Scholars Collective Blog

Click on one of the links below to read more about utmONE Scholars' experiences. If you are interested in contributing a blog post to one of our upcoming themes, please email Rebecca (Academic Success Strategist) at utm.one@utoronto.ca.

January's Theme: Exploring Undergraduate Research

February's Theme: Re-framing Failure and Growing through Challenge

March's Theme: Sharing Your Research: Preparing for Presentations

Summer Theme: The Importance of Impactful Dialogue & Discussion

  • Coming Soon! 

 

A person leaping between one large rock and the other.
Photo by Sammie Chaffin on Unsplash

 

Overcoming Nervousness 
By Kassandra Scretas

Third Year Double Major in Criminology and Political Science 
Published: March 17, 2021

So, the time has come for you all to give a big presentation. You might notice that you are beginning to feel nervous (your palms are sweaty, heart is pounding, you feel butterflies in your stomach).      

There are so many tricks that I could share about how to manage your nerves before a presentation. Make sure you drink lots of water. Do some breathing exercises. Remember to rehearse your lines beforehand. Focus on the amazing ideas you want to share rather than the people watching. organize your information into smaller sections. But the most important point that I want to share with you all today is that this feeling of nervousness is normal and nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.  

Many individuals, including myself, still get nervous beforehand despite giving hundreds of presentations in front of both large and small crowds.  

Back in 2014, I was chosen to be the master of ceremonies at my grade 8 graduation. I have always felt very nervous when giving presentations and this would be my first time speaking in front of a crowd larger than 30 people. I made sure to do all of the tricks I shared above. I made sure to stay hydrated, practiced all of my lines multiple times. We even had a practice run the morning of the ceremony so that everyone knew exactly what to do during the real deal.  

In the end, my script was slightly different than how they were presenting the awards and I messed up. Long story short, I introduced two awards at the same time that were being presented separately and had to re-introduce the same award a second time. I was very embarrassed about making a mistake in front of such a large audience, but in the end, I set aside my nerves and continued with the presentation as if nothing happened. At the end of the night my friends and family all congratulated me on my amazing work that night, and when I mentioned to them how embarrassed I was about my mistake they said that they didn’t even notice!   

Now you might think that this story ends with me saying that I no longer feel nervous when giving presentations, but even after speaking in front of such a large crowd, the next time I gave a presentation to my small high school class I still felt nervous. As I mentioned earlier it is very normal to still feel nervous before a presentation, no matter how big or small, despite giving so many of them in the past. But at the end of the day, the event ran smoothly, and I bet no one even remembers that one time I made a mistake during our graduation ceremony seven years ago. Everyone remembers an amazing night of celebration.  

Over the next few years, I gave many more presentations, some that went really well and some that did not. However, no one knows your script and they won’t notice if you miss a line or make a small mistake. 

The most important thing is that I didn’t let my fear of messing up stop me from participating in these amazing events. Just two years later I joined the Student Council where I gave presentations in front of my entire High School of over 1000 people! 

As Nelson Mandela once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."  


A photography taken from behind a student looking out into an audience.
Photo by William Moreland on Unsplash

 

The Evolutionary Basis of Stage Fright and How Understanding It Can Help You to Overcome It
By Aline Uchoa Boghossian 

Second Year Double Major in Psychology and Anthropology
Published: March 16, 2021

Stage fright (or, these virtual days, performance anxiety) can be defined as “​nervousness before or during an appearance before an audience” (Oxford Dictionary) and is a near universal experience for students. Has it ever happened to you that, just before presenting, you feel your heart pounding, butterflies in your stomach, and that you are starting to forget your lines? Me too! What helps me to overcome this, and might help you, is to understand why it happens in the firstplace.

The human peripheral nervous system is divided into somatic and autonomic, which is in turn divided into parasympathetic and sympathetic. One of the features of the sympathetic nervous system is something called “fight or flight”, which you might have heard of. This is what happens when the brain identifies a threat in the environment, and the sympathetic nervous system takes it upon itself to prepare the body to either avoid (flight) or face the threat (fight). It does this by increasing heart rate (and blood flow to the muscles, so that energy is readily available), stimulating the secreation of sweat glands (to keep the body from overheating when you mightneed to move), and decreasing activity of the digestive system (because that takes up energy). Therefore, the pounding heart, sweaty palms, and cold feeling in your stomach are protective measures that your body is taking to keep you safe (as outlined in the PSY100 textbook: Psychology Themes and Variations, by Wayne Weiten and Dough McCann)!

But you may be asking yourself: I am not faced with any threat when I am presenting, why does this still happen? Well, one might argue that, back in the old days (and I mean veeeeeeery old days), having multiple sets of eyes starring at you was usually not a positive sign and could leave you in a very vulnerable and unsafe position. Thus, evolution has ensured that, whenever we find ourselves in that situation, we are prepared for any danger or conflict that might arise. In fact, even just being around others is enough to increase your heart rate (as explained in PSY220,Social Psychology, taught by professor Dax Urbzat). Unfortunately for us, this is not something that we have evolved out of, despite the potential loss of its adaptive value. However, I expect that the understanding that the physical symptoms you are experiencing are not a measure of your competence - rather, residual evolutionary mechanisms in response to an inexistent threat - will help you to consciously reason with yourself so that your cognition will prevail over your instincts :) You may even grow to enjoy it!


