April 28th, 2015

Exploring Careers for Grad Students

By guest bloggers Ainsley Goldman and Libby Whittington

We’ll be honest. We were pretty excited to find out that we would be writing a Gradlife blog post about career exploration. As the Career Centre’s two Coordinators of Career Exploration, not only do we get to shamelessly promote our upcoming events and programs but we can share our own career exploration stories as UofT graduate students!

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Libby and Ainsley pose for a selfie at their graduation in November (Photo credit: Libby Whittington)

After working in the arts, not-for-profits, education, environmental organizations, and many restaurants, Ainsley had taken the plunge to complete a Master’s degree. Though she had taken personality assessments, gone for coffee dates and informational interviews to get a sense of the industry she wanted to enter before beginning her program, she had actually recently switched programs, and still hadn’t totally identified what she wanted to do with her degree or what her next step would be.

Libby has a similarly non-linear story. The few years after undergrad involved travelling, working abroad, and finally working in a language school managing the student services.  Loving her work but hating the sales focus, Libby realized she wanted to work in student services but at a university. Not knowing in what capacity or how she could get there, she spent the year saving ‘dream job’ postings.  One winter’s day with a large glass (or two) of red wine, Libby sat down and combed through the saved postings to figure out what skills, experience, & education she needed.  All signs pointed to a Master’s of Education – so Libby quit her full-time job and returned to school!

Early in our grad studies, we both met on the first day of Work Study training at the Career Centre where we learned that we would both be Senior Career Peers Advisors. After our work study positions, we both decided to complete practicum programs at the Career Centre and then shortly after we were both “lucky” to secure full-time jobs that “happened” to become available at the Career Centre. Many people (ourselves included) look back at experiences and say things like “It was really lucky that job opened up” or “I was totally in the right place at the right time.” There is actually a theory to describe this phenomenon called Planned Happenstance Theory, which explains how we construct unexpected career opportunities. Whether you have a particular career in mind and you need to know how to get there, or you are feeling a bit lost, the career exploration programs we run can help you navigate your next steps, and construct the unexpected:

The Extern Job Shadowing Program connects you with professionals in your career area of interest for a half-day to five-day job shadowing experience. Many of our hosts have graduate degrees; this is a great way to explore non-academic career options where you can experience a day-in-the-life of a particular field, see what the workplace would be like and who your future colleagues would be. The next session is in June, and you can register for an orientation in order to participate.

In the Field is a half-day group field trip to an organization to meet professionals working in a variety of careers all under the same roof.  This summer, we are taking groups of students to the YMCA, Free the Children, AGO, and the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) to learn about various career paths. If you want to see how you can use your graduate level research skills outside of academic research, definitely check out the HEQCO event and/or their blog post about transitioning from graduate school! Register for an orientation in order to participate.

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Students explore careers at a recent In the Field event at Sick Kids (Photo credit: Libby Whittington)

The Informational Interview Database gives you the opportunity to speak with experienced professionals to find out how they got to where they are today. To participate, attend a workshop on informational interviewing, Interview Them.

As a grad student you won’t be attending alone. About 30% of St. George participants are graduate students! If you want to chat more about programs, you can find us in the Career Centre or at careerexploration@careers.utoronto.ca

April 20th, 2015

Grad Students of U of T

Name: P.J. Partington
Program of study:MA Political Science
What made you chose your grad program at U of T? 
After working on climate change policy in the non-profit sector for a number of years, I was getting quite frustrated by the lack of progress. The opportunity to consider some of the political barriers we’re facing on climate change in a little more depth was very appealing, and that’s what I am hoping to get out of my program.
Favourite study spot: My couch at home, with a cup of tea and a sleeping dog.
What’s your favourite way to take a break from school work? I’ve been getting increasingly creative with my procrastination. Lately I’ve made a project of sending mystery letters to friends. George Bowering talks in one of his poems about going around to his friends a month after Christmas dishing out presents and good cheer “in front of their startled & uncomprehendingly beautiful eyes.” I’ve always liked that.
What does an average Tuesday look like for you? Tuesday is my campus day this term. After doing some studying at home in the morning I head in for a noon class. After that I usually spend some time wandering around like a hypoglycemic zombie in search of food. After that it’s a mix of gym, studying and meetings before another class from 6 to 8. They’re both policy classes, but in different departments. The contrast keeps it interesting!
What are you reading these days? I just finished MaddAddam. Unfortunately I now have a pile of serious books waiting for me.
Tell me about the last time you felt really proud of your work: If I may say, our wedding! My wife and I got married in September and it was beyond awesome. Seeing everyone there enjoying themselves made me incredibly proud of all the work we put into the day.

