January 19th, 2021

Got Sleep? Me Neither

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

doodle of a moon and stars

In the best of times it’s hard to keep a healthy sleep schedule, and needless to say, these are not the best of times. When blue-light is keeping your brain wide awake and your asynchronous classes never seem to start until midnight, getting some good and healthy sleep seems to be pushed to the bottom of the list. I know I don’t need to tell you that sleep is important, but I thought it might be helpful to give you some tips on how to actually get it. Or at least, how to get yourself back on a better sleep schedule.

I would just like to add in this disclaimer that I am by no means a doctor, I am an English major, and everything I have included in this article I found on google (original, not scholar). So please take these tips with the same amount of skepticism you have when your weird uncle gives you dating advice.

Just like your day, your sleep works best when it’s on a schedule

According to the Sleep Foundation, waking up at the same time each morning is key to cultivating some good sleep. You should choose a wake-up time that you can stick to on week days and weekends in order to help your body get into a rhythm and stay in it. Similarly, just like how you schedule your day and budget time for the things you need to do, you should be doing the same thing for getting enough sleep!

doodle of a schedule calendar

But how much sleep should you be getting?

Healthline suggests that adults should be getting to 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, but the exact amount varies per person since different things work best for different people. While everyone is different, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re falling asleep at your desk during the day (cough cough me) then you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

doodle of an alarm clock going off

Naps: Best Friend or Frenemy?

Naps can be your friend, but it all depends on when you take them. According to the Sleep Foundation, the best time to nap is in the early afternoon, and it should only be for about 20 minutes. If you nap too long or too late in the day (is anyone else a fan of the nap until it’s dinner move?) this can throw off your sleep, and a bad sleep is never worth a good nap. It’s sort of like sleep is your ride or die, and naps only show up when you’re throwing a party. You can keep both in your life, but it’s important to remember which one’s the priority.

If you’re struggling with sleep, you can make an appointment with Health and Wellness, which has a range of services that can help you with your physical and mental health. Remember, lots of people, and especially Grad students, struggle with sleep and you’re not alone.


1. https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep/sleep-calculator

2. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/healthy-sleep-tips

January 12th, 2021

6 Easy ways to organize your life

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

a jumble of cards with five organized in the middle of the table

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more organized, probably because I am a mess. If this is one of your resolutions too, or perhaps just a general life goal, I did some research into some of the best ways to stay organized during the term. While some might be more useful to you than others, I hope they spark your creativity! If you already use these methods, then I am eternally jealous and I hope that this semester I will be just like you.

1. Keep an agenda

Did anyone else have to keep one of these in elementary school and have their parents sign it every night, or was it just me? In any case, I haven’t used an agenda in years, but according to my research, it’s a great way to not only keep track of the due dates for assignments over weeks and months, but it can help you break down the work you need to do across days and set manageable goals. If you don’t have a physical agenda, Notion  is an online agenda you can use for free.

a notebook that has "To-Do" written across its page

2. Create your own deadlines

If you are tired of the stress that comes from leaving your work until the last possible minute (I know I am…) a helpful trick is to create for yourself your own deadlines that are before the true deadline. That way, you give yourself a buffer of time in case things don’t go as planned, or you at least save yourself from stress-typing your midterm so fast your hands shake. This only works, however, if you commit to treating these deadlines as real; if you do manage to do this, your future self will most definitely thank you.

3. Keep your work space organized

I don’t know about you, but since I now only work from home, I just throw notebooks and papers everywhere since I don’t actually have to bring them anywhere. The problem with this is not only that my room is a mess—and I find it hard to work in a messy room—but I end up losing half my notes, which is highly unproductive and a huge waste of time. If you also have this problem, here are some tips on how to keep your space organized:

  • Keep loose papers in file folders, or an accordion folder, separated by course
  • If you take hand written notes, use a separate notebook for each course
  • De-clutter your desk/ workspace every couple of days

4. Remind, remind, remind

I have a terrible habit of assuming that I’ll remember things, even though all available evidence points to the fact that I will not. So from now on, I’ve decided that I am going to set reminders for everything. That way, if I do remember on my own I can feel really great about myself, and if I don’t, I’ll feel good knowing I have this safety net. While you can set reminders on your computer calendar, I am also a big fan of the old-fashioned sticky note method. I find this works best if you write in all-caps and put them in places you cannot possible ignore, such as in the middle of your laptop screen before you go to bed. That way once you wake up in the morning, you’ll have no choice but to remember what you swore you were going to anyways.

an open laptop that has two sticky notes attached to the screen. One reads "Hand in paper tomorrow" the other reads, "I'm serious!"

