August 18th, 2017

Welcome & Welcome Back! Starting 2017/2018 Off Right

Written by: Kat Clark, Gradlife Intern

It’s about that time again, when we calculate just how many official days there are left in summer (or is that just me?), and how many more times we can sit on a patio or study in the sunshine before the campus calls us back to hide in our labs, lecture halls, offices, and libraries.

source:google

source:google

For some reason, even though most grad students still have research and course work to do over the summer, those May-August months still seem like a little bit of a break, and we’re always just a little bit surprised when we look up and realise that it’s nearing the end of August.

To make that welcome or welcome back to campus a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of the some of the orientations available to grad students, where you’ll learn about opportunities for you to get involved on campus (and find that very important support system and community), and how to be proactive in building a successful graduate career.

Without further ado, take a big breath (you’ve got this), and here we go!

Date Time Event Meeting Place
Aug. 28th

Aug. 30th

Sep. 1st

Drop-in at 12pm, 3pm, & 530pm Grad Campus Tours!

Our grad-focused tours are back for their second year in a row, and we’ll be visiting locations/services that are grad-friendly/focused. Don’t worry, we’ll tell you where the good food is, too.

School of Graduate Studies Student Lounge, 63 St. George St.

(PS – there will be cookies & coffee in the lounge for tour folks, tell your friends)

Aug. 31st 8:30am – 6:30pm Grad Step Up!

Are you a new, international grad student? Join the Centre for International Experience (CIE) and the SGS for a full-day orientation that will connect you to Toronto & U of T (plus, there’s a social).

Hart House Building

7 Hart House Circle

Toronto, ON M5S 3H3

Sep. 5th 10:00am – 12:00pm

2:00pm – 4:00pm

5:00pm – 7:00pm

School of Graduate Studies (SGS) Orientation

This day will be filled with a resource fair & panelist discussions that target both research & professional students.

JJR MacLeod Auditorium, 1 King’s College Circle, Rm 2158
Sep. 6th 4:00pm – 8:00pm

5:00pm – 7:00pm

Gradfest!

Come get a little more social and meet some of your fab grad peers at the Grad Student Union’s (GSU) annual resource fair and FREE BBQ. So, grab a new friend and come say hi!

PS. The GSU is still hiring some positions for the Fall term, so this is a great time to connect.

Graduate Student Union

16 Bancroft Ave.

 

Sep.11th 9:00am – 3:00pm Transitioning to Life as a Grad Student

Join our Gradlife team, the Conflict Resolution Centre, peer panelists, the Academic Success Centre, & Mentorship Programs for tips & tricks on succeeding in grad school.

Main Activity Hall
Multi-Faith Centre
569 Spadina Ave
Toronto, ON
M5S 2J7
Sep.16th 10:00am – 1:30pm Family Care Orientaion

Are you a grad student with family responsibilities? Come by OISE to start building support for your time at U of T and learn what resources are available to help you get proactive about balancing your family and school life.

OISE

252 Bloor Street West, Rm 5150

And there you have it, folks! Whether you’re a new grad student discovering U of T for the first time, or you’ve called U of T your home for some time, the orientations and support workshops available to grad students will help you start the 2017/2018 year off right. Above all, we’re hoping that you come out to learn not just about how to succeed academically, but where you can build your support networks, make friends, and find some community during your time at U of T.

We’re excited for the year to start, and are hoping you are just as jazzed as we are about starting this year together.

source:google

source:google

August 4th, 2017

No Issue is Too Small: conflict resolution in grad school

While graduate students may enjoy small class sizes and work in small groups, grad school can be an oddly isolated experience. Not being exposed to your fellow students and lacking a peer network can be particularly challenging when dealing with conflicts or other interpersonal issues. It can be difficult to understand what the “normal” graduate school experience is like, and I have often felt as if I was the only one struggling with being a grad student. Here is where the Graduate Conflict Resolution Centre (Grad CRC) can help!

CRC-Logo_Artboard-5-copy-4

The Grad CRC has been operating since January 2016, providing graduate students with conflict resolution and management resources and support. Formed in response to recommendations put forward by the Provostial Committee on Student Mental Health, the Grad CRC aims to support and engage students in the conflict resolution process. The centre offers workshops and training on conflict resolution strategies and a large part of their work is done through the G2G (grad-to-grad) peer advisors.

The G2G peer advisors make up an informal network of peers who are available to talk with you about any issue or problem that you may be dealing with in a safe and confidential manner. They are a diverse bunch, comprised of nine Master and PhD students in a wide range of departments across the University of Toronto. The peer advisors do not advocate or act on your behalf, but they will support you throughout the conflict resolution process. “We respect the autonomy of the student to decide how they want to resolve their conflict,” states Matt, G2G peer advisor and PhD student at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies. A quarter of all of the issues students discuss with the peer advisors relate to conflicts with supervisors or professors, according to Heather McGhee Peggs, manager of the Grad CRC. Often, students are unaware of the various options (both informal and formal) that are available to them to solve conflicts. “We are here to talk through the issue and let students know that there is more than one way to deal with conflict,” states Priyanka, another G2G peer advisor and Master student in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies.

