October 17th, 2014

Get Stuff Done!

Getting back to it after the Thanksgiving long-weekend can be tough.  I find this time in mid-October is when I have a bit of a lull after some initial mid-terms and essay proposals, and it’s like the calm before the storm.  All those big deadlines are approaching and I know I should get a head-start but like many people, I’ll always push the limits of each deadline, waiting until I absolutely have to start.  Anyone else have this problem?


I have a love/hate relationship with the lack of structure that comes with being a student.  I love being able to make my own schedule.  I can spend a lot of time reading in coffee shops or decide that the middle of the day is when a nap would be an excellent idea.  However, this also comes with the responsibility to set the goals, tasks, and pace of your work.  It also means being accountable to yourself to meet your own mini-deadlines.

I’ve realized that for me, I struggle working ahead or handing assignments in before the last minute because I always think I can improve my work if I spend more time on it.  I’ve learned that a great skill is learning to be satisfied with your work.  Deciding that something is your best effort can be challenging- you have to tell that perfectionist devil on your shoulder that you’ve done your best, hit submit, and move on to the next task.

borrowed from alextechthoughts.com

borrowed from alextechthoughts.com

So, because you’re putting off your to-do list by taking a break and reading this blog, take some time and learn about some ways you can prioritize your workload, work ahead, and stay productive.  I read somewhere once that taking one hour to plan saves you four hours.  If you approach your work in a thoughtful, systematic way by breaking down large tasks into manageable smaller ones, it won’t seem so overwhelming.  Here are 5 ways to get better at getting stuff done:

1. Figure out what works for you.

I’m most productive and creative first thing in the morning, and  I’ve learned to plan to do most of my writing, research or studying in the morning, and to leave reading and other more passive activities for the late afternoon/ evening.  It took me a while to figure out that late-night cramming really doesn’t work for me, I’m generally hopeless after 8pm.  However, for some people- night time is when they feel most creative/alert and produce their best work.  Figure out what time of day you feel most motivated and alert and plan to tackle your most challenging tasks or tasks which require the most focus at this time.

2. Change Settings

Sometimes a change of scenery can have a huge impact on my motivation.  Working from home, while convenient, is a little too comfortable and quiet.  Sometimes, I like the background noise of a bustling coffee shop, or the studious hush of a library- but either way, getting out of the house to do work gives it a bit more purpose.  I also find it really rewarding to cross everything off my to-do list that day before I return home, and it helps create a balance between my work/home life.  Checkout my previous post for my favourite study spots on campus.

3. Reward Yourself

Setting mini goals can make you feel like you’re getting tonnes done, and promising yourself rewards after completing a task can be really motivating to0- whether that’s another latte, or a break to spend some time with friends (or Netflix).  There is a lot of evidence that shows taking breaks actually helps your productivity- in other words, cramming like a mad scientist isn’t the best way to get stuff done. Check out this Globe and Mail article which lists 10 ways taking a break will help you.

4. Attend a Grad Talks Workshop 

It’s great to get together with others who are facing the same issues as you and learn together.  An upcoming Grad Talk on Nov. 20th at Grad Room will help you learn how to manage time and manage conflict in grad studies. Visit the School of Graduate Studies Website to register.

Extra Credit: Here’s a list of engaging TED talks on productivity.

What are your top productivity tips?


October 8th, 2014

Get Life Management Workshops on Your Co-Curricular Record!


Guest Post: By Emma Helfand-Green (Family Care Office Blogger and Master’s student)



Life gets a little hectic sometimes. Balancing work, school and family responsibilities can be a challenge. That’s why the Family Care Office (FCO) has created the Life Management Series; a workshop series designed to empower students to find a better balance between their academic pursuits and caring for others.

Workshop topics range from procrastination and stress management to self-discovery and advocacy and offer a welcoming environment for you to connect with other students. Students who complete four workshops over two academic years will receive a Life Management Certificate and Co-Curricular Record recognition. The Co-Curricular Record is designed to help students find opportunities at U of T beyond the classroom and to have their skills and experiences captured on an official document.

The series launches on Wednesday, October 15 at 12:00pm with Procrastination, followed by a session on Stress Management on November 26. Visit our website for registration details.

Speaking of the Life Management Series, have you heard about any of the other great programs that we provide? The FCO offers tons of services and supports to students and staff with family responsibilities ranging from workshops and support groups, to mentorship and one-on-one support, and our in-house library filled with a large collection of materials on family care topics. You can connect with us on Facebook or Twitter for upcoming events and browse our blog posts for interesting articles on all things family!

