February 23rd, 2021

Grad Week 2021: Optimize your grad student experience

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

a drawing of a laptop with a student on the screen and a stack of books. Beside it a text box reads "optimize your grad student experience"

Our Grad Week is running from March 8th to 12th!

Grad school alone can be overwhelming; grads work in high-pressure environments and have to juggle a lot… Research, TA responsibilities, jobs, relationships, children and maybe even job hunting! This year, it’s no secret that grad students are under more pressure than ever. Most of us have had to migrate all of our coursework and research online, and we are having trouble accessing the support and community that is more easily available on campus.

This year, the focus of Gradlife’s annual Grad Week is to help grads overcome the particular challenges of this difficult year and we’ve called it Optimize your graduate student experience week: Connect and thrive as you Work Remotely. Grad week will run from March 8th to 12th, and will feature a full roster of events and workshops designed to help grads find some online community, identify resources available, and above all, thrive personally and academically while working from home.

Putting Grad Week together

We designed Grad Week around feedback we’ve gotten from grads this year on what they’ve been struggling with and how they want to be supported. This means that all of our events are planned with your needs in mind and are relevant to the U of T Grad Experience.

One of the main things grads have told us this year is that they are looking for new ways to connect with their peers and build community. With this in mind, we are running another session of our popular workshop, Talking to People Online (which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago) and to cap off our week, we will be running a virtual speed networking event on the Friday night!

One of the most exciting things about Grad week is that we’ve partnered with professional facilitators outside of Gradlife in order to offer students the most robust and engaging events possible. On March 8th, Indigenous Learning Strategist Bonnie Jane Maracle will run a workshop on how a medicine wheel model can be used by students for planning and maintaining the balance of the self while getting through coursework. And on March 11th, U of T’s poet in residence Ronda Bloom will be facilitating a poetry workshop to help grads engage with their senses, other people and their creative side.

How to register

Want to sign up while there’s still space? To register for any or all of the Grad Week events that interest you, you can check out our Grad Week page, or our facebook event. Both will give you our full schedule and the CLNx links to register for each event. As well, I’ve linked each one of our events below in case you want to sign up for them right away. We hope to see you there!

March 8th

Build your Productivity Toolkit to Support Working Remotely as a Graduate Student

Staying on The Path – An offer from an indigenous perspective on self-care and wellness

March 9th

Talking to New People Online for Graduate Students

March 10th

9 Ways to find Community as a Graduate Student while Working from Home

March 11th

How to Be a 3D Person in a Flat-Screened World for Graduate students

March 12th

How to Facilitate Teams Online Effectively During Grad School

Virtual Speed Networking for Graduate Students

February 17th, 2021

10 Breaks that take under 10 minutes—winter edition

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

seen of treetops covered in snow with the sky peeking out from behind their gap
Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

Last semester, I wrote a post about the importance of taking breaks, no matter how busy you are. Even though this was a million years ago (but also somehow only 3 months?), I thought I’d revisit the topic because the advice still stands. This time around, however, I decided to make all of my tips winter-themed since we might as well celebrate the weather while it’s here (and hope that it doesn’t stick around for too long). So here you have it: ten breaks that will hopefully inspire you to make room to chill even once your term starts heating up (yeah yeah I hate me too).

1. Make a Snow Angel

It turns out that not counting putting on your winter gear, making a snow angel only takes around 20 seconds (I tested this out). So I guess you could make 20 snow angels in 10 minutes! If you do this, maybe you should find a field.

2. Go for a brisk (rage) walk

Whenever I get stuck on some work and start to get annoyed, I go for a power/ anger walk around my neighbourhood. This is especially effective during the winter because the cold can be quite refreshing. If you are feeling particularly enraged, I suggest you listen to some angry music as you walk along. Sometimes I even mouth the words, depending on the mood.

3. Knit!

Okay this suggestion can only be filed under “winter” on a technicality but you can knit yourself all sorts of winter accessories! While I cannot explain to you how to knit because I’m very bad at it, U of T’s Grad Room runs a virtual knitting group every week, and you can get the info for KnitWits here! I like the idea of knitting because it’s a project you can keep returning to, and it’s something you can do while you watch TV or, you know, listen to a lecture.

a hand holding up a ball of pink yarn

4. Go skating

If you’re in Toronto, the city has a bunch of outdoor public skating rinks you can skate on for free! I know that this one would take way more than 10 minutes, but long breaks are important too, and so is having fun! So I am breaking my own rule (gasp!) to remind you of this. You can check out which skating rinks are open and register for a spot here. Have fun!

