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:

photo (2)

photo (3)

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:

photo (4)photo (5)

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. 

November 3rd, 2014

What’s Next?

We all get that cringe-worthy, dreaded question from our distant relatives over Thanksgiving or the holidays: “And what are your plans after school?”
image borrowed from amormagazine.co.uk

image borrowed from amormagazine.co.uk

You and I both know it can be hard to think past your next big assignment and all of those looming deadlines. This little school bubble we’re in is comfortable and familiar, and when you hear “what’s next?” you’re probably thinking of your next final paper, next midterm, or maybe just your next meal.

However, thinking longer term may have you pondering: what’s next after grad school? This may freak some people out more than others. Some people have a solid 5-year or even a 10-year plan and know exactly what their next big goals are. And for others that big question of what’s next may seem premature given that it took so much dedication and work to get where you are now, working towards your Masters or PhD degree. While it’s good to live in the moment and try to get the most out of your post-graduate studies, it’s also not a bad idea to start thinking now about what’s up next as you step out in the “real world”.

For those of you who are thinking of pursuing careers outside of academia, there’s an upcoming panel series organized by the School of Graduate Studies which is especially targeted for Graduate students to explore a future outside the ivory tower. You’ll get the opportunity to hear from U of T alumni and non-academics who will share their post-graduation stories and how they ended up on their current career path.

Sounds like a really great panel series to me! I’ll be attending the Social Sciences panel this week on Thursday, November 6th at Grad Room and I’ll be live-tweeting some of the great advice I hear at the event. I hope you’ll join me!

For more information on the panels and to register, visit the School of Graduate Studies website.

Here’s a glimpse of the upcoming panel topics and dates:
Social Sciences: Thursday November 6, 2014
Humanities: Thursday November 13, 2014
Physical Sciences: Thursday November 20, 2014
Life Sciences: Thursday November 27, 2014



October 29th, 2014

Teaching Dilemmas: New Brown-Bag Lunch Series


Guest Post

By Robin Sutherland-Harris (Ph.D. Candidate, Centre for Medieval Studies, and Humanities Coordinator and Chair of the Teaching Excellence Awards Committee, The Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation )


Do you have a dilemma, challenge, or question about teaching? Have you been experimenting with new teaching techniques in your classroom? Bring your lunch and join us to troubleshoot your teaching concerns, brainstorm creative solutions to tutorial conundrums, and share strategies for TA-ing in your discipline. All questions and ideas, large and small, are welcome!

Our next lunch is coming up soon, on Monday, 3 November, 12:30-1:30. We will be joined by special guest Asif Zaman, PhD Candidate in the Department of Mathematics and winner of a 2014 TATP Teaching Excellence Award!

This new lunch series provides a place for TAs to raise concerns that may not be addressed through the TATP workshop series, to meet other graduate students who care about teaching, and to share ideas and generate discipline-specific solutions to teaching dilemmas. This is an opportunity for you to generate the content of our discussion; TATP staff will be present as facilitators, but questions, brainstorming, and solutions will emerge through your active participation in discussion.

There are two ways to take advantage of the Teaching Dilemmas: Brown-Bag Lunch Series.

If you would like your participation to count towards one of TATP’s certificate programs, please register using the link below. Attendance as a registered participant at two Brown-Bag Lunches will count as one elective credit towards either the TF or AUTP Certificate. A maximum of two lunches (one credit) can be counted towards the certificate program, although you may attend as many lunches as you like. Please note that registered participants must
i. be present for the whole hour of the lunch,
ii. indicate what their teaching dilemma/idea is at the time of registration and be prepared to raise it as a discussion topic during the lunch, and
iii. either complete the Teaching Dilemmas Reflection Form or write a short entry to appear on the CTSI Focus blog (approx. 300-500 words).


You may also attend the Brown-Bag Lunches in a more informal capacity. If you are unable to stay for the full hour, or are interested in participating in discussion and meeting fellow TAs but don’t have a pressing teaching dilemma, you are still welcome to join in. In this case, no registration is required – simply join us in the CTSI Boardroom (RL 4035) with your lunch!

Future Dates:
1) Monday, December 1, 2014, 12:30pm – 1:30pm
2) Monday, February 2, 2015, 12:30pm – 1:30pm
3) Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 12:30pm – 1:30pm
4) Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 12:30pm – 1:30pm



October 23rd, 2014



image borrowed from toronto.ca

image borrowed from toronto.ca

Do it.

Whether you’re majoring in political science or claim politics isn’t your “thing”, I hope all of you will make your voice heard at the polls on Monday.  Stats show us that the youth vote has been in decline.  While the City of Toronto doesn’t track the age of voters, researchers with Apathy is Boring, Université de Montréal and the University of Toronto noted that in the 2010 municipal election, the polls in the Ryerson and U of T student-heavy area of Ward 27 counted a much lower voter turnout than the average for the entire ward — 21 per cent lower. Let’s change that!