If the Family Care Office and the Life Management Series have sparked your interest, consider joining us for the Student Parents Group on Tuesdays throughout the semester. This relaxing and casual lunch group (free lunch is provided!) gives you an opportunity to share your experiences as a student parent with others in an inclusive setting and learn about community resources.

I hope you will consider joining us at one of our exciting upcoming events and feel free to stop by our office, in the Koffler building, to find out more!


Written by Emma Helfand-Green, Family Care Office Blogger

Emma is in her first year of the Master of Public Policy program in the School of Public Policy and Governance at UofT. She recently completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, studying psychology and political science. When she is not blogging for the Family Care Office, you might find Emma volunteering at the Hart House theatre, working hard (or hardly working) at the Robarts Library, or spending quality time with her cat, Goose. – See more at: Family Care Blogger

October 6th, 2014

Explore the City: Annex

One of the lessons I learned in my previous year in grad school is that you need to make quality time to step away from your books and your laptop.  I find I’m actually more productive when I do.  When I make time to step away from work, especially when I have many looming deadlines stressing me out, I’m more focused and rejuvenated when I return to it later.

The topic of rejuvenation is especially topical since October is Mental Wellness Month at U of T.  You may think it’s a little early to be introducing de-stressing strategies but its never too early to start being mindful about your work-life balance.  We’re all well-rounded people with interests, passions, and relationships outside of the school sphere.  Sometimes you may feel like a school robot who is a slave to all your readings and deadlines- but remember that “student” is only one part of your identity.

Here is a list of the many events going on at U of T this month as part of Mental Health Wellness Month. These events are focused around the goals of helping students learn how to balance responsibilities and relaxation, how to reach out and engage with your community, and how to slow down and be mindful about your experiences.

The main take away: Slow down, stop the “glorification of busy”, and strive for balance.


image borrowed from amicreative.org

My favourite way to slow down is to take a stroll through a thriving neighbourhood, grab a good coffee and a snack and head to a public park to read or hang out with friends.  I thought I’d highlight a neighbourhood close-by to campus for those of you who are new to Toronto and could use some guidance on where to take a super stellar stroll.

Added bonus: our upcoming Grad Escape is a group stroll through the Annex! There’s still space left if you’d like to join us explore the neighbourhood with us.  We’ll take a stroll and end the walk with a social at a restaurant or bar for a fun social as a way to connect with fellow grad students. You can sign up here. 

So, without further adieu, here are a few Annex highlights that make for a great stroll:

Honest Ed’s

image borrowed from BlogTO

image borrowed from BlogTO

Honest Ed’s has a long history in the neighbourhood of the Annex, and its storefront is iconic to that of the area.  Find out more about its history here.  But in the meantime, go check out its timeless and kitschy signs with awesome puns and slogans . Head inside to see a department store stuck in the past with countless strange oversized wall decorations and black and white signed portraits from celebrities.


The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 12.59.28 PM

Located at 506 Bloor St. West, in the heart of the Annex strip, this century old cinema is operated by Hoc Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. The theatre is always showing a range of interesting documentaries at reasonable prices, check out the schedule for what’s playing now.

Green Beanery

image borrowed from the GridTO

image borrowed from the GridTO

The Green Beanery is on the corner of Bathurst and Bloor and is a favourite local coffee shop in the city. They roast their own coffee and espresso beans on-site and offer a relaxed atmosphere with lots of tables and chairs to meet with friends or catch up on some reading.

Sushi on Bloor


Sushi on Bloor is one of many, many, many sushi restaurants in the neighbourhood and is likely to have a line-up out the door during the lunch and dinner time rushes.  However, as someone who prefers a bustling atmostphere, it’s still a personal favourite despite the wait times. The service is fast, the food is cheap and tasty, and the atmosphere is busy and friendly.

 Mirvish Village


Take a left off Bloor on Markham and you’ll find this hidden neighbourhood-within-a-neighbourhood that has lots of little shops and restaurants off the busy Annex strip.  It’s a nice way to end off your stroll, and head south down to Victory Cafe for a drink and some food. Go soon to take advantage of their stellar patio!


Hope you enjoy your journey through the Annex! Go check it out for yourself or join us in a couple weeks on our Grad Escape to check out these places and more together!

September 26th, 2014

Favourite Study Spots

We’re all spending hours of our lives swallowed up in the depths of the library anyway, may as well do it somewhere beautiful!

At U of T we have endless study space, which really is a luxury.  We have 44 libraries across 3 campuses, and even more student lounge and mixed-use areas.  Before we start to resent the flickering florescent lights and crowded desks in Robarts, why not explore some other study spots and appreciate some of the beautiful spaces on campus?