5. Write a winter-themed concrete poem

Since last semester I suggested you write a limerick for a fun little break, I felt it was only right to return to the power of poetry once again. A concrete poem is super simple, all you have to do is take a word and write it in a column down your page, and then come up with a word or line that starts with each letter of the word. Bonus points if you can throw in some rhymes. Here’s an example to get you started:

So much work, I have.
No! I say, no more!
Okay I sigh, when I’m ignored,
Well, I guess I won’t be bored.

6. Make some snowflake cut-outs

Okay, okay I know this one is also sort of cheating but I’m coming up with these as I go along and I’m quickly realizing I don’t know that much about winter. Snowflake cut-outs are super fun and easy though, and they make you feel like a kid again. The first time you try this, it might take you the whole 10 minutes to make one, but after a few breaks, you’ll be a pro! Pretty soon, you’ll have a whole snow storm’s worth, and the bonus is that you can decorate your windows with them! Convinced and want to learn? Check out this video I found (it has over 3 million views! So it’s gotta be good).

a snowflake cut-out taped to a white wall

7. Make some (rage) snowballs

I can’t endorse you throwing these at anyone, so why don’t you whip them at a tree… that has your thesis nailed to it.

8. Make some ice cubes

I really like making ice cubes, I don’t know why. I guess it’s satisfying to actually finish something you started with literally no sustained effort?

a hand holding up a green ice cube tray full of ice cubes

9. Shovel your walkway

Much like suggestion #2, this one is also great for your rage. I highly suggest you pretend that the snow is one of your assignments, and with each shovel you are sending them out into the stratosphere, never to be seen again.

10. Complain about the weather

I mean, you can’t enjoy winter all the time.

a screenshot of a text conversation. One person has texted "I'm so sick of winter" and the other replied "Stop texting me about the weather"

I know it might not feel this way, but pretty soon it’s going to be spring and we might actually miss the snow (maybe…). So I encourage you to enjoy winter while it lasts, and make sure you take some breaks! Working hard is great, but taking breaks is good for you and your work (although being good for YOU is decidedly more important). What’s your favourite thing to do during the winter? Let me know in the comments below!

February 9th, 2021

10 Tips for talking to new people

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

image of two speech bubbles both filled with smiling emojis

Last week Gradlife ran our Talking to New People Workshop for Grad Students, which for the first time focused on how to make connections in online environments. Even though I helped to facilitate the session, I was surprised not only by how much I learned, but by how many Grad students struggle with talking to new people—myself included. So for this week’s blogpost, I’ve outlined our workshop’s top tips for how to talk to new people, and our advice on how to get past the fears that might be stopping you from reaching out in the first place.

1. Take the initiative to make a connection

While it can be easy to tell yourself that you’ll wait until someone reaches out to you first, if you want to connect with someone, take the initiative to do so. Not only will you be glad you did, but you’ll be proud of your bravery as well.

2. Foster an intentional mindset

Before you start a conversation, make sure you’ve set your intentions for how you want it to go. What do you want out of your interaction? How do you want to approach the person? No matter what, you should always intend to be present, kind, and empathetic; these are all important aspects of a successful and positive conversation.

3. Listen and show your listening

Conversation is a two-way street, and people can tell if you are only talking just to talk; in other words, people can tell when you’re not listening. Even if you are listening, however, it’s important to demonstrate to the other person that you are, especially if you’re talking over zoom.  This is called active listening, and it’s done by using non-verbal cues such as nodding your head, smiling, and “mm-hmming” as people talk. Active listening is an extremely important skill that can serve you in every interaction you have, whether this be with professors, employers, colleagues, friends, you name it!

a blue speech bubble reads "what did you do over reading week?"

4. Worried you’ll “freeze”? Ask open ended questions

A common fear surrounding talking to new people is that you’ll freeze during the conversation and run out of things to say. If you are listening to the person you’re talking to, however, you have nothing to worry about because you’ll be able to ask them open-ended questions. If you do this, I promise you that you will never blank during a conversation ever again. Not only is asking questions a great method for keeping the conversation going, but it’s also a great way to demonstrate that you’re interested in what the other person is saying!

