Adjusting to Time Management

One thing that’s become particularly evident to me this semester has been the drastic changes needed to my time management methods. I’ve heard from other first years that they too have had to adjust to new work habits, regardless of the discipline. Relating to my own experience, my time budgeting skills in high school were pretty sub-par, which led to me attempting some serious adjustments on the fly in first-year.

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That Forgetting Feeling

You know that thing that sometimes happens when you’re about to fall asleep but then all of a sudden you feel like you’re falling, you jerk violently, and you’re wide awake again? That’s how I feel when I realize I have forgotten something.

I don’t usually forget things; I’m a reasonably organized person and I have systems that I use to keep on top of things.

Pictured: string tied around my finger

An oldie but a goodie

Every now and then, though, the occasional task slips through the cracks. One such occasion was just a little while ago. I’m taking this really interesting Legal Workshops course; I get to attend a few workshops at the Faculty of Law throughout the year. At the beginning of September, I chose the workshops I was interested in and signed up. I marked the workshops I signed up to attend in my calendar. I put them on my phone. You may have guessed, however, that I recently missed one. Continue reading

Taking a Break with Green Spaces

Living in downtown Toronto can be fun, and as U of T students we’re rarely bored. But it’s easy to forget that living in the concrete jungle, we don’t experience nature as much as we probably should. Here, then, are some spots on the St. George campus where you can enjoy the de-stressing benefits of plants and trees.


Getting over a bad grade: A personal memoir

Happy end of October! Hopefully many of you have reached the closing round of midterms and are either eagerly or miserably anticipating your grade. While studying for U of T tests is stressful, getting your mark back afterwards can bring on its own type of stress. Continue reading

Tackling the Big Bad Reading

Why did my professor do this to me? Why is she making me read this overly dense, buzzword-ridden, thinly veiled torture device of a book? We are repeatedly told never to make our essays too “wordy.” We’re told to keep things simple and clear. Why, then, does the stuff we read seldom seem to follow the same criteria?

I love to complain and insist that my professors assign dense readings just to make me suffer.

Pictured: A still from PBS's Arthur Episode 2, "The Real Mr. Ratburn" where Mr. Ratburn, in silhouette, is lecturing a bunch of terrified third graders.

I picture Mr. Ratburn, before Arthur and the gang discovered he wasn’t actually a monster who ate nails for breakfast and assigned a ridiculous amount of homework just for the fun of it.         (Image courtesy of

A few days ago, one of my professors acknowledged that her reading assignment was tricky, she told us that she has struggled with it too, but she insisted that the points made—once you work to pull them out of the dense prose—are worth the effort.

Pictured: a page of one of my readings, with a particularly complex passage circled in red and the word "huh?" written above it.

Working on it…

Our professors love what they teach and they are pros at sharing that love with us. So when I’m starting to resent a prof for having the audacity to make me read a piece that is riddled with words like “paucity” and “limn,” I try to take a step back and trust that there is likely a very good reason why she’s making me do it. Then, I try to dig up that reason in the text itself.

Here are some strategies that I use to get through—and understand—dense readings:

  1. Fight the urge to speed read

Usually, my instinct is to power through dense readings as quickly as possible so as to end my suffering asap. I have found that this is extremely counter-productive because I end up not digesting much of the information. When it comes time to review, I’m back at square one and I have actually increased the amount of time I’ll spend agonizing over the reading in question.

  1. Highlight, write notes, and mark passages

The particular note-taking strategy that I use for a particular reading will vary by class, but I always like to take note somehow because it helps me to read actively and pick out the important points. The notes are also helpful when I return to the reading later, either when I’m writing an essay or reviewing for a test or exam.

I also like to mark passages that I don’t understand so that I can discuss them with my peers or with the professor during office hours.

  1. Have a dictionary handy

Academics sure do love their jargon! I like to use a physical dictionary rather than an online resource whenever possible because keeping away from electronics makes me less likely to get distracted or procrastinate.

  1. Read aloud

I’m not really sure why this works for me, but something about vocalizing what I’m reading can help me to grasp the meaning behind it. Reading aloud also helps me stay focused and better remember the information I’m absorbing.

