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!

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