5. Be willing to share

Remember when I mentioned before that conversation is a two-way street? While listening and asking questions is super important, so is sharing your own thoughts, knowledge, and insight. Of course, I am not saying that you have to share personal details about yourself—all I mean is that a good conversation is a kind and empathetic exchange of information between two parties.

6. Scared? Stressed? Anxious? Visualize the worst thing that could happen

Visualizing the worst thing that can happen is not intended to scare you, in fact, it’s the opposite. This is a good method to help you face your fear surrounding talking to new people because it forces you to play out your worries. Usually, once you play out the worst-case scenario in your head, you realize it’s not really that bad. This tactic can help to minimize the hold that your fear has over you.

a blue thought bubble reads "what is stopping me?"

7. Breathe and visualize success

While it’s human nature to imagine all the bad things that could happen, why don’t you also imagine the good? Maybe the person you connect with is super nice! Maybe you’ll think to yourself after “wow, I’m so glad I did that!” you just never know. If you do end up visualizing the worst thing that can happen, I also encourage you to imagine the best.  

8. How to turn a connection into a friend

Friendships are fostered through repeated exposure with someone you have something in common with. You have to spend leisure time together, and get beyond surface-level small talk. In order for a friendship to bloom and flourish, there needs to be mutual interest and mutual investment in the relationship by both people. It’s important to remember, however, that you can have different levels of friendship with different people. In other words, not everyone has to be your best friend, and building a close friendship takes time. You can also have class friends, casual friends, work friends, you name it! That’s the great thing about friends, there’s no one size that fits all.

9. Invite them to a Gradlife event!

Do you want to turn a connection into a friend, but you don’t know how to foster this repeated exposure? Why don’t you ask this person if they want to come to a Gradlife event with you? This semester, we are running a bunch of Grad Connections and Grad Escapes, which are fun, low-key events where grad students can connect, destress and have a good time! You can browse our full list of offerings on CLNx. (Or, why don’t you come check out one of our events yourself and practice all these new skills you’ve learnt from this post!)

10. Not sure where to start? Why don’t you try this?

Want to chat with someone in your class? Someone you met in a meeting? Someone you haven’t talked to in a while? A lot of people are feeling alone and unconnected right now, and they would probably really appreciate receiving a message like this: “I don’t know about you but I’m missing the connections of real life. Would you be up to spending a few minutes getting to know each other?” Of course, feel free to make this opener your own, but sometimes it helps to have a first draft to work from.

No matter the context, talking to new people can be tricky, and this is a common challenge that is faced by Grad students. While it’s completely normal to be scared or anxious, these feelings start to be a problem when they hold you back from doing the things you want to do. Sometimes, all you need are some starting tips to get you going, and I hope this post has provided you with the foundation, and the confidence, to take that initiative and make some connections.

If you’d like a safe place to practice and receive some more in-depth information, Student Life is running a Talking to New People Group Intensive Program, and applications of interest are due Feb 15th. They are also running another Talking to New People Workshop on Feb 11th!

As well, Gradlife is running another Talking to New People Online Workshop – Grad Student Edition on March 9th as a part of our Optimize your Graduate Student Experience Week: Connect and Thrive as you work remotely. Happy talking!

February 2nd, 2021

I’m Over It

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

drawing of a computer with a zoom screen surrounded by an open book and a snowflake

This week marks my 18th Gradlife blogpost, and I’ve written a lot of “How-To” pieces so far: How to organize your life… How to get more sleep… and I was going to do the same for this one. It was going to be titled, “How to keep going even when you’re over it” and it was going to inspire. It was going to pick up all the over-worked, over-it grad students, and it was going to pick me up in the process.

But then I stared at my computer and I realized that I don’t have any answers to this problem, and for once, I don’t think google does either. So I’ve decided that instead, I am just going to tell you how I feel, because maybe you feel the same way.

How I got to be so over it

If I’m being completely honest with you, winter break is when I lost whatever little scraps of motivation and energy I had left in December. I thought that having a three week break was going to make me into a new student, I thought it was going to recharge me and get me ready for another semester. But the break came and it went in the blink of an eye and now I feel more tired than I did when I was writing my final papers. Why? I have no idea. Maybe I had too good of a break. But the funny thing is I didn’t have that good of a break.  What actually ended up happening, if I am being completely honest with you, is I overslept, was in a bad mood about 60% of the time, got a couple of turtlenecks, and then it was over.

