study, a presentation & reflection, and the fourth chapter of my thesis…all due by on or before December 14th. Anyone want to insert a panicked scream here? As I think about it, it’s not so weird that I had that thought about being part of the MTSA, and have been wondering about the myriad other things I find myself involved in. Exam and project season is tough; we all know the projects will get done, but it’s always more daunting on this side of the finish line.

So, how do we get through it all without wanting to order 100 coffees and crying into every one of them? 

In an effort to help you stay calm, collected, and on top of things during this crunch period, we’ve compiled a list of some great apps that will help you study, encourage your calm, and hopefully bring you a little clarity this pre-holiday season.

**most of these apps are compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows, and can be accessed via your phone or computer**

Study-Based Apps to Get You Through:

taken from LaptopMag

taken from LaptopMag

Evernote (FREE): a great app to organize all those notes, graph photos, to-do lists, and pre-holiday obligations. Evernote helps you to: take notes, make to-do lists, set reminders, attach files, and also save a photo as a document or post-it.

Taken from LaptopMag

Taken from LaptopMag

Khan Academy (FREE): Strictly speaking, this one isn’t a study organizer, but it DOES have cool videos on basically any topic, which means you can watch LeBron James introduce a probability problem if you need a quick reminder on the basics of a topic, or just want to browse a different subject as a study break.

Taken from LaptopMag

Taken from LaptopMag

Wolfram Alpha: This app isn’t free, but it IS a tutor, report & graph generator, and formula explicator that you get all for $2.99. Not too shabby!

Taken from LaptopMag

Taken from LaptopMag

Easy Bib (FREE): We all know that writing the bibliography of a research paper is the wrst part, so why not make it easier on yourself? EasyBib is great because you can access it from your phone, now you can work on those pesky citations when killing time on the subway!

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

My Study Life (FREE): need to keep track of a crazy study, research, class, lab schedule? Want to access it across multiple devices? Look no further!

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Flash Cards Deluxe: Too cool NOT to include, even if it IS $3.99. This app lets you create personalized flashcards for anything. ANYTHING. And you can use them on your phone, and NOT waste more paper or get hand cramps writing out your notes on cue cards.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Sleep Cycle ($1.69-1.99): Knowing WHEN to wake up, no matter how early or late you’re going to bed, is key to making sure you get a good night’s rest and your brain is ready to go even without that coffee! This app will tell you when you need to wake up depending on your sleep time, and helps you get there too.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

The Now (FREE): This app will help you keep your chin up by sending you mindfulness messages throughout the day.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Talkspace: Don’t have time to book an appointment with UofT Health Services but really need someone to talk to during crunch time? For $25 a week, you can message with a therapist from your phone. The app IS free, but that version gives you limited access to therapists.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Smiling Mind (FREE): This app gives you guided meditation practice based on your age. Ucertain about this one? A little mindfulness each day is actually a great way to boost your awareness, and create a sense of peace…something we could all use when research papers loom.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

SuperBetter Games (FREE): Basically, these are games that help improve your resiliency, mental health, and encourage creative thinking to hard problems. A very productive way to take a study break if you ask me!

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Songza (FREE): For me, there is nothing better than instrumental music to keep me focused when studying, a little old rock to get me having a dance party when I need to move (aka when I can no longer sit at my desk), and some upbeat tunes when I need to put a little happiness back in my mind. Check out Songza for music playlists to fit your every mood, activity, genre, and occasion!

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Magic Window – Living Pictures: Can’t actually get outside to take a walk and take in nature? Try Magic Window, it will send you peaceful nature scenes from around the world to put everything right in your world.

While we certainly hope these apps help you de-stress, stay centered, and get through this busy period more easily, don’t forget to take care of yourselves and to seek help in person here if you need to. Good luck!

November 17th, 2016

Say Hi to Your Neighbour: a post-election piece

In light of recent events in the U.S., we wanted to use this week’s blog post to remind everyone in our immediate U of T family and beyond of their importance and their worth, and of the importance of community. When something happens that shakes a community to its very core, it can be hard to focus on the positive things that surround us because it’s so easy to become bogged down by the potential negativity that the future might hold. For the past week, I’ve found myself bogged down by that same negativity, and it wasn’t until I went to one of my classes today that I was able to shake some of it off by focusing on what’s important.

source: google

source: google

I’m currently taking a peacebuilding and education course, and today we talked about exactly what those things are that help promote peace, what things are most important to creating positive communities. Let me tell you.

Gender inclusion is important to peacebuilding, honouring history and memory is important to peacebuilding, celebrating differences is important to peacebuilding, building relationships that don’t involve power imbalances is important to peacebuilding, inclusive education is important to peacebuilding, finding commonalities across differences is important to peacebuilding, you are important to peacebuilding. Most of us didn’t get a say in what happened in the U.S. last week, but we do get to choose how we react to it, how we deal with it, how we rise from it. I never thought I would live in a day and age where a person who is so overtly divisive would be in such a great position of power in North America, but it did happen, and the only thing I can think to do in response is to be proudly, overtly, unapologetically united in the face of this division.

source: google

source: google

Of all the articles, books, web pages, and theses that I’ve read for that peacebuilding course, the thing that has stayed with me the most is the importance of relationships. Relationships between friends, between families, between communities, between students and teachers, between government bodies and grassroots organizations, between countries, between people. At a time when so many of the world’s communities are concerned by what the next few weeks, months, and years are going to bring, we need to remember that our greatest strength lies in our connections to each other. Our best hope for building peace is by strengthening our bonds of friendship, and finding commonality across divides.

