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.


January 28th, 2015

Grad Students of U of T

This week we’re very excited to be launching a new profile series where we take a break from our everyday interactions with our friends, colleagues, and classes and get to know some grad students here at U of T.

Our very first profile is of Matteo Pirri, who in addition to being in his second year of his Masters of Public Policy, also works at Grad Room where you can book space, or find a cozy corner to read. Pay him a visit!


Name: Matteo Pirri

Program of Study: Master of Public Policy, School of Public Policy & Governance

What made you choose your grad program at U of T? I had heard a lot of positive things about the University of Toronto’s Master of Public Policy program and I thought it’d be a great fit with my personal interests and professional aspirations.

 Favourite Study Spot?  This is tough; good study spots are hard to come by on campus (especially vacant ones). For group study I’d have to say The Buttery over at Trinity College, whereas when I’m alone I often find myself within the depths of Gerstein.

What’s on the top of your TO-DO list this week? With the fourth week of this term now upon us (it’s crazy how fast 2015 is rolling by, by the way) the first trickle of assignments are coming down, so I should probably do those.

What’s your favourite way to take a break from school work? Doing mundane “everyday” things, to be honest. Grocery shopping, cooking, grabbing dinner with a friend: stuff that reminds you there’s more to life than school.

What does an average Tuesday look like for you? Well every Tuesday I typically have a shift at the Grad Room (66 Harbord Street – come visit), ahead of a class in the evening. It’s pretty boring actually haha. Ask me about Wednesdays, that’s when the real action is! (Not really).

What are you reading these days? I assume you mean for pleasure (i.e. not for a course)? If so, nothing… Well, does reddit count?

 What are your next steps after graduation? Hopefully get a job. I want a PlayStation.

What’s your favourite place in Toronto and why? This is a tough one…there’s just so much to see and do in this city… While I’ve only been there a few times I’d have to go with the Scarborough Bluffs: the park is just such a unique oasis, I remember the first time I went there I was blown away that such a place existed in Toronto.

 What are you most excited about this week? I’m looking forward to wrapping up those aforementioned assignments! The Super Bowl is also this weekend which should be a good time.

January 22nd, 2015

Impostor Phenomenon 101 Event Recap

Hi all!

For those of you who were unable to attend the Impostor Phenomenon 101 Panel event on Tuesday, I thought I’d post a quick reflection piece about the event to share all the great advice and insights . First off, the event was very well attended which indicated that many grad and PhD students may be struggling with the impostor phenomenon.

There were a few key take-aways for me:

Longing for Belonging

So what is this whole impostor phenomenon thing and why did GradMinds devote a whole panel event to it? Dr. Janelle Joseph poetically described the phenomenon as a “longing for belonging”- to be an accepted member of a group.

All of the panelists described it in their own ways, but I think the best summary is that it refers to the feeling that you’re not good enough in the particular role or setting you’re in.  It stems from not internalizing your own accomplishments and leads to the feeling that you don’t belong among your peers. Despite putting on a confident facade, you may be thinking “how can anyone think I have something of value to contribute?”

“Fake-it-till-you-make-it” but also “stay true to your authentic self”

This may seem like a contradiction, but really it’s a fine balancing act between maintaining your authenticity and forcing yourself to act with more confidence than you’re feeling. Many of us have been in situations when we feel out of our element.  This may be in a job interview, entering a new academic program, or giving a presentation.  You want to fit in and make a good impression, so you may be trying to act the way you think you should to appear comfortable and confident.  This is totally normal, just be sure you are still acting within the realm of your comfort zone and staying true to your self and to your values.

Panellist Curtis Norman, who spoke to his experience of being a first generation student, put it well when he said “we need to stop internalizing what an “academic” looks and acts like, and stop trying to fit into preconceived boxes.”

It’s Impostor Phenomenon NOT Impostor Syndrome

Panellist Natasha Brien, PhD student from the Faculty of Social Work made this distinction, that the framing of the problem is important, and it’s positive to frame this issue as a phenomenon rather than a syndrome.  Sometimes this issue is referred to “impostors syndrome”, implying it is a defect at the individual level.  Natasha noted it’s more productive to recognize the issue as a broader and systemic social phenomenon that is a result of our culture’s  fixed notion of what success looks like.

