Learning outside of class

As university students, we are all completely thirsty for knowledge. Maybe you, like I, have come to the point that what you’re learning in class is not enough; you need more. Or, maybe you’re trying to decide what Subject POSt to enrol in and you need a more concrete way to experience what you’ll be learning over the next few years. Luckily, there are countless academic lectures and events going on every day at U of T!

The professors speaking on stage at Mind Masters

A photo from the first of two Mind Masters presentations

Personally, I find these lectures to be quite fun (and not just because I’m a big nerd). First of all, they’re completely optional. This means that there is no pressure on me at all. I don’t have to stay for the whole presentation and I don’t even have to take notes. In the past, there have been times where I needed to duck out early in order to make another arrangement and I still ended up hearing a satisfying amount of the lecture. As they’re often set up by department student associations, they tend to cater to student interests. I get to hear familiar professors investigating unfamiliar subjects in their own way and I may get to see academics from other universities and other fields discussing familiar issues. Sometimes, I might get to see academics argue—and they’re sassier than you think! And finally, many of these presentations are available for free, or next to nothing!

If you’re still unsure of what you’ll be studying and are looking for a way to choose a subject, these lectures can help give you insight into the way different disciplines can approach a subject. I’ll take a concrete example from a presentation I attended two weeks ago: Mind Masters.

The presentation featured Dr. Dan Dolderman and Dr. John Vervaeke, two prominent professors in the Psychology department (and for Dr. Vervaeke, the Cognitive Science and Buddhism, Psychology, and Mental Health departments as well). Their discussion centered on the environmental end of our world and how we can fix it. Dr. Dolderman discussed the issue from the social structures that affect both the environmental collapse and the efforts to create a more sustainable society (lo and behold, Dr. Dolderman teaches a class exactly about this: Environmental Psychology). While this was not Dr. Vervaeke’s specialty, he attacked the foolishness that created our environmental quagmire (such as the way some deceive themselves into thinking conservation isn’t necessary), as well as highlighting the wisdom required to get us out of it. Sounds interesting, right? So how can you participate? There are a few ways to find out when these presentations take place:

  1. Through student associations. If you’re in the major the student union represents, chances are you’ll see events in your U of T email. You can also check out their Facebook pages, or even go to the student association in person to find out.
  2. Through classes. Someone might introduce the event to a classroom before lecture begins. The professor might be speaking at the event, or they might just be interested in the event and hope you feel the same.
  3. Through friends. Word travels fast and if you’re in the same major, chances are that you can find out about interesting events from friends as well.
  4. Through posters. While you’re not going to be thoroughly investigating every poster in Sid Smith for every detail, the posters that interest you will catch your attention. Keep watch because you might just stumble onto the event you like the most.
A set of posters, three of which are for optional lectures.

These are everywhere. Sometimes, you might find an interesting event.

While these events are more common during the fall and spring, there are still some interesting events that take place during the summer. Keep your eyes open because you never know what you’ll find! If you have attended any presentations in the past, what was your favourite? If you haven’t, what would you like to hear discussed? Tell me in the comments!

Once upon a U of T…

Raise your hand if you chose your college during university applications based on how it looked. No? Just me?

Even if you were more thoughtful than I in that decision-making process, I think that we can all agree that our campus is a breathtaking place. Everywhere you turn, there is another Instagram-worthy moment to capture. Since founded in 1827, the St. George campus now contains an eclectic mix of architecture: often we see grand castles lined with ivy juxtaposed beside more modern buildings made entirely out of glass. Even now as I enter my fourth year, I still discover gorgeous parts of campus that I never knew existed.

I’ve compiled a short list of some of my favourite and most frequented areas on campus. I took some photos and edited them to make them a little more ‘storybook.’ Try not to look too closely because I am not what you call “good” at Photoshop.

Two subway seats on a TTC train at St. George station. Chihiro and No-Face from the movie Spirited Away sit waiting for their stop.
This is technically not an area on campus, nor is it particularly scenic. But as a commuter, St. George Station is the first thing I see before getting to school. You can say that after leaving this station, I am “Spirited Away” to a whole new place.

The bamboo trees and shrubs in the Donnelly Centre. Rafiki from The Lion King sits on the wooden floor, meditating outside his natural African habitat.
Being a Life Sciences student, many of my classes reside in the Medical Sciences building, adjoined to the Donnelly Centre. There is a cute bamboo garden that makes for a breath of fresh air in a building of sterile labs and glass. I like to sit here before classes with a coffee and have a quiet moment.

