November 24th, 2020

My 10 favourite breaks that take under 10 minutes

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

close up of a watch

 That end of the semester push is upon us, and since stress and deadlines can propel us into overdrive as grad students, I thought I’d devote this week’s post to different ways you can take a break. The nice thing about these ideas are that they’re quick—under 10 minutes!—and none of them involve technology. That way you not only get a break from your work, but from the “I’ve been staring at my laptop for 10 hours and I don’t know my name” haze.

1. Walk around the block

Depending on how your work is going, this idea is either great because it means you get to see other people… or it’s terrible. If you’re feeling like it’s the latter, a fun tip is to wear sunglasses, a mask, and a hat. That way you can walk past your annoying neighbour and they won’t stop to ask if you’re still in school?

2. Make a card castle

This is better than playing a card game in my opinion because then you can rage knock down your creation at the end (again… depending on when your work is going)

3. Make some tea

Making tea is great (if I do say so myself) because it’s a two-for-one kind of deal. Not only do you get to stop working to make the tea (If you have a see-through kettle I highly suggest you watch the water turn into a boil… it’s weirdly satisfying) but then you have something to do while you’re working (sip the tea!)

close up of a mug of tea

4. Have a spontaneous dance party

Even with the 10 minute time cap I made up, you could still fit in two healthy sized songs. In my humble opinion, this works best if you dance so hard you’re sweating by the end of it. Also, if your annoying neighbour lives below you, it might not be a bad idea to throw in some jumping just to mix things up.

5. Write a limerick

The general idea of a limerick is that it’s a five line poem where the 1st, 2nd and 5th lines all rhyme, and then the 3rd and 4th lines rhyme as well. Here’s an example in case you need help starting out:

My paper is such a mess

Why did I digress

From writing it to instead

lie in my bed

Now I have even more stress

6. Turn your thesis draft into a corner comic book

As a kid it was my DREAM to figure this out but I lacked the acumen and focus (and probably still do…) But if this was, or is, also your dream, now is your time! All you have to do is draw a new doodle on the bottom right hand corner of each page, and when you flip through your draft at least the doodle will come to life… even if your words don’t (sorry)

4 images of a corner of a piece of paper, each one has a stick man who is in a different stage of doing a hand stand. They are organized in a grid

If you need more help, check out this video from 2010 I found

7. Call a friend

Ok maybe it’s a little naive to suggest that this one will be under 10 minutes—unless your friend doesn’t pick up (rude). If this happens, I highly suggest you leave a 10-minute voicemail of you complaining. Your friend will love that. I promise.

8. Cry

But make it quick!

9. Clean your kitchen

I don’t know why I like to do this when I’m stressed. I guess because it makes me feel like I’ve achieved something?

10. Daydream about winter vacation

What are you gonna do once you’re done? Watch TV until your brain melts? Read that book that’s been on your shelf for 6 months? Cook something that doesn’t involve a microwave? Take ten minutes to dream about that finish line! But if you do, a pro-tip is to set a timer or your daydreaming session can quickly spiral into a two-hour nap. I know from experience.

I hope I gave you some new break ideas, or that I at the very least made you laugh. If I failed to do either of these things, what I do hope you’ll take away from this post is that breaks are important!! The end of the semester is stressful in general, and with Toronto now in round 2 of lockdowns it’s arguably even more so. So even if you’re drowning in thesis writing or coursework or feel crunched for time, it’s good for your brain and your health to take some breaks—even if they’re quick. Happy studying!

November 17th, 2020

The Zoom Sweats

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

a laptop open to zoom with two hands each wearing a sweatband resting on the keyboard

I’ve always been pretty comfortable with talking in class, but something about zoom really freaks me out. Maybe it’s the deafening silence around me, or the fact I can see myself speak, but whatever the reason I find myself becoming extremely nervous when I turn off the mute button. Once I do, I ramble on for way too long and I say the word “interesting” at least three times. But worst part of all, I get the Zoom sweats.

The Zoom sweats might evoke the concept of “meat sweats” but I assure you they’re much different. First of all, there is a direct correlation between how much I sweat and whether or not my camera is on. If the camera’s off, they’re usually not too bad, or if I’m really lucky, they don’t happen at all. If the camera’s on, however, my Zoom sweats are bad. And I mean really bad.

The Zoom sweats are always accompanied with my heart pounding and my face turning red. And sometimes, when I’m more awkward than usual, I actually feel like I’m having a heart attack. So what’s going on?

