Weighing In

Happy November all!

What if I told you I have absolutely no idea how much I weigh? In fact, I haven’t weighed myself in years!

It wasn’t always this way. In high school, I was a member of the school’s wrestling team. During wrestling season, not only was I acutely aware of my weight to the fraction of a kilogram, but so was my entire team. On top of that, I was responsible for maintaining or manipulating my weight in preparation for tournaments, so I could be at my “most competitive”.

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WABAM! “Stress Tummy” Strikes Again

Hi all,

If you’re like me, you probably have some go-to strategies for dealing with stress in your life. These may be coping skills or activities that help you slow down, relax, and take a break from life’s many pressures and expectations.

I like to call this my stress-busting toolbox.

It allows me to keep my stress under control, or under lock and key, if you will.

So the question is,

Why do I still experience stress sometimes?

image courtesy of https://www.tumblr.com/search/c:%20mr%20incredible

Mr. Incredible is confused too. (image courtesy of https://www.tumblr.com/search/c:%20mr%20incredible)

Stress particularly shows up in my life as a delibitating pain in the pit of my stomach (colloquially referred to in my family as the “stress tummy”).

It’s familiar. It’s tangible. It’s unwelcome.

When I think about it, most of the stress that I experience can be traced back to the feeling that I’m not in control.

I feel in control when I feel my life is balanced. When that balance starts to slip, I feel myself starting to panic. My stress-busting tool box mysteriously goes missing. I stumble for one second, and my tummy is being attacked from every angle by stress.

When I am not stressed, I feel I can control my mealtimes, my study habits, and my self-care routines. However, these very things become challenging when stress builds, and often it feels like the stress itself comes out of nowhere.

Recently, I was studying under a tree on a beautiful autumn day when a piece of acorn landed in the fan of my brand new laptop. Unexpectedly, this caused my laptop to overheat, which led me to dramatically change my plans the next day to accommodate the necessary diagnostics and repairs.

WABAM! “Stress Tummy” Strikes Again

this tiny little piece of acorn wanted to stay warm for the winter in the fan of my computer. Nope. Nope. Nope.

When these unplanned occurrences happen (often in combination with a loss of something, technology failing, or something breaking) I tend to quickly fall victim to the “stress tummy”.

Some of the remedies I have developed to help me deal with the “stress tummy” in my tool box are: the Magical Medicine of Movement, afternoon napping, drinking (caffeine-free) tea, and partaking in some mindful breathing exercises.

But I’ve noticed that sometimes it is not enough to be reactive. Sometimes I have to be proactive in preventing myself from the “stress tummy”.

Here are some of the ways I work to defend against the “stress tummy” from striking in the first place:

Paying attention to the things I can control 

My dental hygiene

Photo on 2015-10-14 at 8.52 AM #3

flossing makes me feel like I can do anything

Waking up before the neighbourhood garbage truck wakes me up

I've included this image because it is evidence that I woke up before the neighbourhood garbage truck did

I’ve included this image because it is evidence that I woke up before the neighbourhood garbage truck did. Success!

Filling up my water bottle at the water bottle refill stations on campus

is there any better feeling than grabbing the water bottle just before it overflows? not that I can imagine

is there any better feeling than removing the water bottle just before it overflows?

When I shift my focus to these small, seemingly trivial accomplishments I feel like I am in control of the going ons in my life. The idea is to celebrate the small victories, and allow the focus to shift to what is going RIGHT in my life (and there is always something if I think hard enough!) as opposed to what is NOT.

By giving myself permission to focus on the things that I can control, I can dramatically reduce the amount of stress I expose myself to.

This is not my stress. But this is my stress-reducing candle

This is my stress-relieving candle, a recent but invaluable addition to my stress-busting toolbox

Last but not not least, I try my very best to find joy in the spontaneous or the unplanned—the joyful, unscheduled solo dance parties that take place in my bedroom, for example.

Stress is def not invited.

Wishing you a stress-free week,



What does your stress-busting toolbox contain? Comment below!

Overcoming my Fear of Professors

Up until last Thursday, I don’t think I had ever actually seen a professor up close. 

