Getting some good reminders at Mindfest 2016

Taking care of your mental health can be a bit of a chore if that’s not something you’re already mindful (ha ha) of. To be honest, taking care of your health in general can sometimes be a chore. I think it’s hard to self-discipline yourself when you don’t feel the immediate consequences of your actions. It just doesn’t feel like not sleeping well or not eating healthy is going to affect you right. now. and so it’s easier to just give in sometimes.

So it’s nice to have reminders every once in a while to keep yourself on track, especially during times when things are going relatively well and you think you don’t actually need those reminders.

This past Wednesday was Mindfest, a “festival to create awareness and gain appreciation for mental health.” I had missed out on Mindfest last year (check out Madelin’s blog from last year if you missed out as well), and so I was glad I had a chance to go this year.

Hart House, U of T

Most of the day events and presentations were hosted at Hart House.

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Lessons in Objects

"Inside Out" plushies, notebooks, hard hat keychains, sunglasses, ballet shoes

It’s tough to feel confident when you’ve had setbacks. Very few of us can immediately bounce back after some kind of a failure without feeling burned for a little while.

For me, returning to school after a few years away proved to be a bigger challenge than I had thought it would be. I bit off more than I can chew in an attempt to make up for lost time and ended up paying the price for it—academically, mentally, physically.

But what good is it wallowing in past failures? Starting this school year as a full-time student again, I try to keep in mind the things that I learned from my disappointments and the mindset and new habits I want to try to stick to going forward. Here, I present some of the “tokens” of my learned lessons.

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It’s essay season; do you know where your apostrophe should go?

You gotta write good like you know you should. Take them words and string ’em together all smart-like. Why? Because words make us wanna go:

Pictured: graphic of "Yaaaaaaas werk!" written in the fanciest calligraphy font I could findThat was painful, I know. I am deeply sorry for putting you through that. The point of it was to show how cringeworthy bad writing can be. [Life@UofT will not be held responsible for any damages resulting from rageful fits my above paragraph may have induced, including but not limited to thrown computers, torn pillows, and a decreased faith in humanity]

Good writing is so important in the academic environment. Professors believe that profoundly; a lot of what they do depends on the written word. It’s no surprise, then, that professors are often experts at writing well. I have picked up so many great tricks from them throughout my time at university. In the spirit of solidarity during prime essay season, I would like to share my favourite tips with you lovely people. Continue reading

A Soul’s Ballad: The Blessing of Reflective Writing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife university students write—a lot. At some point, the word ‘writing’ might elicit an instinctive groan because it just meant finishing that reflection piece for English, that chem lab report, or that [insert energy-sucking work here]. As a result, being entrenched in mid-October, you’ll likely witness your friends partaking in stress-relieving activities, such as dancing, crocheting, binge-watching Orange is the New Black, or in my case, writing.

Now, you may ask, how exactly is writing going to relieve you of your stress . . . from writing? Here’s the thing: I’m talking about writing for self-reflection. I’m not penning down an analysis of The Iliad, but personal things, such as academic anxieties, relationship problems, Am I really real and in control of my own body, or am I just a figment of another person’s imagination/imagining I am real but am really not? moments—the usual.

Recently, though, I haven’t been writing to de-stress myself. In fact, writing has been the cause of my stress! As such, I decided to go to a program called “Write Now!” where upper-year/graduate students host bi-weekly sessions for reflective writing to try and reconnect with writing for leisure, and boy, not only did it relieve me from my super stress-filled week, but I ended up feeling calmer than I’d felt in a long time.

After springing from my class in UC, I came running to the Friday session at 11:30 am and entered a room that emanated stress-free vibes.

The Sidney Smith room used for the Write Now workshop.

A room filled with shades of blue. Blue walls, blue desks, blue chairs. If I I had the chance to look at the Mirror of Erised, this image would’ve filled it.

The room was small and cozy, which was a nice change after having so many classes where I was surrounded by hundreds of other people. Now, there might be the misconception that everyone in the room was an English major, but that wasn’t the case. In our group, there were students from across all disciplines, including Psychology and Physics. Everyone was welcome, regardless of what they studied.