  1. Set goals and take breaks

Sometimes, I’ll buy a chocolate bar and reward myself with a piece every ten pages. If I didn’t take little breaks every once in a while, I wouldn’t be able to stay sharp and focused and the whole endeavour would be a lot more arduous.

  1. Collect your thoughts afterwards

Sometimes, the best way to digest what you have read is to take a moment to reflect after you close the book. I like to take a walk once I’m finished; the fresh air helps me put my thoughts in order.

  1. If all else fails, wait until after the lecture

This one is for desperate times when I am really struggling and I feel like I’m not digesting any of the information. I try to pick out a few points so that I can still participate in class, but other than that, I put the reading aside.

The professor’s lecture can help me figure out what to focus on so that when I come back to the reading after the lecture, it finally starts to make sense. Of course, I usually try to get a week ahead in another class to make up for the time I’ll lose doing the particularly troublesome reading after the fact.

When you have the proper strategies at your disposal, the whole library is your oyster!

Pictured: DW from PBS's Arthur holding a library card. The caption reads: "Now I know what true power feels like."

D.W. knows what’s up                                                                                                                         (Image courtesy of

What strategies do you use to get through tricky readings? Let me know in the comments below!

First-Years and Midterm Stress

Fall is in the air, but for us university students, that just means that midterms have arrived. Personally, this past long weekend consisted of studying for a term test and a midterm, getting work done for other courses, and giving thanks for the extra day to pull it all off. Naturally, I’ve been curious to see how other first-years have dealt with the stress of exams here at U of T, so I went ahead and asked some of my fellow engineers how they are finding ways to remain calm heading into them.

“Engage in recreational activities that require minimal effort or concentration! I personally stop playing online video games around exam time, and it’s been great as I don’t get nearly as worked up.” – Anurag

This is actually a pretty sound piece of advice, one that I’ve been subconsciously doing anyway. I’ve found that sticking with simple things, be it putting on an easy listening playlist, or reading a good book, have been effective methods of unwinding after a hard study session on the eve of an exam.


Listening to some music and catching up on the news in the common room right before an exam helps keep me centered.

“I don’t spend the day of the exam still cramming and reviewing – at that point, my retentive abilities are next to zero. Instead, I try to relax.” – Dhanyaa

Relaxing with classmates right before a midterm, crazy as it may sound, actually put me in a calm frame of mind heading into the test. As Anurag cautioned against, I didn’t do something potentially strenuous. I planned my week so that I had ample studying done for the exam, and thanks to Dhanyaa’s advice, ended up spending the hour before sitting around and talking with friends as if we were just waiting around for the next class. I didn’t get too confident about it, but ensured that I wasn’t pulling my hair out immediately prior to an examination. Seeing a friendly face can do wonders when it comes to keeping stress levels low.

“Go on a walk after the exam, clear your head, and just get lost in the city of Toronto” – Ibrahim

Go for a walk, take a basic tourist-y shot of the CN Tower, check and check.

Go for a walk, take a basic tourist-y shot of the CN Tower, check and check.

I wouldn’t quite recommend getting lost, but going on a brief walk is a fine way to unwind after two hours in an exam room. Last week, I took a quick walk around King’s College Circle, and just relaxed there for a bit to ensure that I wouldn’t fixate on the term test I had just written. Since the weather is still nice enough to remain outdoors, taking a walk is truly a convenient way of de-stressing. When finals roll around, the weather probably won’t be as forgiving; I’m considering cafés as a good alternative for the greenery. Mental well-being is not something to be taken lightly; by arranging my time to allow for periods of rest and ample downtime in the hours leading up to a midterm, I’ve found myself feeling significantly more tranquil.

A Song of Ice and Frosh

Hey there, fellow first-years! I’m Alex, a freshman Computer Engineering student. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be sharing my experiences as a first-year student at the St. George campus. I’m one month into my time here, and one thing that’s really stood out to me is how the ‘stereotypes’ I heard in high school compare with my actual experience thus far.