The G2G peer advisors receive extensive training, with over 35 hours of conflict resolution training, where they develop skills such as active listening, intercultural communication, dealing with power imbalances and imposterphenomenon, and learn about essential graduate policies and resources. Both Matt and Priyanka were drawn to the role of G2G peer advisors because of their previous experience with mentorship. Matt works at the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, where he teaches courses on academic conversation skills and academic writing for non-English speaking students. Through this role, Matt gained insight into the academic and cultural norms in Canada, as well as how to navigate them. For Priyanka, this role is a natural fit given her prior experience as an informal peer advisor during her time as an undergrad, as well as her own experience dealing with academic culture shock as an international student.

In their roles as peer advisors, Matt and Priyanka have encountered students with a large variety of issues, ranging from difficult relationships with colleagues, to dealing with isolation and loneliness, to coping with imposter syndrome. “Being able to talk through a problem with someone can be very helpful in clarifying the issue,” says Priyanka. And although the peer advisors do not provide counselling services, they can help validate a student’s experience. “Even giving something like imposter phenomenon a name shows students that they are not alone, and that this is something many people go through,” states Matt.

Both Priyanka and Matt stress that no issue is too small to discuss. “Students do not have to be in the midst of a huge crisis or conflict to seek support,” says Matt. Priyanka agrees, stating, “Often students just want to talk about how to manage the general stress of grad school.” Talking to a peer about managing stress can be an invaluable experience, particularly as the culture of academia may often encourage a “deal with it” attitude. But with graduate peer support services becoming ubiquitous across university campuses (including Western University, McGill, York University, and MIT, to name a few), it is clear that schools are recognizing the importance of providing support networks and fostering a sense of community among their graduate trainees.

At U of T, the G2G peer advisors host drop-in sessions all over the St. George campus, as well as having private one-on-one appointments available year-round. Follow the Grad CRC Twitter page for updates on drop-in hours (which are also available on the CLN website), and visit the Grad CRC website to book an appointment.

June 28th, 2017

Graduate Writing Groups — a community to get you through your writing woes

Throughout my time as a grad student, I have found that as soon as I need to sit down to write a grant application or a manuscript, a number of other very important tasks magically appear. Making the time to write can be challenging, especially when it comes to writing something as long and daunting as a thesis or a dissertation. This is where the Academic Success Graduate Writing Groups come in handy!

Source: https://giphy.com

Source: https://giphy.com

These groups are small meetings facilitated by learning strategists and graduate student mentors that provide a time and space for you to dedicate to your writing. The idea for the groups came from one of Academic Success’ Learning Strategists, Dr. Janelle Joseph, who found that there were a number of common challenges that graduate students had to contend with when it came to writing. “Some students have trouble managing their time, they can’t find the time or space to write, and they often feel isolated in their experience,” she states. And so, in January 2015, the first Graduate Writing Group was established, with three main aims: to create a dedicated time and place for graduate students to write, to help build a community of interdisciplinary graduate students, and to provide students with productivity strategies and tips. That first Graduate Writing Group consisted of eight students meeting on a weekly basis. Currently, there are 13 writing groups that meet at various times throughout the week (including evenings and weekends), all over campus. Each group is also equipped with a Grad Mentor, a current graduate student who helps facilitate goal-setting and shares tips and tricks for writing.

The writing group runs for 2.5 hours and is fairly structured. Each group starts off with a check-in where members are asked to set an explicit goal for the session. This type of concrete, measurable goal-setting can help break down large tasks and maintain motivation. The bulk of the session is dedicated to silent writing. Finally, the session concludes with a debrief where students are asked if they had accomplished their goal, if their goal had shifted, and discuss the challenges they are facing and strategies to overcome them. The groups are kept fairly small, with up to 14 students each. The size of the group is a factor that Dr. Joseph is very conscious of. “Small groups help keep you accountable and they also help foster a sense of community,” she says. And it seems that each group does become its very own supportive community, with some students even choosing to meet up outside of the scheduled group for a DIY writing session. “Students are not alone in this. Going through the process of writing is better when you are in a community,” says Dr. Joseph, “and these groups help students build organization and project management skills that will come in handy beyond their thesis or manuscript.”

In addition to designing the groups to address writing challenges, Dr. Joseph wanted to ensure that they were accessible to students with hectic schedules. Registration for the writing groups is open year-round, but the groups are roughly based on the academic semesters, running from September to December, January to April, and May to August. Students can sign up for up to three groups per week and are encouraged to attend the groups as long as they need. “The groups are designed such that you can build your schedule around your writing time,” explains Dr. Joseph. The schedule for available Graduate Writing Groups can be found on the Academic Success website.