An old bookshelf in the Thomas Fisher Library. An image of Belle from Beauty and the Beast has been imposed on top. She is on a ladder looking through the books.
The Thomas Fisher Library is like the infamous Robarts Library’s older and wiser grandfather. Sometimes when I come to Robarts to study, I pop in here to see what exhibits are on. Just being around all those huge, beautifully bound books makes you feel smarter before you endure four hours of cramming in the #TurkeyLibrary.

The Garden of Peace and Understanding (cheesiest title ever). Disney Mulan is sitting on a bench looking like she is in the middle of peace and understanding.
When Robarts gets a little, you know, prison-like, I go to EJ Pratt Library over at Victoria College. Right beside Pratt is this garden that definitely lives up to its name. It’s a perfect place for contemplation and “Reflection.” 

The Simpson Family have left their iconic sofa in favour of the sinfully comfy ones in the JCR.
Tired of studying and need a nap? The couches in the JCR at University College are literally PERFECT.

The Knox College staircase. An image of Cinderella was imposed over it, in the movie scene where she leaves the ball and her shoe behind.
Knox is a postgraduate college so there is really no reason for me to be there. Still, I can never resist passing through it. Well, more like rushing through it – I use it as a scenic shortcut onto St. George Street, because like Cinderella, I am usually late and usually hurrying home to do my chores homework.

The arched corridor in the UC quad. Cartoon Harry Potter is flying under an arch trying to catch the Snitch.
Last but not least, how can I attempt a list of U of T architecture without referencing Harry Potter? As a member of UC, the building and quad are probably the closest thing I’m going to get to Hogwarts. And although I’m not learning cool spells in Charms class, U of T is still a pretty magical place.

What are some of your favourite scenic views on campus? How much did you cringe at my attempts to reference the movie within each picture? Leave me a comment or send us a shout-out on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!

Finding my way to fitness

At the beginning of the summer, I set out some goals for myself — among them, to practice a healthy lifestyle. So far, that’s been going well! I’ve had some hurdles, but I’m feeling fit and happy, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are five things I’ve figured out in my ongoing fitness adventure.

1. Walk everywhere.

It’s as simple as that. If you walk everywhere you need to go, you save money on transit, see things you might not have seen speeding past, and keep your body moving all day long.

Walking has also given me lots of found pockets of me time in my day — time spent listening to music and podcasts, passing by something beautiful and stopping to take a closer look, or catching up with family or friends on my phone.

Periwinkle hanging flowers in Allan Gardens taken on a walk.

I often pop into Allan Gardens on my walks to and from campus because it’s so pretty and fragrant there.

2. Track your progress.

I find it really motivating to track my progress. I wear a step counter so I can see how many steps I take and I keep track of my cardio endurance and strength training. Based on how I’m improving, I’m able to set realistic goals.

3. Do things outside.

I’ve never been the sort to like running outside, let alone sweating profusely in an all-out workout, but taking your routine to a park can be challenging, rewarding, and lots of fun. Bring a kettle bell or resistance band and a friend and hit a nearby park (ideally somewhere with benches and trees you can use). Make sure to incorporate cardio and to make a plan before you go so you don’t spend too much time getting the lay of the land.

A selfie of me and three friends hanging out in Trinity Bellwoods park.

Admittedly, this is not a picture of me working out in Trinity Bellwoods park with friends. However, it IS a picture of me watching others work out in Trinity Bellwoods park with friends, because taking a picture of myself while working out and putting a very sweaty selfie out in the world was not in the stars today.

My personal favourite (free!) outdoor workout is park yoga! The ambient noise and light breeze make it an incredibly pleasant environment, even when you’re in a never-ending killer downward dog pose. Park yoga seems to happen everywhere in the city if you sniff around (check out the yoga Meetup groups), but some tried and true options include High Park and Riverdale Park and Jonathan Ashbridge Park.

4. Pack lunch (and dinner).

If you pack your lunch and dinner, you save money and you eat healthier. It’s ageless wisdom but it’s hard to keep up! I’ve been putting aside Sunday mornings for meal planning, shopping, and prep. It takes a few hours, but I’ve found that I spend barely any money during the week since I bring all my food on the go, and that food prep has become a relaxing part of my weekly routine.