I won’t bore you with a full list, but there is the whole spiel that “You’d better develop some good study habits, because university is on a whole other level!” This is the one we all love to wave off in high school. Teachers try to drill the mantra into you, but you shrug it off and cram for exams in the hour – I mean, days – leading up to them. Barely one month into the first of four years in the Computer Engineering department, and I can safely say how much I regret doing just that. I wrote my first university quiz last week, and was blatantly under-prepared. I’ve found that I really need to work on doing the readings, taking better notes and listening during lectures, and working on the ever-growing mountain of suggested problems.

Get those problem sets done, and stay on top of your studies!

Get those problem sets done, and stay on top of your studies!

One other maxim you hear a lot is that we should find time to just have fun. While education does play a major part (at least, I would hope so) in coming to university, it’s critical to find time to enjoy your life. I’m not just referring to having a laugh with your friends in between classes. If you’re like me and aren’t local to the area, set aside time to explore the city! Coming from Vancouver, I thought Toronto would be similar except with a lot less green space and more people. Well I was right about the latter, but the former was a false pretence. I visited the Scarborough Bluffs a couple of weekends ago as part of the Engineering Photography Club, and I have to admit that the GTA has its fair share of nature and spectacular views.

Breathtaking views. Definitely worth visiting when the weather is as nice as it was that day.

Breathtaking views from the Bluffs. Definitely worth visiting when the weather is as nice as it was that day.

There’s fun to be had throughout Toronto, too. It seems like there’s an event going on every weekend, be it Nuit Blanche, a marathon, or even a lightsaber battle in the heart of downtown (I’m not lying, check it out). Life in the 6 is never a dull moment, and that’s something to be thankful for, as well as something I plan to take full advantage of this year.

Anyone get their picture taken for the JR project during Nuit Blanche?

Anyone get their picture taken for the JR project during Nuit Blanche?

When all is said and done, finding the time to make the most of what Toronto has to offer should be high on everyone’s list of priorities. As your First-Year Blogger, I’ll definitely be doing my best to get out as often as my daunting engineering schedule allows. It may be harder than ever to balance school with recreation, but I’m quickly finding out how much more enriched my days have been when I’ve made the effort to get out and do new things. Midterms might be in full swing, but I know I’ll be worse off if I don’t allow myself time to unwind, and truly make Toronto my home away from home.

Avoiding Instant Noodles: Study Session Productivity

Emerging from your three-hour study session, you recall doing only three things: (i) writing your name on top of a blank paper that is currently your essay; (ii) eating; (iii) re-watching season 5 of Game of Thrones while repeating to yourself, “He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.”  If this happens to you as often as it happens to me, then consider implementing some study session tips to increase your productivity. Here are a few I’ve garnered over years of experimenting:

  1. Select an ideal spot for studying

For some people, the ideal spot includes background noise; hence, it’d probably be a seat at a cafeteria or a bench at Queen’s park. For others who require absolute silence, the ideal spot would be a high floor on Robarts or the third floor of Koffler’s Student Services Center. Regardless of whether or not you mind noise, choose a spot that works best for you.

  1. Get comfortable

Whether it be taking a hot shower first, drinking two cups of Oolong tea, or throwing on that super embarrassing but oh-so-comfy Winnie-the-Pooh onesie, getting comfortable is essential to starting a good study session. It’s best to get rid of the buzz from just finishing a class or a tutorial so you can settle into a state where you can dedicate one hundred percent of your focus to studying.

A can of Oolong tea on an empty shelf.

— Oolong tea from a considerate friend who knew I was craving for it  this week.

  1. Have a study plan

Write out your tasks in a ‘to-do list’ format, prioritize them, and estimate how much time each task is going to take. I use a whiteboard to write out my tasks, but if you’re more technologically-oriented, consider using the ‘Notes’ app on your phone, the ‘Reminders’ app on your laptop, or an app called Any.Do that syncs your to-do list across multiple devices. A study plan will not only help you think realistically in terms of what you can achieve during your study session, but it will also help you stay on track.

