April 13th, 2021

This year’s Gradlife highlights

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

zoom screenshot of smiling Grad Students holding up paper snowflakes
Our Snowflake Night!

It’s hard to believe that I’m already writing my last Gradlife post–it feels like just yesterday that I started my MA, and now suddenly it’s April! While this year has not been, well you know, I had such a fabulous time being the Gradlife Ambassador and I’m so sad that this is my last week. For my final (!!!) post, I thought I’d sign off with some of the year’s highlights so that I can reminisce for a bit before returning to my mountain of half finished essays.

1. Our Fabulous Grad Escapes

For those who attended some of our Grad Escapes, it’s probably no surprise that this is first on my list. This year I had the great pleasure of running a ton of super fun events, including Virtual Games Nights, Doodle Nights, Snowflake Nights, Recipe Shares, and of course, the infamous Coffee and Crafts. Every single event was so much fun and such a success, and I wanted to thank all the wonderful grads who came out and participated, and especially those who kept coming back. I felt super lucky that I got to run fun events and just hang out with people for my job, and I think this is what I’m going to miss most about being the Gradlife Ambassador.

Sad the Grad Escapes are over? Wish you’d gotten to try one? Well have no fear–more will be running throughout the summer, so stay tuned! Want to make sure you’re up to date on all our events? Why don’t you join our facebook group.

zoom screenshot of smiling Grad students holding up their beautiful drawings
Our Doodle Night!

2. The Gradlife Blog

This is my first time ever running a blog, and I will admit I was nervous when I started out. There’s something a bit frightening about writing stuff that anyone can read, even if it’s for your job. Once I got over this fear, however, I started to have a ton of fun writing these posts, and I really enjoyed having this creative outlet and being in charge of spreading the Gradlife news to everyone! I especially enjoyed the interviews I did for a couple of bonus blog editions. For those of you who haven’t read my earlier posts, I’ve linked my top 3 favourites in case you want to have a bit of a procrastination read:

a cartoon drawing of a laptop with a student on the screen next to a pile of books. Text on the top right hand corner reads 'Optimize your grad student experience'

3. Our Grad Week

I wrote about our Grad Week a little while ago, but I wanted to talk about it again for those who missed it. As the Gradlife Ambassador, I helped to plan and facilitate this year’s Grad Week: Optimize Your Graduate Student Experience. The theme for this year was Connect and Thrive as You Work Remotely, and we put on a ton of really great events that helped students learn how to effectively lead teams, cope through poetry, and find community. Not only was learning how to plan and execute a whole week’s worth of events a super interesting experience, but I got to meet so many cool grad students whom I never would have gotten the chance to connect with otherwise! If you missed this year’s Grad Week, I highly suggest you come out next year, it will definitely be worth your while.

It took a lot of will power to limit myself to only 3 highlights, since there are just so many great things I got to be a part of this year as the Gradlife Ambassador. To everyone who attended our events, thank you so much for coming out and making every session such a success; it was such a pleasure to get to know you. For those of you who read my blogs, I hope you got some use out of my posts, and maybe even chuckled at some of my puns. Being the Gradlife Ambassador was the highlight of my Grad School experience, and I’m looking forward to attending some of the summer events and meeting the next Gradlife Ambassador!

That being said, if you want to be the next Gradlife Ambassador, the summer work-study posting will go live on CLNx on April 19th and close on April 25th! If you love everything Gradlife and want to get involved in a meaningful way, this is the job for you!

March 30th, 2021

5 Things I wish I’d known before starting Grad school

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

photo of U of T campus with Robarts library in the background

In a few short weeks I will be done Grad School (and also being the Gradlife Ambassador). While my MA program was only one short year, I’ve definitely learned some things along the way. Since I can’t go back in time and share them with my slightly younger self, I thought I’d post about them for other Grad students. Whether you’re starting U of T in the fall, returning for another term, or also about to graduate yourself, I hope my “wisdom” can be of some use to you

1. Don’t be afraid to branch out in your learning

Because I was so nervous to be in Grad SchoolTM with Grad StudentsTM , I was afraid to take courses that fell outside the topics I had specialized in during undergrad. Luckily, in first semester I ended up taking a class on a topic I had never studied before, and it ended up being the best class I took all year. While I did enjoy deepening my knowledge of topics I had already studied, branching out and taking new classes that scared me was not only a really exciting endeavour but I think it made me a more well-rounded student. So don’t be afraid to pick up that class on a topic you’ve never studied if it interests you.

pink calendar on a pink background

2. Be as organized as you possibly can (i.e. keep a calendar)

Unlike undergrad, once you’re a Grad student you have a wide range of responsibilities and dates that fall outside of the purview of your course syllabi. Because of this, I strongly recommend you keep a calendar and set reminders so that you have a good handle on your schedule, because honestly no one else will.

