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Friday, September 24, 2010

Things I Have Learned Upon Graduating

It has been approximately four months since I have been out of university. Well, not exactly. It has been four months since I have finished my degree, but I stayed for three months during the summer for a research assistant position. So technically, it has been almost two months since I have left UTM. Do I miss it?

Let me start by saying by telling a story. The other day I was walking around the South Common Mall area and I happened to notice a swarm of students coming off the bus with backpacks; giggling, laughing, talking in their cell phones, the usual fare. I noticed how normal it was to all of them and how abnormal I felt about being there at that time. It dawned on me fully that I was no longer a part of that life. Now, I'm not saying that I will never be a part of that life again, but just that the student life of undergrad is done. Finished.

So back to the question. I miss it profoundly, but I am also ready to move on from it. Sort of. But first, let me tell you of my struggles since graduating.

1) Be prepared to write a lot of resumes and cover letters. I was joking with my aunt when she asked for the umpteenth time how my job search was going - "I picked the wrong time to graduate" I said. Which was actually true. The job market is crap right now. Everyone knows it; the media constantly report it, the government warns of it and schools hint at during job fairs. But yet, each semester, each university keeps churning out new grads who are all competing for the same jobs in this market. So my first piece of advice would be to not panic. It will take time to find a job right now. Please, do not view it as a failure and do not get frustrated which so many of my friends have done. This especially applies if you have just graduated with a BA with little to no job experience in a career type role. Just remember that you are smart, talented and capable. And you will find something in time.

2) Coming across a full time job in a field that you really want may be a lot more difficult right now. When doing my job searches, I realized that there were less employment opportunities right now for new grads and some companies have decided to forgo their new graduate programs for a year or two because of their financial situations. So if you can, apply for a volunteer position in a field that you really would like to get into for now. I realize that new grad = broke, so paid employment is needed, but if you can schedule it in and there is an opportunity do not let it slip by. Meaningful volunteer roles in places that you would eventually like to work in do count for a lot - both for yourself and for the company. Extra points if it involves helping someone.

3) Re-evaluate your resumes and cover letters and make sure that they are perfection (or as close to perfection as you believe they can be). There are several websites (just google it!) and the career centre that can help you with this. I will write a post about perfecting resumes shortly for help with this. And yes, spending time on a resume and cover letter to tailor it for the job positing you are applying for will truly make the difference between landing an interview or not.

4) Network. If you have family or friends who are employed in a company that you envision yourself working in, contact them and ask them for inside information. It may lead you somewhere or it may not. I did this and got forwarded a job posting that was only supposed to be internal to the company that I was applying it. I didn't get the job, but I did get access to a posting that only limited undergrads were competing for, making my chances that much stronger. I can understand the hesitation in people's head when I mention networking, because I feel the same way. As a devoted introvert, networking scares me to no end. But it helps to keep on friendly terms with people and there is no harm in asking family. In my experience, no one has ever turned me down when I politely asked them about seeking employment at their company.

5) Stay in touch with professors that you like and that you did well with and are on good terms with. You never know when you will need a letter or advice from them in the future. Do this genuinely with those that you truly like and care about and it wont feel like a chore at all.

6) Consider going to college for a certificate or a diploma in a professional program or to further your studies. Colleges like Sheridan or Humber offer a lot of great programs that I know graduates have gone into. The HR management certificate is the next option for almost 99% of people I know who graduated with a BA. But always do your research and find out employment perspectives and like any place that you are going to go to, research the school. Talk to alumni, talk to the professors and attend the open house.

7) And remember to just keep smiling and applying and put yourself out there. It's best to start volunteering and gaining experience while you are in school for a job / career that you would like when you graduate, but I also know that this is not always possible. Just keep an open mind and keep busy with the things you love to do.

These are all things I picked up over the past two months and some of which I wish that I had realized earlier. I am about to start a new job which I am incredibly nervous and scared about so I figured I would write this now, and come back to it and reflect upon it in a couple months. I think that staying positive has helped me to get to this point right now and I hope that it will get me even further.