Impostor Phenomenon is common when you’re taking a risk 

Each panelist described their personal experience with the impostor phenomenon, and it was noted that in all cases, this impostor feeling was most prevalent when they were trying something new and putting themselves out there.  This varied from entering a new PhD program, applying for jobs, or starting new jobs.  Taking risks, while stressful and sometimes scary, is important for your professional and personal growth.  Of course you may feel nervous and a little like an impostor when you’re in new situations, so next time you feel that way, remember that it’s because you were confident enough in the first place to try something new!  Let that confidence creep back into your present self and maybe you can slowly push that impostor feeling away.

Here are a list of on-campus resources that were mentioned at the event:

  • The U of T Career Centre where you can find one-on-one career counselling. @UofTCareerCtr
  • The Academic Success Centre  can help you improve your academic skills and  “fake-it-till-you-make-it”, eg. helping you find the confidence to give great presentations
  • GradMinds hosts many events for grad students to share their experiences, like their Peers are Here chats which are a non-judgemental drop-in space where you can connect with fellow students, discuss your campus experience, and practice mental wellness through mutual peer support.

Did you attend the panel? What did I miss and what was your key take-away from the Impostor 101 Panel?

January 14th, 2015

Welcome Back!

Hey Grad friends,

Welcome back! By now, you’re back to the books, and gearing up for another jam-packed semester. Fresh notebooks, new agendas, new books, new year!

If you’re like me you’re equal parts stoked, anxious, and freezing cold. It always feels great to hit “refresh” for the winter semester, yet it also feels like I JUST handed in my final papers from the fall semester and just caught up on sleep.   Throw in the frigid temperatures and it’s safe to say the level of excitement compared to the fall semester is usually slightly lower entering the winter term.

Alas, here we are again. At least this is my favourite part of the semester, I love the first couple weeks when I’m engaging in a new subject and actually completing all the required readings on time. Starting over offers the opportunity to apply all those “I should haves” and “next time I’ll…” when it came to meeting deadlines.

Why not apply those productivity tips now, rather than waiting until the deadlines are piling up?

Another exciting part of the Winter term is all of the upcoming Grad Escapes, Grad Talks, and other events on campus organized just for you! There really is something for everyone.

Looking for a way to start off the new year on a relaxed, peaceful note? Join me in the next Grad Escape:

Yoga for Destressing
Wednesday, January 27th, 5:30pm-6:30pm

Looking for techniques on how release stress on your own through writing? Join in the next Grad Talks writing workshop to learn about the tools to interrupt the cycle of exhaustion.
15-01-12 GradTalk
Grad Talks: What If You Didn’t?
Thursday, February 5th, 4:00pm-5:30pm
Registration is required

Remember that Gradlife post on imposter syndrome? Well there is an upcoming panel to explore it further.
Join the conversation on graduate student mental health at a panel discussion hosted by Grad Minds at the University of Toronto. The purpose of this workshop is to start a conversation about the feelings that students and emerging professionals may experience upon entry to graduate school or when embarking on a new endeavor following post-secondary education.

Presented by Gradminds: Impostor Phenomenon 101 Workshop
Tuesday, January 20th at 5:30 pm.

Keep up with other Gradlife events on the Grad Escapes and Grad Talks webpages. Hope to see you there!

December 12th, 2014

Have a wonderful break!

Well, we did it! You may be finishing up your last assignments but the end is near! And soon you’ll have free time, FREE. TIME. Forgot what that felt like? Me too.

Other than relaxing a little bit, I hope to squeeze in as much fun as possible into my break, before we return back in January to hit the books.  I’m planning on catching up with friends and family, reading (non school books!), baking, and preparing a few real meals for once (and hopefully putting my cereal/popcorn/toast student diet on hold). Can’t wait!

Worried time away from your work will look more like this than relaxation?