I mean, sure, I’ve sat front row in lecture or passed them while walking to class, but I am really bad at actually talking to my professors. I never bring my questions to them after class, or go to their office hours. I do all of these things with my TAs, but something about actually talking to a professor intimidates me. 

I think that I’m always worried I’ll sound stupid, or that I won’t have anything worth occupying their time with. When in reality, my philosophy professor would probably actually enjoy discussing Plato with me. I mean, isn’t that kind of why you become a teacher? To teach

Photo of a professor looking over a whiteboard as a student writes on it

Image via. http://www.news.utoronto.ca/

So when I was invited to the UCLit Coffee with the Profs: A Panel Discussion on Poverty and Homelessness, I immediately thought no way! 

Poster promoting equity with the profs. It reads:  A discussion on poverty presented by Coffee with the Profs.

Image via. www.facebook.com/universitycollegelit

What could I possibly bring to this discussion that one of the expert panelists couldn’t say better? Do I even know anything about poverty and homelessness in Toronto? Do I even know ANYTHING AT ALL?!!?!!

But doing things that are out of my comfort zone was one of my new school year resolutions, and has created most of my other content here on the blog. I survived all those other awkward situations, so why not this one?

The layout of the panel!

The layout of the panel!

Coffee with the Profs is a regular event held by the UCLit. Anyone can come, and each event has a different theme or topic. Some, like this one, are panel-style, while others are more of a social and networking event. The atmosphere is always casual – they order pizza and make a cozy corner of couches in the JCR – and there are UCLit reps scattered throughout the group to ask a question when things get awkward and silent. 

The panel I attended was more of an informal round-table discussion than a panel, and included Professor Hulchanski from the Centre for Urban and Community studies, Poet Laureate George Elliot Clarke, and Jesse Surdigo from the Yonge Street Mission. Each guest brought a different perspective to the topic as they discussed questions such as; what is poverty, why is it so difficult to escape, and what can we be doing to help? 

Students gathered around a large table and projector in the UC JCR

A different Coffee with the Profs session held by the UClit photo via. www.facebook.com/universitycollege

I found that although I didn’t have a wealth of knowledge on the subject, I was able to ask more specific questions about what was being discussed – rather than overarching philosophical ones. I actually ended up leaving the panel having formulated the beginning of my own opinion on the subject.

I overcame my fear of feeling inadequate in the presence of professors, and learned some new things in the process. I even engaged in a bit of twitter-talk with Professor Hulchanski after the panel! 

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 11.35.35 PM

If you’re nervous about talking to professors, I would definitely suggest hitting up one of these events! The informal setting makes it a lot easier to interact, or to just sit back and watch if that’s what you’re more comfortable with. I would also suggest going if you’re particularly interested in one of the topics, as it’s a great place to share your passion with other academics and students. 

Congrats to the UClit on hosting such a great series of events! I can’t wait to see what topics you bring up next! 


I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to participate in an Aboriginal Peer Mentorship Program put on by OISE this semester and my first mentoring session happened this week.

OISE Elder-in-Residence Jacqui Lavalley and I went to visit a grade 11 Native Studies class in a Catholic School somewhere near the edge of the GTA. Jacqui is delightful, and we had a lot of fun travelling to and from the school. Jacqui gave a traditional opening ceremony to the presentation and also gave a wonderful teaching to the students. Next, I spoke about my educational journey as an Indigenous person, though there was not enough time to say as much as I wanted.

A close-up of a TTC token

All you need to get from downtown to Scarberia! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

The students were great listeners and asked great questions and even gave us Tim Horton’s gift cards! I’d never been to a Catholic school before and I’d never encountered school uniforms before either so the trip was a great learning opportunity!

A blue thank-you card with a Tim-Hortons gift card just begging to be spent

The beautiful thank-you card and gift from the mentee class! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

However, visiting a high school forced me to revisit some old feelings I haven’t encountered in a long time. Jacqui had mentioned that the tobacco tie I’d been given in the ceremony knew everything about me and that I could not hide anything from it. That’s an important fact and I finally realized I’d been hiding some emotions from myself ever since I left Cochrane High School.

