August 24th, 2016

Meet Your Orientation Panelists: Hamza Bin Taufique

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.37.51 AMWe’re continuing our saga of introducing you to the graduate panelists for this post, and today we’d like to tell you a little bit about Hamza Bin Taufique. Hamza is pursuing his PhD in Molecular Genetics, and has been with U of T 5 years. He has some good, quick info for you to access, so read on!

What does a regular day look like for you?

A lot of my time is spent in a lab doing experiments, reading papers or writing grants/papers. Evenings are split between doing volunteer work, working on student life projects, and socializing with friends.

Are you local to Toronto, or did you move here for school? If so, where from?

I’m not a local of Toronto proper. I am originally from the suburban GTA town of Brampton.

Do you have a favourite study spot at U of T?

The UC Quad is amazing for getting some reading done.

Are you involved in any groups on campus? 

I’m the co-chair of Grad Minds, a Grad Room Community Animator, and am part of a few committees dealing with graduate students.

What is the biggest stress you have about being a graduate student?

Uncertainty of experiments and continuously having to evolve your hypotheses – but somehow that is also the fun part of graduate school. It’s very rewarding when you finally crack a research question.

Do you have any advice for incoming graduate students?

Plan your time in graduate school – have a day-to-day schedule and a long term schedule for goals that you want to achieve. Stick to this plan as much as possible. Also, I cannot stress this enough – make sure you are involved in activities/hobbies apart from your research.

What is your least favourite part about being a graduate student at U of T?

Lack of interdisciplinary collaborations.

What’s your favourite “have-to-see/go-to” spot off-campus, in Toronto?

I love being around the water and Toronto has a lot of cool places fr viewing Lake Ontario. My favourite go-to spots are: (1) Polson Street next to Sound Acadmey, (2) Leslie Street Spit (Tommy Thompson Park), and (3) Humber Bay.


As always, stay tuned for some more great ideas of how to get by in grad school, and where to spend your “not-in-the-lab” time!

August 22nd, 2016

Meet the Orientation Panelists

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.37.51 AM                                                            Last week, we were introduced to one of our panelists, Atifa, who will be helping to transition new students to grad life at U of T at our orientation event next Monday. This week, we’re going to continue our introductions with Jacob. Jacob Hogan is in the History department, pursuing his PhD; he is entering his sixth year of study.

Read on for information on Jacob’s time as a PhD student at U of T.

What does a regular day look like for you?

I wake up often around 6:00 am, go to the gym, and then focus on writing my dissertation until 9:00 pm.

Are you local to Toronto, or did you move here for school? If so, from where?

I am from Peterborough, Ontario. I completed my BA and MA in history at the University of Ottawa.

Do you have a favourite study spot at U of T?

The Laidlaw Library. There is a monument of Gandhi and it’s usually quite barren of people. The Grad Room is great too, but can get quite disquiet. Bring earplugs.

Are you involved in any groups on campus? Which ones?

I am the Senior Editor of Re:locations: Journal of the Asia-Pacific Word, and am a member and facilitator of the Academic Success Center’s graduate writing groups.

What is the biggest stress you have about being a graduate student?

Disappointing my father is a worry only because he has financed so much of my education.

What is your least favourite part about being a graduate student at U of T?

The cost of tuition.

Favourite “have-t0-see/go-to” spot off-campus, in Toronto?

I don’t have much of a “social life” right now; instead, I have instituted Jake Time. This is where I don’t go out on weekends, and focus on me. I do, however, enjoy any place there is stand-up comedy in the city.

Do you have a piece of advice for incoming graduate students?

First, realize the tyranny of time is real. As a PhD student, your first two years will have more structure and deadlines—year one will be dedicated to completing your course work and year two is comps. After that the structure ends. Don’t waste year number three–the pivotal year–or your summers. Take a week or two off after you finish your comps, but not a month off. You are not done once you finish your comps.