This week’s writing session focused on the theme of time. We were given creative prompts, such as such as interpreting combinations of prepositions with the word ‘time,’ and tasked with writing for an allotted amount of time. It could be a poem, a creative piece, or even a splurge of incoherent musings. Ultimately, the goal was to write without overthinking. We were allowed to write badly because this writing wasn’t going to be labelled with a percentage defining its worth—this writing was for ourselves. My prompt was ‘besides time,’ which I can definitely say yielded to . . . interesting results (I made the strangest comparison between time and a fleeting doe).

My notebook and pen I used for the workshop.

My cheesy notebook, which I filled with the strangest contemplations.

Throughout the duration of the workshop, the ball of stress rattling in my chest unraveled. The atmosphere, the quiet moments, the release of words onto the page, and the relaxed discussions that followed left me feeling lighter. Once I tackled my work afterwards, I no longer saw it as Way #28 to punish uni students, but instead, Way #28 to punish uni students, but will, over the long run, be worth it (in non-Tiffany terms: I viewed my work with a clearer, less-stressed and cynical mind).

I’m sure that, like me, some of you have put off your personal loves to keep up with schoolwork, but this month, I challenge you to treat yourself to something stress-relieving, and I highly encourage you to drop by one of the writing workshops, since you never know, expressive writing might be your stress-reliever, too!

Details about the “Write Now!” program can be found here. They also post their weekly writing themes on their Facebook page here.


Do you write as a stress-reliever, and has this activity every yielded to strange thoughts and/or revelations for you? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

Hand Cramps Be Gone: The Art of Note-taking in Lectures

Maybe you got hand cramps from packing sand to make sandcastles all over a beach, maybe you got them from tapping lines of candy in the intense game that is Candy Crush, maybe you got them from whipping fluffy cream in your kitchen for delicious whoopie pies, or maybe, if you’re like me, you got them from clinging on to a kite string too tightly for fear of it whisking away; regardless, you’re so not ready for hand cramps caused by scribbling an infinite number of notes during lectures, especially when you feel like all you did was accomplish the art of transcribing.

My brother, taking over the kite-flying like a pro after I got a hand cramp.

— My brother, taking over the kite-flying like a pro after I got a hand cramp.

The solution to a happy hand and concise notes? Improve your note-taking skills. Here are a few strategies I’ve implemented that have helped me with this so far:

  1. Work with headers

Sometimes, the lecture slides might include headers on which the prof plans to elaborate—write them down. If headers aren’t provided, listen to what the prof is explaining and later jot down the concept or topic that best encompasses the material. This will not only help organize your notes, but it’ll also serve as a ready-made list of concepts for exam review.

Notes I took for Astronomy class. I use ‘☆ |’ to make headers easier to locate. "☆ |Our Cosmic Address: Earth - the planet in which we live; Solar system - one or more stars plus the bodies orbiting it/them; Milky Way galaxy - the galaxy containing our solar system; Local Group - a group of galaxies containing the Milky Way. ☆ |Units: 1 AU (astronomical unit) - average distance between the Earth and Sun; 1 LY (light year): distance light travels in one year."

— Notes I took for Astronomy class. I use ‘☆ |’ to make headers easier to locate.

  1. Jot down brief bullet points about what the prof is saying

Instead of transcribing the lecture slide featuring a twenty-line passage from Metamorphoses word-for-word, take brief notes about what the prof is saying. Lecture slides can’t substitute for a prof’s one- to three-hour talk, after all. Plus, some profs post their slides on Blackboard afterwards, so you can copy them later.

  1. Use abbreviations and symbols

Ever write as fast as if you were on a time-sensitive mission in a James Bond movie, and by the time you’ve written your sixth word, the teacher has switched topics, leaving you with a string of half-finished sentences? It might help to substitute words for symbols and abbreviate long words to ensure you get all your notes down. For example, try writing ‘&’ for ‘and’ or ‘political party’ as ‘pol pty.’

  1. Extra: Edit/revise your notes

If following the step above, you might very well end up with a page filled with something that looks partly Quenya. To avoid this, edit your notes after the lecture, when you still remember what those symbols and abbreviations stood for. Also, revise your notes until you’re sure they’re cohesive enough that you’ll understand them a few months from now, when you need them for exams.