I also love going to farmer’s markets to get a few specialty items to keep my meals fresh and exciting — sunflower sprouts, anyone? And I’m addicted to local dark chocolate from Chocosol.

Fresh produce from the farmer's market.

Happy local farmer’s market finds.

5. Be flexible.

Not only in the sense that you should stretch before and after every workout — which, by the way, you definitely should! But also, be flexible in terms of your own routine. I tried going to the gym everyday, but I realized I was wearing my body out and not working out effectively most of the time since my muscles weren’t able to recover. I’ve since moderated my routine, and edited it significantly over and over again to the point that even calling it a routine seems disingenuous. Now, I’m getting closer to a work out that works for me! I’m open to advice and to making changes to the way I do things because it keeps fitness interesting, and it makes my time at the gym more meaningful and fun.

How are your summer goals going? Are you keeping fit this summer? Talk to me on Twitter at @lifeatuoft!

My work-study: How U of T can help you find a job while in school

Selfie of me drinking Starbucks

I spend an outrageous amount of my savings on coffee. Like the one Kevin made in a previous post, this is a coffee selfie. A coffie???

The financial struggle is something most students can relate to. Between tuition, textbooks, rent, utilities, FOOD, and oh yeah, social outings, our expenses really add up. What’s just as real is the job-finding struggle. No one wants to hire you because you have no experience and you have no experience because no one wants to hire you. It’s a vicious cycle that gets you so desperate for any job that you start applying to places like local Portuguese bakeries being fully aware that you can neither 1. bake nor 2. speak Portuguese.

I have a part-time job as a sales associate and let me tell you, all the Buzzfeed articles titled “36 Struggles of Retail Workers” are 100% accurate. Don’t get me wrong, working in sales and services teaches you many important social skills! Like how to smile while watching someone, miraculously within 10 seconds, destroy a table of shirts you spent 2 hours folding.

A lot of young adults think that working at the mall is our first and easiest way in. I am here to enlighten you in hopes that you also consider other viable options for employment. One of the best things about being at U of T is having many different opportunities for all sorts of fields and interests.

Logo on the CLN website.
A great resource is the Career Learning Network, which contains a forum for both casual and professional job offers. Whether you’re looking for internships, work studies, volunteering, or just a fun job, CLN is always posting new openings online.

Logo on the Co-Curricular Record website.
The U of T Co-Curricular Record website also has tons of interesting listings!

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, drop by the Career Centre for workshops or just helpful advice on where to start. As well, never underestimate the power of getting to know your profs and fellow students who may know of jobs that you could go for. Another tip: feel free to apply to as many as you want! You may get a lot of no’s, but all you need is that one yes!

Last year, I applied for work-study positions through the CLN website. I was a research assistant at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I worked a decent amount of hours while still having time for school and learned a lot from the staff. Plus the things I did and learned were relevant to my longterm career goals so it was nice to be able to have that experience and also be getting that #cashmoneyflow. I even got to present a research poster and had my abstract published in a peer-reviewed journal! #startedfromthebottom #nowwehere 

A brick wall with a mural of big block letters and the words "You've Changed."

A mural done by local artist Jesse Harris. It is located on the wall facing the CAMH Queen St location and is a message of hope and positivity for patients living with addiction and/or mental health disorders.

Me standing next to a tri-fold board with my research poster tacked onto it.

ME! With my purple-themed and badly folded research poster at a conference that I was allowed to go to because of my work-study.

Besides financial and academic perks, I got to explore the neighbourhood of Toronto where I worked. The Trinity Bellwoods area is one of my favourite parts of the city, with free art exhibits, delicious food destinations, and a lovely park where I once so happened to meet Childish Gambino… but that’s a story for another time.

Towers, Dougland Coupland, MOCCA

A huge metal installation shaped like a toppled-over electrical tower.

The above images were taken at the (FREE) Douglas Coupland “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, right across from CAMH. The first is a huge LEGO installation while the second is supposed to be an electrical tower that’s been toppled over.

What have your job experiences been like? Would you consider applying for jobs through U of T? Leave me a comment or share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Summer Resolutions

photo of author and friend with camera superimposed on friend's face

Hey there! My name is Taryn and I’m so excited to be your Life @ U of T photoblogger this year! I’m going into my second year studying Sociology and Sexual Diversity Studies. I love photography, as you can probably tell, and I care a bit too much about Foucault, cats, and gardening.