Second, explore and utilize more of this university than just the library and café. Although I misremember the book and author, I do remember reading for my comps that a university is a tremendous resource for those that use it. Use it. Go Hart House. Take a spin class. Do yoga. Play soccer. The classes are free and sweating is a great stress reliever. Most importantly, expand your network and connections outside your department. Become a mentor. Volunteer. Find part-time work in the University. These are things to do especially in years one through three when you haven’t really started writing your dissertation.

Third, in your department join committees that will be relevant for your CV and your resume.  If you are going to be involved in your department, aim for a position of leadership. This will help you when seeking employment—inside or outside the academy. Also realize that when it comes to major awards and grants in your department, faculty members will view your active involvement in the department as a plus.

Fourth, learn how to say no. Don’t go to every single social get together and pub night. Go if you want to go, not because you feel obligated.

Fifth, and most importantly, start writing your dissertation as soon as you can. The best dissertation is a finished one. I facilitate graduate writing groups for the Academic Success Centre and they have been great for everyone that commits to them and attends. We sit down for two and a half hours and write. There are no cell phones allowed; they are turned off and are out of sight and mind. The groups are ideal for first year students working on grant applications or term papers. Janelle Joseph organizes these groups and they are amazing.

Sixth, follow the work of Karen Kelsky, known as “The Professor is In.” She has a twitter account and website. From her work, I took away that graduate school is a vehicle for your career and life, but not a final destination. So many graduate students get comfortable with the lifestyle here. They join committees, get lured into teaching a class that eats away at their writing time, and forget—or ignore– they have to write a dissertation.

Stay tuned all this week for more words of wisdom, key info, and tips to success from your orientation panelists!

August 15th, 2016

Meet the Panelists: Gradlife Orientation

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.37.51 AM On August 29th, Gradlife will be hosting an orientation day for all incoming graduate students to U of T. Entering the graduate life can be a sometimes disorienting experience, and made especially more so if you’re new to Toronto, or new to U of T. At Gradlife, we think that while a few sound words of advice from people who work on campus is definitely an asset, the best way to know how to navigate your graduate experience is to hear directly from those who’ve been there themselves, or who are still there. With this in mind, we’ve invited a panel of graduate students to orientation to answer your questions, give you some insight into what being a graduate at U of T is all about, and basically to assuage your worries about “not being able to cut it”.

In the meantime, we thought it’d be great if you got to know your panelists a little bit more! So, without further ado, here is an insight into some of the people who’ll be guiding your grad experience.

Panelist: Alifa F. Karim

Atifa has been a Master of Education student for one year, and is pursuing Higher Education and Educational Policy at OISE. In addition to this, Atifa also volunteers with the Student Affairs Society at OISE.

What does a regular day look like for you?

This very much fluctuates based on what time of year it is, but on average I work in the morning and then have classes in the evening. I usually have pretty long days (9am – 8pm), but then have about two days (during the work week) where I’m off campus and can dedicate that time to personal interests and getting readings, papers, etc. done.

Are you local to Toronto, or did you move here for school?

I’ve lived in Toronto since I was about 15. I lived in a few different places before moving here: Guyana (which is where I was born), Miami, and Jamaica.

Do you have a favourite study spot at U of T?

Nexus Lounge at OISE (12th floor, with a great view of the Toronto skyline!)

 What is the biggest stress you have in relation to being a graduate student?

Maintaining a healthy work/life balance. It’s easy for me to become completely immersed in my programs of study, at the expense of other personal interests. Refining how to balance these commitments can sometimes be challenging, but it’s also valuable to work through.

What is your least favourite part about being a graduate student at U of T?

It’s sometimes difficult to find community. The challenge is to actively seek it out and find something that is the right fit for you.

Do you have a favourite “have-to-see/go-to” spot off-campus, in Toronto?

The ROM. There’s so much to see, explore, and still relatively close to campus.

 Do you have any advice for incoming graduate students?

Be intentional. Follow your passions, but be mindful of your ability to tell your story. Understand your experience, and work on articulating the skills you have. This is valuable exercise to engage in before and during graduate studies, as it helps you to refine what areas of development you’re still seeking to explore.

