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)

blog.10K PHDS PROJECT

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

post.aapril.17.

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

pexels-photo-91938

   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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 21st, 2017

The (Hidden) Benefits of On-Campus Involvement

 

Guest Post: Chris Kelleher, PhD Candidate, Department of English

Few graduate students today are willing to entertain the notion of “more”: more work, more responsibility, more deadlines, or simply more to do. “More” is impractical, implausible, and oftentimes, impossible. For many across the disciplinary spectrum, if the immense workloads of research and teaching were not enough, grant applications and funding proposals are overloading the proverbial plates of many graduate students. And rightly so. These are the hallmark activities of higher education and the bedrock of leading research. They are also most crucial to pursuing careers, especially in academia. But this list does not even count the many balancing acts taking place outside of the university, where students try to maintain semblances of a personal, social, or working life. Many of these students have families to support as well. Finally, and at the risk of belabouring the point, let’s not forget too that “Grad Burnout” is both a very real phenomenon, and something to be actively avoided. In short, graduate students are very busy people. And so, it should come as little surprise when any talk of adding “more” to one’s graduate studies is usually met, at best, with polite laughter.

And yet, there are two myths to this all-too-common narrative worth dispelling. First, is the underlying belief in the chronic scarcity of time. In a widely circulated May 2016 piece from the New York Times, provocatively entitled, “The Busy Person’s Lies,” Laura Vanderkam outlines the perennial tendencies of working individuals both to underestimate the amount of time they have to complete tasks, and to overestimate the amount of time spent working. When asked to monitor, down to the minute, the amount of time individuals spent on various tasks throughout the day, participants in several studies tended to uncover more time in the day than their stressed minds initially allowed for. As Vanderkam writes, “By showing us that we do, in fact, have the privilege of free time, time tracking also nudges us to make wiser choices about how to spend it.”

Of course, taken to its extreme, time tracking may either open the door to a horrific, Benthamite maximization of each moment’s work potential, or, as this throwback from The Office illustrates, a risible exercise in “efficiency” that wastes just as much time as it creates:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGMe_ymho90

So now that you’ve potentially discovered more time in your schedule, how best to spend it?

 

comics.jpg.

 

(Source: http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1920)

The second myth worth debunking from the above narrative of graduate students and time is the notion that extra-curricular involvement is somehow a distraction from graduate work, or that it indicates a lack of commitment to a particular field of study. In fact, both off- and on-campus involvement may be one of the most productive and personally rewarding ways to divert your time. Apart from providing a mental reprieve and a more diverse set of experiences, both types of involvement confer a variety of benefits. On-campus involvement, however, can be particularly worthwhile precisely because it often falls within the “Three Pillars” of academic professional development:

  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Service

Having worked in several departmental and administrative roles related to promotion, tenure, and hiring, I can say with certainty that it is becoming increasingly important, even at the graduate level, for prospective faculty to demonstrate experience in on-campus forms of “service.” “Perfect,” you might say in frustration, “one more hoop to jump through on my way to completing a doctorate.” Perhaps, it is. But make no mistake, this is no arbitrary invention of evil hiring committees. Across today’s shifting landscape of higher education, even fully tenured professors are being asked to do more in the way of administrative work for universities in order to maintain their positions. Individuals who can bring a working knowledge of bureaucratic structure, and some experience of working with others on an administrative plane can prove themselves to be a great asset during the hiring process.

What’s more, is that often the work itself can be quite engaging. Opportunities in student programming, for instance, can allow you to work with, and directly benefit, other graduate students, often from a variety of other disciplines and departments. In many cases, these opportunities can impart invaluable experience in launching your own initiatives. Administrative opportunities, by contrast, can allow you to network with important figures on the managerial side of the university while allowing you to learn how the crucial machinery of a great university actually works.

What on-campus involvement opportunities are available for graduate students? There are plenty. Some examples include: your own department; your own graduate unit, or student association; The Graduate Student Union (GSU); and, the Grad Room. There are also many graduate student clubs and internship possibilities. Gradlife, a central resource for graduate students at U of T, may introduce you to many more, but they also lead Grad Escapes, a diverse array of social events that include outings to cooking classes, trivia nights, winter markets, ball games, and art studios.

These are but just a few places to consider, and which may, after all, introduce you to the many possibilities of more.

