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?

minicrystalballet

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.

March 21st, 2014

3 topics/theses I would go to research events just to see

As grad students, I hope that we are proud as what we do. We are in the cutting edge of research and knowledge, emerging leaders of our field. I’ll stop sounding like my program director now, but you get the point. At some point in our time here, we would be showcasing our work, educating others about the things we do. And there’s no better time to do it than now.

There are a lot of research-related events happening right now. As far as I know, many graduate divisions have their own version of research day. For some, it’s the highlight of their academic year. My own home division’s research day is on May 7, and everyone in IHPME is excited, even those of us in the professional programs. I might even present something myself! If your division doesn’t have a research day, or if you’re looking for other events to share your work, there are also school and nation wide competitions you can enter. In fact, the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is happening right now!

I don’t think I need to go into why you should enter a research day competition. We all know and can probably recite them in our sleep. Instead, I’m going to take the spectator’s side. Why should those of us who don’t have a thesis ready be attending these events, other than to support our friends and colleagues, maybe network a bit more? It’s got to be interesting. It’s got to be mind-blowing. If there were 3 topics/these (probably non-existent papers) that would make me feel the absolutely need to attend a research day event, they would be…

1. The impact of YouTube videos on eating habits

Hear me out on this one. There have been studies (don’t quote me) about poor eating habits and TV dinners. Now that things like YouTube and smart TVs are becoming more popular, how is that going to impact the length of time we spend eating, and what we are eating? I’ve heard people say that things like ads and full hour episodes can be bad for health, since you’re primed to eat junk food or to spend more time munching. What happens when you’re marathoning the Food Wishes YouTube channel?

2. A New Brand of Canadian Celebrities: Justin Beiber and Rob Ford on the World Stage

The world is fascinated with our two most infamous celebrities. Why? No, seriously. Why? How?

Follow-up study: Parallels of the rise of Beiber and Ford and their (perhaps) inevitable fall.

3. Wow. Such research. Much impressed: The efficacy of presenting complex ideas in meme

I imagine the presentation for this topic going a lot like this…

Presenter

Me

Presenter

 So, are any of you presenting this season? What are your topics? Share your division’s research day events in the comments below!

March 17th, 2014

“I don’t have time!” Yes, you do.

The funny thing about this post is that it’s about time management, and I am currently struggling to find time to write it. Things are piling up and falling through the cracks, and it’s not like I’m not trying to get work done – I am. We’ve all experienced it before. Everything is going well, you’re feeling great, when all of a sudden there is too much to do and too little time to do it. Since we’re already halfway through March, we’re smack dab in the middle of the busiest time of year. There are papers to write, groceries to buy, presentations to give, graduations to request, and assignments to grade. The students you’re TA-ing are as anxious about their papers as you are about yours. Things just suck right now, no question about it.

There are a million ways to deal with the kind of stress we are deal with right now. We can make ourselves take break, do some yoga, or just spend a day with your phones and tablets off. Despite knowing all that, I often hear myself saying how little time I have. My excuse to not go to the gym or take a break is that I don’t have enough time to do it. It all boils down to how you manage that time. Afterall, you can’t afford to take a break if you don’t think you have enough time to do so.

We’re all in grad school, which means that we all have at least some skill in time management. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have made it so far. So today we’re going to take it back to the basics. What do you do to help you manage your time? Below are the three things that I do (or wish I did) all the time.

1. Make Lists.

The first step to making a list is to make the list. Brainstorm all the possible things you need to do (I usually do it the night before). That’s the easy part. The hard part is prioritizing the items on that list. Go through that list and put a start or circle things that are important or is something you must do that day. Don’t try to be a superhero and make everything a priority.

2. Use a calendar.

You might be going, “Duh. Of course I should use a calendar.” Using one to schedule appointments and classes is self-explanatory, but I’m always surprised as how under-utilized calendars are. Gone are the days where we have to physically write down whatever we need to do by hand (though if you still do that, my hat goes off to you). Nowadays, it’s ridiculously easy to not only record events on them, and most let you colour-code and send you automated reminds ahead of important dates. I like to colour my assignment deadlines an angry red, just so that I don’t accidentally miss them. You tend to not forgot things that look angry. The tools are there – be smart on how you use them.