April 10th, 2015

Three Minute Thesis (3MT) 2015 Final

By guest blogger: Laura Hache, Gradroom Assistant


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Photo credit: Jason Krygier-Baum

Winner, Stephen McCarthy (3rd from left)

On Wednesday evening, the School of Graduate Studies hosted the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) 2015 University-Wide Final Competition. The 3MT is a competition where PhD candidates have only three minutes to explain their research projects to a non-specialist audience.  The challenge is to synthesize their wealth of knowledge about their topic of interest into an engaging presentation that intrigues the audience and leaves them wanting to learn more. The Toronto Star calls the 3MT Competition the “Canadian Idol for the geeky set”, getting researchers out of the lab and library to explain their work to a broad audience.

I left really impressed after watching the divisional heats a couple weeks ago. Getting a glimpse into some of the top innovative research coming out of U of T was a real treat.  The competition started out with four divisions: Humanities, Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Life Sciences.  Five finalists were selected from each division and these were the participants who competed in the university-wide final. Stephen McCarthy from the Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology took first place with his presentation, Towards an Ebola Cure.  Second place went to Elissa Gurman from the English Department who presented on Consent and the Love Plot in 19th-Century Anglo-American Fiction.

As the runner-up, Elissa walked away with $500 in prize money. Stephen walked away with $1000 in prize money and a place to compete in the provincial finals. A couple short weeks away, the Provincial finals will bring together the top presenters from all over Ontario. Last year, U of T doctoral student Daiva Nielson won top place in the provincial finals held at McMaster University.  This year, the competition is happening at Western University where Stephen will defend the U of T title in Ontario.. no pressure, Stephen! If you want to learn more about the competition, please visit the SGS website.


March 31st, 2015

Grad Students of U of T


Name: Emma Helfand-Green

Program of Study: Master of Public Policy

What made you choose your grad program at U of T? I was ready to return to my hometown of Toronto after four years away and U of T had an amazing reputation, especially for the MPP program.

Favourite Study Spot: Easy – big tables by the windows in the Gerstein Centre. I always seem to be able to find a spot!

What’s on the top of your TO-DO list this week? Making a plan for how/when I’m going to complete the three assignments I have due next week.  Also, finalizing details for an upcoming workshop at the Family Care Office where I work.

What’s your favourite way to take a break from school work? My favourite study break activities include; hanging out with my cat, listening to some new music on 8tracks, walking my dog or scrolling through endless twitter feeds.

What did you have for breakfast this morning? Special K Cereal with Red Berries. It’s my go-to breakfast choice, unless I’m running late in which case I usually grab something on the way.

What’s your best study trick? My tried and true best study trick is explaining difficult concepts to my parents. Unless I can explain what I’m studying to my Mom or Dad clearly and accurately, I know I haven’t fully understood the concept. (Note: Mom or Dad can easily be substituted by friend, partner or even cat!)

March 23rd, 2015

Open Minds 2015: Creativity and Mental Health


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Written by guest blogger: Hamza Bin Taufique

On March 31st, Grad Minds is hosting its annual conference at Hart House and the Isabel Bader Theatre. The conference – Open Minds 2015: Creativity and Mental Health – aims to create a forum for meaningful discussion about graduate student mental health on campus, with a specific focus on the intersection of arts, creativity, and expressing mental states. Open Minds 2015 will focus on how we can bring arts and creativity into the mental health conversations taking place on campus.

Open Minds 2015 will have two main components:

(1) A conference at Hart House (5pm – 9pm)

(2) Circus Berserkus – a cirque nouveau performance by the mental health social circus troupe, Talk To Youth Lately, a Look Up Theatre project at the Isabel Bader Theatre (9pm – 11pm).

The conference includes a keynote speech and discussion with and artist and member of the Creative Works Studio at St. Michael’s Hospital. The keynote address will be followed by a panel presentation and an interactive discussion between the panelists and the audience.

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Students discussing the future of graduate student mental health at Open Minds 2014. Photo credit: Nash Turney (U of T alumni)

In addition to the keynote, the panelists for Open Minds 2015 include:

  1. Dr. Allison Crawford – psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital and Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto.
  2. Dr. Lee Bartel, Professor and Dean of Research at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. Dr. Bartel’s research interests include music therapy and music in human development.
  3. Seema C., comedian and facilitator at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO). Seema facilitates the comedic Laughing Like Crazy program at the MDAO.
  4. Daniel Farb, peer support worker at MDAO and a graduate student at OISE. Daniel has used writing, poetry, and hip-hop music as modes of creative self-expression throughout his life.