Well why not try distracting yourself by scheduling in some fun time? If you’re from Toronto or have some free time before you head home for the holidays, here are a few (FREE) things to do in the city over the break with all that free time!

1. If you missed the last Grad Escape to the Toronto Christmas Market, you should check it out for yourself! Here are some photos from our Grad Escape event this week:

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2. Still need to do some last minute Christmas shopping? Check out the #LocalTOmrkt by Yonge and Dundas to find locally made, one-of-a-kind gifts.


3. Check out a free classic Christmas movie at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.  If you go in person ahead of time, you can pick up two free tickets to a variety of movies which start on Dec. 20th.


image borrowed from BlogTO

4. Without class on your schedule, why not fancy up your lunch hour with the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre

image borrowed from the Canadian Opera Company

image borrowed from the Canadian Opera Company

5. Brave the cold weather, lace up and go skating with some friends. There are a number of smaller skating rinks around the city, but the two biggest rinks downtown are Nathan Phillips Square and Harbour Front.  It’s free to skate if you B.Y.O.S (bring your own skates), but otherwise rentals are around $10.

Here are some photos from our GradEscape to Nathan Phillips Square:

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6. Last but not least, be sure to take some time to relax and spend time with loved ones.  Make time for your hobbies and passions that may have fallen by the way-side during school when your readings and assignments took precedent.  The winter break can be a great time to foster your creative side and re-charge.  I recently have gotten into embroidery and it’s a fun way to de-stress and do something crafty and creative.

However you like to get creative and crafty, now is the time! Have a wonderful and relaxing break, grad students! See you in 2015!

December 5th, 2014

Crowdsourced: Writing Tips

Experiencing writers block? Having trouble getting started on that last final essay? Loosing steam halfway through?

It can be easy to have writers burn-out this time of year when we’re juggling multiple writing assignments and cramming hours and hours of uninspiring library time into our days. To get that writers inspiration up, I though I’d reach out to the U of T community to find some tips to help us through the final paper writing season.

We were lucky to hear from the Academic Success Centre:retweetThis is a great tip if you’re feeling overwhelmed with an assignment and aren’t sure where to start.  Try free writing, or brainstorm with a mind-map.

Free writing is a great exercise if you aren’t sure where to start. If you have an idea in the back of your head but aren’t quite sure how to articulate it, or feel that you have too many ideas jumbled up, the free writing process can help you realize and understand your ideas more clearly.  Once the ideas are down on paper, you can begin refining them and structuring your paper.
How to use the free writing technique 

Mind maps can help for those who are visual learners and thinkers, and ideas may flow more naturally for you rather than making a list or just launching right into the writing process.
How to use mind mapping for essay brainstorming 

Here’s a mindmap about mindmaps!

image borrowed from mind-mapping.co.uk

Next tip:retweet2If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the looming page count of your paper, try breaking it down into manageable chunks.  If you want help breaking it up, check out this assignment calculator suggested by the Academic Success Centre.

Do you have any more writing tips? We’d love to hear them!


November 27th, 2014

What Type of Procrastinator Are You?

Hey grad pals,  I hope you’re staying sane while you finish up those final papers and put in those late study nights. The end is near!



This is always the time of year for me when it can be really difficult to keep my motivation up and plow through the last few projects and exams. Often, even when there’s so much to do with deadlines fast approaching, somehow I’ll find myself cleaning my fridge, organizing my itunes library, or even calling my PARENTS to “check in”.  Basically, I’ll do anything to avoid what I actually need to get done.

It’s that tricky little thing they call procrastination.  Here’s my theory: I think it’s not that some people are more or less prone to procrastination, but that we’re all different types of procrastinators. Everyone does it, just in different ways.  And each type needs their own specific tricks and strategies to be their most productive self.

Ironically, there are so many “self help” articles and lists of tips to overcome procrastination that it’s overwhelming.  The good thing is that you can put off your work even longer by browsing the internet doing something quasi-productive.  At least it’s better than Netflix, right?

But to save you the time, here is a list of my favourite tips and strategies to avoid procrastination and to get things done, categorized by the classic “types” of procrastinator. What type are you?