5. Check out U of T’s academic success centre

The Academic Success Centre is a great resource to help you achieve your academic and organizational goals. The centre can help you with your approaches to learning, studying, note-taking and much more! You can even book an appointment with their learning team and peer mentors to receive individual support! I highly suggest you check them out asap.

5. Complete easy tasks RIGHT AWAY

I put this one last because it’s weirdly the most difficult but also the most effective. If you have a task that you need to do that takes 5 minutes or less (such as emailing a Prof, signing up for an office hours appointment etc.) just do it right away. That way you don’t have the task hanging around in the back of your mind, and you don’t run the risk of forgetting it because it’s so small. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this one because I am a master-procrastinator, but I am going to try my very best… New Year new me! As the saying goes.

If you’ve found yourself struggling with organization in the past, I hope my post has inspired you to make time for it during your winter semester. If you’re already super organized, I hope it’s made you feel proud about your skills… Have you tried any of my tips before?  Were they life changing? Are there any methods I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!

January 5th, 2021

Making the most of your winter semester

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

photo of a calendar that says winter semester with a red marker on top of it

I don’t know about you, but winter break really flew by for me. I swear just yesterday I handed in my final paper and fell asleep, and now suddenly it’s the start of the next semester!

While your studies will always be the priority, U of T also has tons of amazing extra-curricular and professional development programs on offer, even during this virtual semester, and a great way to make the most of your semester is to try some of them out! Since non-academic opportunities are also an important part of your graduate experience and development, I thought I’d devote this week’s post to some tips and tricks on how to make sure you can get the most out of these great opportunities.

1. Plan ahead

Once school kicks into full gear and you’re suddenly preoccupied with papers, research and jobs, looking out for extra-curricular and personal growth opportunities can easily fall to the wayside. This is why it’s so important to look into all of your options early to see what sort of events and clubs you would like to participate in this semester. While this can be a daunting task, the good news is that just by reading this post, you’ve already started!

Pro Tip: If the events you want to attend are already open for registration, I highly recommend you register now. That way when the time comes you’ll have no excuses not to attend (I only add this in because I have a bad habit of signing up for things and then cancelling at the last minute)

2. Figure out what you want to prioritize this semester

image of a notebook that reads priorities for 2021: Join a new club, career exploration, talk to new people!

The great thing about U of T is that it has a plethora of different academic and non-academic opportunities. At the same time, however, all this choice can be overwhelming. Since you’re a busy grad student, you can’t join everything (although that would be nice) so it’s important you do some preliminary research to see what catches your eye and what you have time for. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of the upcoming Gradlife Events you can peruse, as well as the Gradlife Calendar on CLNx!

Grad Escape Weekly Coffee Hour Starting January 22nd, we will be running a weekly coffee and crafts hour where Grad students can come hang out and build community!

Grad Escape Virtual Games Night Thanks to popular demand, our Games Nights are coming back for the winter semester! It’s the perfect event for those who love to play games and want to get to know other Grad students

Gradlife Calendar To see what else Gradlife has in store for this semester, check out our full calender and register for upcoming events!

3. Start your 2021 calendar early and update it often

As you sign up for events, it’s a good idea to add them into your calendar. While it might seem like you’ll remember everything, and adding things into your calendar is arguably a hassle (at least I find it to be), in a couple of weeks you’ll be very happy you did; especially if you set reminders for all of your events.