Summer schedule for available Graduate Writing Groups. Source: https://www.studentlife.utoronto.ca/asc/graduate-writing-group

Summer schedule for available Graduate Writing Groups.
Source: https://www.studentlife.utoronto.ca/asc/graduate-writing-group

There are also a number of resources available to students to assist with the writing process at the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication (GCAC; formerly known as the Office of English Language and Writing Support). Starting in August, the GCAC will offer various workshops, individual writing centre consultations, non-credit courses, and writing intensives. You can find more information on GCAC offerings here.

If you’re looking for virtual support, Shut Up and Write Tuesday is an excellent international community for academic writers. Check out their website and the Shut Up and Write North America Twitter account to see what they’re all about.

June 20th, 2017

Pride 101

This years marks the 37th anniversary of Toronto’s annual Pride festival and the city’s second Pride month. Over the last few weeks, the rainbow flag (a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and trans (LGBQT) pride and social movements) has been popping up around the city and campus. The first iteration of Pride in Toronto started in 1971, when a group of gay and lesbian activists gathered for a picnic at Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands to celebrate the gay community. This gathering soon became an annual event and has evolved into one of the largest Pride festivals in the world. Today, Pride celebrations begin on June 1 and culminate in the highly anticipated Pride Parade on June 25.

Pride is a celebration of the unique queer and trans communities in Toronto and consists of numerous artists and cultural events showcased in some of our city’s coolest venues. According to this year’s Pride Guide, “2017 is Pride’s year of +…plus community, plus diversity, plus conversation, plus art, plus family, plus politics, plus our history, plus the future.”

Here are some awesome Pride events to check out this week:

Tuesday, June 20

Source: Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, University of Toronto

Source: Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, University of Toronto

UTSC Pride T-shirt Painting 1-4pm
UTSC Center, 1265 Military Trail

Join SC:OUT and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union for an afternoon of fun, rainbows, and glitter! Get ready for the Pride Parade by painting your own t-shirt and enjoy some good food, good music, and great company!

 

Source: Toronto AIDS Candlelight Vigil

Source: Toronto AIDS Candlelight Vigil

AIDS Candlelight Vigil 9pm
Barbara Hall Park, 519 Church Street

This year’s vigil is organized around the theme of “In the Spirit of Wellness and Healing”, and will feature performers and artists who reflect the diversity of the community affected by or living with HIV/AIDS. This event brings together people living with HIV/AIDS, friends, family, and allies to celebrate those living with the disease and honour the lives that have been lost.

 

Wednesday, June 21

Source: University of Toronto Students’ Union

Source: University of Toronto Students’ Union

Unpacking Police and Pride: A Conversation with Rodney Diverlus 4-6pm
OISE, 252 Bloor Street West, Room 5150

Last year, Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) called for a ban on police uniforms, guns, and dedicated police floats in the Pride Parade. This ban was later supported by Pride members at their annual general meeting, a decision that sparked controversy both within and outside of the queer community. Join this conversation with one of the co-founders of BLMTO, Rodney Diverlus, to unpack this issue and learn about blackness in the queer community.

 

Source: http://www.pridetoronto.com/pride-month/events/awaken-youth-showcase/

Source: http://www.pridetoronto.com/pride-month/events/awaken-youth-showcase/

Awaken: Youth Showcase 3-9pm

Yonge-Dundas Stage, 10 Dundas Street East

Head over to Yonge and Dundas Square to see performances from a lineup of youth making a huge impact in pop culture and music. The showcase will feature some of the best young drag performers, incredibly talented queer singer/songwriters, and dynamic bands. Awaken also marks the start of five days of back-to-back performances on the Yonge-Dundas stage.

 

Thursday, June 22

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/display-your-pride-2/

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/display-your-pride-2/

#DisplayYourPride | UTSG, UTM, UTSC campuses

This tri-campus event has become an annual tradition at the University of Toronto. Join your fellow students, alumni, staff, and faculty to show everyone what your Pride looks like. Dress up, decorate your space, display artwork — anything goes! This event is designed to celebrate our Pride, build awareness, and create safe and inclusive spaces on campus. Post photos of your Pride using #DisplayYourPride and #UofT

Campus-specific details:
St. George Campus — 1-3pm, 2nd floor of the Multifaith Centre (569 Spadina Avenue)
Hosted by the St. George Positive Space Committee, this #DisplayYourPride event will have food and a group photo at 2:00pm

Mississauga Campus — 11am, campus-wide
UTM Campus Police Officers will be handing out free frozen treats all over campus as part of “Positive Treats for Positive Space”

Scarborough Campus — 1-4pm, campus-wide
Campus Police and Positive Space will be handing out free ice treats all around campus. Register in advance to ensure that they stop by your location!

 

Dancing on the Pier: Pride Night!  7-10pm
Boulevard Tent, 235 Queens Quay West

Let your hair down, put on your dancing shoes, and kick off this summer-long dance party at Toronto’s Harbourfront! There will be a dance party every Thursday evening until August 31st, featuring a diverse range of styles, from salsa to big band! Bring a partner or find one on the pier!