Zoom anxiety is completely normal

If you’re experiencing the Zoom sweats, or something similar, you’re not alone. Whether or not you experience social anxiety (which is very common) online meetings like Zoom can trigger an anxious response because they include a performative aspect that in-person interactions usually lack1—hence my point about seeing yourself as you talk. As well, the Zoom Blog (yes, they have a blog) notes that having to manage technology on top of talking to people is a stressful combo to juggle.2

screenshot of smiling people on zoom

So what can you do?

On their website, Zoom provides what is (possibly) a life-changing solution: look at your camera while you talk. Although you might think that it’s better to look at the people on your screen, if you look at your camera you appear as though you are staring at eye-level, and then you also have the added benefit of not having to watch yourself talk.2

Another thing that I find really helpful—especially when it’s your turn to talk in class—is to jot down a few quick words ahead of time about what you’re going to say. That way you can turn off that mute button with confidence because you know you’re prepared, and then you have a safety net in case you do freeze (which happens to everyone!)

open notebook that reads "What I'm going to say: 1. Reference thesis 2. Pose question"

And finally, one thing I have noticed from my own anxiety-induced Zoom chats is that communication is a two-way street. Communicating isn’t just talking—it’s also, of course, listening—and one thing I find super helpful, whether I’m in class or at a social event, is having people nod along (or laugh when I say something funny… yes it does happen). I find that this physical form of active listening signals to me not only that my internet hasn’t cut out, but that what I’m saying makes sense. Since I value the support, I am always sure to do the same when others are speaking. And even if someone is staring at their camera, their peripheral vision will pick up the movement—and it will be much appreciated, I promise you.

  1. https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/social-anxiety-video-calls-zoom-facetime-lockdown/379204
  2. https://blog.zoom.us/arent-zooming-yet-fear-cope/

November 10th, 2020

How to reduce eye strain

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

eyes drawn onto a piece of paper with pink glasses sitting on top

Between zoom class, reading, research and writing, my poor eyes barely get a break from staring at a screen. By the end of the day, my eyes are so tired I can’t bear to look at anything bright or pixelated; including TV. That’s right, my eye strain has gotten so bad I no longer want to watch TV (I mean, I still do, but it’s a struggle). As Grad students, I’m sure none of this is a surprise to you, and your eyes probably feel just as tired as mine. So for this week’s post I did a bit of research into the best ways to reduce eye strain and give our eyes a break.

Please keep in mind that I am by no means a doctor, or an eye specialist of any kind. I’m just a girl with tired eyes who turned to google to solve her problems, just like I do with everything else in my life.

1. Exercise your eyes

I gave up on quarantine work outs long ago, but I think even I can handle this. You can give your eyes a break, and strengthen them at the same time, by looking away from your computer every 20 minutes and focusing on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. I have ingeniously named this the 20-20-20 rule and I’m sure I am the first.

an open computer with a piece of paper in front of it that reads "20 minutes- 20 feet- for 20 seconds."

2. Switch to glasses

If you wear contact lenses, give your eyes a break by wearing glasses when you’re staring at your screen. Even though I am an avid contact wearer, I’ve started to wear my glasses during zoom classes and it has really helped my eyes. If you have blue lenses in your prescription glasses, or non-prescription blue light glasses, this is also very helpful.

3. Blink more often

Apparently, when you stare at a screen you blink less than you normally do—who knew! This causes your eyes to get dry and irritated. Making a concerted effort to blink more often can help keep your eyes nice and non-dry (notice I avoided saying “moist”).

4. Take Frequent Breaks

This is a good reminder not only for your eyes, but for your focus too! Check out my earlier post about the Pomodoro Technique, which helps you manage your time and focus by having you work for 25 minutes, and then break for 5.  

girl with her head down on her desk next to her laptop

5. Keep your computer an arm’s length from your face

I found this one on Web MD so you know it’s legit.

6. Screen brightness is key

Much like goldilocks, the brightness of your screen should be just right. It should be about the same brightness as the room you’re in; not darker nor lighter.