4. Attend something new with someone new

screenshot of a text conversation. The first person asked "Hey! Would you want to check out the Gradlife Coffee hour with me?" and the second person responds, "I'd love to!"

Do you want to join something new this semester but you find the prospect daunting? Do you want to make new connections but you’re not sure how to do that? Why don’t you do both at the same time! A lot of people find it difficult to join new things alone, so the good news is that you’re not the only person who feels this way. If you made a class friend or a research buddy last semester, and you want to make sure you stay in touch, why don’t you ask them if they’ll attend an event with you? That way you won’t be joining alone, and you might even make a new friend out of it!

Reaching out to new people, however, is easier said than done. Since a lot of people find this to be difficult (myself included), we created our Talking to New People Workshop for Grad students, which will be running on January 27th from 12 pm- 1:30 p EST. In our workshop, we’ll teach you how to make new connections, and how to manage the fear and anxiety that comes along with it. Registration is now open!

I hope you’ve found this week’s post helpful, or at the very least inspiring! Whether or not you follow any of these tips, or decide to sign up for some extra-curricular events, I hope you have a fun and fulfilling winter semester!

December 8th, 2020

Looking back on our Gradlife semester

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

zoom screenshot of smiling grad students holding up their drawings
Our first Doodle Night!

This semester has completely flown by for me, and I’m sure it’s been the same for you. In honour of the classic end of the year look-back (inspired by Spotify and those DJs on Youtube … do they still do those remixes?) I thought I’d devote this week’s post to reminiscing about all the fun Grad escapes that Gradlife ran this semester.

Games Night

We ran a TON of Games Nights this fall, where we played all sorts of fun games like Skribbl, Scattegories and Codenames! While it’s hard to say, codenames might have been the most popular, with students getting very invested in winning. We’re going to keep running the Virtual Games Nights next semester, and will be adding some new games into the rotation, so stay tuned!

Doodle Night

Every Doodle Night I was always blown away by the talented Grad students we have at U of T! For each Doodle Night, we did a different set of challenges, with students drawing their research, self-portraits, arch-nemeses, you name it! Typically, we would cap off the event with a group doodle, and everyone would suggest a new element that we each had to work into our own drawings. This always produced some especially fun (and wild!) work.

drawing of an e-coli giving a thumbs up
An Easy-going E. coli by Matthew who is studying Immunology

Recipe Share

Although I am no chef, Recipe Shares were always a fun, low-key space where Grad students came and talked cooking, technique, and of course, kitchen failures. I’d like to thank all the students who shared with me their tips and tricks on how to cook, I can honestly say my meals have improved because of it!

Snowflake Social

To celebrate the end of the semester and the beginning of winter, last week we ran our first ever snowflake social and it was a smashing success. I was blown away not only by the snowflake creations some people made, but also by how funny it was when I tried to unfold my snowflake only to find out it was confetti. Thank you so much to everyone for coming out and making the event so much fun! My windows are now decorated with beautiful snowflakes and I love them!

zoom screenshot of smiling students holding up paper snowflakes
Our beautiful snowflakes!

For one of my first Gradlife blogposts, I wrote about how scared I was to start Grad School online, during a pandemic. And while it hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world (surprise, surprise) getting to meet and hang out with so many Grad students through our Grad Escapes has been one of my favourite parts of the year so far, and it has definitely made my Grad school experience better than I thought it would be. If you attended some of our events, I hope they made you semester a little shinier too. If you haven’t—fear not! We have a fabulous line up of Grad Escapes, Connections and Talks lined up for the winter semester, and we can’t wait to meet you. 

You can sign up for our last Virtual Games Night of the semester on CLNx: https://clnx.utoronto.ca/home/gradlife.htm?eventId=28045

This winter we’ll be running a weekly Coffee and Crafts hour, as well as Creative Writing, Games Nights AND improv events! You can check them out and sign up on CLNx: https://clnx.utoronto.ca/home/gradlife.htm

December 1st, 2020

DIY gifts you can ACTUALLY do yourself

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

scissors, bows and wrapping paper are scattered across a wooden table

Seeing as the holidays are approaching with a frightening speed, and grad students are famously low on funds (at least I am…) I thought I’d devote this week’s post to some fabulous DIY gift ideas you can make for your loved ones! I know that there are already a million blog posts on this exact topic, but I was looking at some of them, and the things they expect people to be able to do is insane—repurpose a mirror? Cover a mug in glitter? Ridiculous… and possibly lethal.