 

Friday, June 23

Source: https://www.facebook.com/events/426946277672579/

Source: https://www.facebook.com/events/426946277672579/

Trans March | rally 6:30pm, march 7pm
Church and Hayden St intersection

Join U of T at the annual Trans march! The U of T Pride team will be meeting in front of The Croissant Tree (625 Church Street) at 6:00pm. Free U of T Pride t-shirts will be available!

 

Saturday, June 24

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/u-t-participates-pride-run/

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/u-t-participates-pride-run/

Pride and Remembrance Run  10-11:30am
Corner of Church and Wellesley

Hit the pavement with U of T’s Pride and Remembrance Run Team for a 5km run (or 3km walk) in support of local LGBTQ organizations! If you can’t join the team, consider sponsoring them sponsoring them

 

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/u-t-marches-dyke-march/

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/u-t-marches-dyke-march/

Dyke March | rally 1pm, march 2pm

Church and Hayden St intersection

Join U of T at the annual Dyke march! The U of T Pride team will be meeting at 12:40 pm in front of the Bank of Montreal, 120 Bloor Street East (corner of Church Street and Bloor Street East). Free U of T Pride t-shirts will be available!

 

Sunday, June 25

Source: http://www.pridetoronto.com/pride-month/pride-parade/

Source: http://www.pridetoronto.com/pride-month/pride-parade/

Pride Parade 2pm
Bloor and Church St intersection

The culmination of the Pride Festival is the highly-anticipated Pride Parade! With over 150 groups participating in the march, there will be unforgettable performances, floats, and lots of glitter and rainbows. Choose a spot along the route to watch the parade, or join the U of T contingent in the march! If you want to march with U of T, the group will be meeting at 2pm on Bloor Street at Ted Rogers Way.

 

For details, updates, and more information on Pride events on campus, check out the  Sexual and Gender Diversity Office (SGDO) Events Calendar

If you’re looking to connect with LGBTQ graduate student groups or resources, visit the: SGDO website

Check out the 2017 Pride Guide for more awesome Pride events happening throughout the month!

June 7th, 2017

Ain’t no rest for the grad student: on recovery and resilience in grad school

Written by: Gradlife Blogger Ekaterina An

Last week I attended the annual Jackson Lecture at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), delivered by psychologist Dr. Katreena Scott, entitled “Mind the Gap: schools and our mental health systems.” Dr. Scott highlighted the mental health issues that often affect students, and encouraged the audience to think about mental health beyond the ‘backpack’ of diagnosable disorders. In short, she was urging educators and mental health professionals to consider the student’s school, home, and social environments as indicators and facilitators of mental well-being.

This discussion of student mental health was timely, occurring against a backdrop of increasing media coverage of the rising demand for youth mental health services. The American College Health Association surveyed over 25,000 Ontario students between 2013 and 2016, and found significant increases in mental health issues (50% increase in anxiety, 47% increase in depression, and 86% increase in substance abuse). This rise in mental health concerns is also reflected in the resources being allocated to mental health services. For example, at the University of Toronto, academic accommodations for mental health-related issues rose 143% since 2009. And as campaigns against mental health stigma grow, I find myself talking more and more openly about my own struggles with dealing with the stress and pressure of graduate school.

Although Dr. Scott’s lecture was focused on school-age children, a number of her arguments resonated with me. In particular, she discussed the importance of teaching students to cope with and recover from challenges and setbacks, and helping them to avoid a ‘cascade of failure’. In other words, Dr. Scott was speaking to the importance of building resilience, or the capacity to bounce back from difficult circumstances or failures. While the notion of resilience is a familiar part of my research (I do clinical research with individuals with advanced cancer, a population that has an incredible capacity for resilience), I had never considered it in the context of graduate school. Did resilience mean powering through and working harder in the face of setbacks, as students are often encouraged to do? Well, no. It turns out the key to building resilience lies in allowing time for rest. Taking time away from your work can give your brain a much-needed break and time to recover. Now, recovery is not synonymous with simply not working, rather it is making sure that your brain is focused on some other task or activity, without stressing over all the work you have to do.

Graduate school can be all-consuming (seriously, I have had dreams where all I do is debate the structure my thesis), so not thinking about research or coursework is a tall order. Fortunately, there are a number of great resources on campus that can help you do just that.

Grad Escapes
“Thesis avoidance with style” Grad Escapes are social, cultural, and recreational opportunities for grad students to relieve stress and meet fellow graduate students. There are a number of great Grad Escapes planned throughout the summer! Take the opportunity to relax and distract your brain, all while building relationships with other grad students. Follow Gradlife on Twitter and Facebook for event updates!

