June 28th, 2017

Graduate Writing Groups — a community to get you through your writing woes

Throughout my time as a grad student, I have found that as soon as I need to sit down to write a grant application or a manuscript, a number of other very important tasks magically appear. Making the time to write can be challenging, especially when it comes to writing something as long and daunting as a thesis or a dissertation. This is where the Academic Success Graduate Writing Groups come in handy!

Source: https://giphy.com

Source: https://giphy.com

These groups are small meetings facilitated by learning strategists and graduate student mentors that provide a time and space for you to dedicate to your writing. The idea for the groups came from one of Academic Success’ Learning Strategists, Dr. Janelle Joseph, who found that there were a number of common challenges that graduate students had to contend with when it came to writing. “Some students have trouble managing their time, they can’t find the time or space to write, and they often feel isolated in their experience,” she states. And so, in January 2015, the first Graduate Writing Group was established, with three main aims: to create a dedicated time and place for graduate students to write, to help build a community of interdisciplinary graduate students, and to provide students with productivity strategies and tips. That first Graduate Writing Group consisted of eight students meeting on a weekly basis. Currently, there are 13 writing groups that meet at various times throughout the week (including evenings and weekends), all over campus. Each group is also equipped with a Grad Mentor, a current graduate student who helps facilitate goal-setting and shares tips and tricks for writing.

The writing group runs for 2.5 hours and is fairly structured. Each group starts off with a check-in where members are asked to set an explicit goal for the session. This type of concrete, measurable goal-setting can help break down large tasks and maintain motivation. The bulk of the session is dedicated to silent writing. Finally, the session concludes with a debrief where students are asked if they had accomplished their goal, if their goal had shifted, and discuss the challenges they are facing and strategies to overcome them. The groups are kept fairly small, with up to 14 students each. The size of the group is a factor that Dr. Joseph is very conscious of. “Small groups help keep you accountable and they also help foster a sense of community,” she says. And it seems that each group does become its very own supportive community, with some students even choosing to meet up outside of the scheduled group for a DIY writing session. “Students are not alone in this. Going through the process of writing is better when you are in a community,” says Dr. Joseph, “and these groups help students build organization and project management skills that will come in handy beyond their thesis or manuscript.”

In addition to designing the groups to address writing challenges, Dr. Joseph wanted to ensure that they were accessible to students with hectic schedules. Registration for the writing groups is open year-round, but the groups are roughly based on the academic semesters, running from September to December, January to April, and May to August. Students can sign up for up to three groups per week and are encouraged to attend the groups as long as they need. “The groups are designed such that you can build your schedule around your writing time,” explains Dr. Joseph. The schedule for available Graduate Writing Groups can be found on the Academic Success website.

Summer schedule for available Graduate Writing Groups. Source: https://www.studentlife.utoronto.ca/asc/graduate-writing-group

Summer schedule for available Graduate Writing Groups.
Source: https://www.studentlife.utoronto.ca/asc/graduate-writing-group

There are also a number of resources available to students to assist with the writing process at the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication (GCAC; formerly known as the Office of English Language and Writing Support). Starting in August, the GCAC will offer various workshops, individual writing centre consultations, non-credit courses, and writing intensives. You can find more information on GCAC offerings here.

If you’re looking for virtual support, Shut Up and Write Tuesday is an excellent international community for academic writers. Check out their website and the Shut Up and Write North America Twitter account to see what they’re all about.

June 20th, 2017

Pride 101

This years marks the 37th anniversary of Toronto’s annual Pride festival and the city’s second Pride month. Over the last few weeks, the rainbow flag (a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and trans (LGBQT) pride and social movements) has been popping up around the city and campus. The first iteration of Pride in Toronto started in 1971, when a group of gay and lesbian activists gathered for a picnic at Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands to celebrate the gay community. This gathering soon became an annual event and has evolved into one of the largest Pride festivals in the world. Today, Pride celebrations begin on June 1 and culminate in the highly anticipated Pride Parade on June 25.

Pride is a celebration of the unique queer and trans communities in Toronto and consists of numerous artists and cultural events showcased in some of our city’s coolest venues. According to this year’s Pride Guide, “2017 is Pride’s year of +…plus community, plus diversity, plus conversation, plus art, plus family, plus politics, plus our history, plus the future.”