So lo and behold, I’ve brainstormed 6 DIY gifts ideas you’ll actually be able to do yourself. Will any of these be so amazing your loved ones will be tricked into thinking you bought them? Probably not. But hey, they’ll be touched that you took the time to make them something, and you’ll save enough money to buy yourself some nice pens for second semester.

1. Make a painted photograph

small painted canvas of a waterfall and rocks with a black and white photo of a woman glued to it,

While I know that suggesting you paint a portrait might be a little far-fetched, but a picture / photo hybrid looks amazing and requires little artistic skill. All you need is a small canvas or piece of wood, and a photograph you want to use (this works best if it’s one of people—like you and your loved one!) All you have to do is first paint the background of your photograph onto the canvas, and this can be as detailed or abstract as you want—it even works if you just use one colour! Next, cut out the people from your photograph. Once your canvas has dried, glue your photo on with rubber cement.

Pro Tip: write a heartfelt message on the back of the canvas. Especially if you’re not great at painting

2. Craft an extravagant card

two hands are unrolling a large, colourful card that has the months written out and pictures drawn around them

I am a firm believer that a good enough card can replace a gift altogether—it’s sort of like filling up at the restaurant on bread before the meal comes… but then never getting the meal. I suggest making sure that your card is oversized, and that you use multiple mediums. A great combo are pencil crayons and photographs (especially if you don’t have a colour printer, and like c’mon who does…).

Pro Tip: fill your card with personal stuff so that it feels extra special. Some ideas to include might be: “Our top ten inside jokes”, “my favourite memories of us”, “every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done.” You know, sweet stuff like that.

3. Repot a plant

plant in a small silver plot with a bow on it

I’m assuming that you have at least one plant because well… you’re in Grad school during a pandemic. If I’m wrong then sorry! You’re gonna have to move onto number 4. While this one isn’t totally DIY because you have to get a pot (the dollar store has some really cute ones though) this is a really easy gift idea that someone can keep for a very long time… or kill immediately and not tell you for three years.

Pro Tip: Do I know how to repot a plant? Nope! If you don’t either, check out this video I found

4. Breathe new life into a “lightly used” notebook

a yellow notebook standing up on its side

I don’t know about you, but I have a million notebooks lying around that I wrote in for 2 pages and then abandoned. Rather than let it sit on a shelf or end up in a landfill, why don’t you re-gift? If you have a few pages that have been used, all you have to do is cut them out. This works best with an x-acto knife, but be very careful! If you do use an x-acto knife, make sure you put something thick underneath the pages you’re cutting out, and guide your line with a straight-edge. Scissors also work, but the cut won’t be as close to the spine.

Pro Tip: Write a really long, heartfelt, and colourful note into the (new) first page of the notebook. Not only will this be a nice addition, but it will distract from the pages you cut out mwahaha

Pro Tip #2: Because I’m now worried someone’s going to cut themselves on account of me being cheap, here’s a video on how to safely use an x-acto knife.

5. Make a photo accordion

a photo accordion laid out across a table

This gift is great for someone you have a lot of photos with. All you have to do is print out 6-10 photos, and measure out a thick piece of paper or cardstock that you want to glue them to. Glue your images in a straight line down on the paper, with some space in between each one (where the folds will be). This will probably take multiple pieces of paper, so leave enough space at the ends to glue them together. Once the images have dried, cut a above and below the images (but not in between!) and then fold the paper in between each image to make your accordion.

