What my Son Thinks About His Mom Being a Student

By Heather Watts

It feels like I have been in graduate school for quite some time. I can remember crossing the stage at my commencement from Columbia University Teachers College back in 2014. I was graduating with my first master’s degree, in Literacy Instruction. I was four months pregnant, and with a growing baby in my belly, was filled with excitement, wondering what opportunities were ahead for us. 

Fast forward four years and that growing baby was now a growing toddler, and we found ourselves at yet another higher education institution as I was working toward my second master’s degree. We made some big changes to be at Harvard. We sold our house in New York State to move to Massachusetts for a one-year program, and my mom even moved with us to help care for my son, Nico. He was not of school age and daycare costs were outrageous; we were so grateful to have my mom living with us during this time. 

A collage of images of Heather Watts graduating from her first two degrees, and a final image of her and Nico playing in the leaves outside.

There’s something you should know about me – I love getting involved, in clubs, causes, work, everything. I’ve always had a tough time saying no to an opportunity as I want to be involved in impact work and love learning from team environments. During my time at Harvard, I was a full-time student, Equity & Inclusion Fellow, co-chair of an Indigenous student organization (shoutout to FIERCE!), worked as a Research Assistant, Social Media Manager, and Curriculum Designer. Like I said, I LOVE being involved and hadn’t learned a lot about the concept of overextending oneself. Something I constantly struggled with was this question: 

Am I a bad parent when I choose school instead family time? 

Share Your Story: My Journey to Canada

by Farhana Safa

Our Share Your Story Series highlights individual’s stories in the Redefining Traditional community – and aims to bring in different perspectives by student parents and supporters. If you have a story you would like to share you can submit your story here!: Share Your Story Submission Form


A storybook opened up with colours bursting out of it.

My journey in Canada began on 14th July, 2018, and since then it’s been a roller coaster experience for me. By roller coaster I mean it has been kind of frightening, challenging, and at the same time super exciting journey. I came here with my husband and with my 1.5 years old daughter, leaving my well-built career and loving parents back home in Bangladesh. I was not intended to leave my country anyway, however, my admission in the MScCH program in the prestigious DLSPH (The Dalla Lana School of Public Health) at the University of Toronto made me end up with the tough decision of settling in Canada. Moving to a new country with a toddler seemed to be extremely challenging, but I didn’t recognized the actual depth of this challenge until I arrived in Canada for the first time! 

Journey of an International Student (Part Two): “The Heart Is Not A Lonely Hunter”

by Shamim Ahmed 

In our ‘Journey of an International Student’ series, Shamim shares his experiences and journey as an international student parent at the University of Toronto. This thoughtful monthly series aims to highlight experiences of international student parents, find connections in our community, and uplift voices of others. If you have story or idea for our Redefining Traditional community, you can submit it here! 


This week’s snowfall* was quite unprecedented. I was not expecting a heavy snowfall on the first day of November; not at least from my experience of living in Toronto for the last four years. Snowfall was heaviest when I came to Toronto in 2016. I remember our most adventurous journey to this city was then to visit the Queen’s Park, a 10-minute walk from our home. The park was full of snow. When we entered the field, it felt like we were about to drown into a rough white sea! It is such a fond memory. However, I think, snowfall gradually decreased in the following years. Is climate change started impacting the urban cities too? Maybe. There is no chance that we ignore or deny the effects of climate change on our beloved habitat. It’s true and it’s happening.  

Share Your Story: A Can of Soup on a Halloween Eve

By Kaitlyn Corlett – Senior Project Assistant at the Innovation Hub

Our Share Your Story Series highlights individual’s stories in the Redefining Traditional community – and aims to bring in different perspectives by student parents and supporters. If you have a story you would like to share you can submit your story here!: Share Your Story Submission Form

Kaitlyn Corlett smiling at the camera
KAITLYN CORLETT

I was raised by a single mother who pursued her education throughout my childhood. Recently, I’ve been reflecting a lot on memories of when my mother was completing her Master’s degree online and we were navigating this reality in our home. Today, I share with you one memory that has always stuck with me.

It Takes a Village

By Heather Watts

Heather standing in front of a colourful background wearing a teal long sleeve shirt, smiling to the camera.

Throughout my childhood, I lived in a number of different communities and homes. Burlington, Ottawa, and Cambridge, Massachusetts are just a few placed I have called ‘home’ over the years. Our moves across Turtle Island were a result of different career opportunities my father pursuing. I remember the networks of friends and family that supported me as a young child: Anna in Burlington, Tara in Ottawa, and Robin and Charmaine in Cambridge. I’m sure there are many others, but these are folks I have vivid memories of riding bicycles in the driveway, taking long walks down our residential street, and playing hours of Monopoly with (you know you’re making an investment of time when you sit down to play Monopoly!) To these people, I thank you. You weren’t merely babysitters, or but people who I looked up to, confided in, and leaned on during my younger years. 