Here are some of my favourites:



Gradroom, at 66 Harbord St. is a great mixed use space.  It’s not necessarily a quiet study space, but there’s plenty of areas for reading, or meetings and group work. There’s also a second cup inside and a great outdoor patio- hit it up while it’s still nice enough to sit outside!  During the week, Gradroom is open from 7am to 8pm.

At Gradroom, you can also book the lower level for free as a grad student.  The space can be arranged to accommodate various programming such as lectures, presentations, or group activities.

Reading Room in Gerstein Library

image borrowed from heritage.utoronto.ca

image borrowed from heritage.utoronto.ca

When entering Gerstein library, it may not seem  like much but take a sharp right and enter the reading room through the double doors and you’ll enter into a space where you’ll think “I will FINISH my paper today- and then take on the world with my brilliance!” And even if you spend an hour skimming facebook, that’s okay, because you’re in such a gorgeous and studious place where at least someone probably completed something important.

Keep walking to the back room and you’ll find more rooms with lots of natural light, old books, and large portraits of old white guys that probably did something important too.  And if you make your way upstairs you’ll find group study rooms that you can book here. If you find yourself freaking out or on the brink of a group work-induced meltdown- it’s okay- look out the windows at that beautiful ivy.

Graham Library, Trinity College



At 6 Hoskin Avenue, this library has a beautiful quad and tranquil fountain.  It  makes for a great study break area, or spot to eat lunch with some friends in between classes. But what’s my favourite part of this library? One each floor there is a small living room-style area with big comfortable arm chairs and a FIREPLACE. That’s right.  So go on, feel classy.

Heart House Library


image borrowed from Life@UofT Blog

image borrowed from Life@UofT Blog

Hart House library, which can be found on the second floor of Hart House is a cozy spot to curl up with a book and nap, I mean study. Check out the photo above taken in 1930- looks about the same today!

These are just a handful of great spots on campus, what are your favourite study spots?


September 22nd, 2014

That Darn Inferiority Complex

Hi there,

My name is Laura and I am a second year graduate student in the Masters of Public Policy Program.   This year I’ll be the new gradlife blogger and I’m excited to to start a new year with you at U of T- welcome to new students and welcome back to returning students!

In my first year the biggest personal hurdle I had to get over fast if I was to succeed was most definitely an inferiority complex.  I was so pleased to have gotten into my program but immediately following my excitement other things started dominating my thoughts such as:

“How did I even get in?”

“Will I be able to keep up in class?”

“What if it’s just too hard for me?”

billy madison 1

These thoughts were most likely brought on because I was faced with a lot of change and assumed the worst out of fear of something new. However, everything came up Milhouse once I connected with my peers and learned that many of us shared the very same insecurities.  Once I become comfortable with my peers and my new classes I realized I got into my program for a reason: because I spent years preparing for this in my undergraduate classes and my professional & voluntary experiences.  I deserved to hold a spot in my program, and I could most certainly engage and participate with the material in class and with my professors and classmates.


I’m sharing this story with you right off the bat because I know that some of you probably have similar insecurities at this time in the semester-especially if you’re brand spankin’ new! My advice is to remember this: no one knows what they’re doing.

Keep Calm_No One Else Knows What They Are Doing Either

Okay, maybe that’s an over-generalization, and maybe some of your peers are pure geniuses, but the truth is this: no one is an expert in their field yet- or they wouldn’t be in grad school! We’re all here to learn new things and hopefully in a supportive and collaborative environment where your opinion matters just as much as they next guy or gal.  Go get ‘em and good luck in your first couple weeks of classes!

and remember kids,



September 4th, 2014

New Beginnings


Guest Post by Sheri Stock

It’s that back-to-school time of the year when the excitement of new friends and shiny school supplies coincides with the apprehension of new professors, new classes and for many, a new campus to navigate. My name is Sheri and I’m a second year grad student in the Master of Social Work program. I remember feeling excited but also nervous at the beginning of fall semester last year. The first thing I did was set aside time to explore the campus to avoid that deer-in-the-headlights feeling. Once I got a sense of the major buildings and campus layout, I felt more like a bona fide grad student and less like an awkward tourist. If you didn’t participate in a campus tour then I’d recommend checking out the following places:


via: http://tinyurl.com/q8s6ka8

Reading through key websites was also helpful to find the information that I’d need throughout the school year such as the following:

After collecting a stack of hefty syllabi in the first week of classes, I felt overwhelmed yet again. Resist the urge to bury your syllabi somewhere deep in your desk drawer and instead, read them carefully.  These documents contain all the information you need for your coursework and will prevent you from asking a question that has already been addressed.