And now I’m back, and even though it’s my final semester I can barely get through class, let alone my readings, let alone my plethora of seminar presentations that I’ve been assigned. It doesn’t help that the weather is freezing and most of my friends randomly moved away, and even with the ones who are here I can’t go for (socially-distanced) walks with them half the time because it’s hailing, or snowing or just too cold to even carry a conversation. So not only am I burnt out and tired of zoom but I’m lonely.

drawing of a girl looking at her computer screen

The pandemic grad school combo

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this combo is not very pretty. It’s as though covid has thrown all the best parts of Grad School out the window (getting to meet new people, make new friends, try new things etc.) and kept only the parts that aren’t so great: the stress and the work. Without that balance, it’s really hard to feel okay, and to have the energy to put your heart into your work.

So what to do?

I wish I had some snappy keep-your-chin-up, this-is-how-to-fix-it ending to this post, but unfortunately I don’t. Talking to my friends and my colleagues, however, has made me realize that most people are really over it by now, and while I’m not happy to hear that other people are struggling, it is nice to know that I’m not the only one feeling this way. So in case you haven’t had the chance to hear this from anyone else yet, and you are feeling this way too, then let me be the first to tell you: you’re not alone.

What I will leave you with, however, is some of the mental health resources have on campus. While it’s nice to know that other people feel the same way as you, that’s often not enough, and I encourage you to check out these U of T resources below:

Navi: Your Mental Health Wayfinder

My Student Support Program

Health & Wellness

I’m wishing you all the best for the rest of the semester. I hope you remember that you’re not alone, and spring really is just around the corner.

January 26th, 2021

From PhD to TD: One alumni’s journey from academia to industry

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

photo of Dr. Ryan Kealey, who is sitting on a couch and smiling
Dr. Kealey at the TD Design Research Lab

For this week’s blogpost I interviewed Ryan Kealey, PhD, who is a Research Scientist, Design Research at TD. Dr. Kealey has a PhD in Human Factors from the University of Toronto, and we discussed how he moved from academia to industry and what tips he has for grad students who are considering making the jump.

Could you tell me about your education journey and how you arrived at U of T?

I started my undergraduate degree at McMaster in science (with the intention of studying biotechnology) and after my first year I quickly shifted to focus on psychology as I was interested in learning more about how people think. I then went on to do a Masters focusing on vision and cognitive neuroscience. While my Masters was interesting, I realized that I really wanted to apply what I had learned about the brain and behaviour to real world problems. I started to look for ways I could do this and I thought to myself, “what’s the most applied discipline I can think of?” and engineering came to mind. While looking into how to combine psychology and engineering I came across the field of human factors. After learning more about the discipline I made the decision to do my PhD in human factors at U of T with Professor Mark Chignell.

“As I went through my [PhD], I realized more and more that while there were certain things about academia that I really liked, there were other things I was less interested in”

When did you realize that although you were doing a PhD, you were interested in going into industry?

When I started my PhD I thought I was going to become a Prof. But as I went through my degree, I realized more and more that while there were certain things about academia that I really liked, there were other things I was less interested in. Luckily, the lab I was working in had some consulting contracts from different groups in transportation and healthcare, so I started to work on these on the side and realized that I really wanted to work in industry. After graduating, I did some independent consulting for a little while and eventually I landed at TD as a Research Scientist on the Design Research team.

You mentioned that the lab you worked in already had some consulting contracts. Would you say then that you started working in consulting because of the lab, or because you took it upon yourself to gain this experience?

While there was exposure to industry in the lab because we already had a consultancy group running, it really was on the students themselves to go out and find other opportunities because that’s not the main reason you’re working in the lab.

“I suggest that [Grad students] take the research approach that they’ve developed throughout their grad studies and apply it to the industry they’re trying to move into”

What advice do you have for grad students looking to get into industry, or gain industry experience while still in grad school?

If students are interested, I would heavily suggest that they look into the Mitacs program, which is specifically designed to connect industry partners with graduate students who need funding. At TD we’ve used the Mitacs system in the past, and we’ve run successful research projects through it.