Grad Minds
Grads Minds is the official mental health committee within the University of Toronto Graduate Student Union (UTGSU). This committee was formed out of recognition of the unique mental health challenges faced by graduate students. Grad Minds aims to promote well-being at the university and advocate on behalf of graduate students. They also host a number of events throughout the year to raise awareness for mental health. Over the summer, Grad Minds hosts free, weekly, drop-in yoga sessions. Check them out on Facebook for event information and updates

Grad Room
The Grad Room is a hub for all things grad school. The Grad Room hosts workshops and events throughout the year, and the lounge is a great place to grab a coffee and meet fellow students. They also offer weekly, drop-in meditation on Monday evenings, and host monthly speaker series which feature graduate research being done at the university.

The Grad Room - 66 Harbord Street

The Grad Room – 66 Harbord Street

Source: https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/currentstudents/Pages/Grad-Room.aspx

HealthyU
HealthyU serves as a hub for all physical and mental wellness programs at the University of Toronto (including the Healthy Grads Crew). Check out their website for a treasure trove of wellness resources, and follow them on Facebook for event updates.

Multi-Faith Centre
The Multi-Faith Centre supports the spiritual well-being of students on campus and creates space for a variety of spiritual and faith-based practice. Throughout the summer, they offer numerous weekly meditation and yoga classes. The meditation room is certainly worth a visit as it boasts a living wall and is perfect for taking a moment to relax.

The meditation room in the Multi-Faith Centre

The meditation room in the Multi-Faith Centre

 

Source: http://blogs.studentlife.utoronto.ca/lifeatuoft/2009/07/15/the-best-quiet-spots-on-campus-part-1/

Health and Wellness Workshops
The Health and Wellness office at the university offers various workshops to help students build coping skills and connect with others facing similar challenges. Whether it’s learning techniques for stress management, improving your sleep quality, or managing anxiety, they’ve got you covered!

Graduate Counselling Services
The School of Graduate Studies offers short-term counselling that is tailored to graduate school and its challenges. The focus of the Wellness Counsellor is to build coping skills, resiliency, and focusing on strengths. Visit the SGS website for information on how to book an appointment.

Mental health hotlines – Mental Health Hotlines
If you are feeling distressed and would like to talk to someone immediately here are some community services that you can contact:

Good 2 Talk Student helpline: 1-866-925-5454
Gerstein Centre Crisis Line: 416-929-5200
Mental Health Helpline (Ontario): 1-866-531-2600
Drug and Alcohol Helpline: 1-800-565-8603
In case of emergency situations, please dial 911 to access emergency services.

And finally, if you’re just looking for some small self-care activities to work into your daily routine, here are 50 ideas to get your started:

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Source: http://www.fullcupthirstyspirit.com/posters.php

May 29th, 2017

Meet your new Gradlife Ambassador!

20170520_163108 Even though spring is coming to an end, and it seems like summer is just around the corner, the idea of new beginnings feels like the perfect backdrop to kicking off my time as your Gradlife Ambassador. I’m Kat – a second-year grad student at the Institute of Medical Science – and I am very excited to join the Gradlife team!

Graduate school is an intellectually stimulating and rewarding experience, but it can also be isolating, with courses, research, teaching, and grant applications all vying for your time (not to mention personal/family obligations). With so many spinning plates, finding the time to meet and connect with other students may seem impossible. That’s where I come in! As the Gradlife Ambassador, I’m here to help you connect to campus life and embrace being a grad student. For those of you who are new to U of T, join me as I explore the plethora of events, eats, and resources on campus and in the city. For those of you who are old hats at this, share your wisdom with me and with your fellow students!

Now, achieving the mythical ‘work-life balance’ in grad school is a tall order. If you’re not sure where to start, here are three tips to help you out:

Do what you love – It can be easy to get lost in the sea of clubs and activities on campus, so focus on doing one thing that you thoroughly enjoy – you’d be surprised how many other students share your passion. For me, this means getting involved with projects that center around communication (such as my departmental magazine, or writing for the Gradlife blog!). Check out the Ulife website for a complete list of all of the student groups and clubs on campus: https://ulife.utoronto.ca/

Talk to your peers – Although the graduate programs at U of T are incredibly varied, there are common themes to the graduate student experience (Hello, Imposter Syndrome). Whether it’s grabbing a coffee with someone from your lab, or setting up weekly writing sessions with students in your class, taking the time to share your experiences can be very rewarding. If you’re having trouble connecting with other students, our Grad Escapes are a great place to start! We have some great events planned for the summer, including a tour of the Art Gallery of Ontario & an improv class at Second City. Visit the Grad Escapes page for more information.

Get active – physical activity is essentially a wonder drug: it can boost our wellbeing, our mood, and our productivity. Take advantage of the athletic facilities on campus and get moving! The School of Graduate Studies now offers a summer gym bursary for all research-stream Master’s and PhD students. You can find more information on the summer gym bursary here.