 

Chris Kelleher is a PhD Candidate in the Department of English, Chancellor Jackman Junior Fellow, and a Junior Fellow at Massey College at the University of Toronto, as well as a Community Animator at the Grad Room.

 

 

 

 

 

February 10th, 2017

What’s stopping you from negotiating (more effectively)?

Our friends at the Conflict Resolution Centre (CRC) have written a great guest post this week on the importance of negotiation in grad school – read on to learn more!

Negotiation is an important part of graduate life. According to the Oxford dictionary, a negotiation is simply a “[d]iscussion aimed at reaching an agreement”:

  • Emailing back and forth about what time to set up a meeting? You are negotiating.
  • Discussing the purchase of a new piece of equipment for your lab?
  • Talking with your supervisor about taking your research in a new direction (or better yet, taking a vacation)? Probably more of a negotiation than you’d like!

Many of us get nervous or stressed out about the thought of having to talk with a supervisor or colleague about issues that are important to us, especially if we think that we might encounter opposition to what we are hoping to achieve.

Preparation is key to combating nervousness and increasing the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome.  Here are some tips for preparing for your next academic negotiation:

  • Know what you want and why. Given that the end goal of a negotiation is an agreement, you probably want to start by asking yourself – what do I really want?  Then, go one step further, and really think about why you want it.  Many times, the “why” question will reveal a deeper need or “interest” which may enable you to brainstorm a broader range of possible solutions (See: Fisher & Ury).
  • Imagine what the other person might want and why. This is really just a version of the old saying “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”.  You are trying to figure out whether there might be any shared interests and whether there are questions you need to be asking (to confirm or challenge your assumptions). It also helps in being mindful that you will not be the only person in the room who might have needs.
  • Get as much information as you can in advance. Is there a policy or practice in your department or at U of T that might be helpful to read?  Is there anyone who you can talk to (a peer, another faculty member, a staff member) who might be able to give you insights into what you will be negotiating about?
  • Prepare some key questions. As you think about what you want and why, you may find that there is information that you don’t have yet that could be really useful in making a decision or putting forward an argument.  Write them down and be prepared to ask during the discussion.  Remember that you can confidentially bounce ideas around with a G2G in preparation for an important discussion.
  • Preparatory power posing. Give yourself a boost by trying out a few “power poses” before you walk into the room.  According to Amy Cuddy’s controversial research, assuming powerful body postures can affect how you feel, behave and hormone levels – you be the judge if they work!

Remember, that you can control how much you prepare for a negotiation, the way you act during a negotiation, and when you decide to walk away from a negotiation.  What anyone else does before, during or after is not within your control.

If you are interested in learning more about negotiation strategies with the CRC G2G Peer Advisors we offer a three-part GPS series: Conflict Resolution Fundamentals: Conflict Resolution; Communication & Negotiation! (Registration is open for the session which starts next week: February 14, 21 & 28th, 1:30-3:30 (UTSG GradRoom)).

More tips & advice, including short videos, are available on the CRC website or make an appointment to talk to us!

source: PhD Comics

source: PhD Comics

January 22nd, 2017

Real Talk on Grad Burnout

source: google

source: google

We’ve done a few workshops in the past about avoiding burnout as a graduate student, but the importance of just how real of a possibility this is for students didn’t hit home until yesterday. Recently, I was asked to take on a new job that would could make securing a more permanent position post-graduation (in a few short months) a real possibility; of course, I said yes and accepted the job.

That means, though, that in addition to finishing my Masters and being a VP on my faculty’s student association, I also now have three part-time jobs. And I’ve also decided that I want to get my health back on track so I’ve committed to going to yoga. Suddenly, my life feels very much like a recipe for disaster. In an attempt to gain some much-needed focus and breathing room, I have turned to good old google for help.