Hope my post has given you some new ways to give your eyes a break. If you have any tips for how you take care of your eyes, let me know in the comments below! And if you want to check out some more ways to reduce eye-strain, check out these articles I pulled my super scientific tips from:

https://www.allaboutvision.com/en-ca/digital-eye-strain/get-relief/

https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/prevent-digital-eyestrain

November 3rd, 2020

SSHRC Alert! Grant writing tips and tricks

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

Photo of a calendar on a desk that reads "grant writing season" with pens and books scattered around it

Seeing as it’s already November, I think it’s safe to say that Grant Writing Season has officially started. For all of you who are in the process of applying for a major grant like SSHRC, OGS or NSERC, Gradlife has got you covered. I interviewed three current award holders on their experience applying for grants, and their advice for everyone going through it right now. While our award-holders took different application journeys, and are in both research and professional streams, their main piece of advice was the same: Apply even if you don’t think you’ll get it, because you probably have a better shot than you think.

Our award holders

Sara Eng is in her first year of her MSc of Urban Planning (MScPl), and holds a SSHRC CGS-M award. Sara Wasim is similarly in her first year of her MScPl degree and holds an OGS award. William Layng is doing his MA in English literature and is a SSHRC CGS-M recipient.

What did your application process look like?

Sara Eng: I’ll start by saying that I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did because I actually didn’t find out about the SSHRC until around November 20th from an undergrad Professor. So I started my application a week before it was due. For me, one of the hardest parts was thinking of something to write about, but since I was doing some research with an undergrad prof I was able to tailor my research proposal to that.

Sara Wasim: I started my process by looking at the MScPl Departmental website and the School of Graduate Studies to see what grants were available, and what I would qualify for. Then I started working on my applications and looking at the other things I might need, like references, transcripts and other relevant documents so that I wouldn’t need to rush things at the last minute. I also made a general outline for my research proposals so that I would be prepared when I actually started to write them.

William Layng: Even though I had already graduated from my undergrad degree, I reached out to the English department at U of T and asked different professors if they had any advice, and everybody was super receptive. They gave me samples of previously successful applications which was a huge help. Once I started my research proposal, editing it was the big thing. Writing the first terrible draft was really easy, but I edited my proposal more than 10 times.

How did you feel while you were working on your application?

Sara Eng: Well I did my application in a week and that was not fun at all. I was really stressed out the whole time and I kept on thinking to myself “is this really worth it?” and I really didn’t think I would get a SSHRC at all. But two of my profs just kept on telling me that you never know what will happen and to just apply. Honestly, if it weren’t for them telling me to do it I wouldn’t have; I needed that encouragement. I’m guessing a lot of students will probably get stressed out about applying, but you might as well try because it doesn’t cost anything.

Sara Wasim: In general, working on applications can be stressful, but I find that starting them early and managing my time really helps to ease that stress.

William Layng: Despair. Genuine despair. I was very worried about being successful in my application not only for the SSHRC but for graduate school and I was thinking to myself, “man, what if I don’t even get into graduate school and I just wasted all of this effort?” What was nice about the application process though was I felt like I was getting a lot of very serious work done that could then make my grad school application better.

What was your biggest challenge when applying for grants?

Sara Eng: For me, the most difficult thing was deciding on what thing to focus on for my research proposal, and trying not to cover a million things at once.

Sara Wasim: For me the hardest part of the entire process was just getting started. I think it can seem like such a daunting task, but getting started is definitely half the battle.

William Layng: It took a tremendous amount of reaching out to clarify what my application should look like. Don’t get me wrong, the people I reached out to were very willing to help, but the amount of clarification I had to ask for was pretty big because the instructions on the website are so minimal.

What advice would you give to students writing grant proposals right now?

Sara Eng: As one of my Profs told me, a SSHRC is basically an investment by the government, so make sure your proposal is relevant to today’s issues. Another really helpful tip I got was make sure you are using language that is readable to anyone, not just the people within your discipline. 

Sara Wasim: Definitely don’t be afraid to reach out to upper year students or TAs who have experience with the grant you’re applying for, or material you’re writing about. The more feedback you get, and the more you edit your application, the better it’ll be. As well, even if you don’t think you’re going to receive an award or grant apply anyways. I know for me personally, I wasn’t expecting to receive OGS so lesson learned.

William Layng: A huge thing professors mentioned to me was to make sure that you’re engaging with current scholarship. And contact professors in the department who are specialists in your field of research to make sure your proposal is relevant.

A big thank you to Sara, Sara, and William for taking the time to answer my questions. Still have some of your own? Drop them in the comments below!

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Did you know that the School of Graduate Studies has a Fellowships and Awards office? Check out their website here to learn more about funding opportunities and how to apply.