In addition to the peacebuilding course, I’m also currently completing a teaching placement at an outdoor education centre, and the question we always ask students to think about is: “How do my daily choices affect my world?” I’d like to end this blog by asking you the same thing. Take all the time you need to process the truth of what might be coming our way, but once that’s done, it’s time to pick yourself up off the couch, open your front door, and say hi to your neighbour. It’s time to start cherishing the relationships we have, and to start strengthening our bonds across communities. I’m not saying that the next few years are going to be easy, but as one of my grade 5 students reminded me the morning after the election: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

source: google

source: google

November 8th, 2016

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome: Tips from Those Who’ve Been There

Grad Panel

Grad Panel

At last week’s Optimize Your Graduate Experience, we had the opportunity to hear from some different grad students about their experiences in grad school, and how they deal with imposter syndrome. For those who don’t know, imposter syndrome is the all-too-common feeling of not measuring up, not feeling like you deserve to be here, and feeling like you have to compare yourself to others in/out of your program.  Sound familiar? Turns out, most people (grad students and those who graduated 20+ years ago!) have felt these feelings at one point or another, but the question is: How do we deal with them? How do we turn off that niggling voice in our head saying, “You’re not good enough” so that we can get on with our days and prove it wrong? Here are some tips that our grad student panelists shared last week:

  1. Create a wall of inspiration: Find messages, pictures, song lyrics, etc. that inspire you and bring you to your happy place. When you’re feeling low, you can look to your wall for a much needed reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  2. Put your acceptance letter somewhere visible: For a coup de grace, add your acceptance letter to your wall of inspiration/motivation; it’s a good reminder that we all deserve to be here, and that we’ve worked hard to earn our place.
  3. Greet each day with a ‘beginner’s mind’: Simply put, try to recognize that every day is a new opportunity to start again. This may sound a little cliche, and certainly more easily said than done, but focusing on what you can start fresh with is a great way to move forward, especially when you’ve experienced setbacks.
  4. Acknowledge the imposter syndrome: for some reason, these imposter syndrome feelings aren’t much talked about among grad students, but they should be. If you don’t feel comfortable chatting with people in your program, turn to a support system outside of school. Don’t have one? Now’s the perfect chance to join a club and meet some new friends. If you’re still uncertain about who will listen, the  Health & Wellness Centre offers coping workshops meant just for this.

    Talk to people about it

    Talk to people about it

  5. Find control and validation in other areas of your life: sometimes, imposter syndrome can stem from having to give up control of the direction of our education to advisors; regain some of that “in control” feeling by choosing how you spend your free time. Bonus if you take up a hobby and find validation in that; it’s always good to remind ourselves that our skills and strengths don’t lie entirely within the realm of graduate academia. Maybe you’re a talented artist, a great musician, trying to run your fastest 5km? Everyone has something.

    Find validation outside of academia.

    Find validation outside of academia.

  6. Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to other people’s highlight reels: this is the Facebook syndrome; no one puts their lows on Facebook, but they do put all of their “I wish I could do that” envy-inspiring moments. Don’t forget that behind-the-scenes, it may not all be sunshines and rainbows, so take the highlights with a grain of salt and a reality check.
  7. Embrace failure: failing is hard, but it’s also what’s going to lead you to the novel idea, that breakthrough moment, and that “perfect” solution. If you’re still trying after you fail, that’s still a success.
  8. Redefine how you talk to yourself: Change the conversation in your head; instead of saying “I’m a grad student, BUT I failed”, try saying “I’m a grad student AND I failed”. When you change the “but” to “and”, you open the possibility of “because…” Why did you fail? Was it something beyond your control? Is there something you can learn from for next time? How can you turn this otherwise negative experience into a learning one?

Above all, know that you are not alone in feeling like your best isn’t alway good enough. Part of belonging to a competitive university (and let’s face it, society) means that we’re going to sometimes compare ourselves to others, and rely too much on the voice inside our heads that is our harshest critic. Instead of encouraging this voice, tell yourself everyday, “I am enough”, you might just end up believing it.

October 23rd, 2016

Fostering Effective Communication: Lessons from Second City

source: google

source: google

Last week, Gradlife had the chance to go to an improv class hosted by Second City. While I’ve done this class before, having a new instructor impart the same information in a slightly different way helped to reinforce what I already knew (hint hint to all of you T.A.s out there). Now, with the information under my belt twice, I’ve been thinking about what Second City had to say about communication, and more importantly, HOW they shared what they had to say.