Like what you read, or want to see something we haven’t covered? Leave a comment below or let us know on Twitter (@UofTGradlife)

May 12th, 2017

When it feels like “Me vs. U of T”: Navigating Institutional Structures

 

 Guest Blog

 

Manaal F., G2G Peer Advisor: PhD student in the Faculty of Social Work. 

Whenever someone asks me to describe U of T, the first thing that rolls off my tongue is: “Well, it’s big. Really big.” Sounds simplistic, but think about it–The university is kind of like a deep sea—underneath the surface-level life of classes, papers and exams, there’s a whole world of departments, divisions, centres, policies, regulations, norms, services and so on.

fish.

Pexels

For many of us graduate students, it can be a daunting task to take in all the information, events, services, activities and resources available to us in our home faculty or department. Now magnify that to the array of happenings across campus(es). In the end, graduate students might feel like they either have too little information about the services and resources available to them or they might feel like they’re always playing catch up and trying to manage an information overload. As a student, being in this environment can feel like you are a little fish in a big pond.

blog.1

Needless to say, navigating the maze of the university’s institutional structures can be a steep learning curve.

Source: http://tinyurl.com/j5vzts5

I would suggest that avoiding this learning curve is probably not the best strategy. Learning how to navigate institutions is not only a skill necessary for surviving grad school, it’s also a great career skill in our future workplaces beyond graduation.

So how does a little fish go about swimming in a big pond (be it the university environment or any institution) without getting lost? Or in other words, how can students learn how to navigate the structured university environment to meet their needs and move forward in their academic journeys. I want to highlight two strategies that have helped me in my grad life:

Institutional culture (and me!):

Take a moment to ponder over the “culture” of the university as an institution and the culture of our faculty/department and how we situate ourselves within these cultures. Bennett (2013) provides the following useful definition of “culture”:

 

“…culture is not a “thing”; it is the process whereby groups of people coordinate meaning and action, yielding both institutional artifacts and patterns of behavior.

An institution’s culture could be its norms and values, or simply: ‘the way things are done around here’. But keep in mind that an institution’s culture is not tangible and can be quite fluid. For example, your department might have a different culture than the department next door or even compared to the larger university environment.

Institutional power (and my power!):

Along with culture, it’s also worthwhile exploring the role of ‘power’ when navigating various institutional structures as grad students. Adler & Silverstein (2000), in their article “When David meets Goliath: Dealing with power differentials in negotiations” discuss the various types of power and acknowledge that organizations hold great power because they are hierarchical, layered and magnanimous in nature. Navigating any institution requires us to acknowledge that depending on how structured or expansive it is, its norms and values can become its source of power.

As a grad student, this can make us feel really small or even that we have very little power. Often, we might feel like institutional power restricts us in successfully meet our own needs within the university culture. But acknowledging the role of power as we navigate the university environment can be very worthwhile. And the best news is: as students, we can actually foster our own unique forms of power! Adler & Silverstein (2000) suggest gaining “information power”. This is quite simply the idea that the more information we have, the more likely we’ll be successful in interacting with the various layers of an institution.

So what can you do?

Talk to your peers – upper-year graduate students, peer advisors on campus, administrators, staff and professors to learn from their knowledge of the institutional culture and their experiences of navigating the university.

Spend a bit of time going over the university’s guidelines, policies and forms related to various aspects of graduate life that may be relevant to you including student expectations, supervisory-student relationships, funding, awards/scholarships, leaves of absences, program completion to name just a few. Many of these policies are readily available online such as through the School of Graduate Studies website.

Also check out the Gradlife Guide and the Essential Guide for Grad Students, two excellent resource guides for graduate students. Both have a really useful directory of all the programs and services exclusively offered to grad students looking to gain skills, meet new people, get support or simply navigate grad life on campus.

And to my earlier point about reaching out to fellow graduate students for gathering information about how to navigate institutional structures, remember that you can connect with one of the G2G Peer Advisors at the Graduate Conflict Resolution Centre (CRC). G2Gs are grad students just like you! No issue is too big or too small to talk about. Simply put: talking to a G2G could help you feel more confident about swimming in the big pond.

Manaal F., G2G Peer Advisor: PhD student in the Faculty of Social Work. In my spare time (when is that?), I try to catch an event or two on-campus or squeeze in a bit of travel.

 

Works cited list

Adler, R. S., & Silverstein, E. M. (2000). When David meets Goliath: Dealing with power differentials in negotiations. Harv. Negot. L. Rev., 5, 1.

Bennett, M. (2013). Culture is not like an iceberg. IDR Institute blog, 6. Retrieved from http://idrinstitute.org/page.asp?menu1=14&post=1&page=1

 

 

April 26th, 2017

My Experience with the Ten Thousand PhDs Project and the Three Minute Thesis

Guest Blog: Chang Zou (Recent Master’s graduate, Munk School of Global Affairs)

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In the past few months, I had the opportunity to participate an evidence-based employment survey launched by School of Graduate Studies and to help students practicing their transferrable skills. In this post, I am going to share my experience working as a researcher for the Ten Thousand PhDs Project and as an event coordinator for the Three Minute Thesis® competition.