Good luck!




April 22nd, 2014

Summer Stuff

My brother is coming to visit in a few weeks, and I’ve been planning his trip for the past week. The great thing about Toronto is that there is a lot to do, so much that we can’t possibly fit everything I want to take him to in a week. As we wrap up GradLife blogging for this semester, I thought it would be nice to end off with a list of things you can do this summer. It’s my second full summer in Toronto, so I’m excited to try all these things too!

1. Visit the Aquarium

Ripley’s Aquarium is a new attraction right next to the CN Tower. I haven’t visited yet, but a few of my friends have, and they loved it. If you’re a photographer, it’s a perfect place to take some dramatic shots with the water in the background. Everyone I know who’s been there says it’s a must-go.

2. Shop at St. Lawrence Market (and visit the Distillery District while you’re there) 

I think everyone has heard of St. Lawrence Market, but how many have actually been there? The market is a chef’s dream. The produce is unbelievably fresh – if you love to cook, you have to buy your ingredients here at least once. If cooking isn’t your thing, maybe brewing is. The Distillery District is close by. I hear you can visit the breweries and try some of their sample brews!

3. Take Pottery Classes

If you missed out the pottery class Grad Escape a few weeks ago, here’s your second chance. The Gardiner Museum holds drop-in classes every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It’s only $12 for students!

4. Visit a Cute Coffee Shop or Cafe

There’s something about Toronto and coffee shops that go together. You can’t have experienced all the difference neighborhoods until you visit their signature coffee shop or cafe. Some of my favourites around campus are Bicerin (latte pictured below) in Baldwin Village and Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe in Little Italy.

5. Visit Museums for Free

Our TCard is magic. We can get discounts are certain businesses, which is great. It can get us free admission to others, which is even better. Every Tuesday, admission to the Royal Ontario Museum is free for post-secondary students. All you need to do is show them your TCard. Nifty, right? The Art Gallery of Ontario also has free admission Wednesday nights starting at 6pm.

 6. Watch a Show or Performance 

There are plenty of opportunities to watch live shows and performances around town. In fact, there is a Grad Escape for a Mirvish production next week that I will be going to! There are still tickets available for that one. If you missed out on the many Grad Escapes this year, or want to see more, check out The Second City (Comedy/Improv), the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the National Ballet, Mirvish Productions and Lower Ossington Theatre. Some these places have student discounts too!

I’m not a Toronto native, so I’m bound to be missing something. What is your favourite summer thing to do in the city? Share in the comments below.

It’s been a great year. Congratulations to those of you finishing up your degree. Have a great summer!

April 10th, 2014

Resolutions v2.0

I am writing this with a great sense of joy. This week is my last week of classes, meaning that as soon as I hand in my final paper this Friday, I will have finished my first year as a masters student.

I’m not sure about you, but now that things are wrapping up and summer is approaching, I think it’s time to revisit my old new years resolutions. I’m just going to say out right that I did a horrible job at meeting any of my resolutions this year. So, as our school year comes to an end, I wanted to try this resolution thing again. Version 2.0, if you will.

In today’s post, I will be visiting two places on campus that can help us get a fresh start. Let’s go!

1. The Athletic Centre’s Personal Training and Nutrition Counseling

Two years ago, I injured my knee and required some physical therapy. While I was getting treatment at our campus’ sports medicine clinic, my therapist recommended that I do more exercises to help build up my knee strength. That was when I started doing personal training with the trainers at the Atheletic Centre. I know that personal training and nutrition counseling sounds really intimidating. Fortunately, they ask you what kind of trainer you want, and I got one who was really nice, not at all like that drill sergeant you’re imagining. You don’t have to commit to getting trained for a length of time – once you get your assessment done and your trainer set outs a plan for you, you can take what you’ve learned and keep going by yourself!

2. Hart House‘s many classes

Now that classes are wrapping, it’s time to learn something new. I recently started doing photography and am planning on taking some photography classes this summer. There are also a million other classes (okay, maybe not that much), from film-making, to theatre, to dance. I’ve also done some drop-in fitness classes over the summer, doing things like Nia (which is a bit like Zumba).

Now that everything is wrapping up, what resolutions do you want to re-tackle? Share in the comments below!

April 4th, 2014

School’s (almost) Out For Summer!

This is a second installment of the family related post I wrote last week. Enjoy!