Stay tuned next week for more info on, and advice from, your orientation to gradlife panelists! As you’ll see, graduate students at U of T come from places all over the world, have a wealth of experience and talent to offer U of T and their peers, and are people who acknowledge that being a grad student is sometimes tough, but know the secrets to making a day successful, and the entire journey totally worthwhile.

July 13th, 2016

Beating the Heat in Toronto

13686568_10205809700915479_8309353955500532209_n A few weeks ago, I attempted to run my first half marathon. On the morning of, however, the day was already so hot and humid at 8a.m. that race officials had to shorten the 13.1 miles to 13 km. Sure, I was disappointed, but when I hit the trail and felt heat, I was more than glad that I wouldn’t have to slog for 2.5 hours in it. Now, it’s almost 6 weeks later and I’ve decided to start re-training for a different half marathon happening this September (second time’s the charm, right?). There’s no time like the present to get started, so I laced up my shoes yesterday, grabbed my favourite running buddy, and out we went.

I should mention that we decided to run at 10:30p.m. because the day had been so hot, and we knew we’d keel over if we went any earlier. Turns out, it STILL felt like it was +30 degree Celsius that late at night; needless to say, we didn’t get very far before legs felt like jelly, and 5km felt like 15. This got me to thinking, if it’s THAT hot and humid out at night, what the heck can we do during the day to stay cool? If there’s one thing you learn about living in Toronto, it’s that the temperature is either +30 or -30 and there’s no real in between, you just have to learn to live with it.

So, to help you better live with the heat that we’re experiencing this week, I’ve decided to compile a list of all those places you can go to hang out where you won’t have to think “oh my goodness, I wish it were winter again”, as those us in the Great White North are prone to do 3 months of the year.



The Chill Ice House: located in Kensington, this bar is made up almost entirely of ice (YES), and rests at a cool -5 degrees. Don’t worry, gloves are provided! And, it’s family-friendly from 11am-6pm. The only drawback? Cover fee, but that might be a small price to pay this humid week.



Be a Mermaid: yep, for $60 you can don a fish tail and splash around like Ariel. Need I say more?

source:blog T.O.

source:blog T.O.

Head to a Water Park: There are more than a handful of fun, not-going-to-break-the-bank waterparks in and around Toronto; yes, even with Ontario Place now closed. The closest ones are found right downtown at the Harbourfront Centre, or a quick ferry ride over to Centre Island (which, let’s face it, is a cool getaway in and of itself).

Morning Walk: If you want to enjoy the shade and hide in the shelter of trees, best to limit your walks to earlier in the morning when the sun hasn’t had a chance to warm the air quite so much, or later at night when its absence makes a walk a little more bearable. Still, there are plenty of cool spots to check out, for free, around Toronto, and this guide will show you a lot of the water features and “oo ah” places that won’t have you melting to see. The best part? A lot of these stops are oh so wonderfully located by places with air conditioning, bonus!

None of these ideas grabbing your attention? Always remember that you can think a little smaller, and that heading to libraries, shaded patios, cool shopping malls, and taking in the latest movie are also good ways to beat the heat. Whatever you decide to do though, make sure you’re staying well hydrated, wearing sunscreen, and have a hat with you. Safety and fun first!

June 29th, 2016

Being Canadian

Growing up in Toronto, Canada Day was always more about the fireworks and food than it was about my country’s history; when I got a little older, it was about keeping my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t be scheduled to work, or hoping I worked a job that would follow the statutory holiday rule. Now that I’ve been out of my undergrad a handful of years, and am almost finished filling my head with Masters info, Canada Day is still about the fireworks and being thankful I don’t have to go into work that day…but it’s also become more than that.

source: google

source: google

This year, July 1st brings with it new knowledge, new awareness, and a new sense of what it means to be Canadian. At the start of my Master’s program last August, one of the program directors asked us to think about what it means for us to be Canadian (if Canadian we were), and to think about our identity in relation to the place we were now living (Toronto).