I’m currently in the midst of finishing up my summer course, which means in one short week I’ll be FREE! After having it delayed for a few weeks, I’m more ready than ever to put a start to my summer.

To me, summer always feels like a fresh start. A time to shake off all the stress of the past year, come to terms with that mark you got on that exam, and work on a few areas that need improvement. Last year my summer resolution was to learn how to knit (that didn’t go too well), but this year I have a whole list!

Resolution One: Find an apartment! 

apartment

 

Apartment hunting is difficult. Apartment hunting in Toronto is even more so. It’s hard to balance being cautious enough to thoroughly check out a place and quick enough to sign the lease before someone else does. I’m still hunting for that perfect place, and as daunting as it might be I’m still positive that I’ll find it.

Resolution Two: Learn to cook 

photo of cook book, frying pan, bread, eggs, avacado, and cooking utensils

Since I’m moving off campus I’m going to have to start cooking for myself. No more Fung chicken nuggets, it’s grilled chicken breast from here on out. If you’re like me and just learning how to turn on an oven, pinterest is a great place to find easy cheap recipes!

Resolution Three: Get organized 

photo of: clock, writing utensils, bookmark, watch, and journal

As you might be able to tell by the above photo, I haven’t used my day planner since May. Yikes. The warm weather has made me lazy, and I’ve too often found myself losing notes and finishing assignments last minute. This summer I’m going to get back on track, one planner page at a time!

Resolution Four: Let myself be creative 

photo of: ukulele, journal, camera, paint brushes, and polaroids

I have a lot of trouble letting my creative juices flow. I get hung up on projects not being perfect and end up abandoning them halfway through. But this summer I’m going to start letting myself create, and stop seeing tiny mistakes as massive failures.

Resolution Five: Relax and enjoy the sun 

photo of: sunglasses, book, iphone, earphones, limes, and wine glass

Between school, work, and extracurriculars, I haven’t made much time for myself in a while. There’s only two short months until school picks up again, and I want to make sure I’m fully rested and ready to take my classes by storm. That means lots of basking in the sun and reading!

photo of cat, staring above camera and looking innocent

my cat, after walking all over my backdrop and ruining the shot

What are you hoping to get done this summer? Leave us a comment and let us know! 

How I came to like group work

There are many things about a syllabus that can scare me on first sight – a reading list that never seems to end; an exam worth 60% of the total grade; a warning about pop quizzes… but there is little that worries me more than those two fateful words: group projects.

(Did you just hear “dun dun dun” in your head and the sound of a scream and maniacal cackling and maybe even a burst of thunder? Because I did.)

The most largescale group project I did at U of T was through Cook the Books, the fourth year English seminar where you spend one lecture a week discussing readings, and the other eating a meal with your classmates. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? But here’s the catch – the meal is made as a group project, and you’re graded on the menu and the experience.

Me eating a plate of food made by my classmates.

Me eating my classmates’ creations. I tended to prefer the eating over the cooking.

The final project for the course was a class-wide (yes, you read that right – class-wide) cookbook. We were all given different roles which divided us up into committees, but together, we had to build a publication from scratch.

I was a managing editor on the project, so I had my hands in every aspect of it –  conceptualizing the book, gathering recipes, writing everything, testing recipes, taking photos, laying everything out, editing it all, and planning our final class celebration, including making a meal using the recipes in the class cookbook.

The project was crazy – organizing our group of 25 or so classmates to put together a cohesive, quality cookbook was a challenge, but it was tons of fun, and everyone pulled together to create something we were all proud of and throw an awesome farewell bash.

 A picture of the class party with everyone sitting at a table with drinks with crazy straws.

Our final class party! Among many joyful touches, crazy straws were a must.

We had a blast testing all the recipes and we were able to make adjustments that took them all to new heights of tastiness. I thought it would be really hard for us to come together as a class to come up with a concept for the cookbook, but there was really strong consensus on doing a publication around the idea of “home”, since it had come up so much in our reading and resonated so strongly with everyone’s conception of food at its best.

I remember working with the layout team on the final version of the cookbook using design software at Robarts, laughing over class-wide shared jokes and memories from throughout the year and scrambling together to get the final product good to go before the deadline with the whole class relying on us to finish.

Apple pies cooking in the oven before the class celebration.

Apple pies baking before the celebration. The recipe is my grandmother’s (but I adjusted it to use locally sourced ingredients). You can find it in the cookbook and the story behind it on pages 47-48!