If you haven’t already taken part in advance polls, you can vote Monday, October 27th from 10AM-8PM. To find out where to go, visit City of Toronto’s My Vote to find your polling station.  If you’re not on the voter’s list you’ll need to bring one piece of identification showing your name and qualifying (Toronto) address. All other details can be found here on the City of Toronto’s website.

This Toronto Star Article makes a great point.  Don’t vote just for the sake of voting.  Make an informed choice. If you’re still not sure which candidates will best represent your interests, there are a lot of online resources to help you make an informed decision. Check out GenerationVote.ca which highlights municipal issues that are most relevant for students like public transit, housing, and city services.

For mayoral candidate info, check out NOW Magazine’s mayoral election scorecard to see the main platform points by each front-running mayoral candidate stacked up against each other.

image borrowed from positionprimer.ca

image borrowed from positionprimer.ca

Another great resource is the Position Primer which helps you learn which council candidates could best represent your interests on Toronto Council by giving you a side-by-side comparison of candidates’ views on issues that matter.

Still need some motivation to get out and vote? Have a look at this invitation to millennials (that’s you!) to vote by Morgan Baskin, a Mayoral Candidate who is only 19 years old!  If she can RUN for mayor, the least you can do is show up and VOTE for your next mayor and city councillor.

Finally, keep up on election activity on twitter with #uoftvotes

See you at the polls!

October 17th, 2014

Get Stuff Done!

Getting back to it after the Thanksgiving long-weekend can be tough.  I find this time in mid-October is when I have a bit of a lull after some initial mid-terms and essay proposals, and it’s like the calm before the storm.  All those big deadlines are approaching and I know I should get a head-start but like many people, I’ll always push the limits of each deadline, waiting until I absolutely have to start.  Anyone else have this problem?


I have a love/hate relationship with the lack of structure that comes with being a student.  I love being able to make my own schedule.  I can spend a lot of time reading in coffee shops or decide that the middle of the day is when a nap would be an excellent idea.  However, this also comes with the responsibility to set the goals, tasks, and pace of your work.  It also means being accountable to yourself to meet your own mini-deadlines.

I’ve realized that for me, I struggle working ahead or handing assignments in before the last minute because I always think I can improve my work if I spend more time on it.  I’ve learned that a great skill is learning to be satisfied with your work.  Deciding that something is your best effort can be challenging- you have to tell that perfectionist devil on your shoulder that you’ve done your best, hit submit, and move on to the next task.

borrowed from alextechthoughts.com

borrowed from alextechthoughts.com

So, because you’re putting off your to-do list by taking a break and reading this blog, take some time and learn about some ways you can prioritize your workload, work ahead, and stay productive.  I read somewhere once that taking one hour to plan saves you four hours.  If you approach your work in a thoughtful, systematic way by breaking down large tasks into manageable smaller ones, it won’t seem so overwhelming.  Here are 5 ways to get better at getting stuff done:

1. Figure out what works for you.

I’m most productive and creative first thing in the morning, and  I’ve learned to plan to do most of my writing, research or studying in the morning, and to leave reading and other more passive activities for the late afternoon/ evening.  It took me a while to figure out that late-night cramming really doesn’t work for me, I’m generally hopeless after 8pm.  However, for some people- night time is when they feel most creative/alert and produce their best work.  Figure out what time of day you feel most motivated and alert and plan to tackle your most challenging tasks or tasks which require the most focus at this time.

2. Change Settings

Sometimes a change of scenery can have a huge impact on my motivation.  Working from home, while convenient, is a little too comfortable and quiet.  Sometimes, I like the background noise of a bustling coffee shop, or the studious hush of a library- but either way, getting out of the house to do work gives it a bit more purpose.  I also find it really rewarding to cross everything off my to-do list that day before I return home, and it helps create a balance between my work/home life.  Checkout my previous post for my favourite study spots on campus.

3. Reward Yourself

Setting mini goals can make you feel like you’re getting tonnes done, and promising yourself rewards after completing a task can be really motivating to0- whether that’s another latte, or a break to spend some time with friends (or Netflix).  There is a lot of evidence that shows taking breaks actually helps your productivity- in other words, cramming like a mad scientist isn’t the best way to get stuff done. Check out this Globe and Mail article which lists 10 ways taking a break will help you.

4. Attend a Grad Talks Workshop 

It’s great to get together with others who are facing the same issues as you and learn together.  An upcoming Grad Talk on Nov. 20th at Grad Room will help you learn how to manage time and manage conflict in grad studies. Visit the School of Graduate Studies Website to register.

Extra Credit: Here’s a list of engaging TED talks on productivity.

What are your top productivity tips?


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