Pro Tip: If you have a bunch of photos from over the years, it looks great if you order them chronologically

6. Paint your own jewelry bowl

a small bowl that is white on the outside and has a pattern on the inside with rings in it

Everyone likes a pretty jewelry bowl—it can be used to store your rings, bracelets, earrings you name it! To make your own, all you have to do is take a ceramic bowl and paint it using acrylic paints. I should stress that this is a good idea only for bowls that will not be eaten out of… because acrylic paint is definitely toxic. But even if your loved one already has a jewelry bowl, this can be used for coins, hair elastics, keys, whatever fits!

Pro tip: While obviously there’s no wrong way to do this, I find these bowls look best if you leave the outside as is, and then paint the inside some kind of fun pattern.

I hope my post has inspired you to get crafty this season! If you have any go-to DIY gifts of your own, feel free to share them in the comments below!

November 24th, 2020

My 10 favourite breaks that take under 10 minutes

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

close up of a watch

 That end of the semester push is upon us, and since stress and deadlines can propel us into overdrive as grad students, I thought I’d devote this week’s post to different ways you can take a break. The nice thing about these ideas are that they’re quick—under 10 minutes!—and none of them involve technology. That way you not only get a break from your work, but from the “I’ve been staring at my laptop for 10 hours and I don’t know my name” haze.

1. Walk around the block

Depending on how your work is going, this idea is either great because it means you get to see other people… or it’s terrible. If you’re feeling like it’s the latter, a fun tip is to wear sunglasses, a mask, and a hat. That way you can walk past your annoying neighbour and they won’t stop to ask if you’re still in school?

2. Make a card castle

This is better than playing a card game in my opinion because then you can rage knock down your creation at the end (again… depending on when your work is going)

3. Make some tea

Making tea is great (if I do say so myself) because it’s a two-for-one kind of deal. Not only do you get to stop working to make the tea (If you have a see-through kettle I highly suggest you watch the water turn into a boil… it’s weirdly satisfying) but then you have something to do while you’re working (sip the tea!)

close up of a mug of tea

4. Have a spontaneous dance party

Even with the 10 minute time cap I made up, you could still fit in two healthy sized songs. In my humble opinion, this works best if you dance so hard you’re sweating by the end of it. Also, if your annoying neighbour lives below you, it might not be a bad idea to throw in some jumping just to mix things up.

5. Write a limerick

The general idea of a limerick is that it’s a five line poem where the 1st, 2nd and 5th lines all rhyme, and then the 3rd and 4th lines rhyme as well. Here’s an example in case you need help starting out:

My paper is such a mess

Why did I digress

From writing it to instead

lie in my bed

Now I have even more stress

6. Turn your thesis draft into a corner comic book

As a kid it was my DREAM to figure this out but I lacked the acumen and focus (and probably still do…) But if this was, or is, also your dream, now is your time! All you have to do is draw a new doodle on the bottom right hand corner of each page, and when you flip through your draft at least the doodle will come to life… even if your words don’t (sorry)

4 images of a corner of a piece of paper, each one has a stick man who is in a different stage of doing a hand stand. They are organized in a grid

If you need more help, check out this video from 2010 I found

7. Call a friend

Ok maybe it’s a little naive to suggest that this one will be under 10 minutes—unless your friend doesn’t pick up (rude). If this happens, I highly suggest you leave a 10-minute voicemail of you complaining. Your friend will love that. I promise.

8. Cry

But make it quick!

9. Clean your kitchen

I don’t know why I like to do this when I’m stressed. I guess because it makes me feel like I’ve achieved something?

10. Daydream about winter vacation

What are you gonna do once you’re done? Watch TV until your brain melts? Read that book that’s been on your shelf for 6 months? Cook something that doesn’t involve a microwave? Take ten minutes to dream about that finish line! But if you do, a pro-tip is to set a timer or your daydreaming session can quickly spiral into a two-hour nap. I know from experience.

I hope I gave you some new break ideas, or that I at the very least made you laugh. If I failed to do either of these things, what I do hope you’ll take away from this post is that breaks are important!! The end of the semester is stressful in general, and with Toronto now in round 2 of lockdowns it’s arguably even more so. So even if you’re drowning in thesis writing or coursework or feel crunched for time, it’s good for your brain and your health to take some breaks—even if they’re quick. Happy studying!