3. It’s okay to be wrong – everyone is

The first time I made a wrong comment in seminar I was so utterly embarrassed that I didn’t talk in class for the rest of the week. In fact, I was so mortified I wrote a post about it. I used to be wrong in my undergrad classes all the time but for some reason I had it in my head that all my contributions had to be correct now that I was in Grad school. Well I’m here to tell my past self (and maybe future you) that this was the wrong outlook. Throughout the year, myself and my fellow classmates often took guesses and tried out new ideas in seminar, and sometimes we were right and sometimes we weren’t and that’s okay. The important thing is that you’re participating and testing out new ideas because this is exactly the point and the beauty of the seminar model. So you’re going to be wrong and nobody’s going to care, and I suggest you laugh off your mistake and jump back in there.

zoom screenshot of smiling grad students holding up their art
One of the many fun doodle nights Gradlife put on this fall

4. Try to get involved in at least one extracurricular thing, no matter how small

While it might seem at first as though there’s no way you’ll be able to handle anything other than your work, I strongly suggest that you try and join one extra-curricular club or committee, even one that’s low commitment. This year, I became the Gradlife Ambassador and I got to run a ton of amazing events where I met a whole bunch of cool Grad students from U of T. I also  joined the planning committee for the annual Book History and Print Culture Colloquium, and while it was at times a lot of work it was overall a really fun experience.

5. People are nicer than you think

Over the course of undergrad, I had been told that Grad school was competitive and brutal and mean. In reality, my experience was the exact opposite. Everyone in my program was extremely nice and friendly, and were always down to gripe about how much work we had to do (and were putting off). I recommend you go in with the mindset of wanting to meet new people and make new friends, because I found that this truly was how everyone else I met approached their studies as well.  

Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting Grad School? Anything you want to know? Let me know in the comments below!

March 23rd, 2021

Stress Scones! My favourite end of the semester baking recipe

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

Photo of five blueberry scones arranged on a cutting board which is on top of a black marble counter

It’s that time of the semester again where if you want to do any activity other than work you have to put the word “stress” in front of it. So in keeping with the tradition, here’s my special stress scone recipe that was passed down to me by my dear grandmother, who found them on the internet.

While this recipe is specifically for lemon blueberry scones, you can mix and match whatever add-ins you like. You could instead mix in chocolate, dried fruit, or just keep them plain! That’s my favourite thing about this recipe, you can mix it up each time and it’s super easy to make. Although the last time I tried to make them I was so stressed I forgot the baking power which was, well, a tragedy.


2 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/3 sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking power **do not forget this!!

1/2 cup cold butter

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup – 2/3 cup of milk

1 lemon

handful of frozen or fresh blueberries

small bowl of milk and a handful of sugar **for the topping – very important!


In a large mixing bowl or mixer, whisk together the sugar, salt, flour and baking powder.

dry ingredients mixing in a blue KitchenAid mixer

Onto a small plate, grate the cold butter with a cheese grader, and then mix the butter into the dry mixture.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and milk.

wet ingredients in a bowl being whisked by a fork

Grate the rind off the lemon and add it into the dry ingredients. Add the blueberries into the dry mixture as well.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix everything until the batter is moist and holds together.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into balls about the size of your palm and spread them out across the baking sheet.

close-up image of a few scones on a pan before they are cooked

Put the scones into the freezer for 30 minutes. While the scones are in the freezer, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Once the scones are done chilling, brush or sprinkle each one with a little milk and then sprinkle a healthy amount of sugar onto each one. This step is very important and is what separates the truly superb stress scones from all the rest.

unbaked scone on pan that is being brushed with a blue baking brush covered in milk

Once all your scones have been dressed, bake them for approximately 25 minutes until they are golden brown and their edges look completely cooked. Makes 6-8 scones.

While I jokingly named this recipe “stress scones,” baking is a really great way to take a break from your mountain of grad school work. Whether you love to bake or simply do not care for it, I encourage you to take some breaks during your end of term push! What other de-stressing activities do you like to do during exams? Let me know in the comments below!

March 16th, 2021

Some thoughts on our Grad Week

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

zoom screenshot of smiling students with their thumbs up
Our Friday Night finale: virtual speed networking for Grads!