A quick search revealed this list:

  1. Work with purpose.
  2. Perform a job analysis, and eliminate or delegate unnecessary work.
  3. Give to others.
  4. Take control, and actively manage your time.
  5. Get more exercise.
  6. Learn how to manage stress.
source:google

source:google

I can get on board with most of this: getting more exercise releases endorphins and can help us feel good in the long run (not to mention it makes us healthier in order to manage everything else going on), giving to other also makes us feel good because we feel like we’re contributing to others well-being and that’s an emotional boost we could all use, and actively managing my time and working with purpose deserves a huge asterisk as well – not getting sucked into a Netflix binge while telling myself “I’ll just have it on in the background while I work” is certainly a habit that needs to be broken.

source:google

source:google

It’s numbers 2 and 6 that I am struggling with, and which I think are the main things that are going to turn my juggling act into a crumbling act. Given that we’re all graduate students, I’m sure we all share that competitive streak and were, to an extent, that student who maybe took on too much of the group project while we were growing up. As an adult, this isn’t always a good trait. In my new job, I’m being given the chance to lead a group of people, and part of nurturing a good team dynamic is being a leader who recognizes the strengths of their team and delegates accordingly; in other words, we ask for help. So, to myself and to you, don’t be wary of asking for help when you need it. We’re in a rich community of intelligent, hard-working, go-getter people who can definitely be counted on to support us and help us, just as we would help them in turn. Take stock of what you need to do, and then maybe take a deep breath and think about the things that would still be well-accomplished if you weren’t the person doing them…and then delegate. It could be something as simple as making an appointment with the Academic Success Centre to have a second pair of eyes edit your writing; those bodies are here to support our learning as students, so you shouldn’t shoulder the responsibility alone.

source:google

source:google

What strikes me as the most important thing on this list though, is google’s advice to “learn how to manage stress.” That is easier said than done, google, easier said than done. If we’re asking for help, though, and we’re taking care of our health and working with purpose so that our time is better managed, then I think some of that stress might take care of itself. For that leftover stress and feelings of anxiety though, what do we do? The best advice I’ve found is simple: find something that distracts you, and let it calm you. Carry a small colouring book and pencil crayons, take 10 minutes each morning to practice mindfulness, talk to people over coffee who can relate to what you’re going through so you don’t feel alone, run a little longer, have a solo dance party, take up knitting on your commute. The point is to have an outlet that’s not rooted in the source of your stress to help center your thoughts, bring you back on track, and reduce the feeling of anxiety. A lot of anxiety and stress comes from the fear that there are factors in our life we can’t control, and succeeding at something that we love and is not being graded or evaluated is a great way to help you feel more competent in other areas of your life. For me, it’s writing, which is why this post is so much longer than others! Whatever you do, make sure you’re taking care of your health first, and that you know what supports are around you to help you avoid the burnout.

Resources on Campus:

Writing Support – http://bit.ly/2jMWNpU

Grad Wellness – https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/gradlife/Pages/Grad-Wellness.aspx

CRC – http://gradcrc.utoronto.ca

Grad Escapes – https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/gradlife/Pages/Grad-Escapes.aspx

January 9th, 2017

New Year, New Cheer 2017

source: phdcomics.com

source: phdcomics.com

We all know it, 2016 was a little lacklustre. Ok, it sucked. There have been memes, videos, comedic skits, news reports, and more on the subject of the losses, tragedies, and political headaches (I’m putting this lightly) that made up our 2016 year…but that doesn’t mean we should head into 2017 thinking it’s going to be more of the same. While I’m a firm believer that a person can (and should) make resolutions for themselves throughout the year, and not just on that “magical” January 1st day, I am also a hopeful person, which means that I’m hoping the world, ourselves included, can use the countdown as a kind of reset on our mental states so that we can head into whatever is coming with a positive, “we got this” kind of attitude.  Hard? Definitely. Impossible? No way.  So, in the hopes of helping you to head into the rest of 2017 with some of the positivity that may have been starting to hide itself under the covers these past few months, here are our thoughts on how to start the New Year right.

And, to help us do that, we’re turning to some more professional people who might have better insight on the topic:

  1. Forbes (believe it or not, they’ve got some good things to say!): A neat article all about how to check our thoughts before they can wreck us; having a handle on what we think, how we think, and why, can give us the skills we need to develop some positive thinking skills that are always much needed as a grad student.
  2. CBC News: Probably putting into words better than we could about how to actually make New Year’s resolutions and stick with them; note that right from the get-go they advise us to accept failure (we’re human, it’s going to happen, just don’t let it stop you).
  3. Youtube: Ok, this one is really a dose of cuteness overload with a pretty good message about resolutions on Jan 1st. Is the little girl reading from cards her parents wrote? Probably, but that doesn’t make what she has to say any less relevant. Some mental floss and wisdom in one.