November 17th, 2020

The Zoom Sweats

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

a laptop open to zoom with two hands each wearing a sweatband resting on the keyboard

I’ve always been pretty comfortable with talking in class, but something about zoom really freaks me out. Maybe it’s the deafening silence around me, or the fact I can see myself speak, but whatever the reason I find myself becoming extremely nervous when I turn off the mute button. Once I do, I ramble on for way too long and I say the word “interesting” at least three times. But worst part of all, I get the Zoom sweats.

The Zoom sweats might evoke the concept of “meat sweats” but I assure you they’re much different. First of all, there is a direct correlation between how much I sweat and whether or not my camera is on. If the camera’s off, they’re usually not too bad, or if I’m really lucky, they don’t happen at all. If the camera’s on, however, my Zoom sweats are bad. And I mean really bad.

The Zoom sweats are always accompanied with my heart pounding and my face turning red. And sometimes, when I’m more awkward than usual, I actually feel like I’m having a heart attack. So what’s going on?

Zoom anxiety is completely normal

If you’re experiencing the Zoom sweats, or something similar, you’re not alone. Whether or not you experience social anxiety (which is very common) online meetings like Zoom can trigger an anxious response because they include a performative aspect that in-person interactions usually lack1—hence my point about seeing yourself as you talk. As well, the Zoom Blog (yes, they have a blog) notes that having to manage technology on top of talking to people is a stressful combo to juggle.2

screenshot of smiling people on zoom

So what can you do?

On their website, Zoom provides what is (possibly) a life-changing solution: look at your camera while you talk. Although you might think that it’s better to look at the people on your screen, if you look at your camera you appear as though you are staring at eye-level, and then you also have the added benefit of not having to watch yourself talk.2

Another thing that I find really helpful—especially when it’s your turn to talk in class—is to jot down a few quick words ahead of time about what you’re going to say. That way you can turn off that mute button with confidence because you know you’re prepared, and then you have a safety net in case you do freeze (which happens to everyone!)

open notebook that reads "What I'm going to say: 1. Reference thesis 2. Pose question"

And finally, one thing I have noticed from my own anxiety-induced Zoom chats is that communication is a two-way street. Communicating isn’t just talking—it’s also, of course, listening—and one thing I find super helpful, whether I’m in class or at a social event, is having people nod along (or laugh when I say something funny… yes it does happen). I find that this physical form of active listening signals to me not only that my internet hasn’t cut out, but that what I’m saying makes sense. Since I value the support, I am always sure to do the same when others are speaking. And even if someone is staring at their camera, their peripheral vision will pick up the movement—and it will be much appreciated, I promise you.

  1. https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/social-anxiety-video-calls-zoom-facetime-lockdown/379204
  2. https://blog.zoom.us/arent-zooming-yet-fear-cope/

November 10th, 2020

How to reduce eye strain

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

eyes drawn onto a piece of paper with pink glasses sitting on top

Between zoom class, reading, research and writing, my poor eyes barely get a break from staring at a screen. By the end of the day, my eyes are so tired I can’t bear to look at anything bright or pixelated; including TV. That’s right, my eye strain has gotten so bad I no longer want to watch TV (I mean, I still do, but it’s a struggle). As Grad students, I’m sure none of this is a surprise to you, and your eyes probably feel just as tired as mine. So for this week’s post I did a bit of research into the best ways to reduce eye strain and give our eyes a break.

Please keep in mind that I am by no means a doctor, or an eye specialist of any kind. I’m just a girl with tired eyes who turned to google to solve her problems, just like I do with everything else in my life.

1. Exercise your eyes

I gave up on quarantine work outs long ago, but I think even I can handle this. You can give your eyes a break, and strengthen them at the same time, by looking away from your computer every 20 minutes and focusing on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. I have ingeniously named this the 20-20-20 rule and I’m sure I am the first.

an open computer with a piece of paper in front of it that reads "20 minutes- 20 feet- for 20 seconds."