When they asked that question, I thought about my experiences working at a restaurant in downtown Toronto, where we get a lot of tourists. More often than not, these guests tell me that they find the Canadian stereotype to be true. “You really are all so friendly and nice!” they say. I smile and make what I am sure is a highly witty comment, but inside I’m thinking of our country’s complicated past, and the fact that my university stands on stolen land. I’m thinking of Spadina Ave., that was once a passage North for Indigenous peoples and is now yet another busy thoroughfare. I’m thinking of the murdered and missing Indigenous women, of the countless people living without clean water, and of the youth in Attawapiskat who feel that taking their lives is their only option for the future.

source: google

source: google

I’m thinking of the fact that in 1930s Canada, “none was too many” for Jewish people trying to escape Nazi Germany. I’m thinking of the internment camps that Canada forced all peoples of Japanese heritage into in 1941. I’m thinking of the fact that Canada paid thousands of Roma refugees money to abandon their refugee appeals.

So how did it feel for me to be Canadian? It felt complicated.

It felt like the stereotype of “polite, friendly, diverse, and welcoming” of which I had once been so proud whenever I travelled had been ripped out from under me. And for good reason. Canada’s past is a complicated one, and we’ve swept a lot of important and controversial issues under the rug, have left important apologies unspoken, and reconciliation unresolved.

That being said however, we have made headway these past few months. Trudeau’s government made good on their promise to welcome 25, 000 Syrian refugees to Canada, they’ve apologized for the Komagatu Maru incident of 1914. Trudeau further thanked the survivors of the abhorrent residential school system for their bravery in telling their stories, there’s also been a national inquiry launch into the cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women, and, closer to home, the Toronto police chief recently apologized for the 1981 bathhouse raids that targeted the LGBTQ community.

source: government of Canada

source: government of Canada

With this in mind, it seems, perhaps, that there might be some hope. I hope, for myself, that we might continue to work toward building a Canada that can finally embody and live up to the stereotype of being “polite, friendly, diverse, and welcoming”. I hope, by celebrating our differences, that we might allow ourselves to acknowledge and embrace our messy past, so that we might move toward a more unified future in which saying, “I am Canadian” means something more than hidden colonialism on the world stage.

I hope, above all, that we might resolve this Canada’s day to bow our heads to our wrongs, while raising a glass to celebrating shaping a better future. I hope that when someone asks us how we feel about being Canadian, we might be able to say “It’s complicated”, and know that that’s ok, because knowing it’s complicated means that we know we’ve got a way to go, and we’re willing to put in the work to get there.




June 16th, 2016

Summer Reading List (for fun!)

We’ve been chatting (or, I suppose, writing) with you a lot about places to visit in the summer, areas to take your exercise outside, and delicious summer foods to keep you in the “sun’s out” mood. But what if running isn’t your thing, or maybe your feeling like some solitude during your outside time? Well, we thought now might be a great time for a summer reading list; after all, we spend all year wading through dense research material and don’t really get time to branch out into the worlds of non-fiction memoirs, fantasy, mystery, and more that we might like to.

source: google

source: google

With this in mind, and with the fabulous new book-inspired movies coming out these months, here are some great titles from us and others that should keep you occupied, entertained, and feeling fabulous in the warm months.

  1. The beach reads 

  2. The travel reads 

  3. The memoirs 

  4. For the nature lovers 

  5. Science Fiction Fans 

  6. The “Best Summer 2016” books, so Publishers Weekly says!

  7. Bringing the kids to the park or beach with you? Check this list out for notable kids reads of 2016 

source: google

source: google

If these sites don’t give you enough reading to fill up your time when you’re not doing research, then I don’t know what will! That being said, don’t forget to check out the many Toronto libraries in the area to read to your heart’s content, for free (best word in our vocabulary, right?). If you do find a book that you just have to have, BMV books on Bloor St. is also a great place to pick up gently used books for awesome prices; so you’re guaranteed a good read in spite of the student budget.  So, grab a book and your favourite summer drink, and get reading! See you in the sun J

June 10th, 2016

No One Told Me About the Multiple Hats: Graduate School at UofT

This post is written by Sarah Qidwai, a current PhD student and former Gradlife advisory committee member.