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Photo credit: Nash Turney (U of T alumni)

After a brief refreshment break accompanied by an art exhibit, conference participants will engage in multi-media audience-led group discussions.

The closing ceremonies of Open Minds 2015 will feature a spectacular cirque nouveau performance by the mental health social circus troupe, Talk to Youth Lately, a Look Up Theatre project at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Immerse yourself in a world of aerial acrobatics, stand-up comedy, and cirque nouveau artistry, in a compelling and evocative show focusing on themes central to mental health.

Everyone is welcome to attend Open Minds 2015! However, registration is required and can be accessed here. You MUST get separate tickets for the conference at Hart House (150 seats) and the circus show at the Bader Theatre (380 seats) in order to secure a spot at both events. So bring your friends to the circus and let us fill up the Isabel Bader Theatre for the spectacular circus performance! For more information, please visit www.openminds2015.com.

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We look forward to welcoming you all at Open Minds 2015 on March 31st! Register Today!



March 16th, 2015

3 Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition is Upon Us


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By Guest Blogger: Laura Hache, Gradroom Assistant

Have you ever tried explaining your research to those outside your field, to your grandparents, or to your friends at a party and see their eyes gloss over?  It’s a tough endeavour communicating your intricate research in plain language, to make it both accessible and interesting to the “lay audience”. As graduate and PhD students, this important communication skill is not typically taught in class but it is critical in order to get yourself and your research noticed. You may wish to convey your research to funding agencies, the media, industry, or the general public but you risk losing your audience if you use complex language or forget to really focus on your key messaging.

This is the challenge at the heart of the University-Wide Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition.  Doctoral students will present their research in three minutes or less to a panel of non-specialist judges. This competition allows doctoral students to share their work with a wider audience such as graduate students from other disciplines and the general public.  This competition will be a great opportunity to hear about a wide variety of ground-breaking, innovative research coming from U of T doctoral students.  This event will also allow you as grad students to see this style of “elevator pitch” communication in action.   The competition is sure to be high-energy, intriguing, and a really exciting way to engage with the significant doctoral research happening right now at U of T.

The competition will consist of two events: the preliminary heats and the U of T Final.

The preliminary heats are divided into: Division I (Humanities) & Division II (Social Sciences), Division III (Physical Sciences,) and Division IV (Life Sciences) and will be held during the week of March 23. Winners from each division will go on to compete in the final round on April 8th.

More details about the event can be found on the School of Graduate Studies website.

If you’re intrigued to find out more about the competition, check out the 3MT Ontario Competition website to check out some past finalists.

If you’re interested to learn more about communicating your research in lay language, take a look at this brief article to find out more.

March 10th, 2015

Grad Students of U of T

Name: Hamza Bin Taufique
Program of Study: Molecular Genetics
What made you choose your grad program at U of T? In my 4th year of undergraduate studies, I knew that I wanted to go to grad school for biomedical sciences. University of Toronto was my top choice for grad studies. However, I was very confused about what department or program I should apply to at UofT. I like science in general, but I am very passionate about neuroscience in particular. While ‘shopping’ for programs of study, I stumbled across the Department of Molecular Genetics. The department had some great neuroscientists whose work appealed to me.  The scope of research in Molecular Genetics was also very broad which I thought was great given my general curiosity about science and research. The best thing about Molecular Genetics was that it offered a rotation system for new grad students. You get to work in 3 different labs for five weeks each in order to determine what labs and/or research you like the most before you settle in one lab for your graduate studies. It was sort of a test drive and I really liked that idea. And so I ended up at Molecular Genetics and it has been a fun ride so far.
Favourite Study Spot: I really miss having a favourite study spot. I definitely had one in undergrad….4th floor quiet study area at the UTM library. The lab I am working in for my graduate studies is located at Mount Sinai Hospital and so I am hardly ever on campus. So unfortunately, I currently do not have a favourite study spot on campus. However, I have done some studying in the lower level of Grad Room a couple of times and that place will definitely be a good contender for a good study spot (the room is almost always busy though!)
What’s on the top of your TO-DO list this week? I work with Grad Minds and we are organizing this great conference in March called ‘Open Minds 2015′. I am in charge of planning and organizing a few things for this event and I am really looking forward to getting together with the awesome Grad Minds team and getting things planned. Also I am currently performing this really important experiment that will dictate how the rest of my PhD goes, so I am really looking forward to getting it done and producing some awesome data.
What’s your favourite way to take a break from school work? I love going for walks and it is something I do on a daily basis to take a break from school work. And when things get really hectic, I go see a theatre play or a concert. I am so lucky to be in Toronto where these things are happening almost every day. 
What does an average Tuesday look like for you? I wake up at 6am and go for a run. Then I get ready for my commute from Brampton to Toronto. After arriving in the lab, I get my morning coffee and plan for the experiments that I need to do. Most of the day is spent doing these experiments. I do attend our department’s student seminars on Tuesdays. They are a great way to learn about the research of other students in the department. 
Tell me about the last time you felt really proud of your work. So recently Grad Minds organized an event regarding the Impostor Phenomenon and I was part of the organizing team. There’s a great event-recap on the Gradlife Blog.  To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that Impostor Phenomenon was talked about so openly in an event. The event went great. Over 150 students and staff attended the event and the feedback we got from the attendees was great. I am really proud of myself AND the rest of the Grad Minds team for organizing such a great event. It was a great team effort and a very positive learning experience.