After going through Cook the Books, group work doesn’t scare me like it used to. In fact, it’s kind of exciting – it’s an opportunity to become real friends with your classmates and to learn how to work with others. As we worked together, we came to recognize each others’ skills and shift around responsibilities based on those so that everyone was doing their part and doing something that made sense for them. I used to get bogged down in the feeling that I had to do everything in group projects – working with my classmates in Cook the Books made me realize that I was missing out by not letting others contribute and bring their unique talents to the table.

My fourth-year seminar was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my time at U of T. The syllabus introduced me to some wonderful authors and thinkers, and the unique course model introduced me to new recipes and new friends. And if you want to try some of those recipes, you can check out our class cookbook online!

A collage of memories from throughout the year in the course that was used as the back page of the cookbook. At the top centre is a quote from Michael Pollen: "At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind."

The back page of our class cookbook, which was called “Home is where the food is.” I love this collage!

Tell me about your experiences with group work on Twitter at @lifeatuoft.

(120) Days of Summer

A picture of me, painting a wall. The phrase "Hello, U of T!" was edited into the paint.Hi, I’m Nancy! I’m going to be one of your Life @ U of T bloggers for the year. I’m a fourth-year student studying Neuroscience and Immunology. I really like hummus. I spend an unhealthy amount of time scrolling through Beyonce’s Instagram account.

 

 

 

 

A mediocre drawing I made of a U of T landscape including Con Hall, the CN Tower, and the Medical Sciences Building, in the style of the movie (500) Days of Summer. The foreground contains three trees and the words "120 Days of Summer."

A mediocre drawing I made of a U of T landscape, in the style of the movie (500) Days of Summer.

Like in the movie (500) Days of Summer, this summer for me is having its fair share of both good days and bad days. The difference is that my version does not cast Joseph Gordon Levitt as a love interest, much to the deep regret of all my grade 10 fantasies.

Day (3)
Summer is finally here! I survived finals, my grades were pretty decent, and I am now rewarded with a chance to relax, sip sangria, and fully immerse myself in my favourite summertime shows (Game of Thrones, am I right?). Not a care in the world!

Day (14)
I realize the unusual nature of this summer – that period of time between “Wow I’m graduating next year and moving on to a new chapter!” and “Oh wait I still have no idea what I’m doing with my life.” Minor panic attack ensues. I then engage in a 3-hour procrasti-nap as a passive-aggressive way of avoiding my problems.

Day (27)
A heavier sense of worry creeps in when I catch up with friends and listen as they discuss their ambitious summer goals. Seriously, is everyone just super self-aware except me? Which psychic did you see that saw into your future? How much do they charge? Will they accept well-crafted playlists as payment? Because my wallet is apparently only capable of carrying 55 cents at a time.

Day (30)
MCAT review books arrive in the mail. A reality check was also delivered, free of charge. I begrudgingly start studying, divvying up my time between that, two part-time jobs, prepping for a volunteer trip to South America in August, and hunting for researchers who could supervise a potential thesis project.

Day (51) 
Scrambling to get my life together is both daunting and motivating in equal measure. But in my experience, being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you miss out on the fun stuff, especially if you are kept busy by things you want to be doing. If anything, being busy forces you to manage your time and use it more effectively. But still, I’m trying not to get too caught up and also focus on the present, channeling less Cameron Frye and more Ferris Bueller. Right down to that 80s sweater vest.

(Can you tell I’m a big fan of grand choreographed dances in movies?)

So that’s where I’m at. I’d love to hear how you guys are doing! What’s a typical summer day been like for you? Leave me a comment or send us a shout-out on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!

#myUofTsnapshot

I’m graduating this week! This makes me want to type all sorts of gibberish to convey to you how crazy that is to me. Something like: ajksdasjdaskljdasjkldasjkldasjkld THIS IS CRAZY.

My five years at U of T flew by and, naturally, I’m feeling pretty nostalgic at the moment! Given the mountain of sentimental feels I find myself under, I asked U of T students to share their favourite pieces or memories from their U of T experiences. Here’s what they had to say about the things that have made their time at U of T special.

A portrait of Wathsala in front of St. George St.

Wathsala.

Wathsala, third year, Mechanical Engineering
“The thing I like most about university is living downtown. All the all-nighters, going and getting nachos at a 24-hour Denny’s after finishing a project to celebrate. I think we’ve been there at 3am, even 4am, staying for a while just talking.”