For grad students who are looking to make the transition to industry once they graduate, I suggest that they take the research approach that they’ve developed throughout their grad studies and apply it to the industry they’re trying to move into. Understand where potential employers are coming from and the language they’re speaking, so that you can translate your own approach to show how your graduate skills will fit their needs. Convincing a business unit that they need a PhD or a Masters can sometimes be a difficult endeavour, but one thing that comes from graduate work is that you’ve really learned how to understand a problem, frame it, and then develop ways to break it apart and understand it further. I think this approach will be very useful in industry, you just have to learn how to demonstrate its utility to potential employers.

Starting to think about your future career? Check out U of T’s Career Exploration & Education Centre: a great resource for exploring different career paths and getting help with resumes and job applications.

Thank you to Dr. Kealey for taking the time to chat with me. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

January 19th, 2021

Got Sleep? Me Neither

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

doodle of a moon and stars

In the best of times it’s hard to keep a healthy sleep schedule, and needless to say, these are not the best of times. When blue-light is keeping your brain wide awake and your asynchronous classes never seem to start until midnight, getting some good and healthy sleep seems to be pushed to the bottom of the list. I know I don’t need to tell you that sleep is important, but I thought it might be helpful to give you some tips on how to actually get it. Or at least, how to get yourself back on a better sleep schedule.

I would just like to add in this disclaimer that I am by no means a doctor, I am an English major, and everything I have included in this article I found on google (original, not scholar). So please take these tips with the same amount of skepticism you have when your weird uncle gives you dating advice.

Just like your day, your sleep works best when it’s on a schedule

According to the Sleep Foundation, waking up at the same time each morning is key to cultivating some good sleep. You should choose a wake-up time that you can stick to on week days and weekends in order to help your body get into a rhythm and stay in it. Similarly, just like how you schedule your day and budget time for the things you need to do, you should be doing the same thing for getting enough sleep!

doodle of a schedule calendar

But how much sleep should you be getting?

Healthline suggests that adults should be getting to 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, but the exact amount varies per person since different things work best for different people. While everyone is different, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re falling asleep at your desk during the day (cough cough me) then you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

doodle of an alarm clock going off

Naps: Best Friend or Frenemy?

Naps can be your friend, but it all depends on when you take them. According to the Sleep Foundation, the best time to nap is in the early afternoon, and it should only be for about 20 minutes. If you nap too long or too late in the day (is anyone else a fan of the nap until it’s dinner move?) this can throw off your sleep, and a bad sleep is never worth a good nap. It’s sort of like sleep is your ride or die, and naps only show up when you’re throwing a party. You can keep both in your life, but it’s important to remember which one’s the priority.

If you’re struggling with sleep, you can make an appointment with Health and Wellness, which has a range of services that can help you with your physical and mental health. Remember, lots of people, and especially Grad students, struggle with sleep and you’re not alone.

References

1. https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep/sleep-calculator

2. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/healthy-sleep-tips

January 12th, 2021

6 Easy ways to organize your life

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

a jumble of cards with five organized in the middle of the table

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more organized, probably because I am a mess. If this is one of your resolutions too, or perhaps just a general life goal, I did some research into some of the best ways to stay organized during the term. While some might be more useful to you than others, I hope they spark your creativity! If you already use these methods, then I am eternally jealous and I hope that this semester I will be just like you.

1. Keep an agenda

Did anyone else have to keep one of these in elementary school and have their parents sign it every night, or was it just me? In any case, I haven’t used an agenda in years, but according to my research, it’s a great way to not only keep track of the due dates for assignments over weeks and months, but it can help you break down the work you need to do across days and set manageable goals. If you don’t have a physical agenda, Notion  is an online agenda you can use for free.

a notebook that has "To-Do" written across its page

2. Create your own deadlines

If you are tired of the stress that comes from leaving your work until the last possible minute (I know I am…) a helpful trick is to create for yourself your own deadlines that are before the true deadline. That way, you give yourself a buffer of time in case things don’t go as planned, or you at least save yourself from stress-typing your midterm so fast your hands shake. This only works, however, if you commit to treating these deadlines as real; if you do manage to do this, your future self will most definitely thank you.