My hand, holding a small red tobacco bag, with a turtle image peeking in from the background

This tobacco tie knows everything about me in this moment, and it looks like the turtle is watching me too… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A Hart House stairway with it's Hogwarts style, surrounded by shadows

Even though I’m at U of T, the shadows of the past are always nearby (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Even before I left to go to the mentor session, I noticed myself falling into old trains of thought. I stood in front of a mirror and questioned my own appearance and physique because that’s what I was used to every day in high school. That can’t be healthy, right?

Many different feelings came back to me in a big rush. I remembered how hard it was being viciously judged by other kids for every little thing you did or said or wore. I remember how alone they all made me feel.

I also don’t drink or party and that left me excluded from 99% of social activities.

One of the students at the mentoring session asked me an amazing question: “How did you keep from caving in to the peer pressures?”

This question really helped me remember the good parts of high school. I remembered that I was proud that I wasn’t like those goofy peers of mine! I was proud of my accomplishments, my grades, my individuality, my interests, my heritage, my ability to say no to alcohol.

I learned to be proud because my parents always told me how proud they were of me. I can’t thank my parents enough for that support. When you are proud of yourself and you stay true to your heart, it doesn’t matter what a bunch of confused teenagers (or adults, for that matter) think of you!

Looking out a window from Hart House, with the sun shining bright behind a nearby tree

Even though the shadows are a part of life, light can always peek through too (Photo by Zachary Biech)

It breaks my heart to think other students out there don’t have parents who will say they are proud. Everybody has plenty to be proud of, no matter what. Everyone is important.

Looking out a window from Hart House, towards the towers of the main UC building

I’m proud of where I am; there’s certainly no view like this at my old high school! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

After returning from the mentor session, I had an evening lecture in First Nations House for my Anishinaabemowin class. I remembered how proud I am to be in U of T, learning an Indigenous language and reconnecting with my community. I remembered how good it feels to walk into a place like First Nations House and have great conversations and laughs with real friends in a supportive environment.

I remembered how far I’ve come and how far you can come too.

Me with shorter hair

Me in Grade 12, 2012 (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Me, but with longer hair and a pony-tail

Me in Third Year at U of T, 2015 (Photo by Zachary Biech)






Finding a Passion… For Fashion

Last week I attended the annual UFashion Spring Fashion show, held in co-ordination with the UClit and U of T Students for Wishes. 

The event is put on every year by the student-run organization UFashion It showcases different Toronto-based designers and stores, aiming to appeal to a variety of different styles and student budgets. 

This year’s event was held at Fiction nightclub, and proceeds benefitted the Make a Wish Foundation. Tickets to the fashion show were $10 a piece, and included entrance to Fiction after the show was over. 

two university aged girls sitting on a large leather couch in a club-like setting

Ainsley and Ashley getting ready for the show to start

Before attending the show I had never actually heard of UFashion before, so I didn’t know entirely what to expect. Creating fashionable looks that are not only locally accessible, but student-budget friendly, is difficult to say the least. Although I was excited for the experience of the show as a whole, I wasn’t holding out high hopes of seeing anything that I would “just have to have.” 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. 


The looks were edgy, fashionable, and well put together. There wasn’t a linear catwalk, but instead models walked a path that wound throughout the entire club. The audience was sat on the large velvet couches, and the layout gave everyone a front row view. 

The stores showcased included Toronto locals such as Over The Rainbow, Feroce, Parloque, Sauvage, and Original Penguin It also however, featured an online store created by two University of Toronto students. Haakem Bajwa and Parham Chinikar created their clothing line Cabaret Vesture in the attempts to create pieces that they would wear on a daily basis.  Instead of striving to achieve a certain aesthetic or style, they let their creativity guide them into making whatever pieces are inspiring them at the time. 


I left the fashion show having had a wonderful night, but also fuelled by a new interest in this aspect of UofT life I didn’t know existed before.  Almost at the end of my second year here, I still feel like I haven’t found something that I’m truly passionate about.  With hundreds of clubs I never expected it would be this difficult. 