2. Switch to glasses

If you wear contact lenses, give your eyes a break by wearing glasses when you’re staring at your screen. Even though I am an avid contact wearer, I’ve started to wear my glasses during zoom classes and it has really helped my eyes. If you have blue lenses in your prescription glasses, or non-prescription blue light glasses, this is also very helpful.

3. Blink more often

Apparently, when you stare at a screen you blink less than you normally do—who knew! This causes your eyes to get dry and irritated. Making a concerted effort to blink more often can help keep your eyes nice and non-dry (notice I avoided saying “moist”).

4. Take Frequent Breaks

This is a good reminder not only for your eyes, but for your focus too! Check out my earlier post about the Pomodoro Technique, which helps you manage your time and focus by having you work for 25 minutes, and then break for 5.  

girl with her head down on her desk next to her laptop

5. Keep your computer an arm’s length from your face

I found this one on Web MD so you know it’s legit.

6. Screen brightness is key

Much like goldilocks, the brightness of your screen should be just right. It should be about the same brightness as the room you’re in; not darker nor lighter.

Hope my post has given you some new ways to give your eyes a break. If you have any tips for how you take care of your eyes, let me know in the comments below! And if you want to check out some more ways to reduce eye-strain, check out these articles I pulled my super scientific tips from:



November 3rd, 2020

SSHRC Alert! Grant writing tips and tricks

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

Photo of a calendar on a desk that reads "grant writing season" with pens and books scattered around it

Seeing as it’s already November, I think it’s safe to say that Grant Writing Season has officially started. For all of you who are in the process of applying for a major grant like SSHRC, OGS or NSERC, Gradlife has got you covered. I interviewed three current award holders on their experience applying for grants, and their advice for everyone going through it right now. While our award-holders took different application journeys, and are in both research and professional streams, their main piece of advice was the same: Apply even if you don’t think you’ll get it, because you probably have a better shot than you think.

Our award holders

Sara Eng is in her first year of her MSc of Urban Planning (MScPl), and holds a SSHRC CGS-M award. Sara Wasim is similarly in her first year of her MScPl degree and holds an OGS award. William Layng is doing his MA in English literature and is a SSHRC CGS-M recipient.

What did your application process look like?

Sara Eng: I’ll start by saying that I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did because I actually didn’t find out about the SSHRC until around November 20th from an undergrad Professor. So I started my application a week before it was due. For me, one of the hardest parts was thinking of something to write about, but since I was doing some research with an undergrad prof I was able to tailor my research proposal to that.

Sara Wasim: I started my process by looking at the MScPl Departmental website and the School of Graduate Studies to see what grants were available, and what I would qualify for. Then I started working on my applications and looking at the other things I might need, like references, transcripts and other relevant documents so that I wouldn’t need to rush things at the last minute. I also made a general outline for my research proposals so that I would be prepared when I actually started to write them.

William Layng: Even though I had already graduated from my undergrad degree, I reached out to the English department at U of T and asked different professors if they had any advice, and everybody was super receptive. They gave me samples of previously successful applications which was a huge help. Once I started my research proposal, editing it was the big thing. Writing the first terrible draft was really easy, but I edited my proposal more than 10 times.

How did you feel while you were working on your application?

Sara Eng: Well I did my application in a week and that was not fun at all. I was really stressed out the whole time and I kept on thinking to myself “is this really worth it?” and I really didn’t think I would get a SSHRC at all. But two of my profs just kept on telling me that you never know what will happen and to just apply. Honestly, if it weren’t for them telling me to do it I wouldn’t have; I needed that encouragement. I’m guessing a lot of students will probably get stressed out about applying, but you might as well try because it doesn’t cost anything.

Sara Wasim: In general, working on applications can be stressful, but I find that starting them early and managing my time really helps to ease that stress.

William Layng: Despair. Genuine despair. I was very worried about being successful in my application not only for the SSHRC but for graduate school and I was thinking to myself, “man, what if I don’t even get into graduate school and I just wasted all of this effort?” What was nice about the application process though was I felt like I was getting a lot of very serious work done that could then make my grad school application better.

What was your biggest challenge when applying for grants?