Last week’s family care blog really got me thinking about family, and the things I used to do a a kid. I wasn’t very adventurous. I liked reading, writing (some things never change), and was apparently a very lazy chatterbox. I also watched a lot of Sailor Moon, and it apparently influenced me so much that I feel compelled to rewatch the whole series during crunch time just to relive my childhood. Go figure.

I also went to summer camp. I absolutely loved summer camp. There were a few different ones I’ve been to over the years, from the municipal community programs, to ones that my taekwondo studios offered, to SUNIA in the Rockies. I remember summer camps being the few places where I met and played with new friends. As much as I loved going to school and seeing my friends, even little me appreciated a change of pace ones in a while.

If you’re a student parent or guardian and you’re looking for things your kids can do over the summer, check out the different summer programs that are available all over the city. I didn’t grow up in Toronto, but a quick search told me that the City of Toronto has many summer camp programs, from recreational programs, to more arts and culture based programs. U of T also has our own summer camps for children of students and faculty. I may not be that old, but back in my day, there was not nearly so much variety.

So this week, I decided to take myself back to good old days. If I were to choose any camp to go to this summer, I would go to…

1. Fencing Camp

When I was little, I watched this show where all these people fenced to win this big competition. It wasn’t a really good show, but I thought the people fencing looked cool. Since then, I have always wanted to it. Who knows? Maybe a young, phys-ed hating me would have loved fencing.

2. Adventure Camp

U of T’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Edcuation offers the Mini and Mighty Adventure Camps, designed for kids ages 4-5 and 6-7, respectively. It sounds fun, and I think it’s great to instill kids with a sense of adventure early on.

3. Dance + Movement

I took ballet when I was 5, enjoyed it, but quit after this one fall during a performance. I still regret quitting. To be completely honest, if I were young enough I would sign myself up for this camp right now.

Of course, it goes without saying to sign up for this camps as soon as possible. Spaces fill up quick!

Did you go to summer camp when you were little? What was the wackiest thing you have ever done in camp?


March 26th, 2014

Grad School and Family

Before I start, I want to say that I don’t know the first thing about taking care of a family. I’ve never been in a position where I am the caregiver of my loved ones, be it children or older parents and relatives. But when I do see friends and colleagues in those positions, I always wonder how they are able to balance school, work and family. I can only imagine the incredible burden on their shoulders.

In honour of those friends, I have decided to do a post on family and the resources available to help student caregivers. As my program director likes to say, there is always support available on campus. The first person you should go to for guidance, especially when it comes to managing your academic work, is your advisor or program director. They can provide advice and help you manage your work load while you sort things out.

Today’s post is going to be separated into the different kinds of support you can get from our very own Family Care Office. The service is home to many programs and workshops that are designed to help student parents and caregivers take care of their families. For example, their Life Management workshop series is geared towards helping students find balance between their academic and family lives. This series includes workshops on career planning, and some even count towards the GPS program.

Services for Student Parents and their family

Some grad students may have a young family or are expecting a new baby. If my mom’s stories are to be believed, taking care of kids is hard. According to her, my brother and I were a handful, though I distinctly remember us being absolute angels. The Family Care Office has a number of workshops and groups for student parents to help them prepare for life as a parent, from learning how to make baby food, to parenting teens (this one gave me a giggle) to a single parent support group. Grad students who are expecting a little one can also book an appointment to talk about taking a leave, funding and EI eligibility.

There are also child care services available for students on campus. The office has an online list of babysitters (who are all U of T students or partners/spouses of U of T Students), and a listing of day cares and after-school programs, many of them on or close to campus. They can also provide information on Summer camps and occasionally offer seasonal events, such as their recent March Break Activities for parents and children, which included an origami workshop and sky gazing.

Taking care of aging family members

Taking care of family isn’t just about young families and kids. Many students are also responsible for taking care of elders, especially since grad students are generally older, and have older parents. Learning to manage caregiver responsibilities is something that I am also starting to think about as my grandparents and parents get older. FCO regularly offers workshops on elder care, like these upcoming workshops on Healthy Caregiving and Understanding Canada’s Retirement Income System

In addition to workshops, they can also provide information on home care services, long-term care facilities for aging family members, friendly visits, and other services you may need to help you take care of your family. During my last year of undergrad, I was a friendly visitor at a seniors home. Elder care has a special place in my heart. Taking care of seniors takes a completely different kind of patience compared to taking care of children, so I am especially happy to know that the Family Care Office is helping students transition into being a caregiver for the seniors in their family.

How many readers are student parents or caregivers? What tips or advice would you give your fellow students? I would love to hear your tips and advice below.

Next Page »