A while back, one of my own resolutions (not made at New Year’s) was to embrace who I was, and from that I learned how important it is for everybody to do the same. So, whether you decide to make resolutions or not, whether you actually follow the above links to learn some mental health skills, or whether you completely decide to just keep plugging away as you’ve been plugging away, that’s ok.

If you don’t mind though, Gradlife has gone ahead and made some resolutions for you on your behalf. Here are our hopes for you in the coming months:

We hope you find joy in the small things, that you take care of yourselves first, and remember to appreciate the obstacles you’ll encounter for the lessons they can become. We hope you appreciate who you are everyday and know that even if you don’t set any resolutions this January, you’ll still accomplish things this year that are resolution and celebration worthy.

We hope, most of all, that you don’t undervalue the strengths that you have, and that you’re able to carry these strengths with you to have a wonderful 2017. Happy New Year, and welcome back!

December 20th, 2016

Having Hope for 2017

As 2016 begins to draw to a close, I’ve been seeing more and more articles pop up all over social media about what a terrible year 2016 was, and how people who think 2016 was a good year are just plain silly. And it’s true, some pretty awful things have happened throughout the world this year, and no one benefits from ignoring the stories of others, but neither do we benefit from focusing only on the bad, and forgetting that there are stories of perseverance, of rising against the odds, of hope, of kindness, and yes, of love.

Given that the holiday for giving and for being a little nicer to each other is almost upon us, I thought we should end this year’s blog posts with a little reminder of the stories of hope that we’ve heard, and of the ways that you can go into 2017 with the idea of making the world a little bit better than it has been. After all, negative stories are only outweighed by positive actions. Here are some.

Story #1: I sat down with an incredible woman at the Human Library a few weeks ago, and she is literally turning painful memories into empowering stories. For people who have dealt with a trauma in their childhood, it can be hard to embrace the memory in a way that lets a person heal, move forward, and be confident about their identity. The woman I met listens to these peoples’ narratives and designs a piece of jewellery especially for them; a piece that tells their story from the lens of someone who sees the work that goes into healing and transforming, and gives these people a way to celebrate moving on from the past. A lesson we could all remember moving into 2017.

source:google

source:google

Action #1: There are too many murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada, but there are just as many people who are taking action to stop this number from rising. One of them is Brad Firth, aka Caribou Legs. This year, he ran across Canada in order to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, and he has done it all without an entourage or support system. He is incredible, and we can only hope that his actions in 2016 inspire others (including ourselves) to take action for what we know is right in 2017. Read more here.

Screen Shot 2016-12-20 at 10.32.54 AM

Story #2: A 6-year-old boy in the U.S. wrote a letter to President Obama saying that he would give a Syrian child a family. I love this for so many reasons. First, it shows that this child understands what’s important, and that his kindness knows no bounds. Second, it reveals a lot about his parents and the way they’re raising him. I once heard that the world changes by good people doing good things, one small thing at a time. If ever there were an example of that, this is it. Read more here.

Action #2: This action I saw just the other day when I was leaving a restaurant in downtown Toronto. I looked across the street, running to get inside because it felt like -14, and I saw a woman with a HUGE backpack on, the side pocket rigged to hold dozens of takeout cups. Then I realized what she was doing. She had thermoses of hot drinks in her backpack, and was walking around downtown to meet, chat with, and share a warm drink with people who don’t have homes. I don’t know this woman, and I didn’t find out her name, but it’s the small actions like this that remind me the world isn’t all bad, and that it could get better if we all took a leaf out of her book.

I could list a dozen other stories and actions that highlight the way people have cared, have shared, and have hoped for better over the past year; we want to leave you, however, with the simple idea that even though things have been bad, and that negative things will continue to happen, we don’t have to accept it as the norm. Our actions, our choices, can help balance out the negative that we know is happening; but it is a choice. We can either choose to accept that 2017 will be more of the same negative narrative, or we can choose to do good things in spite of that; I hope we choose the latter.