However attending the UFashion event opened my eyes up to the world of UofT fashion, beauty, and style. It introduced me to an entire network of other students who share my passion for style, but who share many of the same student-related constraints. 

image via. http://ufashiontoronto.blogspot.ca/

image via. http://ufashiontoronto.blogspot.ca/

If UFashion sounds like something you want to get involved with too, check out their blog www.ufashiontoronto.blogspot.ca, or like them on Facebook here.  I’d love to get any suggestions of other beauty/fashion related clubs in the comments below, or hear your story of how you found your passion at U of T! Until next time, keep up to date with me on the other events I’m attending by following me on twitter at @Rachael_UofT.

Getting in and Getting Connected

Wow, this semester has flown by! I turned around twice and *poof*, February is almost over. University years are the fastest and wildest, after all.

What university students do is not easy. We have all taken some blows to make it through. That being said, I know from my experience that there is a tremendous amount of hope on this campus.

eight or nine bags of groceries on my kitchen counter

Hope starts with a big load of groceries! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I always say it starts with your own balance. Work hard on your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self and you’ll find your university work will flourish, as well as your personal and extra-curricular life.

A cutting board, chopped onions and green peppers, mushrooms, and cheese slices, next to a bowl of eggs ready for mixing

Here’s an example: an omelette with balanced ingredients for lunch! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A fried omelette, with marble rye peanut butter toast, a banana, and dried apricots next to a glass of coke zero

Balanced omelette with a balanced lunch! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I’m in my third year, so I’m already starting to look at my next steps. This search reminds me of the big journey towards university which began in my late high school years. Those were crazy times! The decisions high-schoolers have to make are so big, and yet they are so young.

Choose the programs which best fulfill your passions! I could not work as hard as I do to fight for every single mark if I did not have an infallible connection to my interest areas. What I do is a part of me, and what you do should be a part of you too!

A double dream-catcher with many beautiful feathers

Your heart can be found in your dreams (Photo by Zachary Biech)

U of T also has a Transitional Year Program for university applicants who don’t have the full high school requirements and an Academic Bridging Program for applicants over 20 years of age. Miizwe Biik also offers a high school-level diploma program to help applicants get their GED!

The next key piece of the puzzle is the community you connect with. Always remember, you are not alone. First Nations House is a great place to start and from there I guarantee you will make many new friends, get academic support and connect with other Indigenous organizations on campus (ABS, IEN, SAGE, NSA, ALSA, UTSCISA to name a few) and beyond! There’s also a ton of excellent events put on by these groups year-round, so keep your eyes open!

A large abalone shell with sage, cedar, and sweetgrass

Smudging with the Native Students’ Association, in the fourth floor office of First Nations House (Photo by Zachary Biech

FNH is even sending 2 Indigenous students for an exchange program atthe International Institute for Sustainable Studies in Belize this year!

I must also share a little secret which has helped me greatly. Here’s my special healthy, quick, and cheap recipe for rye biscuits whenever a tasty boost is needed!

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup rye flour
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp half-and-half cream
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Grease a regular casserole or baking sheet
  3. In large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together
  4. Cut butter into dry mix and use whisk to mash and mix butter until it resembles coarse crumbs
  5. In separate bowl, mix egg and cream
  6. Pour egg mixture into dry mixture and mix with fork just until all dry ingredients are moistened
  7. Split the batter into 4 equal blobs, place in casserole or on baking sheet
  8. Cook in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown
  9. Eat!
Golden biscuits, creamy fruit mix, and two small cups with eggs in them

Mmmmmm these are the rye biscuits with a creamy fruit ambrosia and eggettes (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Getting involved with conferences

My reading week was split into two tasks: (a) grading midterms for the class I TA, and (b) presenting at an conference in Michigan. I’ve been at UofT for five years, but this is my first year applying to conferences. Upon reflecting, I wish I had done so earlier, and I want to spend this blog post trying to convince you to at least consider applying to conferences (even if you don’t plan to continue into higher higher-education!).

Photo of woman buried under stacks of paper with a general look of anguish and despair playing across her downtrodden face.