A chart of Tolkien’s created language, Quenya, which vaguely resembles my high-school law notes . . . Source:

— A chart of Tolkien’s created language, Quenya, which vaguely resembles my high-school law notes . . .

If you’re interested in honing your note-taking skills even more, consider signing up for an upcoming workshop hosted by the Academic Success Centre called “Reading & Note-Taking.” Details on the ASC workshop are listed here under October 1.

Remember, it’s okay to find note-taking difficult and frustrating at first. However, like all other skills, it can be improved. Save yourself from that hand cramp and churn out those beautiful, envy-inducing notes!



Do you have any other tips on how to make great lecture notes? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

Planning to Procrastinate

I have never felt so emotionally attached to an e-card as the one you see below. 


Not only do I feel like this victorian lady is my spirit animal, but I also feel as if I may have actually written this e-card subconsciously, and am now just re-discovering it for the first time. 

My name is Rachael, and I am a professional procrastinator. 

I’ve always been fully aware of my procrastination habits – even in high school I was a night-before essay writer. At university I’ve definitely met some procrastination pros who surpass even me, but I’ve also met hundreds of people who plan and perfect things weeks in advanced. 

I always use to compare myself to these people. They must be getting such better marks than me. Their lives are probably so stress-free. THEY MUST BE LITERALLY PERFECT AND I WANT TO BE THEM IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. 


My preferred form of procrastination is Netflix, coffee, and painting my nails

But over the last semester, I’ve learned that I’m not just a typical procrastinator. No, I actually plan to procrastinate. I know that may seem like an oxymoron, but it really is true. I am the most organized last-minute procrastinator you will probably ever meet. 

If I have an essay due on Monday, I will make sure I’ve done all my research by Friday, and I will spend all day Saturday and Sunday locked in ROBARTS creating in depth outlines and rough copies. By 8pm on Sunday night – I will have a perfect (at least to me at the time) essay ready to be handed in the next morning. 


More important than this realization however, was the realization that maybe this is okay. 

Procrastination has such an awful stigma attached to it. The entire internet is filled with procrastination memes and 2am Facebook posts by stressed out students. They contribute to this idea that procrastination is an inadequate and unacceptable form of studying.

I know that there are hundreds of research projects out there that tell you all the reasons why procrastination is bad for your mental health and your grades, there are actually quite a few out there who say that procrastination isn’t as bad as we make it out to be

Sure, if you’re skipping deadlines and missing assignments, your procrastination is getting a bit out of control. But if you find that you’re actually able to produce your best work when you procrastinate, and it’t not affecting your physical or mental health, then who am I (or the Internet) to tell you that you’re doing it wrong? 

When I eliminated the stigma around my procrastination – I found I was actually able to produce better results, and be less stressed in the process. I didn’t feel like I was doing something wrong, or like I had “planned to fail, by failing to plan.” 

Instead, I would sit down and set out a timeline of my procrastination. I would re-schedule my time, knowing that I was going to spend the entire weekend in the library. Overall, I think this has actually made be a better – and certainly happier – student. 

What’s your option on procrastination? Do you embrace it, or does it embarrass you? Or do you not do it at all!? Let me know in the comments below! 

Write Away

I’ve been writing non-stop all week so I’m typing this blog with sore fingers. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much work to do in such a short amount of time! What’s the biggest assignment you’ve ever had to write?

This week, I wrote three essays for Urban Politics and Globalization, Indigenous Spirituality, and Economics, for a total of 21 pages plus another 11 pages of references. Yes you read that correctly, I had to write an essay for Economics. You may be wondering what the point is for having essays in a math-based class but if you read an article in an economics magazine, you’ll realize why we need better economics writers…

From my perspective, looking down at the pyjamas and moccasins I'm wearing

Most of the week I was cooped up at home writing in my PJs, so this was the week of the “Pyjama Papers” (Photo by Zachary Biech)

In all honesty, I don’t recommend writing three big assignments in only a week. It’s taken years for me to learn how to research, write, edit and cite my essays correctly and even longer to learn how to do it all quickly. In extreme times like this I can make it through but it’s a rough ride. I don’t want you to have to go through it!