If you have any questions of me about graduating, or the post-grad life, please leave a comment below or email me ( and I would be happy to answer it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

History / Historical Studies Course Review UTM

Again, this is in no way exhaustive of a list of the courses that are offered at UTM. There are TONS of history courses at UTM.I kind of found history to be tougher than political science in some sense because of the short half courses that require tons of more work than full year courses, but the payoff is great because I learned in a whole new perspective than I would have if I only took political science.

HIS101: Intro to historical studies: Professor Tavakoli

If you’re going into history or any other history related major, I think you have to take HIS101. This was probably the toughest course for a lot of first years only because it was an introduction to all the major philosophers and writers of historical theory and sometimes it’s just hard to grasp. It’s very writing focused, and you must develop your writing skills through this course. I don’t think that Prof Tavakoli teaches this course anymore, but when he did, he was great. Sometimes he would go off on a tangent, but I did learn a lot from him. But I must warn you, this is a hard course. Don’t take it if you don’t need to. But do take it to improve your writing skills if you are concerned about this.

HIS201: Intro to Middle Eastern studies: Professor Farah...

I honestly feel really bad but I do not remember the professor for this course! I took it in the summer when it was a very short course and it has changed considerably since I’ve taken it. Overall, the course was fairly easy and the material was very easy too. There was only one essay, a presentation, and a midterm test as far as I remember. The presentations were all about Islam in the modern world, which were very interesting topics. I have heard from people who have taken the course with other professors and all have said it’s generally very easy.

HIS250: Intro to Russian History: Professor Borzecki

One of my favourite professors in the history department! I loved taking Russian history with him. This course was very straightforward which I loved. It had one essay (which is a big component of the course and you are required to hand in a proposal early to determine a topic), a midterm and the final exam. The topics were really interesting and taking it in light of my Russian politics course it really helped me define some of the historical routes of Russia’s dilemmas. Borzecki’s lectures are very interesting, but be prepared to write a lot of notes; he gives a lot of details and all are important for the midterm and the final exam.

HIS261: Intro to Canadian History: Professor White

I took this course in the summer and it was very good, especially as an intro course to Canadian history. The topics were broad. There was one midterm, an essay and a final exam. The topics were easy to grasp and Professor White really loves what he teaches so it’s always great to have someone who is enthusiastic about the topic. This is a fairly easy course, all that is required is to take good lecture notes and to really listen to the overall themes that are discussed in the course as those were all on the final exam.

HIS295: Intro to African History: Professor Neil Marshall

So this course started off a bit rocky. Apparently we were supposed to have a professor, but he never showed up to the first day of class. The next week, a TA came in and said he would teach the course. Professor Marshall was really nice, but he had everything going against him when he started teaching this course: there was no outline, no syllabus, no readings in the bookstore, etc. He did the best with what he was given for this course. The course was really interesting and I learned a lot but to be honest, I learned more at home doing the required readings and assignments than attending the lectures because they just generally seemed disorganized to me. I got a really good mark in this course though and Prof Marshall did help me a lot in my final essay. I remember there were a couple small assignments and a big essay at the end of this course.

HIS307: Russian Revolutions of 1917: professor Borzecki

This was a great course as well with Professor Borzecki. He just really knows how to make courses interesting in Russian history. I liked this course because it looked at a particular chunk of Russia’s history and a very interesting chunk (the best story was about Rasputin). The course it’s fairly straightforward although I found the amount of information that was needed for the final exam was a bit much. You really need to memorize a lot for this course. There was one essay, one midterm and a final exam. The midterm was the easiest. A note on Borzecki’s courses: make sure that you find the best sources possible for the essay topic as the essay sources are scrutinized for their content and accuracy by the professor and all essays are marked by him.