A portrait of Chevis in front of the Galbraith Building.

Chevis.

Chevis, third year, Mechanical Engineering
“Getting to work on my own project. It’s a turbo fan air starter. I like being an engineer. We had a project where we had a machine with more than 150 components, and we did it all in one night!”

A portrait of Jieun in front of Sidney Smith Cafe on Wilcocks Commons.

Jieun.

Jieun, fourth year, English and Anthropology
“Fourth year seminars, where classes are small enough that you can really get to know your professor and fellow students. By then, you see familiar faces and you feel like a part of a program. U of T can feel kind of big, so the small classes are really rewarding.”

Alen and Nasrullah with a basketball on Wilcocks Commons.

Alen and Nasrullah.

Alen, fourth year, Biology and Statistics and Nasrullah, second year, Neuroscience
“Summertime, playing basketball every Wednesday. Ball is life.”

A portrait of Deena on the Sidney Smith patio.

Deena.

Deena, third year, Sociology and Equity Studies
“I discovered there’s Korean food at the Varsity restaurant!”

A portrait of Adriana in Sidney Smith.

Adriana.

Adriana, fourth year, Neuroscience and Environmental Biology
“Playing frisbee with all my friends on front campus.”

A portrait of Matthew in front of University College on Front Campus.

Matthew.

Matthew, third year, Philosophy
“I love living downtown and going to lots of concerts. I also love frisbee on front campus.”

A portrait of David in front of Convocation Hall on Front Campus.

David.

David, third year, Computer Science
“Getting an office in the Department of Computer Science for research. Also, doing a work-study at the daycare.”

For the record, David also did this handstand:

David doing a handstand in front of Convocation Hall.

What’s your U of T snapshot? Tag us on Twitter or Facebook and use the hashtag #myUofTsnapshot.

Summer Brings Both Stresses and Smiles

Hello everyone, my name is Kevin. I am a fifth-year student studying Psychology and Cognitive Science. I also like to keep myself active, either by biking pretty much everywhere, or by pretending to be an athlete through intramural sports. This year, I will be one of your Life @ U of T bloggers!

IMG_20150609_123714

With summer here, I get to start my last year of undergrad at a different pace. Right now, my academic pursuits have taken a bit of a break, as I’ve decided to work and not take summer classes. Last summer, I decided to work and take one and a half credits. That was far too stressful, and with my last year coming up the rest should be beneficial.

While this leaves me more time to myself, I still have to use my time wisely. I want to apply for graduate studies after I finish my undergrad, so I need to research what schools I can apply to, and if professors at that school would be working on research that converges with my interests. This process is a whole different challenge than applying for undergraduate studies, because I will likely have to get in direct contact with professors, and find out if the program is accepting applicants for the year. I’m also considering applying to schools in the United States, which requires me to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), and I may have to start studying for that as well.

Another challenge comes from the fact that my job is tiring; I work at a day camp, and I have to be on my feet all day. I’m pretty tired when I return from work, and I have to push myself to complete tasks, such as researching grad schools, hunting for housing in the fall, and even menial tasks around my place.

Myself with a coffee.

Coffee, I still need your help!

On the bright side, it finally gives me a chance to explore Toronto. Because I’ve always been somewhat pressed for time, I’ve relegated myself to mostly downtown. One confession: I’ve never been to Toronto Island. Or the Scarborough Bluffs. Last month was the first time I even stepped into High Park, as well as the first time I’ve ever seen the Blue Jays play live. I can’t possibly see everything that there is around the city in a summer’s time, but I’ll have a chance to experience more than I ever have so far.

The summer also gives me an opportunity to hang out with friends coming back to the city from school. While many of them are working as well, it always seems like we have more time to hang out when work is done. And as a bonus, because I made most of those friends via work—I didn’t go to high school in Toronto—I still work with some of them, and that makes my job even easier, and fun as well.

This summer I plan to work, explore the city, work more, plan for graduate school applications, work, try to get rid of this farmer’s tan, work, complain that I don’t get to travel this summer, and more work. Oh boy, this is going to be a fun summer!

What are your plans for summer? Staying in school? Working? Traveling? Relaxing at your parents’ place not worrying about a thing? Share with us in the comments!

You know what they say about the best laid plans…

As I alluded to in my introductory post, I came to U of T with a plan.