My first recommendation is to do your research first. Give yourself a few weeks to begin researching because it takes a long time and you’ll need the time for the rest of the essay. I have found that researching before I decide on a thesis is really helpful for informing me and giving me direction.

Check your assignment guidelines for what type of sources you need (including course readings and outside sources). When your assignment has a suggested number of sources, my rule of thumb is to use twice as many as suggested. Good essays have a ridiculous amount of cited research so get as many as you can! Also, using peer-reviewed academic sources is always the best route. I use the U of T libraries website and I go into the ‘subjects’ database. From there, you can get specialized databases tailored for your course subject!

Looking almost straight upwards from the front door of Robarts, up to the top of the building

U of T has MILLIONS of sources for you to choose from in their freaky-looking libraries. Imagine how much good research is in there… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

First Nations house has an awesome library too, I highly recommend it!

For taking notes on your research, I use the queue card system. Write the name of the author or document, the page number of the detail you’re taking a note on and only include a few details per card. With this system, you can mix and match cards like building blocks however you need and you’ll have the referencing info you need for your citations later on.

A ridiculously huge stack of Q cards with all sorts of colourful rubber bands, clips, and sticky notes to try and sort them

Here’s what a few essay’s worth of queue cards look like, at least when I’m the researcher… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Work hard on your thesis and make sure to follow it the whole way through the essay. There are plenty of resources and people at First Nations House and elsewhere in U of T to help you if you get stuck. For example, I use the University College Writing Centre one-on-one appointments all the time! At First Nations House, you can meet with Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle and she can help you with essays as well!

Next, you’ll encounter the editing stage. Here’s where A+ papers are made or lost. Edit, edit, then edit some more. When you write stuff out for the first time, it will usually be pretty bulky and confusing so go over it a few times. I’ve had essays in which I was able to edit away two whole pages without removing any of my content, so trust me when I say there’s always a shorter way to say what you want to say! Also read your essay out loud! I find that reading my work aloud helps me quickly identify awkward statements.

Lastly, you’ll need to do your citations. It’s super important to get these right, so check and double check that you’ve got them all done correctly! I always use the OWL Purdue website–it has APA, MLA, and Chicago styles spelled out excellently.

Now, time to get writing!




Storytelling is very powerful. Stories can hold all the experiences of a person’s life and the lives of their ancestors, even if the stories are short and specific. Stories also evolve the more times they are told and listened to.

A beige cloth coaster with turquoise, rusty red, and black imagery of a turtle

There are many teachings and stories even in this small picture, though it can take a lifetime to learn them all! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I try to tell stories all the time. The key word there is try. I rarely get all the messages across the way I want to but I think everybody feels this way at some point. We all have so much to share!

Lee Maracle, who is a traditional teacher at First Nations House, is also a Grandmother of storytelling. Her experiences and activities cover a huge range and span from all across the country! She is a great authority on Indigenous literature and has written in many different forms: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She also speaks with this authority and she has recently released another book called Celia’s Song.

Lee is around to meet with you on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

Teaching is a key function of stories. Indigenous Education Week in Toronto this year exemplifies this relationship and the city is buzzing with many excellent activities based on Indigenous learning and teaching systems. First Nations House has events every day from Feb. 2-6.

I couldn’t get the poster the load properly, so check out the First Nations House Facebook page:

A very snowy day, with grey skies and heavy snowfall, looking across a white and fluffy Queen's Park to the west, at some of the old red brick houses of St. Michaels College, and the grey towers beyond

There is so much to learn, and so many stories to hear in every corner of U of T (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I’m really excited because this will be a new experience for me and I hope to learn a lot from all those willing to share. Mainstream education systems can be quite dry so these new teachings will help bring some life back into learning!

On Tuesday February the 3rd, I’ll be going to an Anishnaabemowin poetry reading at the Multi-Faith Centre. Poetry is a mystery to me mostly but the words in songs and poems are still powerful stories. I’m even learning the power of such words in my Russian language class where we’ve been reciting and learning the beauty held within Russian poeticism and novels.