Three Things I Wish I Knew About Being Both a Parent and a Grad Student at UofT

By J. Sparks, Graduate Student at the University of Toronto

This is a re-post from the Intersections blog at the Family Care Office at the University of Toronto (learn more here!). While this post is based on experiences at the University of Toronto, we recognize that these insights apply to all student parents in higher education and we invite you to share any insights in the comments below!


If I had an opportunity to go back in time, I would have shared these three things with my former self about what to expect as a parent and as a student enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Toronto.

Journey of an International Student (Part One): “Much Ado About Nothing”

by Shamim Ahmed 

In our ‘Journey of an International Student’ series, Shamim shares his experiences and journey as an international student parent at the University of Toronto. This thoughtful monthly series aims to highlight experiences of international student parents, find connections in our community, and uplift voices of others. If you have story or idea for our Redefining Traditional community, you can submit it here! 


As an international student, I flew from a country which is almost 11000 kilometers far from Canada. When it’s 8am in Toronto, that’s 6pm in my home country, Bangladesh. I arrived in Toronto on a chilly morning of December 2016. I had previously seen snowfall in Geneva during my short trip to United Nation’s Human Rights Commission meeting back in 2012, but for my wife and daughter it was the first-time watching the snow fall. It was very exciting, but I remember we could not enjoy as much we would love to because we were occupied with so many thoughts at that time. We were concerned about adapting with a new culture and society in this new chapter moving of our lives.

Allow Us to Reintroduce Ourselves…

By Shamim Ahmed and Heather Watts, Design Researchers at the Innovation Hub & Redefining Traditional

Screenshot of Shamim Ahmed and Heather Watts in a Microsoft Teams meeting, who are working virtually on Redefining Traditional, both smiling at the camera.
Shamim & Heather working virtually!

As we are jumping back into the Fall semester, we wanted to take a moment to re-introduce ourselves to you all. We are Shamim Ahmed and Heather Watts, the Design Researchers of the Redefining Traditional: Making Higher Education Family Friendly project at the Innovation Hub – University of Toronto. We look forward to bringing our voices and stories to this blog space, as well as be in community with you on our Facebook group [insert link]. If you haven’t joined already, we’d love to have you!  

A bit about us and what brings us to this work… 

Reflections on Orange Shirt Day

By Heather Watts – Design Researcher at the Innovation Hub

Last year around this time, I wrote the following post on my Facebook page: 

Icon of an orange shirt with the text 'Every Child Matters' on it.
Orange Shirt Day Logo: learn more at www.orangeshirtday.org/

A lot of feelings as I dropped Nico off this morning, sporting his orange shirt. Today is Orange Shirt Day, a day designed to educate people and promote awareness about the Indian residential school system and the impact this system had on Indigenous communities for more than a century in Canada, and still does today. 

This system was assimilation and erasure packaged and tied as ‘education’. What do we mean when we use this word? What are we teaching? What are we intentionally leaving out? What narrative are we working to maintain? 

As I walked my little love to his school here in Toronto, I reflect, what narrative continues to be the one that is upheld? What constitutes knowledge? Who is taught about and in what way are they remembered, revered, and celebrated?  

Let us not just be performative on this day, or any day for that matter. Beyond shirts. Beyond land acknowledgements. Let us be critical. Let us be systemic and institutional change agents. 

Over the past twelve months since I posted these words, I have engaged in the topic of Reconciliation on a scholarly level, as well as on a personal level. As an Indigenous woman with family members who are residential school survivors, there is a lot to consider when it comes to this journey of Reconciliation. I still very much believe that there is a dominant narrative that our institutions of learning work to maintain, and in large part, that narrative omits, marginalizes, and misrepresents Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).  

A Fall Like Never Before: Academic Success Can Still Be Colorful!

Written by Shamim Ahmed – Design Researcher at the Innovation Hub

Academic success is so important for students, and we know it well. We often think academic success is all about studying, but if we reflect on lifestyles where academic progress seems to flourish for folks, studying is not necessarily the only thing that has helped them succeed. A little bit of planning and giving importance to the smaller but important things in life supported them to be successful in their academic journey. However, this summer was difficult for most of us. Due to COVID-19, students might have to make up for classes, continue home schooling or face financial uncertainties. Due to the pandemic, many students might not have been able to engage in summer activities, visit family, or have a summer vacation that helps us return to the Fall semester energized. It is well known how overwhelming it can be returning to school – especially now, no matter your degree or grade. It is not just applicable to new students, but also for the returning students after an uncertain summer of 2020.