About the week

Last week was Gradlife’s annual grad student week where we host a ton of events for grad students across departments. Our theme this year was “Optimize Your Grad Student Experience: Connect and Thrive as You Work Remotely” and our 7 fantastic events all centred around having students connect, learn new skills, and share their knowledge. As the Gradlife Ambassador, I had the pleasure of helping to design grad week and co-facilitate a few of our events.

My favourite parts

I think my favourite part about Grad Week was the wide range of fun, creative events that were available.  We had a poetry workshop, a session on Indigenous perspectives on self-care and wellness, a leadership seminar, and many more events devoted to talking to new people, finding community, and other interesting topics. Finally, to cap our week off, we hosted a virtual speed-networking event that was not only super fun, but made me a zoom breakout room aficionado!

After each event I attended, I was always so impressed not only by how many cool Grad students there are at U of T—I loved hearing about people’s research—but also just by how kind everyone is. All the students who attended our Grad Week (and Gradlife events in general) are always so friendly, nice, and open to connecting with new people. It’s so refreshing to meet people who are so willing to create a positive and fun environment, and it makes me feel very lucky that I get to help run these events.

The other highlight of Grad Week for me was that I got to meet so many new grad students, and also see some familiar faces. At this point in the semester, everyone who has been attending our Gradlife events have really gotten to know each other, and it was really nice to see the “Gradlife squad” (I just came up with this but maybe it will catch on?) show up to our events. It was also really fun to meet some new graduate students, and I hope to see them at the rest of the events we’re running this semester! This also extends to anyone reading this blog—want to come check out our next Coffee and Crafts? Or how about Trivia Night? We’d love to have you!

Special thanks

As the Gradlife Ambassador, I got to see behind the scenes at the amount of tireless effort that goes into something like a Grad Week. A ton of professionals across U of T came together to facilitate some truly exciting events, and this was all thanks to the amazing work of Gradlife’s Student Life Coordinator, Graduate Programs and Outreach, Jennifer Pinker. Although Grad Week took months of planning, I think everyone involved would say that all the work was worth it, and this is all because of the wonderful Grad students who came out and made the week such a successful!

For those who participated in our Grad Week, I hope you learned some new skills and met some great people—I know I did!

March 9th, 2021

Little ways you can incorporate movement into your day

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

close-up photo of feet in running shoes walking along a track

I have become a bit obsessed with watching those videos of chiropractors professionally cracking people’s backs, and this is definitely because my neck and shoulders are permanently sore thanks to my BFF laptop. While this post is sadly nowhere close to any sort of professional spinal realignment, here are some suggestions on ways you can incorporate little movement and stretching breaks into your day. Hopefully these tips will help keep you from getting to the point where your day dreaming of chiropractic appointments!

Stand up and stretch when your camera’s off

One of my favourite things about online meetings and lectures is that you can turn your camera off! Whenever you find yourself in this (glorious) situation, why don’t you take a stretch break while you listen? If this strikes your fancy here are some simple stretches you can try.

Or if you don’t feel like getting out of your chair (and hey, I don’t blame you) why don’t you try these chair yoga poses I found? That’s right, you can get a little bit of movement in without even leaving your chair. Thank you internet!

Why Don’t you go for a walk?

While I am no doctor, I find that going for a quick walk always makes my neck and back feel better after being hunched over at a computer. It can be hard to find the time, or the motivation, to leave everything where it is and get outside, but I’ve found that the key to success is looking for creative ways you can fit a quick walk into your day. One great opportunity is whenever you find yourself with that awkward 30-minute break in between one obligation and the next. You might tell yourself you’ll get stuff done, but odds are it’s not a big enough chunk of time to do anything meaningful. If this is the case, why don’t you go for a quick walk?

man walking down U of T walkway surrounded by trees

Dial into your Next zoom meeting

Another great way to fit some movement into your day is to dial into zoom with your phone. Didn’t know you could do that? Now you do! That way you can do some yoga, walk around your house, your block, you name it! All while on zoom. Don’t know how to call into zoom? Here’s some step-by-step instructions on how to do it, straight from the zoom gods themselves.

Attend a U of T virtual drop-in fitness class

Looking for some more serious movement breaks? Hart House and the Sports and Rec centre have tons of drop-in virtual fitness classes you can sign up for, and Grad Minds run virtual yoga sessions for all levels. See, just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you can’t work out from home as well!

photo of a kettle bell and rolled up yoga mat on the ground

I know all too well how easy it is to sit down at your workstation in the morning only to suddenly realize the sun has set, so I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to work some movement breaks into your day, or at the very least, stretch your neck!

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.

Next Page »