Here are some awesome Pride events to check out this week:

Tuesday, June 20

Source: Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, University of Toronto

Source: Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, University of Toronto

UTSC Pride T-shirt Painting 1-4pm
UTSC Center, 1265 Military Trail

Join SC:OUT and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union for an afternoon of fun, rainbows, and glitter! Get ready for the Pride Parade by painting your own t-shirt and enjoy some good food, good music, and great company!


Source: Toronto AIDS Candlelight Vigil

Source: Toronto AIDS Candlelight Vigil

AIDS Candlelight Vigil 9pm
Barbara Hall Park, 519 Church Street

This year’s vigil is organized around the theme of “In the Spirit of Wellness and Healing”, and will feature performers and artists who reflect the diversity of the community affected by or living with HIV/AIDS. This event brings together people living with HIV/AIDS, friends, family, and allies to celebrate those living with the disease and honour the lives that have been lost.


Wednesday, June 21

Source: University of Toronto Students’ Union

Source: University of Toronto Students’ Union

Unpacking Police and Pride: A Conversation with Rodney Diverlus 4-6pm
OISE, 252 Bloor Street West, Room 5150

Last year, Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) called for a ban on police uniforms, guns, and dedicated police floats in the Pride Parade. This ban was later supported by Pride members at their annual general meeting, a decision that sparked controversy both within and outside of the queer community. Join this conversation with one of the co-founders of BLMTO, Rodney Diverlus, to unpack this issue and learn about blackness in the queer community.


Source: http://www.pridetoronto.com/pride-month/events/awaken-youth-showcase/

Source: http://www.pridetoronto.com/pride-month/events/awaken-youth-showcase/

Awaken: Youth Showcase 3-9pm

Yonge-Dundas Stage, 10 Dundas Street East

Head over to Yonge and Dundas Square to see performances from a lineup of youth making a huge impact in pop culture and music. The showcase will feature some of the best young drag performers, incredibly talented queer singer/songwriters, and dynamic bands. Awaken also marks the start of five days of back-to-back performances on the Yonge-Dundas stage.


Thursday, June 22

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/display-your-pride-2/

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/display-your-pride-2/

#DisplayYourPride | UTSG, UTM, UTSC campuses

This tri-campus event has become an annual tradition at the University of Toronto. Join your fellow students, alumni, staff, and faculty to show everyone what your Pride looks like. Dress up, decorate your space, display artwork — anything goes! This event is designed to celebrate our Pride, build awareness, and create safe and inclusive spaces on campus. Post photos of your Pride using #DisplayYourPride and #UofT

Campus-specific details:
St. George Campus — 1-3pm, 2nd floor of the Multifaith Centre (569 Spadina Avenue)
Hosted by the St. George Positive Space Committee, this #DisplayYourPride event will have food and a group photo at 2:00pm

Mississauga Campus — 11am, campus-wide
UTM Campus Police Officers will be handing out free frozen treats all over campus as part of “Positive Treats for Positive Space”

Scarborough Campus — 1-4pm, campus-wide
Campus Police and Positive Space will be handing out free ice treats all around campus. Register in advance to ensure that they stop by your location!


Dancing on the Pier: Pride Night!  7-10pm
Boulevard Tent, 235 Queens Quay West

Let your hair down, put on your dancing shoes, and kick off this summer-long dance party at Toronto’s Harbourfront! There will be a dance party every Thursday evening until August 31st, featuring a diverse range of styles, from salsa to big band! Bring a partner or find one on the pier!


Friday, June 23

Source: https://www.facebook.com/events/426946277672579/

Source: https://www.facebook.com/events/426946277672579/

Trans March | rally 6:30pm, march 7pm
Church and Hayden St intersection

Join U of T at the annual Trans march! The U of T Pride team will be meeting in front of The Croissant Tree (625 Church Street) at 6:00pm. Free U of T Pride t-shirts will be available!


Saturday, June 24

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/u-t-participates-pride-run/

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/u-t-participates-pride-run/

Pride and Remembrance Run  10-11:30am
Corner of Church and Wellesley

Hit the pavement with U of T’s Pride and Remembrance Run Team for a 5km run (or 3km walk) in support of local LGBTQ organizations! If you can’t join the team, consider sponsoring them sponsoring them


Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/u-t-marches-dyke-march/

Source: http://sgdo.utoronto.ca/event/u-t-marches-dyke-march/

Dyke March | rally 1pm, march 2pm

Church and Hayden St intersection

Join U of T at the annual Dyke march! The U of T Pride team will be meeting at 12:40 pm in front of the Bank of Montreal, 120 Bloor Street East (corner of Church Street and Bloor Street East). Free U of T Pride t-shirts will be available!