October 27th, 2020

Being kind to yourself (even when you don’t want to be)

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

cactus with two signs stuck into its pot that read "mistakes happen" and "you are fabulous"

When you think about this on a general, non-specific level, the idea that you would ever not want to be kind to yourself is a strange one. But I find that in some moments, especially when I haven’t lived up to my own expectations, I don’t feel that I deserve kindness. Instead, I feel that I need to be pushed and prodded until I get the results that I want.

I’ll give you an example: the other day in my seminar, I gave a really wrong answer to a question posed by the Professor (and I don’t mean sort of wrong, I mean really, embarrassingly wrong). And rather than be kind to myself about the fact that I made a mistake, I was downright awful. I told myself all sort of nasty things about my intelligence and self-worth that I won’t even bother repeating, all because I made a mistake in class.

I think it’s safe to say that Grad students are a group of hardworking people, and often times, this work ethic is achieved by being tough on ourselves, and pushing ourselves until we achieve our goal. While perseverance and getting the job done is certainly important at times, it can be tricky to know where to draw the line, and when to cut yourself some slack. It’s hard to know when pushing yourself towards perfection stops being helpful and actually starts to hurt you.

2 potted succulents next to each other that have speech bubbles next to them. The one on the left reads "I'm proud of you" and the right reads "Don't give up"

Take my wrong answer example. Classroom discussions are the place to try out new ideas, and inevitably be wrong sometimes. And when I berate myself so heavily for making a mistake, all it does it make me not want to talk in class anymore—which is not only bad for my participation grade, but bad for my learning. Besides, when other people give the wrong answer in class, I never think badly of them, I just think that they’re learning like the rest of us. So why can’t I feel the same way about myself?

While I think it’s always important to remember to be kind to yourself, right now it’s especially so. As the School of Graduate studies notes in their Guide to Working from Home, grad students are being expected to continue their work while being under an immense amount of anxiety and stress, and not to mention, having to work from home. Their advice? “Go easy on yourself,” and I think they’re right. (They also have a ton of other great advice and I highly suggest you check it out).

I realize that being kind to yourself can be hard, and when you feel you’ve been unproductive or off your game, it can be the last thing you want to do. And I am by no means an expert at this—in fact I’m really bad at it. So really, I wrote this post as a reminder to myself that being kind is not only the healthy thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do.

So the next time I’m unhappy with my productivity, my work, you name it; rather than be hard on myself, I’m going to reframe it as a sign I need a little bit of kindness, and see what happens.

October 26th, 2020

Our first Doodle Night!

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

screenshot of a zoom grid of students all holding up their artwork and smiling
Our Doodle Gallery!

It’s your lucky day folks! I am posting a bonus blog this week because our Grad Escape: Doodle Night that took place on Friday was just too fun not to share.

What’s Doodle Night?

Doodle Night is one of the many Grad escape events that Gradlife runs for grad students come together, unwind and have some fun! Since so many students are artists, art-lovers, or just learning, we created Doodle Night so that grads could hang out and access their creative side.

A drawing of a lamp, books, cactus, school supplies and raining clouds
Artwork by Emma Chapelle, who is doing her Masers of Teaching

The Doodle Challenges

To spark inspiration, our grads were given 3 doodle challenges:

  1. Draw something in your room
  2. Draw your research
  3. Draw a self portrait

As I’m sure you can see from the photos, everyone produced some amazing art, and had some very creative takes on the challenges. As one Grad pointed out about challenge #2, for a lot of people it was also an exercise in drawing their future. And I think they’re right!

While we had some very talented artists, the point of Doodle Night was to have fun and unwind, and many of the grads who joined us were new to drawing. As a result, the night was filled with laughs, chatting and lots of compliments! Also, I wanted to say a big thank you to our Grads who let me share their work on the blog–their art was simply too good not to be seen!

A doodle of an E. coli cell that is smiling and giving a thumbs up
An Easy-going E. coli by Matthew who is studying Immunology

Wanna Come Doodle With Us?

Sad you missed out on Friday’s event? Fear not! Gradlife is running more doodle nights this semester (our next one is Nov 6th), as well as Recipe Share events and Virtual Game nights! Whether you are a professional artist/ chef/ board-gamer, or a novice, we’d love to see you there!