Wishing everyone a warm, and hopeful, holiday season with many positive narratives :)

December 2nd, 2016

Keeping Your Cool During Crunch Season

Today, as I sat stuffing envelopes full of pamphlets and student discount cards for the students in the MT program, I seriously wondered to myself why I had thought it would be a good idea to become a VP of the MT student association (MTSA) this year. Normally, I have a ball being part of the MTSA; I love connecting students to experiences outside of our department, putting on socials, and hosting phys ed events, but there’s something about this time of year that gets even the most optimistic person (aka me) feeling just a little bit overwhelmed (read: a lot).

I’ve already completed three assignments that I have due this week, but I’m still staring down two major research papers, a professional portfolio, a conflict & education case study, a presentation & reflection, and the fourth chapter of my thesis…all due by on or before December 14th. Anyone want to insert a panicked scream here? As I think about it, it’s not so weird that I had that thought about being part of the MTSA, and have been wondering about the myriad other things I find myself involved in. Exam and project season is tough; we all know the projects will get done, but it’s always more daunting on this side of the finish line.

So, how do we get through it all without wanting to order 100 coffees and crying into every one of them? 

In an effort to help you stay calm, collected, and on top of things during this crunch period, we’ve compiled a list of some great apps that will help you study, encourage your calm, and hopefully bring you a little clarity this pre-holiday season.

**most of these apps are compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows, and can be accessed via your phone or computer**

Study-Based Apps to Get You Through:

taken from LaptopMag

taken from LaptopMag

Evernote (FREE): a great app to organize all those notes, graph photos, to-do lists, and pre-holiday obligations. Evernote helps you to: take notes, make to-do lists, set reminders, attach files, and also save a photo as a document or post-it.

Taken from LaptopMag

Taken from LaptopMag

Khan Academy (FREE): Strictly speaking, this one isn’t a study organizer, but it DOES have cool videos on basically any topic, which means you can watch LeBron James introduce a probability problem if you need a quick reminder on the basics of a topic, or just want to browse a different subject as a study break.

Taken from LaptopMag

Taken from LaptopMag

Wolfram Alpha: This app isn’t free, but it IS a tutor, report & graph generator, and formula explicator that you get all for $2.99. Not too shabby!

Taken from LaptopMag

Taken from LaptopMag

Easy Bib (FREE): We all know that writing the bibliography of a research paper is the wrst part, so why not make it easier on yourself? EasyBib is great because you can access it from your phone, now you can work on those pesky citations when killing time on the subway!

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

My Study Life (FREE): need to keep track of a crazy study, research, class, lab schedule? Want to access it across multiple devices? Look no further!

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Flash Cards Deluxe: Too cool NOT to include, even if it IS $3.99. This app lets you create personalized flashcards for anything. ANYTHING. And you can use them on your phone, and NOT waste more paper or get hand cramps writing out your notes on cue cards.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Sleep Cycle ($1.69-1.99): Knowing WHEN to wake up, no matter how early or late you’re going to bed, is key to making sure you get a good night’s rest and your brain is ready to go even without that coffee! This app will tell you when you need to wake up depending on your sleep time, and helps you get there too.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

The Now (FREE): This app will help you keep your chin up by sending you mindfulness messages throughout the day.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Talkspace: Don’t have time to book an appointment with UofT Health Services but really need someone to talk to during crunch time? For $25 a week, you can message with a therapist from your phone. The app IS free, but that version gives you limited access to therapists.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Smiling Mind (FREE): This app gives you guided meditation practice based on your age. Ucertain about this one? A little mindfulness each day is actually a great way to boost your awareness, and create a sense of peace…something we could all use when research papers loom.

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

SuperBetter Games (FREE): Basically, these are games that help improve your resiliency, mental health, and encourage creative thinking to hard problems. A very productive way to take a study break if you ask me!

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Songza (FREE): For me, there is nothing better than instrumental music to keep me focused when studying, a little old rock to get me having a dance party when I need to move (aka when I can no longer sit at my desk), and some upbeat tunes when I need to put a little happiness back in my mind. Check out Songza for music playlists to fit your every mood, activity, genre, and occasion!

Taken from Google

Taken from Google

Magic Window – Living Pictures: Can’t actually get outside to take a walk and take in nature? Try Magic Window, it will send you peaceful nature scenes from around the world to put everything right in your world.

While we certainly hope these apps help you de-stress, stay centered, and get through this busy period more easily, don’t forget to take care of yourselves and to seek help in person here if you need to. Good luck!

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