The past 16 years has seen a sea change in employment outlooks for PhD students. More PhD students are planning for job opportunities outside of the academia now than in the past. In response to the changing landscape of employment, universities are researching and reflecting on ways to better prepare their graduates for a diversity of professions; students have grown more passionate about graduate professional development and building a transferrable skillset.

Ten Thousand PhDs Project

From astronauts to high-school teachers, the career trajectories of U of T graduates are truly boundless. To interpret the career trajectories, I have been working with a group of students, faculty and staff on the Ten Thousand PhDs Project since last October. This project aims to answer one question–where do our PhD students go?

By using publicly available data, we have built one of the most extensive graduate employment datasets from scratch. Through data collection, auditing, analysis, and visualization, we strive to help students in realizing all potential career pathways; faculties, departments and units in better assessing and designing programs; and the public in understanding the value of PhD education.

What I find most inspiring in this project is that our PhD graduates can handle the career transitioning and designing for themselves. For those who pursued a non-academic path, they applied the research mindset to their career change with patience. To them, the job search outside of academia is just another round of research: you need to understand the market, understand your transferrable skills, and find an area or two that fits your interests and matches your skillset. For these students, the Ten Thousand PhDs Project could serve as a teaser for brainstorming new ideas and career evaluation. More information on this project. 

Three Minute Thesis®

One of the events that focused on developing transferrable skills at U of T is the Three Minute Thesis® (3MT) competition, during which I was impressed by competitors’ dedication and professionalism.

The Three Minute Thesis® is a competition on academic communication skills. In three minutes or less, PhD candidates must present their research in layperson terms using one slide. This year, 73 PhD candidates signed up for the U of T 3MT® competition.

At the UofT finals on April 5th, 17 finalists gave fantastic presentations on their research. Richard Kil from Department of Chemistry won the first place; he kept the momentum going and won the provincial competition on April 12, 2017 at the University of Waterloo. What stood out in 3MT® competition were the importance of audience-oriented mindset. Since the candidates are evaluated based on their ability to communicate their research non-technical language, it challenged the graduates to present their ideas from a different perspective. I was particularly impressed that the winning presentations not only provided extensive background and context for people with no expertise in the field, but also explained the nature of research within 3 minutes.

3MT® provided more than a venue for our future professors to practice teaching skills. It raised the awareness of public engagement. I hope that events like 3MT® could promote direct dialogues between researchers and the public and that the progress of cutting-edge research will be celebrated more widely. More information on this competition.

To adjust to the changing landscape of employment outcomes is not easy. Students, professors, and other staff members could all benefit from seeking out up-to-date information on employment outcomes and building transferable skills.

Chang Zou is a recent Master of Global Affairs graduate from the Munk School of Global Affairs. He is a Research Assistant for the Ten Thousand PhDs Project at the School of Graduate Studies. He has helped organizing various professional development activities on campus.  The most recent one is the Three Minute Thesis® competition, an academic communication contest for graduate students.

Photo credit: Luc De Nil

April 4th, 2017

“Let’s do lunch!” Discomfort, Flexibility & Grad Connection

 

Guest Blog

Rebecca Hazell

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SOURCE: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-coffee- meeting-team- 7096/

In a recent workshop on communication with the Graduate Conflict Resolution Centre, I asked the group what they felt were the real meanings behind certain commonly used phrases such as, “Let’s do lunch sometime.”  One international student described his confusion when people in Canada suggested “doing lunch” or “grabbing a drink,” but never followed through on making plans. “Why do you do that?” he asked the group (thankfully good-naturedly!).

This kind of difference in understanding is common across U of T with its large international student body and location within the most multicultural city in the world. When it comes to working across differences or nurturing intercultural understanding it helps to maintain a spirit of discovery and inquiry. When we encounter differences and treat our surprise as a spark that might lead to discovery, we move away from the judgement and stereotyping that can often lead to negative feeling or potentially a conflict between peers or colleagues.

Michelle Lebaron and Venashri Pillay have identified “flexibility” as an important starting point for dealing with intercultural conflict. They suggest “sitting with the discomfort” that may come from miscommunication or difference, interrupting the judgments that often govern our understanding of situations, and getting excited about the surprises that may come up in intercultural dialogues.

Think back to the international student whose sincere interpretation of each offer of a social outing left him feeling frustrated and confused. His question of “Why do you do that?” led to a lively group discussion about how some students may be socialized by a culture that doesn’t place as much importance on following through on every suggestion of a shared lunch.

By igniting a spark of inquiry or discovery in this situation we learned about the student’s genuine desire to interact with his peers socially, and how his own culture places a high value on sharing meals with friends. When it comes to communication conflicts across cultures, the cause may be what is left unsaid: shyness, a lack of trust, or maybe a difference in communication styles. Recognizing your own communication style or the cultural lens that informs your point of view can lead to greater awareness of difference and promote flexibility when there is a misunderstanding.