Sunday, June 25

Source: http://www.pridetoronto.com/pride-month/pride-parade/

Source: http://www.pridetoronto.com/pride-month/pride-parade/

Pride Parade 2pm
Bloor and Church St intersection

The culmination of the Pride Festival is the highly-anticipated Pride Parade! With over 150 groups participating in the march, there will be unforgettable performances, floats, and lots of glitter and rainbows. Choose a spot along the route to watch the parade, or join the U of T contingent in the march! If you want to march with U of T, the group will be meeting at 2pm on Bloor Street at Ted Rogers Way.


For details, updates, and more information on Pride events on campus, check out the  Sexual and Gender Diversity Office (SGDO) Events Calendar

If you’re looking to connect with LGBTQ graduate student groups or resources, visit the: SGDO website

Check out the 2017 Pride Guide for more awesome Pride events happening throughout the month!

June 7th, 2017

Ain’t no rest for the grad student: on recovery and resilience in grad school

Written by: Gradlife Blogger Ekaterina An

Last week I attended the annual Jackson Lecture at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), delivered by psychologist Dr. Katreena Scott, entitled “Mind the Gap: schools and our mental health systems.” Dr. Scott highlighted the mental health issues that often affect students, and encouraged the audience to think about mental health beyond the ‘backpack’ of diagnosable disorders. In short, she was urging educators and mental health professionals to consider the student’s school, home, and social environments as indicators and facilitators of mental well-being.

This discussion of student mental health was timely, occurring against a backdrop of increasing media coverage of the rising demand for youth mental health services. The American College Health Association surveyed over 25,000 Ontario students between 2013 and 2016, and found significant increases in mental health issues (50% increase in anxiety, 47% increase in depression, and 86% increase in substance abuse). This rise in mental health concerns is also reflected in the resources being allocated to mental health services. For example, at the University of Toronto, academic accommodations for mental health-related issues rose 143% since 2009. And as campaigns against mental health stigma grow, I find myself talking more and more openly about my own struggles with dealing with the stress and pressure of graduate school.

Although Dr. Scott’s lecture was focused on school-age children, a number of her arguments resonated with me. In particular, she discussed the importance of teaching students to cope with and recover from challenges and setbacks, and helping them to avoid a ‘cascade of failure’. In other words, Dr. Scott was speaking to the importance of building resilience, or the capacity to bounce back from difficult circumstances or failures. While the notion of resilience is a familiar part of my research (I do clinical research with individuals with advanced cancer, a population that has an incredible capacity for resilience), I had never considered it in the context of graduate school. Did resilience mean powering through and working harder in the face of setbacks, as students are often encouraged to do? Well, no. It turns out the key to building resilience lies in allowing time for rest. Taking time away from your work can give your brain a much-needed break and time to recover. Now, recovery is not synonymous with simply not working, rather it is making sure that your brain is focused on some other task or activity, without stressing over all the work you have to do.

Graduate school can be all-consuming (seriously, I have had dreams where all I do is debate the structure my thesis), so not thinking about research or coursework is a tall order. Fortunately, there are a number of great resources on campus that can help you do just that.

Grad Escapes
“Thesis avoidance with style” Grad Escapes are social, cultural, and recreational opportunities for grad students to relieve stress and meet fellow graduate students. There are a number of great Grad Escapes planned throughout the summer! Take the opportunity to relax and distract your brain, all while building relationships with other grad students. Follow Gradlife on Twitter and Facebook for event updates!

Grad Minds
Grads Minds is the official mental health committee within the University of Toronto Graduate Student Union (UTGSU). This committee was formed out of recognition of the unique mental health challenges faced by graduate students. Grad Minds aims to promote well-being at the university and advocate on behalf of graduate students. They also host a number of events throughout the year to raise awareness for mental health. Over the summer, Grad Minds hosts free, weekly, drop-in yoga sessions. Check them out on Facebook for event information and updates

Grad Room
The Grad Room is a hub for all things grad school. The Grad Room hosts workshops and events throughout the year, and the lounge is a great place to grab a coffee and meet fellow students. They also offer weekly, drop-in meditation on Monday evenings, and host monthly speaker series which feature graduate research being done at the university.