  1. Minimize distractions

It’s hard to focus when you hear that distinct ping of texts or the constantly growing number of notifications on your Facebook tab. Try minimizing distractions by turning your phone on silent and using the LeechBlock app to block those ever-tempting social media sites. If you don’t need the internet at all, consider turning off the wi-fi altogether and using a distraction-free word processor, such as JDarkRoom. Also, make sure to remove other non-technological distractions, such as clutter, off your table as well, or else you might lose your readings and utensils among the chaotic pile.

  1. Bring everything you need to the table

It’s like gearing up for marathoning all eight Harry Potter movies—getting the popcorn, bringing the blanket, and most of all, grabbing ten tissue boxes (especially for the last movie)—except for studying, you’re more likely to consider bringing small snacks and drinks, as well as required utensils. By placing everything near you, you won’t have to break your concentration midway to grab something you needed.

My wooden desk, covered with loose sheets and a laptop.

— State of my desk last week—what not to do if you actually want to be able to see where your readings are.

  1. Take breaks

Don’t plan on studying from 6:00 pm to 1:00 am because your brain won’t be able to soldier through seven hours straight of studying. Instead, take fifteen-minute breaks every hour or so—get up from your chair, stretch, walk around. Not only will this provide a mental break for you, but stretching will also loosen up your tense limbs from sitting in the same position for so long.


Try some of these out, and see if they work for you. Who knows, maybe you won’t have to eat so many late-night instant noodles while cramming three hundred pages of reading as a product of inefficient studying anymore; instead, you’ll be meandering through the streets of beautiful downtown Toronto with a delicious Frappuccino at hand!

Current emergency stash of instant noodles sitting atop my shelf.

— Emergency stash of instant noodles.



Is there anything you do to increase the productivity of your study sessions? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

Lessons learned from my first year in the Life Sigh stream

Did you know: If you take a full course load for all years of undergrad leading up to med school applications, the U of T Faculty of Medicine will drop six half-courses with the lowest grades from your admission GPA?

I took only four courses in my first semester of first year, thereby forever excluding myself from this option. DO YOU UNDERSTAND MY FRUSTRATION. I got a 61 in first year physics and my GPA has never recovered!!!

This is the kind of life-changing information that I wish I’d known when I started first year. 

Back in high school, the general attitude about U of T Life Sci is that it’s named the Life Sciences stream ironically, due to the lack of a life you’ll possess if you choose to come here. 

Now as a wise and weary fourth-year, I can attest to the fact that this stigma is a little harsh. It’s very possible to do well in school, maintain a social life, get involved and yes, even sleep. There were both highlights and lowlights in my first year as a Life Sci student and I’m here to drop some knowledge and spill some truth tea: 

Kermit the Frog sipping a cup of Lipton Tea. This is a lame reference to the Kermit The Frog meme.

  • The transition from high school to university is going to be exciting, difficult and unpredictable no matter what program you’re in. Balance is key. Say you’re not doing well in a course. Spending too much time wallowing and trying to improve just that one aspect of your life will mean that you miss out on a lot of other equally important experiences. You feel even worse because now you’re both flunking AND have major FOMO. This in turn only worsens your performance in school. Try not to get caught up in a bubble of helplessness. Having other responsibilities helps distract you from some things while still being productive. And then you can go back and take on your previous struggle with fresh eyes.
Me holding a fluffy little pup during the UC Exam Jam in the JCR.

Exam Jams are always happening on campus. Nothing better than a puppy and some free food to take your mind off the stress of exams. Apparently New College’s Exam Jam even got a kangaroo to make a cameo last April??

  • Pay attention in class – it will make studying much easier. This seems obvious but I never realized how much I wasn’t paying attention until I started paying attention. Again, devoting attention to something is always easier if you’re actually interested in it. Also do practice/past tests that your prof wrote, if they’re available.
  • If you have transfer credits, use them. I wish I’d used my chem credit so I wouldn’t have had to sit through it again in my first year. Make use of the CR/NCR option for electives you might not do as well in. Join a FLC (pronounced flick) to connect with other students in Life Sci. FLCs are like mini study groups where you can collaborate on coursework and learn in a friendly environment. It counts towards your co-curricular record! Research experience is also key; apply for an ROP course or to places externally.
  • Get involved outside your program as well! Whether it’s elective courses, school clubs/organizations or extra-curriculars, explore your other interests too. Doing “other stuff” makes me seem mysterious and well-rounded to those who don’t know any better.
An art book I found in the Robarts stacks about Raphael's works. Flipped to a page of a character study, comparing his rough sketch and the final product of one of his paintings.