I cannot emphasize how much I did not follow that plan.

To recap, I started university with the intention of doing a specialist in International Relations (IR), with a view towards going to law school. IR is a type 3 subject POSt with several prerequisites, so in my first-year, I had to take 100-level history and economics and a language course.

I also decided that, in first year, I would fulfil my breadth requirements by taking astronomy.

A selfie of me in first year at Robarts Library with my face obscured by a pile of books, clutching a coffee and pouting.

Selfie in first year: Robarts, books, coffee, a bit of a pout.

A couple weeks into the first semester, I realized that I was in way over my head. The subject matter in my courses wasn’t grabbing me, and I was struggling with concepts in economics and astronomy. After a lot of anguish, I decided to drop economics and leave the IR plan behind, and picked up a political science course.  I enjoyed my history and political sciences classes – but I did not feel inspired enough by either to commit to a major.

I also took a Jewish Studies course, which ignited some academic passion in me, so I decided to double major in Jewish Studies and English the following year. When the new year came around, I was in courses that I found fascinating and that motivated me to thrive as a student.

A selfie with my friend Cameron studying in the Junior Common Room at University College.

Happier second year studying faces! Featuring my pal Cameron.

From the craziness of my first year, I learned several things. The first and most important one is to be yourself, or, as I wrote for BlogUT at the time, don’t fight the current. If you find that you are good at something, or even just curious about something, roll with that! I wanted to be something I wasn’t because I thought it would be more prestigious – but when I tried being myself instead, I found that there were tons of exciting opportunities in my own areas of interest.

I also learned to be flexible and seek help. If you want to make changes during the course of your program, it can be done. Don’t hesitate to go with that instinct – just make sure you are informed about graduation requirements, that you are consulting with academic advisors and your registrar, and that you are making long-term plans. Yes, in my experience, plans are made to be broken – but continuing to actively map out your degree will keep you on track to graduate while you find your way among the winding academic roads of U of T. Plus, degree explorer makes it easy.

My dog on my bed, sitting in front of my laptop.

Sometimes I sought help from my registrar and my profs and TAs; other times, from my puppy.

Even with switching my plans, I was still on track to graduate in four years going into second year. But in my fourth year, I made the decision to become a part-time student and stick around at U of T for a fifth year.

I had a work-study position, working as an editor at The Varsity, was involved in several campus groups, and wanted to maintain my strong academic record. I also decided that I was going to run for editor-in-chief at The Varsity for the next year.

All the newspaper and magazine issues from my year as Editor-in-Chief at The Varsity tacked onto a bulletin board, pictured in our newsroom at Sussex Clubhouse.

All the newspaper and magazine issues from my year as Editor-in-Chief at The Varsity, pictured in our newsroom at Sussex Clubhouse.

In fifth year, I learned that a lot of people take a fifth year. Whether its because they decided not to take a full-time course load to have a more manageable academic schedule or to accommodate working or extracurricular roles, or because they switched programs midway through their degree and had to catch up, plenty of people take some extra time to finish.

So advice-wise: take your time! If you find a full course load stressful, if you need to work to fund your tuition, whatever the reason – don’t hesitate to take a lighter course load so you are better equipped to succeed. If you’re thinking about it, talk to someone at your college or in your department for advice. There’s nothing wrong with taking the extra time if it’s the right move for you.

For me, it certainly was! I really enjoyed being part-time and having the time to work a couple jobs, pursue my goals at the paper, and dip my toes in different campus groups. I did well in my courses and established lasting relationships with my professors by attending office hours and investing lots of time into my assignments. Next week, I’m graduating with a strong GPA, a lot of extracurricular and professional experience, and a lot of good friends and memories that make me smile.

An image of the U of T Convocation process, with graduates walking across King's College Circle field to Convocation Hall, and a view of the CN Tower in the background. A text overlay reads: U of T Convocation Spring 2015 | #UofTGrad15" and the University of Toronto logo and name is below.

Excited to be in this procession next week!

I’m living proof that the best laid plans tend to go awry – but in my experience, you still seem to end up in the right place for you. Follow your passions, be flexible, stay organized, and don’t rush. You may not land precisely where you set out to go, but I would bet you will end up somewhere even better.

Thinking about switching programs? Taking a fifth year? Dropping down to part-time? Making other changes to your carefully (or not so carefully) laid plans? Talk to me in the comments or on twitter at @lifeatuoft!