3. Keep your work space organized

I don’t know about you, but since I now only work from home, I just throw notebooks and papers everywhere since I don’t actually have to bring them anywhere. The problem with this is not only that my room is a mess—and I find it hard to work in a messy room—but I end up losing half my notes, which is highly unproductive and a huge waste of time. If you also have this problem, here are some tips on how to keep your space organized:

  • Keep loose papers in file folders, or an accordion folder, separated by course
  • If you take hand written notes, use a separate notebook for each course
  • De-clutter your desk/ workspace every couple of days

4. Remind, remind, remind

I have a terrible habit of assuming that I’ll remember things, even though all available evidence points to the fact that I will not. So from now on, I’ve decided that I am going to set reminders for everything. That way, if I do remember on my own I can feel really great about myself, and if I don’t, I’ll feel good knowing I have this safety net. While you can set reminders on your computer calendar, I am also a big fan of the old-fashioned sticky note method. I find this works best if you write in all-caps and put them in places you cannot possible ignore, such as in the middle of your laptop screen before you go to bed. That way once you wake up in the morning, you’ll have no choice but to remember what you swore you were going to anyways.

an open laptop that has two sticky notes attached to the screen. One reads "Hand in paper tomorrow" the other reads, "I'm serious!"

5. Check out U of T’s academic success centre

The Academic Success Centre is a great resource to help you achieve your academic and organizational goals. The centre can help you with your approaches to learning, studying, note-taking and much more! You can even book an appointment with their learning team and peer mentors to receive individual support! I highly suggest you check them out asap.

5. Complete easy tasks RIGHT AWAY

I put this one last because it’s weirdly the most difficult but also the most effective. If you have a task that you need to do that takes 5 minutes or less (such as emailing a Prof, signing up for an office hours appointment etc.) just do it right away. That way you don’t have the task hanging around in the back of your mind, and you don’t run the risk of forgetting it because it’s so small. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this one because I am a master-procrastinator, but I am going to try my very best… New Year new me! As the saying goes.

If you’ve found yourself struggling with organization in the past, I hope my post has inspired you to make time for it during your winter semester. If you’re already super organized, I hope it’s made you feel proud about your skills… Have you tried any of my tips before?  Were they life changing? Are there any methods I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!

January 5th, 2021

Making the most of your winter semester

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

photo of a calendar that says winter semester with a red marker on top of it

I don’t know about you, but winter break really flew by for me. I swear just yesterday I handed in my final paper and fell asleep, and now suddenly it’s the start of the next semester!

While your studies will always be the priority, U of T also has tons of amazing extra-curricular and professional development programs on offer, even during this virtual semester, and a great way to make the most of your semester is to try some of them out! Since non-academic opportunities are also an important part of your graduate experience and development, I thought I’d devote this week’s post to some tips and tricks on how to make sure you can get the most out of these great opportunities.

1. Plan ahead

Once school kicks into full gear and you’re suddenly preoccupied with papers, research and jobs, looking out for extra-curricular and personal growth opportunities can easily fall to the wayside. This is why it’s so important to look into all of your options early to see what sort of events and clubs you would like to participate in this semester. While this can be a daunting task, the good news is that just by reading this post, you’ve already started!

Pro Tip: If the events you want to attend are already open for registration, I highly recommend you register now. That way when the time comes you’ll have no excuses not to attend (I only add this in because I have a bad habit of signing up for things and then cancelling at the last minute)

2. Figure out what you want to prioritize this semester

image of a notebook that reads priorities for 2021: Join a new club, career exploration, talk to new people!

The great thing about U of T is that it has a plethora of different academic and non-academic opportunities. At the same time, however, all this choice can be overwhelming. Since you’re a busy grad student, you can’t join everything (although that would be nice) so it’s important you do some preliminary research to see what catches your eye and what you have time for. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of the upcoming Gradlife Events you can peruse, as well as the Gradlife Calendar on CLNx!

Grad Escape Weekly Coffee Hour Starting January 22nd, we will be running a weekly coffee and crafts hour where Grad students can come hang out and build community!

Grad Escape Virtual Games Night Thanks to popular demand, our Games Nights are coming back for the winter semester! It’s the perfect event for those who love to play games and want to get to know other Grad students

Gradlife Calendar To see what else Gradlife has in store for this semester, check out our full calender and register for upcoming events!

3. Start your 2021 calendar early and update it often

As you sign up for events, it’s a good idea to add them into your calendar. While it might seem like you’ll remember everything, and adding things into your calendar is arguably a hassle (at least I find it to be), in a couple of weeks you’ll be very happy you did; especially if you set reminders for all of your events.