HIS338: The Holocaust and Nazi Germany: Professor Wittmann

I think this has to be my favourite and most interesting course I have ever taken in university, and the one that I have learned the most from. I never intended to take this course, it just happened to fall into my schedule, but I am so happy I took it. First of all, it provided such an amazing perspective about a topic that I thought I had general knowledge about. The detail and the way that professor Wittmann lectures is amazing. We had a concentration camp survivor to come speak to us at the end of the class and it was an experience I will never forget. This course really did change the way I looked at the holocaust and Germany’s history and law in general. It was kind of hard as they graded fairly tough, but I ended up with a fairly good mark in the end. There is a book review, an essay, a midterm and a final exam for this course. The final exam is not as tough as the midterm in my opinion. The book review was probably the hardest component of this. There are also tutorials which I recommended that you attend as they helped me a lot for the final exam.

HIS366: Diasporic Histories and Cultures: Professor Rima Berns McGown

Such a wonderful course with such a wonderful professor. I really enjoyed this course. It was incredibly interesting and we discussed a lot of current and relevant issues regarding identity and race and religion of various peoples around the world. Professor McGown is such a delight and is very insightful and really conducts the class very well in group discussions. We saw a lot of movies that were really good in this course. It was fairly easy as long as you did the readings. There was a short intro to yourself, two short assignments and a major essay where you synthesize several novels that were supposed to be read into an essay. It was fairly easy if you can handle reading five novels in a semester. They were all interesting though which made it better.

As always feel free to ask me any questions about my experiences regarding history coruses at UTM in the comment section below. I always answer questions!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Political Science Course Review UTM

This is in no way exhaustive, and these are just some of the courses I took at university with some of the profs. Some have left unfortunately. Also, if you have any questions do leave a comment on this post and I'll get back to you! Ps, this is just for the political science courses at UTM, Geography (GGR) and History (HIS) and CCIT (CCT) courses will be blogged about later. Oh, and I didn't know the actual names of some of the courses, but the codes are all correct.