You can register for our upcoming events through the Gradlife Calendar on CLNx: https://clnx.utoronto.ca/home/gradlife.htm

A sketch of a washroom sink
Artwork by Anonymous

October 19th, 2020

Four easy meals you can make with a can of chickpeas (and some other stuff)

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

the words "Easy Chick-Peasy" are spelt out in chickpeas across a kitchen counter top.
See what I did there…

Whether you’re trying to eat less meat, are in a rush, or just really like chickpeas, these recipes are for you! Feel free to turn each dish into your own since there’s no wrong way to cook them. In fact, that’s the thing I like the most about chickpeas, if all else fails you can safely eat them raw.

Roast Chickpeas

This is my go-to dinner recipe. They’re great cold or hot, with rice, roast veggies or on their own!

Ingredients

1 can of chickpeas

olive oil

½ tsp garlic powder

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp dried coriander

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Drain chickpeas and rinse in strainer. Place into large bowl and toss with olive oil and spices. Place onto lined baking pan and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees C, mixing the chickpeas about halfway through. You can also garnish with lemon juice and parsley at the end. That’s it!

Chickpea Salad

I know this sounds like I’m going to tell you to open up a can of chick peas on top of a salad (which is also quite yummy). This recipe is a bit more involved… but just barely. It’s my vegetarian take on chicken or egg salad—you can eat it in a sandwich, a wrap (my favourite), or if you haven’t gone grocery shopping in a while, just eat as is.

Image of chickpea salad in a sandwich with spinach on a cutting board

Ingredients

1 can of chickpeas

olive oil

juice from ½ a lemon

salt and pepper to taste

handful of Parsley (optional)

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Place them in a bowl and coat with olive oil. Mash with a potato masher or fork until you have achieved your desired consistency. Mix in the lemon, salt, pepper and parsley (this is optional but I highly recommend). And that’s it! Easy chick-peasy, as they say.

Hummus

Although it’s very tempting to buy pre-made hummus (which I often also do), this recipe is also super easy, and in my humble opinion, tastes better than your average store-bought dip.

Image of a dollop of hummus with parsley and paprika on top. Behind it on the cutting board there are pieces of bread

Ingredients

1 can of chickpeas

Juice of 1 lemon

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup of Tahini

approximately 10 cloves of garlic

1tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp coriander, pinch of cayenne pepper

1/3 cup of water

Salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees C. Peel the garlic and place it on a parchment lined pan. Sprinkle the spices on top and roast for 20-25 minutes until the garlic is soft.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add them to your blender along with the Tahini, water juice, olive oil and lemon juice. Add the garlic and spices once they’ve cooked, and blend all the ingredients together until your hummus is nice and creamy! Salt to taste.

Chickpea Pasta

This recipe is a Meal with a capital “M.” It makes enough sauce for at least four people, or ample left overs if you don’t want to share.

Ingredients

1 cup— 1 can of chickpeas (depending on how much you like chickpeas)

1 jar of crushed tomatoes (also known as “passata” for you real cooks out there)

1 onion minced

2 cloves of garlic minced

olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Pasta (I’m a big fan of some classic linguine, but up to you)

Parmesan and parsley (optional)

Coat the bottom of a sauce pot in olive oil and add your minced onion, salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat until the onion is translucent (around 15 minutes). I recommend you don’t let the onion burn. Near the end, add in the minced garlic.

Add in your jar of crushed tomatoes to the pot. Next, fill the jar up 1/2—2/3 of the way up with water, and add to the pot as well. Add in your chickpeas. Bring sauce to a boil and then immediately simmer on low-medium heat for 20-25 minutes until your sauce is sweet and your chickpeas juicy.

Make pasta according to the package and cover with your delicious sauce! I highly recommend you add parmesan and (yup, you guessed it!) parsley on top. Enjoy!

If you love to cook, want to learn, or just want to get to know some of your fellow Grad students, come check out our Recipe Share event on October 26th at 12 pm EST! We’ll be sharing our favourite recipes, funniest cooking stories, and you might even get a cookbook full of new dishes to try!

Click here to register for the Recipe Share: https://clnx.utoronto.ca/home/gradlife.htm?eventId=27319

You can check out and register for other Gradlife events on CLNx: https://clnx.utoronto.ca/home/gradlife.htm.

October 13th, 2020

Finding (and Keeping!) Focus

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

photo of a desk with a plant, laptop, pen and notebook that has "Help" written across its page

It’s approximately five weeks into the semester and my focus has left the building. To be honest with you, I don’t know when, or how it happened—I was reading like a machine, taking notes, making points, you name it!—but now, my concentration has dwindled big time.