I like taking art history courses for fun, just because it’s an area I also enjoy learning about. Taking courses outside of the sciences really helps to break the monotony of constant lab reports and paper reviews, while also fulfilling your breadth requirements.

  • During first year bio, in a sea of 1000+ students, our prof asked: “Who here wants to get into med school?” A majority of the class raises their hands. Said prof laughs in derision and comments on how only 10% of those who raised their hands will actually get in. A crippling statistic, but still true. Everyone comes in having some vaguely planned and romanticized dream about becoming a doctor. Take the time to research (and as early as possible) the requirements for such a career. It’s a long and hard path that will only be harder if you aren’t truly passionate about what you’re studying. Are you willing to put in the effort? The time? Consider other options if your heart isn’t in it. You are not a failure if you don’t get in. You are not a failure if you don’t want to get in.
A pixelated graphic of Confucius and the words

Discover your true chill. Source:

  • Everyone’s circumstances are going to be different. As our great Canadian icon Drake once said, “KNOW YOURSELF… KNOW YA WORTH.” Only you can figure out what you want and how to get it.
Drake watching a football game projected onto his hotel mirror. Tim Horton's cups litter the counter.

If Drake can simultaneously watch a football game, gaze into the mirror, drink Canadian coffee and make millions on #1 hits, then you can certainly get through U of T Life Sci. Source: Instagram @champagnepapi

  • Try not to stress out prematurely! You’ll have fun, do great and grow into yourself during your time here. U of T is your oyster.

A view of Sir Dan's as seen in the fall from a bench in front of Sid Smith. I photoshopped a sparkly oyster wearing a party hat onto the foreground.

What are some of your personal experiences as a Life Sciences student? What are newly accepted students looking forward to the most? Leave me a comment below! 

The Finals Week Guide to Productive TV-Watching 

Ondiek’s amazing post last week about how our lives start to resemble sit-coms really resonated with me, because as I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am a TV enthusiast.

My problem though, is that the binge watching tends to take over my life during finals because it is my brain’s number one method of procrastination. So, I’ve taken the liberty of putting together some my go-to tricks for TV-watching in a safe, productive and not-at-all harmful to your education kind of way.

If you’re one of the stronger few who are able to resist TV all together while studying, then kudos to you my friends! But if you’re like me and you’re weak, then enjoy some structured TV time. YOU DESERVE IT, U OF T.

1. Don’t start any new shows. – The age of online TV streaming from Netflix, Hulu, Shomi etc, means that I will have all ten seasons of Grey’s Anatomy at my disposal, waiting to be watched. My worst set of finals was the semester that I decided to start watching it while studying. Yes, I know all the reviews of Orange is the New Black are amazing, and I know that my friend has been recommending House of Cards for like a year now, but IT’S A TRAP.

No matter how great the teaser, be strong my friends: 

2. Use it as a pick-me-up or reward – For my last essay I used an episode of the Mindy Project (one of my favorite shows) as a reward for finishing each page of writing. The episodes are only 20 minutes long, so it doesn’t cut into my productivity, and Mindy is so funny that I go back to my essay writing in a better mood.

Don’t let your breaks be great. Let them be GRRRREAT.

3. Re-watch episodes you’ve seen before. – This is a where I feel the most guilty about my TV watching. Sometimes I’m so bored that I just feel like watching while studying. Or I like to have background noise. To slowly curb this terrible habit, I got into re-watching episodes or scenes that I’ve seen before. This way, I don’t feel the need to give all my attention to the episode, and I can actually get work done. But I don’t recommend this for anything other than note-taking/ transcribing, because otherwise you might start thinking about Troy’s fan-boy meltdown on Community, instead of the five principles of Medicare, and that is mildly problematic (I’ve been there).

So there you have it. Happy watching, and happy finals everyone! If you have any tips on how to curb this TV procrastination even more, then let me know down in the comments!