It seems like a pretty taken-for-granted fact that effective communication is a necessary skill to succeeding in life; be it in a classroom, a relationship, with your parents/friends, or in the workplace, knowing how to communicate is often times more important than what you need to communicate. Essentially, having the skills to get your message across can be the difference between a total flop and solidifying relationships.

This is the no-no.

This is the no-no.

So, what makes a person an effective communicator? A few small tips from our workshop:

  1. Always focus on “Yes, and…”. I think we can all figure out that a “no” is a hard stop to any communication; but it turns out that simply agreeing also doesn’t help things a whole lot. Take this scenario for example: you want to go out with your friend, and suggest so; the only thing they say is, “Yes!”. A yes is nice, but it also means that all of the pressure to figure out the how/what/where/when/why is now on you; so next time you’re being asked something, consider saying “Yes, AND…” to take some of the pressure off the other person.
  2. Play the “last word” game. Ever notice how we’re always waiting for the person we’re talking to to finish their sentence so we can jump in and have our say? Many of us are so focused on what we want to say to follow up the information given to us that we don’t stay tuned in until the end of another person’s sentence, which means we might miss out on some crucial info. So, next time you’re having a conversation with someone, challenge yourself to start your next sentence with the last word of theirs. Tricky, huh? Yes, AND you might find that it actually helps your communication because it’s forcing you to listen just as much as you want to talk (see what I did there?).
  3. Move from “You should/could…” to “Let’s…”.  In life, there are going to be times when we have a problem that needs fixing, there’s no getting around it. The question though, is how we handle that problem effectively. Why not try using the word “Let’s…” to frame your conversation surrounding these problems. Using the word “Let’s…” makes both parties part of the problem AND the solution, meaning that you’re more likely to come to an effective solution that satisfies both people. Using “you should/could…” on the other hand, reinforces power relationships that don’t necessarily benefit anyone involved.
  4. Stop starting your sentences with “Yeah, No.” I am so guilty of this that I did it to the course instructor the minute the class ended; she asked me a question and I started with, “Yeah, no, yeah,,,” before I could stop myself. Here’s why it’s not a good thing to of: it sends the message that you don’t really want to be talking to that person, and it’s essentially the same as putting a Full-Stop NO on the communication. Ditch the no, and focus back on number 1: Yes, AND…
Strive for this! Yes, and...

Strive for this! Yes, and…

These are just some of the things that the improv class helped us understand about effective communication, but we know that this is not the be all and end all, so here are some other resources that you can browse to help make conversations more interesting, more effective, and more meaningful than what I’m sure some us practice on a daily basis.

Have other tips for U of T grads on being a better communicator? Shoot us a message, or comment below, we’d love to hear what you have to say :)

 

October 13th, 2016

Toronto in the Fall

I woke up this morning with the feeling I was forgetting something; it wasn’t until I opened my agenda to plan my work/study/gym/maybe sleep schedule for the next week that I realized it’s my mom’s birthday tomorrow…which also means we are already halfway through October. Where did the time go? Are we six weeks into the Fall term already? And then, an even more pressing question, have I done a “Toronto in the Fall” blog yet?

source: google

source: google

With a present for my mom firmly in mind, I feel good about sitting down and sharing with you the must-do’s in and around Toronto this Fall. After all, there are only a few short weeks left to enjoy the sunshine before Fall breezes turn into Winter storms; let’s not waste any more time or sunshine.

  1. Go apple-picking (yes, there are places in/near Toronto). This is #1 only because I recently did this in Ottawa and it was as cheesy and cliche as you might think; of course, I’m allergic to raw apples but popping a few benadryl was completely worth it.
  2. Do something scary (this is the month of Halloween, after all). Casa Loma conveniently has a new Legends of Horror event happening every night until Halloween.
  3. Carve a pumpkin (obviously). Most grocery stores along Bloor St. have pumpkins for sale, so you’re bound to find one. If you’re uncertain about designs though, look no further. This site has some prize-worth ideas for you to pick from.
  4. International Festival of Authors. Happening Oct. 20-30, you will definitely find me down by the Harbourfront checking this out. Meeting authors, reading internationally-set books, I’m there. And you should be too.
  5. TedXToronto (yes!). Symbols and Signs is the theme of this year’s talk, and I hope I’m free to check it out. If you can’t make it, you can always download the TedTalk app to your phone for FREE and listen to some awesome speakers from around the world (can anyone say “legitimate” study break?).
  6. Royal Winter Fair. A little more family-friendly, this takes places Nov. 4-13 at Exhibition Place, so it gives you a little more time to plan too.
  7. Eat at the Poop Cafe (you heard me). I’m so excited about this new cafe; funny theme, delicious food, AND a new place to work on research? See you there. The cafe is on Bloor St., so super accessible as well.
Poop Cafe! (google)

Poop Cafe! (google)

If you’re not a fan of some of these ideas (fair enough), Blog T.O. has a list of 41 things to do in the Fall that might provide some more inspiration. You can also check out Toronto.com, or Atlas Communications for their info on farmer’s markets (how did I miss that?) and apple cider. Have some great ideas of your own? Share them with us in the comments so we can find new areas of Toronto to explore!

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