A poem in Russian cyrillic letters, hardly sensible even when translated to English

This is a poem by Sergei Esenin (he wrote it in his own blood, freaky right?) (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I just read that last sentence to myself, and I think I must sound a little too poetic for my own good! The only poetry I’ve ever written was, well, never. To be honest, I’m finding that I barely even know the English language, and I’m getting worse at it as I learn more Anishnaabemowin and Russian!

Looking up at the southwest corner of University College, with it's old grey stones and shingles covered in fresh snow on this cloudy snowy day

So many stories have been born in the old UC building, including some of mine! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

It’s always worth the extra effort spent on getting ahead with schoolwork so we can experience more later on. I’m trying my best to get everything caught up this week so I can spend some time relaxing and learning during Indigenous Education Week. Relaxation is especially important this time of year, as the cold can be hard on us and I’m finding school to be very busy. January was intense enough, but February will be even more ridiculous! Stay strong and be resilient now through the hard work and tough times, and you will have a bigger life in the long run, with more experiences and better stories to share.

A snowy Soldier's Tower on a Snowy Day

Soldier’s Tower also has many stories within it’s coloured glass window (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Another Year Wiser

December has finally arrived! I always love this time of year. December is a special time when we welcome winter into our lives and focus on getting away from the cold crazy world out there and curl up inside where it’s warm. Winter is also a time of reflection.

Looking out from a dark tunnel in a St. Michaels residence into an open courtyard with a large fountain

Almost through the passage, into bright newness (Photo by Zachary Biech)

This post is my last of 2014! Can you believe it? This semester has flown by so fast! I’ve learned so many new things, met many new people and had many new experiences.  I can honestly say this has been one of the most exciting half-years in my life.

The tangled wilderness and fallen leaves strewn around a secret garden behind the Victoria College library

I’ve done so much exploring, and yet I finally just stumbled into this park at Victoria College (Photo by Zachary Biech)

So much has changed and I have changed as well. I’m still the same old Zach but university life changes everything. I finally embraced that change and even caused some of it on my own.

A notebook page with "thanks" written in Anishnaabemowin, Russian, and English

These are all thank-you’s to my friends and family for their birthday wishes, in the three languages I use these days (I recently turned twenty, just to add more change into the mix!) On my birthday, I wrote a syllabics test for Anishnaabemowin, studied Russian, and submitted an essay which had Russian Politics AND Indigenous studies… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

To cap off the year, I’ll share some key points of my success this semester.

Key #1: Balance.

Balance balance balance! In my first blog, I shared my journey towards balance and how that journey has shaped my university experience. In short, all you need to do is recognize the four areas of your life, (body, emotion, mind, spirit) and give them each equal attention. Trust me, it works.

Key #2: Do what you love.

You are the only person who knows best what you are interested in and how you want to live and work. Celebrate those interests; they are what make you so special! It’s tremendously hard work to be a university student between classes and everything outside of class so it’s important to choose things you are comfortable pouring your heart and soul into (I think you’ll find the hard work feels much easier this way!)

Key #3: Change is as good as rest.

It’s amazing how big an impact you can have on yourself by changing things up. Try getting away from campus for a while, explore new areas and even rearrange some furniture if you have to. Change it up, it really helps!

Key #4: Get involved.

There are so many different groups you can engage with at U of T and in downtown Toronto, there’s bound to be something you’d love. So try going to a couple of meetings and choose groups that you feel you can connect with. The networks and projects you can build are limitless and the skills and energy you develop in those groups is invaluable.

Looking out into a large gymnasium, with many tables of Indigenous artworks and handmade crafts

As promised, here’s a view of the NCCT craft sale I volunteered at! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A table with huge baskets of colourful candies and crafts, which were the prizes for the raffle

Here’s the raffle table from the NCCT craft sale, where I was stationed (Photo by Zachary Biech)

For instance, being a part of the Student Life Blog has been hugely helpful in my life. I get a lot more writing and editing practice which helps me with essays and assignments.  I get to expand and share my experiences, all while connecting with my Blogger peers, who are all amazing friends I am thankful to have!