3. Learn different ways to manage your time and work.

As your work habits and schedules change, the things you to do help you handle it all might have to change too. There are plenty of good resources out there, and plenty of people have shared their systems online. You’re reading my tips, and I would love to hear about yours. If you find yourself stuck in a rut, just look around, and you can probably find something that works for you. But if that isn’t your thing, and you would like some one-on-one help with time management, the Academic Success Centre offers time management workshops for students.

So that’s it from me. What are some of your favourite time management tips? Share them in the comments below!

 

March 7th, 2014

To Network, or Not To Network

I’m currently right in the middle of my summer practicum application process. For many students, grad students included, now is generally the time where you start thinking about summer jobs and career prospects. Since most of us are on the same boat right now, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some career-related things, and share some experiences I’ve had over the years.

A big buzzword we hear all the time is “networking”. They always tell us that networking can help us find a good job, and it’s about who you know, not what you know. Now, I don’t have a whole lot of work experience, and I also don’t really know if the merits of networking are as great as they say. Networking isn’t the magic ritual that can get you a great job. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean you are guaranteed a job, no matter how many success stories you hear. In reality, I find that networking is much more about getting to know people who can help you help yourself. It’s not who you know, but how you know them, that will help you the most in the long run.

Take myself, for example. I’m relatively young, and have very little “real world” experience to speak of. When I applied for my first real job (as communications intern at U of T), I found and got the job not because someone I know pulled some string to get me in, but because I was able to take advantage of the networks I had already. At the time, my network was largely Twitter based. Someone I was following posted a link to the job application. I just happened to click on it, and here I am, still blogging for U of T!

The funny thing about networks is that you have to grow it when you’re not looking to “use” it (i.e. looking for a job), so that when you do need it, it’s right there. The great thing about it is that it’s really easy to do. I don’t know about you, but when I hear people talking about networking and how critical it is, I get really nervous. But the truth is, your network is probably pretty big, more so if you’re a grad student. The trick is learning how to tap into that network. Trish, our past blogger has written about it before. Today I’ll share three of my tips with all of you.

1. Be a connector

Networking is a two way street. Some of the best career speakers I’ve heard talk about networking not as something someone else can do for you, but something you can do for them. Practically speaking, you have to give the person your incentive for connecting with you. What you’re doing is forming a two way relationship that is mutually beneficial. Don’t just network with them, connect.

2. Think about social media

Social media is also another buzzword you may have heard. While there are strong opinions about using social media to network, I personally find platforms like Twitter to be very useful in helping identify people I want to talk to and learn from. I built a good part of my career so far around social media, and really believe that knowing how to use it, and becoming comfortable with it, can help you know who to know. The culture around social media also helps with the how part – no need to craft a letter! Just tweet them.

Commenting on blogs (like this one!) is like networking too :D

3. Be genuine

I know that I’ve made a good connection when I think to myself, “this person has offered to help me, and they’re not just saying that.” No one likes a person who is only out for themselves, and no one likes a person they feel like they don’t know. Don’t be that person!

Do you have any networking tips? Share them in the comments below!

network

February 27th, 2014

Lead a Grad, Grow a Grad

As part of my program, my class is required to take some leadership training to prepare us for our summer practicum. We have a total of four that are supposed to help us learn how to deal with conflict, manage our working relationships and just… lead.

It almost seems pointless, leadership training. I mean, we always hear that some people are born leaders, and others are not. I don’t buy that, though. Not everyone is “born” a leader, nor does being born with characteristics of a leader mean you’re a good one. All of us are going to be in some sort of leadership role, be it big or small, and it makes sense that we prepare for them as best we can before we get there.

To me, leadership is a learned skill. In the years I’ve been at U of T, I found that the workshops and seminars I attended about leadership actually helped me. I didn’t just accidentally stumble into these workshops though. Many of them I had to go to because of my student group (U of T has this rule that groups with offices have to go to ULead training).

Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to look at some of the leadership training offered for grad students. In addition to the GPS program I talked about before, there are a couple series and and resources that I thought you all might be interested in.

1. Graduate Student Leadership Workshop Series

This series of workshops is very similar to the workshops I am doing for my program. I find that these workshops are great for already established groups. Learning about group dynamics and how to handle conflict within your class, or work group, really helps bring the team together.

2. Ulead Workshops

If you are part of a student club, chances are you already know about the Ulead Workshops. The series is divided into five categories: communication, organizational development, finance, membership engagement and leadership. Although leadership is its own category, all the workshops are very useful.