February 23rd, 2015

Grad Students of U of T

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Name: Daphne Cheung

Program of Study: Master of Public Policy

What made you choose your grad program at U of T? I have always been curious about social issues and how governments use evidence to make priorities. Combined with the internship component of the degree, the MPP program is a great way for me to catapult my career in a new direction (my background is in chemistry).

Favourite Study Spot: E.J. Pratt library

What’s on the top of your TO-DO list this week? Readings!

What’s your favourite way to take a break from school work? Exercise and laughing with family and friends. Nothing beats endorphins!

What are you reading these days? I have a very eclectic pile on my night stand right now: Esping-Andersen’s ‘Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism’, Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ (actually that’s for school), Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, JD Watson’s ‘The Double Helix’, and Jonathan Wolff’s ‘Ethics and Public Policy’ (that one is also for school). So apparently I’m interested in a lot of things.

Tell me about the last time you felt really proud of your work. I am a senior producer for Beyond the Headlines Radio Show, a weekly one-hour current affairs show that aims to make policy issues more available to the public (tune in to CIUT 89.5 FM on Mondays at 11AM!). The show is produced by me, my co-senior producer Jon, and 10 MPP students. I’m really lucky to be working with such a dedicated team – producers spend about 20-30 hours on each episode. This past Monday we received positive feedback from our listeners and guests via email and on social media, who praised the show for its professionalism and thoughtful content. It is incredibly rewarding to know the team’s work is being recognized.

February 11th, 2015

Grad Students of U of T

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If you’re interested in the context for the traffic cone crowned Duke of Wellington statue, click here!

Name: Jennifer Banh

Program of Study: Masters of Education, Adult Education and Community Development at OISE; currently on student exchange at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

What made you choose your grad program at U of T? and Why did you choose to go on exchange? I was first drawn to the program at OISE because of how much I valued the learning opportunities I had outside of the classroom setting during my undergraduate studies and I was interested in learning more about this on a theoretical level. This program also allows me to understand how education can be used to not only learn about the social issues in society, but to also explore how education can be used as a tool to address such issues and create social change. I chose to study abroad this year through the Centre for International Experience’s Student Exchange Program because I wanted an opportunity to learn more about my field of study from an international perspective. Studying at the University of Glasgow has been a very enriching experience so far, allowing me to learn from others (from the UK and other countries), and also contribute my thoughts to the discussions (i.e. the “Canadian” perspective). There has also been a lot of cross-cultural learning taking place through my interactions with other students (both local and international), professors, and the local community. I am really enjoying my time abroad and I hope other graduate students at U of T consider studying abroad on student exchange as well.

Favourite Study Spot: I like working in spaces that allow natural light to shine in and I actually work better when there is some noise and activity going on in my surroundings. At the University of Toronto, I worked in the study spaces in Sidney Smith Hall which have both of these aspects. I also like working in cafes and coffee shops. In Glasgow, there are a number of great local coffee shops around campus (or “uni” as they like to call it here). Right now, my favourite one is “S’mug Coffee Bar” which makes a great London Fog (my favourite!).

What’s on the top of your TO-DO list this week? I have a group presentation coming up this week for one of my classes which we are now putting the final touches on. We were asked to develop and facilitate a student-centred learning session for the class on a social issue of our choice using the educational models and practices discussed in previous lectures. It’s coming together well and it will be interesting to reflect on how effective it was afterwards.

What’s your favourite way to take a break from school work? I like going out for walks through a nearby park to get some fresh air. If the weather isn’t ideal for outdoor activities (yes, it does rain quite a bit here in Scotland), I make a cup of tea and catch up on whatever TV shows I am following at the moment. I am currently following Broadchurch and slowly working my way through House of Cards!

What’s your favourite place in Glasgow and why? When I am in the city centre, I really enjoy walking down a street called Buchanan Street. It is one of the main shopping streets in the city, but I personally like it because of the buskers who perform and bring the street to life. I am always amazed at how talented the performers are, drawing in crowds of supportive spectators.