Basically me grading midterms [source]

Why apply to conferences? There are a few good reasons. First, it’s a great opportunity to get feedback on your work. A prof’s comments on an assignment can only go so far. Here, you can have a number of people providing important insights on your work that you might not have gotten otherwise. Second, it’s a great way to practice presentation skills. Whether you’re planning on staying in school, or going into the work force, presentation skills are valuable. Third, it’s a great way to network and meet people you may be studying or working with in the future. And finally, it’s a chance to explore new ideas from other people. (It also looks good on a resume or CV, if you’re into that sort of thing).

Am I good enough for a conference? Despite what you may think, you probably are! Firstly, conferences usually have more lax criteria than do journals, and are in part there to provide you with a platform for testing out your work in progress, as much as sharing it. Secondly, while you might want to apply to specific or big conferences (and there’s nobody stopping you!), there are a lot of undergraduate conferences out there dedicated to accepting only undergraduate work. So you can feel safer amongst your peers. Don’t think your GPA has any bearing on how you can perform at a conference, and know that it’s OKAY to present a not-so-perfect paper. That’s how we learn, and that’s how we improve.

What if I’m a poor public speaker? That’s okay too! Most of these conferences are great learning experiences for speaking practice, but you should also note that many conference speakers (even professionals) will read off their pages or prompts, as much as they’d like to do otherwise. Nobody has high expectations of speakers in reality. Don’t put yourself down and out of the count: you can take this as an opportunity to improve!

Can I afford it? UofT likes to brag about it’s accomplished researchers and to facilitate thinking, even in its undergraduates: there are many resources available. Most colleges and departments have some travel funds to help with the cost of travel and lodging, and some of the conferences themselves might have some assistance available on request. If you’re a full time arts & sciences student, you can also apply for travel support from the Arts and Sciences Student’s Union. Finally, you can often skip the hotel fees for another student’s couch.

photo of child on a surfboard on a couch. A little too literal if you ask me.

Not this kind of couch surfing, mind you. [source]

How do I find a conference for me? UofT holds a number of undergraduate conferences run by student clubs and course unions: try asking around! Beyond that, some disciplines have websites specifically for collecting CFPs (Calls For Papers) and CFAs (Calls For Abstracts) where you can find out. I’ve even found Facebook groups dedicated to sharing conference calls within subdisciplines. But, if you’re in doubt, you might want to try asking your department’s undergraduate coordinator or your professors: they’re also often in the know.

That’s it for me trying to convince you. Maybe in upcoming weeks I’ll talk about the actual process: it can be nerve-wracking I know. But hopefully you’re at least thinking about the option.

Making Group Work Work

“Teamwork makes the dream work”, or so I’ve been told. Some people might be inclined to respond that “Group work makes the nightmare work”. It’s a scary form of assessment which universities seem to be falling increasingly in love with. From an outsider glance, it’s easy to see why: future researchers need to be able to collaborate with people who have different knowledge than do they in order to continue advancing our understandings of the world, and anyone working or living in the world today needs to develop interpersonal and teamwork skills to survive.

Both in the real world and in the university, group work poses a few risks: someone might coast along with the team just to take credit, people might take control of the group,  and duties might not be distributed fairly, among other things. In the classroom, there’s the added weight that your grade usually depends on working with other people. It’s a scary trial that many people will have to confront before they graduate.

Yet, despite so many students harping on group work at UofT and around the globe, a google search for how to make university group work actually work shows almost no results: mostly just resources for teachers trying to make group work worthwhile. But what about us students? Where are the guides for making group work work? Good question. It will depend on the kind of group work assigned and the discipline it’s for. But I think there are some answers on a broader interpretation. Continue reading:

1. Introduce yourself. Even in small classrooms, it’s very easy not to know the people around you. It will be a lot easier to work with people if you know their names, and it helps to break the ice. Even if your group work is only going to last ten minutes, it only takes a few seconds to introduce yourself.

2. Exchange the best contact information. A lot of students feel obliged to give out their utoronto email accounts, even though a lot of them don’t use their accounts too frequently. This makes it hard to keep touch. Go ahead and share your sk8r_h8r1998 hotmail account if it’s what you use most. Or, try Facebook groups or third party applications. Whatever is going to keep your team in touch.

3. Don’t be too modest. Everybody has their own skills. A team works best when it’s using everybody’s skills together. If you’re good at presenting, let them know. If you have great research skills, great! If you have strong penmanship, well you’re likely a total keeper. It will make assigning any jobs easier, and will make it easier for you to do your part when you’re already good at it!