POL111: Politics of Canada: Professor Johns
·         Amazing course because of the professor. Seriously, it was such a tragedy when Professor Johns left UTM! He was the most amazing lecturer; a bitter and ascorbic version of John Stewart. He really gave the most amazing and engaging lectures and he always took the first ten minutes of class to just talk about daily events. He would engage the students and your belly would laugh after his lectures were over because of the lectures. I wish he taught more at UTM! As for the course content, I might have not been the best judge because I had already taken so many political science courses beforehand so it was all review for me. But for a first year looking to just skim the surface of political systems in general, it was informative and easy. Just one midterm, one paper and one exam and tutorials.
POL113: ideas and Ideologies: Professor Lippincott
·         Ask anyone at UTM who their favourite professor is; chances are if they’ve taken Poli Sci it will be Lippincott. He’s an amazing lecturer and just SO hilarious that coming to class early in the morning for him was worth it. The course content is ok IF you are into political theory or philosophy. Surprisingly, that's what I’m best at; give me Plato or Hobbes and I’m pretty much good to write a paper. BUT for those who don't know about theory, this course would be really dry. Granted, if you want to do a political science specialist / major, you must take POL200 and this is a nice intro. I *hated* the essay for this course though, and it was my lowest mark in first year. The essay was to apply political philosophy to the show of survivor. It may sound easy, but it was a bore and the TAs marked it as if we were in our fourth year. The midterm was super easy though, and the exam was easy too. But take it just for Lippincott and you would probably still have a good impression of the course!
POL114: World Issues: Professor Johns
·         My FIRST poli sci course! Ah, professor Johns, he is the one that made me want to study political science. Every lecture of his was a treat! The course was really good, taught me *a lot* about basic political institutions, political figures, basic history and the like. The TAs were good, nothing to complain about. The format was easy; midterm, essay, tutorials and exam. Everyone had something to say in tutorial because if you read the newspaper / watched TV you could just discuss those topics.
POL242: Methods: Professor Lachapelle
·         Such a wonderful professor that I thought made all the statistics material really easy to learn! Seriously good at lecturing and really, really helpful! I know the material can be confusing for some students because its math based and those who are not mathematically inclined may tend to find it challenging. But I live and breathe quantitative analysis, so it was great for me. The course structure was good too; just four assignments and a in-class exam or a paper. I loved this course, but I would say be cautious to take it if you don't need it, it could drop your GPA if you don't understand statistics and statistical analysis (regression, control tables, crosstabs, etc).
POL208: Intro to International Relations: Professor Yaniszewski
·         Good prof. I took this in the summer and it was a very easy, laid back course. It was interesting and the Prof was engaging. He gave *a lot* of details and tested you on those details so make sure to take good notes if you ever have him as a professor. The course was really good, we learned theory at first and then actual case studies. The course had a 15% tutorial and that was a bit of a bore. I found the lectures to be better than the tutorials. There was a midterm, an exam, tutorials and one essay. He has his own citation style so make sure to follow this because he takes off a lot of marks if you do not follow it to a tee!
POL200: Political Theory: Professor Ferry
·         Professor Ferry is so nice! He was so understanding and gave out extensions when you really needed them. I like political theory so this course was a breeze for me. Well not a breeze, I did do a lot of work, but it wasn’t too hard if you know what you’re talking about. The lectures were informative about the content of what you were reading so it wasn’t bad. The course style was two essays, tutorials, little quizzes in class and an exam. The quizzes helped getting you on track with the reading, and the tutorials were 20% and were really easy.
POL214: Canadian Government and Politics: Professor Pond
·         Really funny prof! I just wish that I tried harder in the class. He gives a lot of information and its easy to follow. I hated my TA and I never went to tutorial and the other TA who marked screwed everyone over. I’ve never gotten such low marks before, especially in a second year political science course! I loved the prof though. There were two essays, a midterm, tutorial and an exam. I studied by butt off for the exam and it was really hard, harder than my third year political science courses.
POL302: Politics of Western Europe and the European Union: Professor Yaniszewski and Schatz
·         So the professor changed half way through the year. Thank God for Yaniszewski in the first half; made it so simple with a midterm and a simple essay. His lectures were full of little details you had to know, but easy to get an A. With Schatz there was considerably more work involved; you MUST be prepared for lectures. This means having done all the readings beforehand. We focused on Islam in Europe for the second half. If you don’t know diasporic theory, get up to date with it for this course. The topic really interested me, so I did well. The exam was easy but hard. He gave you a bunch of maybe essay questions beforehand, so you had an idea that one of them would be on it, but it was impossible to write out 10 essays before an exam. But this was a really high mark for me so I will not complain. Format of the second half was an essay and the exam.
POL354: Russian politics: Professor Johns
·         Took this solely for my favourite prof! The lectures were really interesting. Truly, this course was the foundation for all the other courses I ended up taking in Russian history. I wrote a lot of papers on Russia throughout undergrad, that's for sure! Just awesome course, awesome prof. I may not have enjoyed the course that much if it weren’t for the prof though. There was a midterm, an essay and an exam. Easy A.
POL327: Comparative Foreign Policy: Professor Jurgensen
·         This professor is SO wise! I feel weird saying that, but it’s true. He knows everything. He’s a good lecturer, but be prepared for a lot of theory discussion in the beginning. The fun part of the course is after the midterm when you talk about case studies. Also, he can be really fast and the details are really important, so ask him to slow down and write really fast! His midterm was a little hard, but the final exam was easy. There was also one paper which was easy too.