What are you most excited about this week? Once I get some upcoming assignments done and out of the way, I am looking forward to catching up with friends and planning our next travel adventures together. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel around the UK and visit other countries in Europe in between my class and study time. I think we are heading to Germany next!

February 4th, 2015

Grad Students of U of T

This week we are excited to profile grad student Kara Chiki, who discusses some of the work she’s doing with Gradminds to address the stigma associated with eating disorders.  This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and there are lots of events going on in the community.  Follow the conversation on twitter #EDAW2015 

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Name: Kara Chiki

Program of Study: Munk School of Global Affairs

What made you choose your grad program at U of T? Like many students who are unsure of their interests after university, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. When I got into law school, I realized that I couldn’t answer the question, “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” I couldn’t even answer “Why do you want to practice law?” I took that as a sign that I should think more about law school before I make the time and money commitment. At the same time, I recognized that the topics I like to read about in my spare time, international development and micro financing as well as and global entrepreneurship, could very well be the focus of my academic studies.

Favourite Study Spot: In my room in Grad House, with my spacious desk and ergonomic chair (i.e my exercise ball)

What’s on the top of your TO-DO list this week? Putting my health first. Every week, the top of my TO-DO list is to make it to meditation class, yoga, my therapist, and the gym at least 3 times. I told myself last year that I wasn’t going to be one of those cases where working yourself to the bone and disregarding mental and emotional health in your twenties would lead to health concerns later on in life. Life is a marathon, and I plan on running the whole thing.

What’s your favourite way to take a break from school work? I’m a fitness-enthusiast. I love working out. However, given my eating disorder, I’m actually redefining what exercise means to me and strengthening the relationship I have with my body. I’m navigating unchartered territory right now so each exercise session is not only physically but also mentally challenging. It’s the ultimate distraction from school.

What does an average Tuesday look like for you? Tuesday morning I wake up around 7am. I like to eat my breakfast and have coffee when it’s still dark out and listen to the news, usually Al Jazeera or NPR. To me, this is the best part of the day. And it’s also when I feel the most creative. I then make my way over the gym for a morning sweat. I’ll spend the late morning reading for classes or finishing assignments. Every Tuesday afternoon I see my psychologist. I’ve been seeing him for about 4 years now and he’s a very important person on my health team. The rest of the afternoon I’ll spend on schoolwork and then finish the day off with a 2 hour meditation practice at a local centre.

What did you have for breakfast this morning? I have been having the same thing every morning for the past 5 years, and I’ll never get tired of it: steel- cut oats, half a banana, oat bran, peanut butter and chopped almonds. And black, strong coffee. There must be coffee.

What are you reading these days? It’s been a combination of my interest in ensuring total, holistic health, I’ve been reading a lot of medical/health books. I’m currently reading “Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul” by Dr. Deepak Chopra. I’m also reading “When the Body Says No” by Dr. Gabor Matè.

What are your next steps after graduation? I’m exploring a few opportunities actually, one in the public sector and one in the private. I’ve been accustomed to choosing private sector opportunities, given my academic and professional experience in public accounting and banking. However, I’m very interested in this public sector opportunity and in potentially moving to Ottawa. I also plan to continue my eating disorder awareness work in whichever city I end up in, through community centres or public initiatives.

What’s your best study trick? Work smart, not hard. We are so conditioned to believe that the more hours we put into something, the better it will be. I don’t believe in that wholeheartedly. I think that when you’re passionate about something, yes, you may spend many more hours on it in total than something you’re less interested in, but you can and should still strive for efficiency. My mom taught me from a very early age that our brains can only stay focused for about 45-50 minutes on one task before we need a break.

Tell me about the last time you felt really proud of your work. Last semester I took a Leadership course within the School of Public Policy. We were assigned the task of a ‘Change Project’, in which we were given free rein to design the format and avenue by which we accomplish change. I decided to launch a campaign around the stigma surrounding eating disorders. I’ve been working with a local eating disorder support centre to develop a workshop that has individuals currently affected by eating disorders and support workers having an open and honest discussion about the condition and its accompanying and debilitating stigma. In addition to a local eating disorder support centre, I’m working closely with UofT’s GradMinds, a student-run organization dedicated to fostering a strong, supportive campus community regarding mental health concerns. We’ve made great progress on the event and I’m very excited to have a public discussion about this, which will be held on the UofT campus before the end of the semester.

What’s your favourite place in Toronto and why? Kensington market! It actually has everything you could ever need; great food, chill environments, fresh, affordable produce, and cool people.


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