4. Attend something new with someone new

screenshot of a text conversation. The first person asked "Hey! Would you want to check out the Gradlife Coffee hour with me?" and the second person responds, "I'd love to!"

Do you want to join something new this semester but you find the prospect daunting? Do you want to make new connections but you’re not sure how to do that? Why don’t you do both at the same time! A lot of people find it difficult to join new things alone, so the good news is that you’re not the only person who feels this way. If you made a class friend or a research buddy last semester, and you want to make sure you stay in touch, why don’t you ask them if they’ll attend an event with you? That way you won’t be joining alone, and you might even make a new friend out of it!

Reaching out to new people, however, is easier said than done. Since a lot of people find this to be difficult (myself included), we created our Talking to New People Workshop for Grad students, which will be running on January 27th from 12 pm- 1:30 p EST. In our workshop, we’ll teach you how to make new connections, and how to manage the fear and anxiety that comes along with it. Registration is now open!

I hope you’ve found this week’s post helpful, or at the very least inspiring! Whether or not you follow any of these tips, or decide to sign up for some extra-curricular events, I hope you have a fun and fulfilling winter semester!

December 8th, 2020

Looking back on our Gradlife semester

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

zoom screenshot of smiling grad students holding up their drawings
Our first Doodle Night!

This semester has completely flown by for me, and I’m sure it’s been the same for you. In honour of the classic end of the year look-back (inspired by Spotify and those DJs on Youtube … do they still do those remixes?) I thought I’d devote this week’s post to reminiscing about all the fun Grad escapes that Gradlife ran this semester.

Games Night

We ran a TON of Games Nights this fall, where we played all sorts of fun games like Skribbl, Scattegories and Codenames! While it’s hard to say, codenames might have been the most popular, with students getting very invested in winning. We’re going to keep running the Virtual Games Nights next semester, and will be adding some new games into the rotation, so stay tuned!

Doodle Night

Every Doodle Night I was always blown away by the talented Grad students we have at U of T! For each Doodle Night, we did a different set of challenges, with students drawing their research, self-portraits, arch-nemeses, you name it! Typically, we would cap off the event with a group doodle, and everyone would suggest a new element that we each had to work into our own drawings. This always produced some especially fun (and wild!) work.

drawing of an e-coli giving a thumbs up
An Easy-going E. coli by Matthew who is studying Immunology

Recipe Share

Although I am no chef, Recipe Shares were always a fun, low-key space where Grad students came and talked cooking, technique, and of course, kitchen failures. I’d like to thank all the students who shared with me their tips and tricks on how to cook, I can honestly say my meals have improved because of it!

Snowflake Social

To celebrate the end of the semester and the beginning of winter, last week we ran our first ever snowflake social and it was a smashing success. I was blown away not only by the snowflake creations some people made, but also by how funny it was when I tried to unfold my snowflake only to find out it was confetti. Thank you so much to everyone for coming out and making the event so much fun! My windows are now decorated with beautiful snowflakes and I love them!

zoom screenshot of smiling students holding up paper snowflakes
Our beautiful snowflakes!

For one of my first Gradlife blogposts, I wrote about how scared I was to start Grad School online, during a pandemic. And while it hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world (surprise, surprise) getting to meet and hang out with so many Grad students through our Grad Escapes has been one of my favourite parts of the year so far, and it has definitely made my Grad school experience better than I thought it would be. If you attended some of our events, I hope they made you semester a little shinier too. If you haven’t—fear not! We have a fabulous line up of Grad Escapes, Connections and Talks lined up for the winter semester, and we can’t wait to meet you. 

You can sign up for our last Virtual Games Night of the semester on CLNx: https://clnx.utoronto.ca/home/gradlife.htm?eventId=28045

This winter we’ll be running a weekly Coffee and Crafts hour, as well as Creative Writing, Games Nights AND improv events! You can check them out and sign up on CLNx: https://clnx.utoronto.ca/home/gradlife.htm

December 1st, 2020

DIY gifts you can ACTUALLY do yourself

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

scissors, bows and wrapping paper are scattered across a wooden table

Seeing as the holidays are approaching with a frightening speed, and grad students are famously low on funds (at least I am…) I thought I’d devote this week’s post to some fabulous DIY gift ideas you can make for your loved ones! I know that there are already a million blog posts on this exact topic, but I was looking at some of them, and the things they expect people to be able to do is insane—repurpose a mirror? Cover a mug in glitter? Ridiculous… and possibly lethal.