UofT in September

U of T in September

Initially starting out as a starry-eyed life science major, I was thrown into a world of opportunity at U of T. I found myself in 2014 graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in History.

I decided in the Fall of my fourth year to pursue graduate school in history. Navigating the application process itself was complicated. There is no OUAC (Ontario Universities’ Application Centre) for applications nor is there a standardized application process for different universities. Every school had their own method and you have to learn to navigate all those steps just to simply apply.

By the time I graduated, I was fortunate enough to have numerous options. I decided to stay here at the University of Toronto to pursue a Master of Arts with the IHPST (Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology). There was a lengthy pro and con chart which helped me decide to stay here.

gradlife10To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. No one in my immediate family has pursued graduate school in the Humanities. Also, as an immigrant and someone who identifies as a woman of color, it meant navigating through spaces where I was a clear minority. Never the less, I trudged on.

As an undergrad student, I was actively involved in student life, clubs and held a part-time job.  When I started grad school, it was a whole new league. No one told me how many hats I would be wearing. This idiom refers to the notion where someone has different roles or tasks to perform in a particular setting. As a graduate student, not only are you a student, but a researcher, teacher, and still a member of the community at the University. There are brand new dynamics in your life such as your relationship with a supervisor, with undergraduate students, with the lecture who you are a teaching assistant for, etc. You could also be a member of a union (it was my first time as part of a Union, CUPE3902). In short, you have many tangled roles as a graduate student.

I was so overwhelmed when I first started that I seriously considered leaving my program during the first semester. I still remember when I went through the SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) application process for the first time and felt I was not cut out for this place. Slowly, I found myself adjusting to this gigantic leap! The second half of my Master’s program went by much smoother. I was able to find a research project of interest, a supervisor willing to take a chance on me and a graduate community that is always willing to help me. So I decided to stay here.

gradlife6I just completed the first year of my PhD. I can now say with certainty that my research project focuses on the reception of Darwinism in India during the late 19th century. Though it’s been a crazy journey, I would not be here if I did not have help along the way. I would absolutely like to thank the IHPST for taking me in and helping me out. I am also affiliated with the Centre for South Asian Studies, which has provided me with another community on campus. So I leave you here with some advice I have compiled along the way. I hope it helps you while you figure out which hats you have to wear.

  • Ask Questions Early

The more you know about your program, the better. Talk to the school of graduate studies, the program administrator, and the graduate chair of your department. Get to know what expectations are and what standards you will be expected to meet to maintain your status in your program.

  • Get in Contact with Upper-Year Students

Senior students in your department provide a wealth of knowledge. They can help you decide which courses to take, where to get involved and general assistance in navigating through the university.

  • Get involved

Getting involved doesn’t only mean clubs; it could mean sports teams, your course union, and a job on campus. It helps having a space where you are able to de-stress.

  • Know Yourself and Your Limits

Remember that you come first and you know yourself best. You need to be able to voice your concerns. Know what your priorities are and who can help if you are struggling. If you are dealing with something personal, make sure people are aware to some degree about your circumstances. We all have our own battles to face.

  • Budgeting

Financial concerns are a huge part of navigating through graduate school. My advice is based on the fact that I am in a funded program at the university.  First off, find out how your funding package works. Every department works differently. Some offer minimum funding, others are unfunded. Also know when you expect to receive funds (for example, with my own funding, it is a mixture of TA hours and fellowship funds). If finances are a concern, look at options on campus. The work-study program is available to graduate students at the university. After you have a picture of what your expected income is and when you will receive it, start drawing up monthly budgets. Include expenses and expected income. Personally, my annual budget goes from September to August, according to the school year. It is one of the tough realities of grad school, we all have different circumstances.