The Perfectionist


You find it difficult to start or complete a task because you aren’t 100% sure where to start and the thought of getting every detail perfect is overwhelming. You also find it really hard to finish something because you’re rarely satisfied with your work.

Try this:

  • Focus on what’s realistic rather than what’s ideal
  • Make daily to-do lists with manageable small tasks that you can complete that day
  • Reward yourself for achieving small goals
  • Learn to hit “submit” before the absolute last minute (I’m still working on this one!)

The Dreamer

image borrowed from peloruslearning.com

You find abstract thoughts more pleasant to think about than the real-life actions that need to be taken.  You spend too much time on strategy and the conceptual make-up of your project, and put off putting that plan into action.

Try this:

  • Turn that dream into a goal: define it, and break it down into what you need to get done to get there
  • Schedule time for creative work or daydreaming, and schedule time for crossing off tasks from your to-do list
  • Plan out tasks visually: make a work-back schedule so you can see how you’re slowly chipping away at your end-goal

The Last Minute Junkie


You thrive off the pressure of pushing a deadline to the last minute. You enjoy working under a deadline on a task that would otherwise seem boring, and you need that push to get you going.

Try this:

  • Identify motivators for a task rather than waiting for the stress to kick-in
  • Create deadlines for yourself as a way to use your natural deadline-induced adrenaline rush to finish tasks earlier

The Over-Doer

borrowed from bigshakiti.com

You find it difficult to prioritize and balance the multiple demands on your time. You may take on too much and procrastinate on one task because it means sacrificing time on other projects.

Try this:

  • Recognize and respect your personal limitations. You’re only one guy/gal!
  • Focus your thoughts on how to gain personal control, rather than how tasks control you and your time
  • Think about your day as an adventure in making choices, rather than a struggle to do everything
  • Make a daily to-do list based on your true priorities

borrowed from geniusonpurpose.com

Hope this helps, thanks for reading! Now stop procrastinating and get back to work!


November 14th, 2014

Opening Doors: Event Recap

Last night I joined a large group of fellow grad students at the first event in the Opening Doors Series organized by the School of Graduate Studies.  This session was targeted at students in the social sciences and included panelists from the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Each panelist brought a unique perspective and a unique story about how they ended up in their current position.

image orrowed from atlasappraisals.com

image borrowed from atlasappraisals.com

Here are 5 key take-aways I took from the event:

1. There is not one clear, linear path from school to your dream job.

Getting to hear the varied paths from the panelists emphasized this point.  Some landed their current positions by word-of-mouth referrals or by creating their own organization.  It pays off take a step-back and consider alternative and creative ways you can land your dream job.

2. It’s important to dispel the myth that your academic expertise isn’t valued outside the ivory tower.

You may think your expertise is too narrow to apply to the workplace.  However, your ability to master a subject shows that you have exceptional research abilities, which can be applied in a number of workplace settings.

3. Set intentions. 

One piece of advice from a panelist was this: set daily, weekly, and monthly intentions: regarding academics, professionally, as well as personally.  By setting big goals, you can narrow-in week-to-week and day-by-day to put those goals into action by taking smaller steps.

4. Networking comes in many shapes and sizes. Be attentive to those not-so-obvious networking opportunities. 

There are so many ways you can network that don’t include big formal networking receptions or informational meetings.  While those can be important too, there are smaller ways you can network and you may not even notice you’re doing it! Considering an interview your best networking opportunity stood out to me as a great piece of advice.  Even if you aren’t successful in landing the position- you have potential employers right there across the table who now know you personally and all the great highlights from your professional life that would make you  a great candidate for future opportunities.

5. There are many services right here on campus that are at your finger-tips.

Check out the School of Graduate Studies as well as the Career Centre to see what services are available to help you with your job search.  Not sure where to start? No worries, it’s tough! There are lots of links and resources to get you started.

The first Opening Doors Panel focused on the  Social Sciences and there are still three more upcoming panels on the Humanities, the Physical Sciences, and Life Sciences. For more information and to register, visit the event page. 

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