3. Living Leadership Blog

Leadership is a lifestyle. The Living Leadership blog looks at some of U of T leaders, and gives insight on how to develop your skills. Currently, their “Leadership is…” context is happening. Entrants share their thoughts on leadership in 500 words, and winner gets a $50 gift certificate.

Everybody can be a leader. You just have to work on the skills that can help you shine. There are many skills and characteristics of a leader, and each set will be unique to you. Put yourself out there and good luck!

February 24th, 2014

You oat to have a meal!

I dislike breakfast food. If I had a choice between a cheesy omelet with all possible stuffings and a hearty soup for breakfast, I’d choose the soups. But if there’s one food I’ll always choose something else over, it would be hot oatmeal. There’s nothing I dislike more than hot, goopy, glue-like oatmeal first thing in the morning, as far as food is concerned. But wouldn’t you know it, oatmeal is also probably one of the most filling, easiest and probably the healthiest thing you can eat in the morning.

I’m not in the habit of eating regular breakfasts. But for the sake of my health, I’ve gotten into the habit of making a ridiculously easy breakfast which has – gasp – oats as its main ingredient. Cold oatmeal, or summer porridge, is an easy, no-cook and (depending on how you store it) convenient breakfast that takes almost no time to make. I followed this recipe at first, but eventually found that you don’t actually need to measure everything out. I call my method the “fill and shake”. I’ve included my recipe below, with alternatives you can try.

Ingredients (everything to taste):

  • Rolled oats (not the steel cut kind!)
  • Chia Seeds (or other grains/seeds. I think cooked barley is delicious)
  • Some kind of dairy (milk, soy milk, almond milk. etc.)
  • Fruit. Any fruit.
  • Some kind of sweetener, like honey (I use a dash of juice instead)

Equipment

  • Something with a tight lid. The recipe I found suggested using mason jars with tighter lids. Makes it easier to grab and go if you’re in a hurry.
  • A spoon (Optional)

Instructions:

  1. Pour oats into container. Fill about 1/3 to 1/2 of the container, depending on how thick you want your oatmeal.
  2. Add two teaspoons of chia seeds. If you don’t have teaspoons, take out spoons work just as well.
  3. Add fruit.
  4. Add diary and sweetener.
  5. Close lid and shake.

chefcrystal

February 12th, 2014

Gettin’ Some Lovin’

Whether you call it Valentine’s Day, Singles-Awareness Day or Friday, there’s no denying that, in our society, February 14 is a special day. It’s a day of love, of single solidarity, and the eve of fantastic chocolate sales. I want to change things up though. I want to make February the day of self-love.

If there’s anything I’ve noticed, it’s that we always beat ourselves up over things – little things, big things, stupid things.While it’s normal to sometimes feel insecure, it’s when it’s a prolonged or frequent experience that it becomes a problem. We don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit for our achievements. Most of the time, it’s probably because you just forgot – things like writing papers and giving presentations start to feel like normal and “part of the job”. Other times, it’s modesty, which is usually a good thing. But never, ever acknowledging your achievements, however big or small, can be detrimental to your own self-esteem.

Self-love is a mentality. It’s about treating yourself right and taking care of yourself, especially when you feel like you don’t deserve it. It’s about being okay with the mishaps that happen – the stutter in a speech, the contaminated sample in the lab – and learning how to deal with it.

To celebrate Self-Love Day, I have made a list of three things we can all do to to show ourselves some love.

1. Complement yourself. Blush prettily.

Optional: Saying “Aw, shucks” and fluttering your eyelashes.

2. Try something you’ve never tried before and feel good about not being good at it.

As grad students, we feel this unspoken pressure to be very good at what we do. We’re expected by others to be good, and as a result, we hold ourselves to very high standards. Getting rid of that pressure is liberating. For example, last week I tried boxing for the first time. I was horrible at it, and it hurts to type this post, but it feels great to do something that no one expects me to be good at.

3. Reflect on why you chose the path you are taking. 

It may feel like you ended up in a grad program by accident, and even if that’s true, chances are there are real reasons why you have decided to stay. Make a list of reasons why you chose your path, what you like about it, and why you’re good at it. Pat yourself on the back.

How do you show yourself some love? Share in the comments below!

For more (serious-er) thoughts on self-love, check out this article on Psychology Today.

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