Sara Eng: For me, the most difficult thing was deciding on what thing to focus on for my research proposal, and trying not to cover a million things at once.

Sara Wasim: For me the hardest part of the entire process was just getting started. I think it can seem like such a daunting task, but getting started is definitely half the battle.

William Layng: It took a tremendous amount of reaching out to clarify what my application should look like. Don’t get me wrong, the people I reached out to were very willing to help, but the amount of clarification I had to ask for was pretty big because the instructions on the website are so minimal.

What advice would you give to students writing grant proposals right now?

Sara Eng: As one of my Profs told me, a SSHRC is basically an investment by the government, so make sure your proposal is relevant to today’s issues. Another really helpful tip I got was make sure you are using language that is readable to anyone, not just the people within your discipline. 

Sara Wasim: Definitely don’t be afraid to reach out to upper year students or TAs who have experience with the grant you’re applying for, or material you’re writing about. The more feedback you get, and the more you edit your application, the better it’ll be. As well, even if you don’t think you’re going to receive an award or grant apply anyways. I know for me personally, I wasn’t expecting to receive OGS so lesson learned.

William Layng: A huge thing professors mentioned to me was to make sure that you’re engaging with current scholarship. And contact professors in the department who are specialists in your field of research to make sure your proposal is relevant.

A big thank you to Sara, Sara, and William for taking the time to answer my questions. Still have some of your own? Drop them in the comments below!

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Did you know that the School of Graduate Studies has a Fellowships and Awards office? Check out their website here to learn more about funding opportunities and how to apply.

October 27th, 2020

Being kind to yourself (even when you don’t want to be)

By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

cactus with two signs stuck into its pot that read "mistakes happen" and "you are fabulous"

When you think about this on a general, non-specific level, the idea that you would ever not want to be kind to yourself is a strange one. But I find that in some moments, especially when I haven’t lived up to my own expectations, I don’t feel that I deserve kindness. Instead, I feel that I need to be pushed and prodded until I get the results that I want.

I’ll give you an example: the other day in my seminar, I gave a really wrong answer to a question posed by the Professor (and I don’t mean sort of wrong, I mean really, embarrassingly wrong). And rather than be kind to myself about the fact that I made a mistake, I was downright awful. I told myself all sort of nasty things about my intelligence and self-worth that I won’t even bother repeating, all because I made a mistake in class.

I think it’s safe to say that Grad students are a group of hardworking people, and often times, this work ethic is achieved by being tough on ourselves, and pushing ourselves until we achieve our goal. While perseverance and getting the job done is certainly important at times, it can be tricky to know where to draw the line, and when to cut yourself some slack. It’s hard to know when pushing yourself towards perfection stops being helpful and actually starts to hurt you.

2 potted succulents next to each other that have speech bubbles next to them. The one on the left reads "I'm proud of you" and the right reads "Don't give up"

Take my wrong answer example. Classroom discussions are the place to try out new ideas, and inevitably be wrong sometimes. And when I berate myself so heavily for making a mistake, all it does it make me not want to talk in class anymore—which is not only bad for my participation grade, but bad for my learning. Besides, when other people give the wrong answer in class, I never think badly of them, I just think that they’re learning like the rest of us. So why can’t I feel the same way about myself?

While I think it’s always important to remember to be kind to yourself, right now it’s especially so. As the School of Graduate studies notes in their Guide to Working from Home, grad students are being expected to continue their work while being under an immense amount of anxiety and stress, and not to mention, having to work from home. Their advice? “Go easy on yourself,” and I think they’re right. (They also have a ton of other great advice and I highly suggest you check it out).

I realize that being kind to yourself can be hard, and when you feel you’ve been unproductive or off your game, it can be the last thing you want to do. And I am by no means an expert at this—in fact I’m really bad at it. So really, I wrote this post as a reminder to myself that being kind is not only the healthy thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do.

So the next time I’m unhappy with my productivity, my work, you name it; rather than be hard on myself, I’m going to reframe it as a sign I need a little bit of kindness, and see what happens.

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