Keeping mind that this is all a personal reflection from my own experiences. My advice is based on information I wish I had known before I started my program, rather than learning all this during my studies. I acknowledge that I am fortunate enough to be in a funded program at the University.



June 2nd, 2016

Healthy Versions of Your Favourite Summer Treats

Since it’s still full-swing summer, and in our last post we talked a lot about how you could still enjoy your summer while in school, and for me a large part of summer is the delicious food you can eat and all the wonderful fruits that are in season. With that in mind, we’d love to share our favourite healthy versions of summer treats that will keep your summer taste buds happy, while at the same time keeping your university-brain in the on switch position.

source: google

source: google

My go-to summer treat, and the downfall of every “I’m going to be healthy” decision is ICE CREAM. For people who depend on this tasty treat to cool down in the summer, here are some great, healthy alternatives to Chapman’s . If you’re looking for a really easy go-to, blend 2 frozen bananas with a tablespoon of cocoa powder and a tablespoon of honey, and voila! Ice cream. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, check this website out for a dozen other ice-cream alternative recipes.


source: google

source: google

Popsicles might seem like a “kiddie” dessert, but you can definitely pack a mould with healthy, “grown-up” options that turn a simple dessert into a goody-loaded, decadent dessert. What better way to start that off than with popsicles jammed with “super foods”, the latest trendy health food. If superfoods aren’t your thing though, try this website for simpler versions that are still delicious (think 2 ingredients or less).

source: google

source: google

When the sun’s beating down, dehydration rises. While you should always make sure you have water on hand, it gets hard to turn down the cool quenchers that tease you from places like Starbucks, or Tims, and a dozen other coffee shops. To save money, be a little healthier, and always have a cool drink at hand, grab a thermos and head to this site for some easy, breezy, refreshing summer drinks.

Still not seeing anything you like? I leave you with this super comprehensive link where you can peruse the tasty summer treats to your heart’s desire; and, if you see me with one of those homemade drinks in hand, feel free to come over and say cheers :)

May 19th, 2016

How to Have a Summer When You’re in School

As of May 17th, I officially started back at school for the Spring term. Eventually, that will melt it’s way into the Summer term and that means I’ll be inside during the best construction days of Toronto; I’m sure this is no different for any of the other many grad student wandering a still-busy campus these days.

PhD Comics

PhD Comics

One of the drawbacks about going to school for the Summer term is that we miss out on, well, Summer; but that doesn’t have to be the case. Even if we do have to think about readings, and research, and grant proposals, and more university jargon than I care to mention, it doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy everything Toronto (and Ontario, and Canada as a whole) has to offer during the warmer months. Goodness knows there’s plenty of time during the colder part of the year to stay inside, so we should take advantage of the sun while it’s here…classes, or not.

So, without further ado, how can we make sure we still get to enjoy the warmth while we’re enrolled in courses, and doing research? Here are a few suggestions to help you make the most of the coming months:

  1. Plan weekend trips – you might have to work part time, but make sure you book at least 1 weekend getaway so you can enjoy the weather. Maybe head out to one of the National Parks, you can even take the Park Bus to places like Algonquin Park, Bruce Peninsula, and Killarney. Also check out Airbnb for cheaper places all around the country for some great, student-budget-friendly options.
  2.  Plan Ahead – make sure you know when you have deadlines, so that you know when you can take time for yourself, to hang out with friends, sit on patios, and still retain your educational sanity. Don’t forget my favourite word: balance. Plan ahead to make time for school and summer fun.
  3. Look up Toronto blogs – there are tons of blogs floating on the web that will help you fill in the free-time slots of your schedule once you’ve done that planning ahead. These sites have information on food festivals, concerts, free movies, and more.