Miscommunication in intercultural dialogues may be prevented if you:

  • Embrace clarity in your language and speech
  • Express the meaning of your statements plainly, and
  • Use active listening skills to encourage your conversation partner to elaborate upon their point of view.

In my experience, intercultural understanding takes time and patience to develop, but has resulted in many meaningful friendships. I try to embrace any surprises or differences in understanding as opportunities to learn more about unfamiliar cultures and to engage with different perspectives. I have found greater understanding in grad school and in my life in Toronto by taking the time to ask questions, and to listen for what is left unsaid.

You can also always book an appointment with a G2G Peer Advisor on CLN or visit one of our many drop-ins on campus if you want to talk about a communication issue or difficult intercultural exchanges. We can help you develop strategies to overcome confusion or miscommunication with peers or colleagues on campus!

Also, check out some of these great resources on U of T campus:

  • Looking to build connections with grad students outside your department? Check out Grad Escapes for unique trips around Toronto and U of T campus with fellow grad students (http://uoft.me/2Wi).
  • Interested in developing your professional communication skills? Consider taking a Professional Development and Skills workshop at Grad Room (http://uoft.me/2Wk).
  • Are you an international student eager to meet others or improve your language skills? The Centre for International Experience (CIE) is place for you! The CIE offers an English Communication Program (ECP) (http://uoft.me/2Wl) and plenty of social events year round (http://uoft.me/2Wm).
  • The Multi-Faith Centre is a great place to start when seeking opportunities to meet other students and to engage in interfaith dialogue. (https://www.facebook.com/multifaithuoft).

 

Rebecca is a G2G Peer Advisor, M.Ed candidate in OISE’s Adult Education and Community Development program and Qualified Mediator.

Works Cited:

LeBaron, Michelle and Venashri Pillay. Conflict Across Cultures: A Unique Experience of Bridging Differences. Intercultural Press, 2006.

 

March 2nd, 2017

Mid-term- time to boost your confidence!

 

Guest blog post

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   By Sam F., G2G Peer Advisor (Conflict Resolution Centre for Grad Students)

The mid-term point can be stressful for many graduate students – assignments need to be handed in; assignments need to be marked; and graduation may be fast approaching…all while the weather keeps getting better! I know firsthand how hard it can be to receive tough feedback from your supervisor when the sun is shining through the lab windows.

Here are 5 strategies the Grad2Grad Peer Advisors and I brainstormed to keep developing your confidence in grad school and stay motivated until the end of the term:

  • Get more information.  If you are working with a supervisor, check out the SGS Graduate Supervision Guidelines! Read up on best practices and think about what your professional relationship with your supervisor should (and could!) look like. These guidelines were updated in 2016 and outline key responsibilities of students, supervisors and committees, in addition to useful checklists and vignettes (based on real graduate student situations). Many departments have additional guidelines for their non-supervised students as well!

 

  • Recognize your strengths. At times you might feel like everyone is better than you/smarter than you/faster than you, but remind yourself that you deserve to be in grad school just as much as anyone else.  Learn to recognize the signs of “imposter phenomenon” and reassure yourself that you belong here for many reasons! Check out the American Psychology Association’s explanation of the imposter phenomenon for extra information on how to manage these negative emotions

 

  • Deal with people mindfully.  When communicating with faculty, peers or employers avoid the temptation to always challenge or respond by recognizing when you might be becoming defensive (or offensive!).  Try to listen to others with understanding and compassion, and when people feel like their views are being heard they may be more open to new ideas, which could save you emotional energy in the long run!

 

  • Take care of yourself. It is hard to feel confident if you are exhausted all of the time. Consider putting some energy into self-care, not just academics! Take a walk and discover the more remote corners of campus, explore High Park or take a stroll by the lake, window shop on Queen West, or take an hour (or more!) to do whatever makes you feel relaxed and happy – it’s worth it to feel recharged. But, if you’re finding yourself taking on too much work, GradLife has a post about mitigating grad burnout.

 

  • Ask for help.  Many grads have already reached out to the CRC to talk to a G2G Peer Advisor.  G2G are grad students who provide a confidential (free!) listening ear to fellow grad students. Consider making an appointment with the Graduate Conflict Resolution Centre (CRC) for any problem big or small, and the G2G can help you to feel more confident as you make your way through your graduate life experiences.

 

If you have any other strategies that you use to boost your confidence in graduate school, we’d love to hear from you!  Drop by and talk to me (or one of the other G2G) during one of my drop-in times on UTSG campus: we post all G2G appointment times and drop-in hours on CLN: https://cln.utoronto.ca/ and Twitter @G2GUofT.

Sam is a first year master’s student at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health with an interest in developing community-based supports for mental health and suicide prevention. Outside of UofT, he is a craft beer and home-brewing enthusiast, where his B.Sc. in biochemistry from UBC found an applicable outlet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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