4. Break out but don’t break up. It’s easier to work on projects in smaller groups and way easier to schedule! (Not to mention, may be helpful with productivity). But be careful that you don’t wander too far: your break out groups should stay accountable to your whole group. I can only tell you what happens when the people supposed to do section X disappear on presentation day, and nobody knows what their part was.

5. Get [a] stranger. If you have the option to pick your own groups, consider bringing in a stranger. It can be comfortable to study and work with the people you know, but (a) it also means conflicts can be even worse, and (b) some studies show that bringing new people into a group setting improves the creativity and productivity of the group. Who knows what your peers have in store for you!

6. Bonus: Ditch the doodle polls for group scheduling; when2meet has made my scheduling life so much easier in every way.

Have any other tips for surviving group work? Let me know in the comments!

b2B History Alumni Dinner – #TryitUofT

Over the last year and a half at U of T I think it’s safe to assume that I have received 1000+ emails to my school email address. While a lot of these did contain valuable information about courses, midterms, and social events, a lot of them didn’t. They were invitations to extra curricular events, newsletters, and classmates asking for lecture notes. 

So it’s no surprise that I’ve developed a bit of a bad habit of filing these emails away, out of my inbox, into a U of T folder. 

However, January was #TryItUofT month here on the Life@UofT blog – and in the spirit of trying something new I decided to open one of these emails and go along with whatever was inside. This ended up being the b2B History Mentorship Dinner. 

photo of myself with the text overlay "backpack 2 briefcase" - on the left hand side is a picture of me dressed as a student holding a backpack, while on the right hand side is a picture of me looking more professional

b2B, or backpack to Briefcase, is a program here at U of T that aims to help U of T students bridge the connection between their education and their future profession.  The program hosts a variety of events such as panels, workshops, and alumni events such as the one I attended. 

dinner table in an old room, dressed with white table clothes and dinner setting. There are both older adults and younger students sitting at the table engaged in discussion

The b2B History Mentorship Dinner was designed to connect students at U of T currently studying history, with alumni in a variety of different professions. The aim was to show how versatile a degree such as history can actually be. The alumni that attended ranged in profession from an Investment Banker at RBC, to a professor here at U of T. 

The dinner was held at the beautiful Faculty Club here on campus, and the alumni were dispersed evenly throughout the students. As the night and meal went on, the alumni were encouraged to change seats and interact with as many of the students as possible. By the end of the night, I had spoken with almost everyone in the room. 

photo of me and another female student standing in front of a b2B poster

I met a lot of great alumni, and even made some friends along the way

Going into the event I didn’t know what I wanted out of the experience.  I knew it was a great opportunity to network – but I was unsure about how willing the alumni would be to connect with a mere second year. However, this was far from the case. 

The alumni engaged each and every student genuinely, giving pieces of advice and sharing their own stories. I received business cards and was encouraged to send Linked-In invitations to maintain contact after the dinner was over.

an female alumni addressing the table

The atmosphere of the dinner made me feel immediately comfortable, and the ratio of alumni to students was almost 1 on 1, meaning there was no competing for attention. Most of the alumni in attendance were aware of who they had already talked to, and took it upon themselves to ensure they had spoken with every student in the room. 

Photo of a cream dessert in a white bowl with a fruit garnish

Let me also add that the food was delicious! I ate the rest of the meal too fast to get a picture, but this delicious looking dessert pretty much sums it up!

Overall the experience was more than I could have even hoped for it to be. The food was delicious, the conversations were genuine – and more than anything I left the dinner with a sense of hope and reassurance. It was so refreshing to feel as if these people, who had only met you hours earlier, had a sense of confidence in you. They acknowledged your struggles, and yet didn’t allow them to validate your fear of failure. They had all been there before, and they had made it through. 

a student addressing the table of alumni and other students

I would strongly encourage anyone who is debating going to a b2B event to do it. While you may swear that it won’t be valuable to you, you might be surprised by what you get out of it. For more information on the b2B program check out this webpage, or just loosen up on your email filing!