    source: google

    source: google

  4.  Eat lunch outside – since you have to take a lunch break anyway, you might as well take your take-out or packed baggie and head outside to find a soft spot on the grass. Bonus: reconnecting with nature boosts your happiness, calms you down, and recharges you.
  5. Do homework in the park – if you don’t need to be plugged into a computer, or bent over a specimen dish, why not bring readings you might have to a park? Hint: Queen’s Park is darn close to campus, and has some great comfy and shady spots to relax in the sunshine.
  6. Eat and Drink Summer – snacks and treats can be in season. Try a coffee float, or make salads with fresh strawberries, pecans, and goat cheese. Maybe head down to your closest farmer’s market (Bloor & Borden, starting June 1st) to pick up the freshest veggies and noms.
  7. Summer Your Study Breaks – treat your study breaks (which you need to do to retain good mental health, and productivity) as a mini me-cation and do something you love. This way, you can still get your work done, but also take some vacation-like downtime. Need ideas? Go for a walk, get an ice cream, read a book, lay in the sun (with sunscreen!), take a quick bike ride.

    source: google

    source: google

  8. Hit Up the Free Stuffmovies in Dundas Square, concerts at Casa Loma, and Shakespeare in High Park. Need I say more? Oh yeah, these aren’t huge time commitments, so you can enjoy some of the classics that summer in Toronto has to offer without feeling guilty about missing school time.



Now that the weather is heading into the 20s, we hope that these ideas give you a platform to begin enjoying your academic summer. Just because we’re in school, it doesn’t mean we can’t experience life outside of our research. In fact, we encourage you to explore everything life and Toronto has to offer outside U of T; your research is important, but it’s not everything you are, so get outside, enjoy yourself, and be happy!




May 12th, 2016

Being Yourself with Second City Improv



Growing up, I participated in speech contests, and usually did pretty well. In high school, I minored in drama. In university, I worked as a tour director for grade 8 students; my main job description was making a fool out of myself in public to make learning interesting. Most recently, I won the 3 minute thesis competition at OISE. My background is littered with public performance, so you can imagine my surprised when I found myself reluctant to “put it all out there” at the Second City Improv event Gradlife hosted two weeks ago.

It turns out, it’s a lot easier to be silly in public when you’re performing from a rehearsed script. Putting your entire self on display though, spouting out your thoughts honestly as they come? Not so easy. And it’s especially not easy for grad student who spend more time with research and professors than on a stage. There’s something about improvisation that forces a person to break down the walls we’ve so carefully crafted to keep ourselves safe.

13174002_10205450994708048_4114092615329039458_nIn everyday life, those walls make sense. It makes sense that we’re able to say no, that we don’t reveal all of our cards to strangers walking by in the street. In improv, however, those walls have to come down. Our wonderful instructor told us that performing improv is all about chipping away at those walls little by little until there’s only you left on the stage, raw and open for the world to see. Kinda scary, huh? Well, yes, but it’s also very freeing, and it lets you develop an honest bond with relative strangers that is seldom experienced in everyday life.

When you create a supportive environment where everyone is going to cheer you on even when you fall, especially when you fall, then the scary aspect of being yourself goes away. It turns out that the only reason doing that is scary, is because we all have little voices in our heads telling us that we’re being looked at, and being judged. “What if I look stupid?” “What will they think if I do this?” “Oh god, I’m just not funny”. Here’s the thing about that, it also turns out that everybody else is too busy having those exact same thoughts to even worry about what’s going on with you.

13166094_10205450994348039_729475979443087147_nRealistically, we know that complete strangers aren’t going to clap and cheer when we stumble, but if we can shake off the little things as they come, and be a little more honest about the selves were putting forth, then maybe we can start to break down some of those walls that keep us from meeting new people, and taking chances. At the end of the day, the Second City Improv event was an amazing experience for 20+ adult, graduate and PhD students to let it all loose, to shake off the bonds that keep us facing inward, and a chance for us to really have fun and be ourselves beyond the “I’m a Masters/I’m a PhD candidate” definition we tend to label ourselves with.

And hey, I learned that if you stumble (like I did at the improv class, quite literally), then you just need to brush yourself off, take a fabulous bow and move on. Everybody else already has.




*Side note: this event was so successful that we’ll likely be running it agains soon, so stay tuned for opportunities to sign up for some fun!*


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