I can no longer get through a paper without opening instagram, checking twitter, and when I’m really desperate for a distraction, even checking my email. So in an attempt to help myself regain my focus (and you know, maybe help you too) I’ve rounded up all my favourite ways to keep focus and get through that mid-semester slump (I know it’s not actually mid-semester but it feels that way ok?)

1. Turning off my wifi when I can

I know this sounds simple but I find it to be actually really effective. Although basically all the work I do is online (sound relatable?) when I’m reading papers I try to download them as PDFs. That way, I can read them and take notes without the temptation of endless distraction. And yes, even though I could easily just turn on my wifi if I want to go on twitter, sometimes I find that having that extra half-second buffer makes me ask myself, “do I really need a break right now?” and usually the answer is “No, you’ve only read 2 paragraphs since the last one.”

2. Noise cancelling headphones

Personally, I get distracted very easily and I am a very nosy person (I love to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations), so I like how noise cancelling headphones remove the temptation. What I’ve found also works really well if you don’t have/ like noise cancelling headphones is listening to classical music or rain sounds. That way you get some nice background noise without it being too distracting.

Here’s a good classical music playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIYzp5rcTvU

And a rain sound play list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jX6kn9_U8qk (This one is 10 hours!)

Photo of a desk with a plant, notebook, pen and laptop with sticky notes on it that read "Stop getting distracted" and "I dare you to focus."

3. Writing myself slightly aggressive sticky notes

My current favourite phrases include “You HAVE to do this today” and “STOP GETTING DISTRACTED.” I typically keep them on the front of my laptop, but when I’m really desperate I’ll stick one on the top right corner of my screen. That way the time is covered and I enter a sensory-deprivation zone of pure focus.

4. Changing out of my pajamas

It is very, very tempting to stay in my pajamas all day, and then throwing on a sweater when I have class. As comfortable as this is, I definitely feel far too comfortable to be doing any serious work. Now I’m not saying put on jeans or anything crazy like that, but even a nice pair of sweatpants or leggings seems to wake me up more than pajamas ever could.

Photo of a desk with a plant, pen, notebook and watch on it

5. Hiding my phone in another room

I know, I know this one is obvious. But my unique twist is if I’m doing work that doesn’t require a laptop, then I keep my watch on my desk. Since I have not a single clock, half the time I justify going to look at my phone/ laptop to “check on the time.” But haha! The Watch Method™ thwarts such an excuse and keeps me focused.

6. The Pomodoro technique

I’m gonna level with you: I’ve never actually used this technique before. But people are always telling me about it and I feel like this post needs at least one science-based tactic. If you’ve never heard of it, the Pomodoro technique helps you to manage your time (and focus) by having you do work for 25 minutes, and then giving you a 5 minute break. After about 4 of these cycles (called “Pomodoros”) you get a 20-minute break as a reward!

If you want more information, check out this cool article that explains the technique in detail: https://www.themuse.com/advice/take-it-from-someone-who-hates-productivity-hacksthe-pomodoro-technique-actually-works

Photo of a girl holding a book and a highlighter who is sitting at a desk and taking part in an online grad writing group

7. Join a Grad Study Group

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Student Life runs online Grad study groups and writing groups that provide structured time for Grad students to focus on their work, be productive, and hold each other accountable. It’s a great way to actually work from home, as the tagline goes. Between the two groups, there’s at least one session running every day, and is bound to fit your schedule!

For more information, or to sign-up, check out:

I hope my post has inspired you to get past that First-Month-Slump. If you have your own methods for keeping focus that you’d like to share, sound off in the comments below! Now, I guess I’ll go do my reading I was putting off by writing this post… 

October 5th, 2020

The 8 Stages of Stress Running

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

Ever since I started Grad school, I’ve become a big fan of the stress run—or the idea of it at least. So I thought I’d share a livestream of the thoughts I had during my last one. Maybe you’ve had some of the same!