Looking south over all of the awesome buildings of campus, towards all the huge towers down by Toronto's waterfront (including the CN Tower)

An awesome view of campus from the OISE Nexus Lounge, during the Indigenous Winter Social (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Keep these 4 keys in mind in your life at university and your path will become much clearer.

That’s all from me for now! Wait for my next blog in 2015!

Reading, Writing, and Relaxation (They Can Go Together, I Promise)

When brainstorming ideas with the rest of the blog crew this week, we were discussing libraries and using academic resources.  I made a joking comment that you could, hypothetically that is, actually get a book out for pleasure reading.  The crew laughed and made comments about all the spare time they don’t have, but it got me thinking.

As a humanities student I spend about 90% of my time reading and writing.  While that’s allowed me to develop great skills, it also takes away the pleasure and novelty of those two activities.  It turns something that provides most people (non-students at least) relaxation and comfort, into a chore or a cause of stress.

So over my last two years here at university, I’ve mad a conscious effort to not let this be the case.  I’ve continued to find time to read and write recreationally. 

Picture of two adorable grey tabby kittens leaning their heads against one another posing on top of  large open textbooks

How could this NOT make you want to read?!

Everyone knows that reading has benefits.  Not only does it keep your mind active, but reading expands your knowledge in a natural way.  Even reading works of fiction educates you in certain subjects, or at the very least helps to inspire your creativity.

For this reason, I read every night before I go to bed.  Even if it’s just a few pages, reading a magazine or a book is one of the sure-fire ways to relax my mind and help me fall asleep.  I would have just been spending that time scrolling through instagram or tumblr anyway, and the added bonus of not being on a LCD screen means that I’m also giving my eyes a break before bed.

Picture of book that reads "The Bang Bang club by Greg Marinovich" laid out on a bed spread with a pair of reading glasses on top.

The book I’m currently reading/loving – The Bang Bang Club by Greg Marinovich. I picked up this gem used at the U of T Bookstore!

Many of the U of Libraries on campus carry fiction books, or like at the Laidlaw Library, feature a “new and noteworthy” section of books you may interested in reading for pleasure.  I also find it fun to scour through the College book sales or the U of T bookstore to see what catches my eye.

A selection of magazines stacked on top of one another. Titles include various publications such as vanity fair, vogue, and fashion magazine.

Reading magazines (even fashion magazines) is better for you that taking that last minute scroll through Instagram before bed!

While reading before bed has become a natural part of my routine, incorporating creative writing has definitely been a struggle.  This year, I’ve found two solutions that seem to be working pretty well:

Firstly, I keep a journal and pen next to my bed at all times.  I don’t give myself a schedule or force myself to write in it every night, but I do keep it there for any times I feel inspired.  Sometimes I just write a journal entry about my day, sometimes I write a poem, or other times just a lyric or phrase that’s been stuck in my head.

Picture of two paperback journals stacked on top of each other. They're sitting on a wooden dresser next to a white bed with a bedside lamp shining of them.

My trusty bedside journal and inspiration/work book! I keep it nearby at all times just in case inspiration hits!

It’s amazingly cathartic to write in a journal and realize all of the little things that my mind has been holding onto throughout the day.  Often, I’m surprised by what comes out and how relieved I am to have it on paper.

The other form of creative writing that I do is letter writing.  Every month or so I write a letter to my grandmas letting them know what’s been going on in my life lately, how I’m feeling, and what I’m looking forward to in the next couple of weeks.  My grandmas love receiving them, and love being able to write back.

Picture of hand-written notes next to envelopes and a package of Canadian stamps

For selfish-reasons it also helps me to put my life into perspective.  It forces me to look back at everything I’ve done in the month, good and bad, and decide what the highlights are.  Even better is it forces me to look into the future and prioritize what I need to get done.

Overall, continuing to read and write for pleasure has made reading and writing for school feel like less of a chore. It’s also expanded my vocabulary and now I feel more comfortable participating in conversations, because I feel like I know a little bit about a lot of different subjects.  But mostly, reading and writing has helped me to disconnect from technology and the world around me and create time for myself.