December 12th, 2014

Have a wonderful break!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


image borrowed from BlogTO

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

image borrowed from the Canadian Opera Company

image borrowed from the Canadian Opera Company

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

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

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

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

December 5th, 2014

Crowdsourced: Writing Tips

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a mindmap about mindmaps!

image borrowed from

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

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

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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

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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

image borrowed from

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

image borrowed from

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

image borrowed from

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 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

image borrowed from

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.

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borrowed from

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?


October 8th, 2014

Get Life Management Workshops on Your Co-Curricular Record!


Guest Post: By Emma Helfand-Green (Family Care Office Blogger and Master’s student)



Life gets a little hectic sometimes. Balancing work, school and family responsibilities can be a challenge. That’s why the Family Care Office (FCO) has created the Life Management Series; a workshop series designed to empower students to find a better balance between their academic pursuits and caring for others.

Workshop topics range from procrastination and stress management to self-discovery and advocacy and offer a welcoming environment for you to connect with other students. Students who complete four workshops over two academic years will receive a Life Management Certificate and Co-Curricular Record recognition. The Co-Curricular Record is designed to help students find opportunities at U of T beyond the classroom and to have their skills and experiences captured on an official document.

The series launches on Wednesday, October 15 at 12:00pm with Procrastination, followed by a session on Stress Management on November 26. Visit our website for registration details.

Speaking of the Life Management Series, have you heard about any of the other great programs that we provide? The FCO offers tons of services and supports to students and staff with family responsibilities ranging from workshops and support groups, to mentorship and one-on-one support, and our in-house library filled with a large collection of materials on family care topics. You can connect with us on Facebook or Twitter for upcoming events and browse our blog posts for interesting articles on all things family!

If the Family Care Office and the Life Management Series have sparked your interest, consider joining us for the Student Parents Group on Tuesdays throughout the semester. This relaxing and casual lunch group (free lunch is provided!) gives you an opportunity to share your experiences as a student parent with others in an inclusive setting and learn about community resources.

I hope you will consider joining us at one of our exciting upcoming events and feel free to stop by our office, in the Koffler building, to find out more!


Written by Emma Helfand-Green, Family Care Office Blogger

Emma is in her first year of the Master of Public Policy program in the School of Public Policy and Governance at UofT. She recently completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, studying psychology and political science. When she is not blogging for the Family Care Office, you might find Emma volunteering at the Hart House theatre, working hard (or hardly working) at the Robarts Library, or spending quality time with her cat, Goose. – See more at: Family Care Blogger

October 6th, 2014

Explore the City: Annex

One of the lessons I learned in my previous year in grad school is that you need to make quality time to step away from your books and your laptop.  I find I’m actually more productive when I do.  When I make time to step away from work, especially when I have many looming deadlines stressing me out, I’m more focused and rejuvenated when I return to it later.

The topic of rejuvenation is especially topical since October is Mental Wellness Month at U of T.  You may think it’s a little early to be introducing de-stressing strategies but its never too early to start being mindful about your work-life balance.  We’re all well-rounded people with interests, passions, and relationships outside of the school sphere.  Sometimes you may feel like a school robot who is a slave to all your readings and deadlines- but remember that “student” is only one part of your identity.

Here is a list of the many events going on at U of T this month as part of Mental Health Wellness Month. These events are focused around the goals of helping students learn how to balance responsibilities and relaxation, how to reach out and engage with your community, and how to slow down and be mindful about your experiences.

The main take away: Slow down, stop the “glorification of busy”, and strive for balance.


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My favourite way to slow down is to take a stroll through a thriving neighbourhood, grab a good coffee and a snack and head to a public park to read or hang out with friends.  I thought I’d highlight a neighbourhood close-by to campus for those of you who are new to Toronto and could use some guidance on where to take a super stellar stroll.

Added bonus: our upcoming Grad Escape is a group stroll through the Annex! There’s still space left if you’d like to join us explore the neighbourhood with us.  We’ll take a stroll and end the walk with a social at a restaurant or bar for a fun social as a way to connect with fellow grad students. You can sign up here. 

So, without further adieu, here are a few Annex highlights that make for a great stroll:

Honest Ed’s

image borrowed from BlogTO

image borrowed from BlogTO

Honest Ed’s has a long history in the neighbourhood of the Annex, and its storefront is iconic to that of the area.  Find out more about its history here.  But in the meantime, go check out its timeless and kitschy signs with awesome puns and slogans . Head inside to see a department store stuck in the past with countless strange oversized wall decorations and black and white signed portraits from celebrities.


The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

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Located at 506 Bloor St. West, in the heart of the Annex strip, this century old cinema is operated by Hoc Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. The theatre is always showing a range of interesting documentaries at reasonable prices, check out the schedule for what’s playing now.

Green Beanery

image borrowed from the GridTO

image borrowed from the GridTO

The Green Beanery is on the corner of Bathurst and Bloor and is a favourite local coffee shop in the city. They roast their own coffee and espresso beans on-site and offer a relaxed atmosphere with lots of tables and chairs to meet with friends or catch up on some reading.

Sushi on Bloor


Sushi on Bloor is one of many, many, many sushi restaurants in the neighbourhood and is likely to have a line-up out the door during the lunch and dinner time rushes.  However, as someone who prefers a bustling atmostphere, it’s still a personal favourite despite the wait times. The service is fast, the food is cheap and tasty, and the atmosphere is busy and friendly.

 Mirvish Village


Take a left off Bloor on Markham and you’ll find this hidden neighbourhood-within-a-neighbourhood that has lots of little shops and restaurants off the busy Annex strip.  It’s a nice way to end off your stroll, and head south down to Victory Cafe for a drink and some food. Go soon to take advantage of their stellar patio!


Hope you enjoy your journey through the Annex! Go check it out for yourself or join us in a couple weeks on our Grad Escape to check out these places and more together!

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