An UNCENSORED Guide to the University of Toronto (Mississauga campus specifically) for social sciences and humanities

So I just finished my entire undergraduate degree in social sciences (honours B.A.) from the UTM campus, and I’m going to give all those prospective newbies a what to expect out of UTM kind of post because I wish that someone did this for me! I really hope that someone who needs to know about UTM finds this in their epic search for more information. I can’t talk about a science degree (bio, chem, etc) because I’m sure that that experience is really different from a social science one. Here goes:
  • ·         UTM, like the rest of UofT, is a RESEARCH institute. Do not go into the social sciences here expecting to get a ‘practical’ education and be exposed to what the workforce would be like. My dear, UofT prides itself on being the best at research and for making scholars out of all its wee young ones. Yes, the focus of university is NOT to get a job or any practical job training (go into a practical program for that, like nursing) it is to make you a scholar. If this is not your goal, then seriously reconsider spending $30 000 on something that you do not want. 
  • ·         DO go to UofT if you would like to go into a Masters program which requires a Masters thesis / research (most programs do, but there are certain masters programs that are more practical based, like the MPP program at Queens). I have many friends who have had their undergraduate education from UofT and let me tell you, there is no university that prepares you better for a Masters program. The quality of work and just the overall expectations that UofT has for its students is unparalleled, and this *really* comes out when you work with others from other universities. There is a reason UofT is usually rated number one in academic pursuits.
  • ·         DO NOT go to the UTM campus expecting wild parties, social outings, OR GOOD FOOD. Honestly, the UTM campus is a health hazards to students watching their waist line. There are minimal options on campus and around campus. And the food is really expensive. My advice is to bring your own lunch! Also, on campus life is a lot different than if you don't live on campus. UTM can be a real community if you live on campus, but if you commute, you may feel out of touch. Try to make a lot of friends in your program early to help with the loneliness.
  • ·         The gym at UTM is spectacular. Just really amazing. One thing that the campus got right.
  • ·         I really like the library too, but there are conflicting opinions in regard to the library. Personally, I like it, I use the quiet study space and its comfortable and quiet, just what a library should be. The group study is good too, but it’s hard to find a space to sit sometimes and GOOD LUCK trying to get a computer. They’re always busy. And one thing that really sucks: STAYAWAY from the “15 minute” express computers. They have screwed me over one too many times. It takes 10 minutes to load a program, especially Microsoft Word. And it automatically shuts down without saving anything, so you lose anything that you did anyways.
  • ·         My advice is to make sure you have a laptop from first year onward. Best brands that actually last: Lenovo or IBM, Macbook Pro or just a Macbook, and SOME Toshiba models. Models that tend to break apart are Dell and HP.  I have no opinion on Asus or Acer. I used to have a LG and it was super pretty, but the cord started breaking within the first week, so not good. But I know some LG’s are really good. They are really delicate and if you’re clumsy like me they may not be suited to your lifestyle. Sony’s I think are just overpriced for what you are getting; you are paying for the brand. But they are average computers, they look really nice though!
  • ·         Be open minded when you enter your first year of social sciences. Take a variety of courses, and see which one you would like to do a major in. At UofT, you don’t declare your majors / minors / specialists until the end of your first year (or I think after four credits) and so this first year should be an exploration of the things you like. I never signed up to do Political Science right away, but after first year, I loved it! And make sure you know the DATES of when to declare your subject posts on ROSI.
  • ·         Speaking of dates, ALWAYS know the dates to get 100%, 75% and 50% of your refunds back from courses you would like to get out of. Look these up on the registrars website. Keep them memorized or written down and honestly think about dropping a course. It can really mess up your GPA if you only keep a course for the sake of keeping it and not doing well. And trust me, unless you want to do nothing after university (which is fine), then it’s not worth it to let your GPA fall. Sometimes, its just better to drop a course. Case and point; I am not a morning person at all. I cannot make it to any class that is before 11am. It’s just not something I can do. I had a class that was at 9:00am to 11:00am, and I thought long and hard about if I was seriously going to do well in this considering I likely would not be able to get to lecture and miss all the crucial points of the course. I just dropped it, and I’m glad I did because in retrospect it would have been a poor choice to keep it because I would have gotten a bad mark in the course.