So lo and behold, I’ve brainstormed 6 DIY gifts ideas you’ll actually be able to do yourself. Will any of these be so amazing your loved ones will be tricked into thinking you bought them? Probably not. But hey, they’ll be touched that you took the time to make them something, and you’ll save enough money to buy yourself some nice pens for second semester.

1. Make a painted photograph

small painted canvas of a waterfall and rocks with a black and white photo of a woman glued to it,

While I know that suggesting you paint a portrait might be a little far-fetched, but a picture / photo hybrid looks amazing and requires little artistic skill. All you need is a small canvas or piece of wood, and a photograph you want to use (this works best if it’s one of people—like you and your loved one!) All you have to do is first paint the background of your photograph onto the canvas, and this can be as detailed or abstract as you want—it even works if you just use one colour! Next, cut out the people from your photograph. Once your canvas has dried, glue your photo on with rubber cement.

Pro Tip: write a heartfelt message on the back of the canvas. Especially if you’re not great at painting

2. Craft an extravagant card

two hands are unrolling a large, colourful card that has the months written out and pictures drawn around them

I am a firm believer that a good enough card can replace a gift altogether—it’s sort of like filling up at the restaurant on bread before the meal comes… but then never getting the meal. I suggest making sure that your card is oversized, and that you use multiple mediums. A great combo are pencil crayons and photographs (especially if you don’t have a colour printer, and like c’mon who does…).

Pro Tip: fill your card with personal stuff so that it feels extra special. Some ideas to include might be: “Our top ten inside jokes”, “my favourite memories of us”, “every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done.” You know, sweet stuff like that.

3. Repot a plant

plant in a small silver plot with a bow on it

I’m assuming that you have at least one plant because well… you’re in Grad school during a pandemic. If I’m wrong then sorry! You’re gonna have to move onto number 4. While this one isn’t totally DIY because you have to get a pot (the dollar store has some really cute ones though) this is a really easy gift idea that someone can keep for a very long time… or kill immediately and not tell you for three years.

Pro Tip: Do I know how to repot a plant? Nope! If you don’t either, check out this video I found

4. Breathe new life into a “lightly used” notebook

a yellow notebook standing up on its side

I don’t know about you, but I have a million notebooks lying around that I wrote in for 2 pages and then abandoned. Rather than let it sit on a shelf or end up in a landfill, why don’t you re-gift? If you have a few pages that have been used, all you have to do is cut them out. This works best with an x-acto knife, but be very careful! If you do use an x-acto knife, make sure you put something thick underneath the pages you’re cutting out, and guide your line with a straight-edge. Scissors also work, but the cut won’t be as close to the spine.

Pro Tip: Write a really long, heartfelt, and colourful note into the (new) first page of the notebook. Not only will this be a nice addition, but it will distract from the pages you cut out mwahaha

Pro Tip #2: Because I’m now worried someone’s going to cut themselves on account of me being cheap, here’s a video on how to safely use an x-acto knife.

5. Make a photo accordion

a photo accordion laid out across a table

This gift is great for someone you have a lot of photos with. All you have to do is print out 6-10 photos, and measure out a thick piece of paper or cardstock that you want to glue them to. Glue your images in a straight line down on the paper, with some space in between each one (where the folds will be). This will probably take multiple pieces of paper, so leave enough space at the ends to glue them together. Once the images have dried, cut a above and below the images (but not in between!) and then fold the paper in between each image to make your accordion.

Pro Tip: If you have a bunch of photos from over the years, it looks great if you order them chronologically

6. Paint your own jewelry bowl

a small bowl that is white on the outside and has a pattern on the inside with rings in it

Everyone likes a pretty jewelry bowl—it can be used to store your rings, bracelets, earrings you name it! To make your own, all you have to do is take a ceramic bowl and paint it using acrylic paints. I should stress that this is a good idea only for bowls that will not be eaten out of… because acrylic paint is definitely toxic. But even if your loved one already has a jewelry bowl, this can be used for coins, hair elastics, keys, whatever fits!

Pro tip: While obviously there’s no wrong way to do this, I find these bowls look best if you leave the outside as is, and then paint the inside some kind of fun pattern.

I hope my post has inspired you to get crafty this season! If you have any go-to DIY gifts of your own, feel free to share them in the comments below!

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