The Grad Room - 66 Harbord Street

The Grad Room – 66 Harbord Street

Source: https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/currentstudents/Pages/Grad-Room.aspx

HealthyU serves as a hub for all physical and mental wellness programs at the University of Toronto (including the Healthy Grads Crew). Check out their website for a treasure trove of wellness resources, and follow them on Facebook for event updates.

Multi-Faith Centre
The Multi-Faith Centre supports the spiritual well-being of students on campus and creates space for a variety of spiritual and faith-based practice. Throughout the summer, they offer numerous weekly meditation and yoga classes. The meditation room is certainly worth a visit as it boasts a living wall and is perfect for taking a moment to relax.

The meditation room in the Multi-Faith Centre

The meditation room in the Multi-Faith Centre


Source: http://blogs.studentlife.utoronto.ca/lifeatuoft/2009/07/15/the-best-quiet-spots-on-campus-part-1/

Health and Wellness Workshops
The Health and Wellness office at the university offers various workshops to help students build coping skills and connect with others facing similar challenges. Whether it’s learning techniques for stress management, improving your sleep quality, or managing anxiety, they’ve got you covered!

Graduate Counselling Services
The School of Graduate Studies offers short-term counselling that is tailored to graduate school and its challenges. The focus of the Wellness Counsellor is to build coping skills, resiliency, and focusing on strengths. Visit the SGS website for information on how to book an appointment.

Mental health hotlines – Mental Health Hotlines
If you are feeling distressed and would like to talk to someone immediately here are some community services that you can contact:

Good 2 Talk Student helpline: 1-866-925-5454
Gerstein Centre Crisis Line: 416-929-5200
Mental Health Helpline (Ontario): 1-866-531-2600
Drug and Alcohol Helpline: 1-800-565-8603
In case of emergency situations, please dial 911 to access emergency services.

And finally, if you’re just looking for some small self-care activities to work into your daily routine, here are 50 ideas to get your started:


Source: http://www.fullcupthirstyspirit.com/posters.php

May 29th, 2017

Meet your new Gradlife Ambassador!

20170520_163108 Even though spring is coming to an end, and it seems like summer is just around the corner, the idea of new beginnings feels like the perfect backdrop to kicking off my time as your Gradlife Ambassador. I’m Kat – a second-year grad student at the Institute of Medical Science – and I am very excited to join the Gradlife team!

Graduate school is an intellectually stimulating and rewarding experience, but it can also be isolating, with courses, research, teaching, and grant applications all vying for your time (not to mention personal/family obligations). With so many spinning plates, finding the time to meet and connect with other students may seem impossible. That’s where I come in! As the Gradlife Ambassador, I’m here to help you connect to campus life and embrace being a grad student. For those of you who are new to U of T, join me as I explore the plethora of events, eats, and resources on campus and in the city. For those of you who are old hats at this, share your wisdom with me and with your fellow students!

Now, achieving the mythical ‘work-life balance’ in grad school is a tall order. If you’re not sure where to start, here are three tips to help you out:

Do what you love – It can be easy to get lost in the sea of clubs and activities on campus, so focus on doing one thing that you thoroughly enjoy – you’d be surprised how many other students share your passion. For me, this means getting involved with projects that center around communication (such as my departmental magazine, or writing for the Gradlife blog!). Check out the Ulife website for a complete list of all of the student groups and clubs on campus: https://ulife.utoronto.ca/

Talk to your peers – Although the graduate programs at U of T are incredibly varied, there are common themes to the graduate student experience (Hello, Imposter Syndrome). Whether it’s grabbing a coffee with someone from your lab, or setting up weekly writing sessions with students in your class, taking the time to share your experiences can be very rewarding. If you’re having trouble connecting with other students, our Grad Escapes are a great place to start! We have some great events planned for the summer, including a tour of the Art Gallery of Ontario & an improv class at Second City. Visit the Grad Escapes page for more information.

Get active – physical activity is essentially a wonder drug: it can boost our wellbeing, our mood, and our productivity. Take advantage of the athletic facilities on campus and get moving! The School of Graduate Studies now offers a summer gym bursary for all research-stream Master’s and PhD students. You can find more information on the summer gym bursary here.

Like what you read, or want to see something we haven’t covered? Leave a comment below or let us know on Twitter (@UofTGradlife)

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.



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.


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)


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


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


   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:


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




(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

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