  • ·         Keep your GPA as high as humanly possible, especially in the first year. This is the crucial year for your GPA. I know some people who had horrendous GPA’s in their first year but were able to pull them up, but there is a barrier that they could never cross; they could never get higher than a 3.0. Your first year is your foundation year; make it as good as possible.
  • ·         How to get a good GPA? If you are an ok / mediocre writer, then be careful about social sciences as everything is about writing coherently, consistently, clearly, and being able to argue your points effectively. The content of your writing is important, but the most important thing is to write clearly. The HMALC has people who will go through your work and give you very helpful feedback on your work. YOU MUST learn to write an effective essay, critical review and reports. It’s best you learn in your fist year. I know this seems daunting, but it will be worth it to have these skills, as I know many people in the work force right now who are unable to do this.
  • ·         Learn what constitutes plagiarism. Seriously. I know many people who are otherwise hardworking, who have been caught for plagiarism without even knowing that they were doing it. Obviously, coping and pasting is just unsophisticated and you never get away with it. But I’m talking about ALL forms of plagiarism. Mostly all professors will charge you, you will go to the dean, and you will piss in your pants out of fear. This may ruin your GPA or your academic career in general.
  • ·         Go to your tutorials if they are worth marks. Seriously, I WISH I listened to my own advice on this one.  Otherwise 4.0’s on my GPA were just 3.7 or 3.3’s due to my lack of attendance for an easy 10% of my grade. Learn from my mistakes folks. Its only an hour (usually) and you won’t even remember going.
  • ·         Secret: in a lot of courses you can get away without doing a lot of reading if you take excellent lecture notes. These notes have to be excellent though. Verbatim is best. This is how I do my lecture notes and they were coveted by all my friends for their accuracy and all details. If you can’t do this however, read your readings.
  • ·         Learn to read your textbooks / lecture notes effectively. Not everything will be tested, and you don't need to memorize everything. Who has the time for that?! You need to gain these skills. The best skill is to take a large amount of text and be able to accurately paraphrase it in your own words in a couple of sentences. Learn this skill. The HMALC can help with this too!
  • ·         Use all the resources that UTM has to offer; the gym, the library, Mac labs, etc. You pay for these, might as well get FULL usage out of them.
  • ·         Join a club that you’re interested in! It can be a lot of fun, and you can meet cool people who otherwise would have been strangers to you. UTM has a lot of ethnic clubs, so if you’re interested in that then go for it! Clubs week is in September so sign up for all the clubs you actually like and they’ll email you about meetings, etc. Also, UTM is a very pro-environmental campus, so if you’re into that then join an environmental club!
  • ·         If you are on OSAP, then in the beginning of September look on the career centre website for work-study opportunities. Work-study is a great thing to make money while on OSAP and all the jobs are on campus. Also, usually professors are your bosses so it’s a great way to network.
  • ·         Be a keener; if a professor is working on a project / has worked on a project that you think is interesting, then ask them about it! I find professors easier to talk to than some of my classmates. Usually, they are pretty flattered and a lot of them actually care about you. I can’t say the same for TAs. Most TA’s I’ve had have been less than helpful. It might just be my luck and my program though. But if you’re concerned about your mark in a course and you have access to the TA who is marking your work, talk to them about it. Usually, those who I’ve talked to can put a face to a name and mark kinder; sad but true!
  • ·         If you’re an academic keener like me, seize every opportunity to get experience! I want to do a Masters thesis, so I made sure to do an ROP. An ROP is short for a Research Opportunity Program and it is an excellent way to teach practical research skills and to work on an actual research project that may or may not be published. Plus, it’s a great way to network with profs, and it shows your interest to Grad schools! Do multiple ROPs if you can. I think you can start doing them in your second or third year, depending on the program and the ROP for the year.
Hope this helped a bit. Leave a comment on this post if you have a question, I'll be checking it and answering it back! I'll be back to do a review of all the courses and profs that I've had too, so check back!