Wednesday, March 4th, 2020...8:57 pm

Meet Sepehr!

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Hello Grad Students! Welcome back to the Gradlife blog. This week, I want to introduce you to a fellow graduate student, Sepehr Sa ! Sepehr is PhD student in Mechanical Engineering, and we met at one of this year’s Grad Escape events. I wanted to bring another voice to the blog, one from a grad student who has a very different experience as a grad student than I do. Sepehr and I met for a chat and discussed his experience as a grad student at UofT. Without further adieu, everyone, meet Sepehr!

A: If I remember, you’ve been at UofT for a while… 

S: Yes, I am doing my PhD now, and I also did my masters and bachelor’s degrees at UofT, so that’s… 10 years here now.

A: Wow! You must know this place pretty well by now. What is it like to do your master’s here vs a PhD, any noticeable differences?

S: Depends on the professor. I think there are differences. The general idea of masters is to get one thing and do it over and over again. In some senses, for Masters you don’t have to do a lot of novel stuff. For PhD it is assumed that you have passed that stage of learning how to research, and now you produce something novel, so that means publishing. So that’s why it is longer in duration than a masters. Although a lot of people, especially in engineering, do the accelerated program. I haven’t done that. I did my master’s, worked for a year as researcher, travelled a bit and then did my PhD.

A: What made you go back to school after taking that time off?

S: I did not like the 9-5 job life, and academia has a freedom or flexibility that I enjoy… it feels like being an entrepreneur, and I also love what I research and I enjoy being a researcher. Doing a PhD can be very political, a lot of people want to publish. But other than that, I have a sense of independence that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I’m doing something that hasn’t been done before so it’s novel and I like that. It’s very creative and involves a lot of problem solving which I like.

A: What is your favourite part about being a graduate student at UofT? 

S: Being on the campus is nice because you’re surrounded by people who want to pursue the same thing as you, so that sense of community is more than when I was working in consulting. The social services (opportunities to meet other grad students) that a university provides is beneficial as well. The focal point about feeling good about grad school is research. When I was in a course-based program, it didn’t feel as interesting to me.

A: What is your research?

S: I am using chemistry, machine learning and nano-technology to come up with new ways to make geothermal energy, sustainable energy more efficient so it could be competitive to a fossil fuel. It is very stressful, but I like the stress. It’s not for everyone, because the pay is not as attractive as it would be if you were working in industry.

A: What do you think has been your greatest struggle as a graduate student? Do you have any tips for other PhD students?

S: The lack of support for mental health has been very stressful, for grad students more so because our insurance covers a lower amount than undergrads for mental health services. My advice for other grad students is  to make use of the other resources such as meditation, mindfulness workshops, to take a more active role in seeking those other kinds of services out to support your mental health. At the end of the day, graduate studies is a very low risk thing, it’s a place for you to learn and make mistakes. I think people go through it without being mindful of it. Everyone seems to be anxious of what they want to do after grad school, rather than making the best of the things around them in the present.

A: Ok, my final question is, what is your favourite study spot on or off campus?

S: My fun place is having different places to study. Jimmy’s coffee is really cool, and I like Robart’s first floor because you can bring in coffee.

There are so many different graduate experiences, and also some amazing research being done! I am thankful for the grad event that I met Sepehr at because otherwise I may not have gotten the chance! You can check out the gradlife events calendar to see the events coming up that can connect you to other grad students.

Graduate Student Experience week is coming up, with some great events around grad student mental health. To learn more, you can check out the event pages for the following events:

Talk soon,


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