1. I can’t look at my research anymore

And If I do… well I don’t know what will actually happen but it will probably be bad. I don’t even have enough brain cells left to consider what that would be.

cartoon drawing of girl staring at computer unhappily

2. What I really want to do is binge-watch something for a healthy couple of hours.

But then I’ll have to start a new show and that is a time commitment I just can’t make right now (well I could, but I won’t. Not for another week a least)

3. Ok here’s what I’m going to do: I’ll go on a run

Yes! This is an excellent idea. Ideas like this are what got me into Grad school in the first place.

cartoon drawing of hands tying up running shoe laces

4. This is an excellent idea

I repeat this over and over to myself as I change into what I define as running clothes but what would probably make real runners laugh. This is an excellent idea. This is an excellent idea. By the time my suspiciously old running shoes have been laced up, I no longer believe it. But it’s too late to change my mind now.

5. This was a horrible idea

It’s 20 seconds into my run. There is a concerning pain in my side. All these runners keep waving at me… Why?

6. Okay it’s getting better just gotta warm up

Nope. No It’s not.

6.5 I’ll do that thing my runner-friend told me to do where I run for a minute and then walk for a minute.

Oh no it’s been a minute of running but someone’s walking by. I guess I have to keep going, at least until they pass me. Gotta keep up appearances.

cartoon drawing of girl stopping mid run with her hands on her knees

7. There is literally no way I have only been outside for 4 minutes

In my defense though there was a hill. According to science that is the equivalent of double the time spent running (it’s not, I made that up). Okay what I’m going to do is run around the block one more time and that should round me up to a solid 10 minutes.

8. Whatever.

Six minutes is close enough. Maybe I’ll just watch one episode of something new before I get back to work…

Do my stages match-up with yours? Do you have other tips for dealing with stress? Do you actually know how to run? Let me know in the comments below!

September 28th, 2020

My Experience Starting Grad School During a Pandemic (And it’s Not All That Bad)

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

I’m not sure if this problem is particular to me, but my summer was full of Grad school dread. Rather than feel proud that I had gotten into Grad school, or excited about starting my program, I was fixated upon the fact that my experience was going to be very different from that of previous years. To make matter worse, over the summer everyone I came across—neighbours, extended family, even my dentist—would ask me what I was doing in the fall, and once I told them about grad school, the first thing they would ask is “Will it be online?”

When I would awkwardly mumble that it would be, they would reply sympathetically, “Oh, that’s too bad” or “Oh what a shame.”

And I know this wasn’t their intention, but each time this happened (and it happened a lot) I felt more and more like a sham. Until eventually, I was convinced that since I wasn’t getting a “normal” graduate experience, I was completing some sort of fake degree. In truth, this feeling of being a graduate-imposter, despite the fact that the situation is completely out of my control, upset me so much that I considered dropping out.

Cartoon drawing of a girl looking at her laptop that has a shadow of a monster behind it

And it’s not the fault of my neighbours, or my very nice dentist, that I felt this way. For on the flip side, when my friends would try to be positive about the situation I would feel like they were lying to me. The fact was, I was upset that my Graduate experience would not be the one I had pictured, and no one could change my mind. I felt as though the work and the hours I had put into my application had been a waste, and I worried that my degree would be too.

Now that the year has finally started, however, this big shadowy Grad school monster I had pictured has deflated. Of course, my experience is not the same as it has been in years past, but what I’ve also learned is that graduate school centers much more around self-directed learning than I had realized. So while I would have liked to go down to campus every day, I am still doing the same work, and learning the same material, that I would have been otherwise. This realization helped me to no longer feel as though my degree is somehow lesser than those acquired in the years before me; if anything, it’s more difficult, for grad students this year have to do the same work in a new and frankly scary way.

Photo of a pile of books
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

All this being said, I want to recognize that I am in a very privileged position to be going to graduate school in the first place, and to have a safe place to live and to study, albeit remotely.

But I wanted to write this post because in one of my seminars, the Professor gave students the space to voice their concerns about the upcoming year. Everyone spoke very openly and shared their worries about learning remotely, learning from another country, and not meeting a single one of their peers or professors in person. Hearing that other grad students have many of the same anxieties made me feel a lot better, so I thought I’d share my feelings with you.

So if you have been feeling this way, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and the work that you’re putting into your graduate degree, whether it be in the research or professional stream, a masters or PhD, is real, valuable and quite frankly very, very impressive.

If you also find sharing your experiences as a grad student helpful, or if you enjoy listening to others share theirs, Gradlife hosts tons of Grad Connections where grad students can come together and discuss a variety of topics particular to our experiences. You can check out, and register, for our upcoming events on CLNx: https://clnx.utoronto.ca/home/gradlife.htm.

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