A pathway made of open books on a forest floor with fallen leaves.
Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash
 

 

The Subtle Art of Failure
By Veronika Sizova

First Year Double Major in English and Professional Writing & Communication
Published: February 12, 2021

Have you ever felt like giving up after a moment of bitter disappointment? Have you ever let a single mistake discourage you from pursuing your dream? You are not alone. Make yourself comfortable, brew a cup of tea, and I will tell you my story.

Back in 2018, I was a regular high school student in a little-known Russian city. My passion for English and the dream of studying abroad were the only things that differentiated me from my peers. While everyone spent their weekends at leisure, I have buried myself under a pile of English textbooks investigating the subtlest aspects of grammar. The final stage of the All-Russian Student Olympiad in the English Language awaited me. I have passed the first three stages with flying colours, but the last - held in the country's capital - was the only one that mattered. It was the most prestigious and challenging of them all. The winner would get everything: a generous grant, a trip abroad, and a warm welcome to the best universities - but that was not the prize I sought. Instead, I imagined the pride in my teacher's eyes when I walk on the stage and express my gratitude for her unyielding belief in my success.

I remember the violent rigour of this competition: the countless pages of essays and tricky exercises, the hours of presentations, the intimidating interviews, and - finally - the Closing Ceremony. The readers have already guessed the outcome of my tale, but the suspense was still fresh for me then, and the colossal concert hall with thousands of seats imposed its splendid grandeur on my anxious mind. Tonight will determine my fate, I thought with a mixture of fear and eager anticipation. At last, the jury announced the honourable mentions; my name was not on the list. This could only mean two things: the ultimate victory or the utter loss. As you have figured, it was the latter. 

My kind English teacher had no tears of pride in her eyes, yet there were no tears of sorrow, either. "One day, you will show them," she said. I did not believe her words then. It was all for nothing. I am nothing, I thought. There is no way I can become proficient in this language! Why did I even try? Disheartened, I had to return home only to disappoint everyone who believed in me, including myself.

Little did I know that I would be studying English and Professional Writing at the University of Toronto three years later. The failure I deemed to be the greatest catastrophe of my academic career has turned into a flame. Instead of burning me down, it has shown me the way up. I kept learning - this time not to please others or compete for public approval - but to achieve my dream. This experience has taught me that victory - no matter how big or small - cannot provide happiness. 

I will let you in on a secret—there are only two steps to becoming a winner: master the subtle art of failure and never give up!


  

Broken pottery
Photo by @paulthollceramics, via Instagram

 

Failures Are Happy Accidents
by Silvia Pedruco Choi

Second Year Double Major in Biology for Health Science and Psychology
Published: Febuary 22, 2021

Bob Ross said, “we don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents”. If mistakes are happy accidents and many failures occur from mistakes, then failures should be called happy accidents. Although the mindset of failure is difficult to change, failures should be seen as common events where we accidentally learn something new that allows us to be wiser and more compassionate.

I have had many ‘happy’ accidents in the past and the current school semester. In all cases, I learned something new that stuck with me. A past failure I once made was due to my lack of organization. There was a time where I forgot to include my name in a group assignment. In the end, I got a zero on the assignment. I can recall crying at the time and feeling discouraged to receive such a ‘failure’ of a mark on an assessment. What was important to understand about this situation was that it was okay to feel upset. What’s important is what you do afterward.

After some comfort from my friends, sleep, and other outlets for my negative feelings, I felt calmer and reminded that there are still many opportunities to show that I learned from this experience. In my specific case, I reached out to the teacher and was allowed to submit an individual copy of the group assignment that I had to redo on my own to make up for the zero.

From this failure/accident, I learned the importance of being more organized. I learned how even after the accident, there were other options for me to make up for it. Although it has been a while, I still remember this accident. However, my negative feelings over this event have vanished. Was this a major inhibiting accident? No. At the time it felt like one, but after overcoming the challenges accompanying this accident, I could see that everything is still okay after the accident. What remained for me after this accident was a stronger work ethic and organizational skill.

Sometimes, we don’t get to have a second chance to get rid of that bad mark as I did for that assignment. Sometimes there’s no undo button, but the positive aspect of these types of accidents is that we know what not to do in the future. In the context of future tests, we learn how specific professors write their tests, we learn more about what is more important to focus on for tests: textbook or lecture content. We might learn to prioritize writing assignments over tests early on. Like pottery, we can be glued back together and still be okay!

To whoever is not feeling so great after a midterm, assignment, or some other failure, please know, you’re doing fine. You worked hard and tried your best! There are still opportunities to show that you have learned from this accident. Failure is a happy accident. You learned and will grow!


 

picture of a mural with many different colourful illustrated style faces with the words Dream Big Dreams
Photo by Shahed Al Asmi

 

Failure: Something We Share.
By Shahed Al Asmi

Second Year Molecular Biology Specialist 
Published: February 22, 2021

We grow up fearing the word failure and all that it entails, and throughout our journey of life we learn that it’s inevitable. If I ask you now, “do you think we have anything in common?” you may answer, “well, I don’t know you, Shahed, so how would I know.” I’ll tell you; we do share something in common: encountering failures on the way through life. It could be a different form or shape, but it’s the same friend, failure.

Let’s time-travel together in our imagination to 2012, I was an all-star, bright eighth-grader. I dreamed the biggest dreams in a little village in southern Syria, I knew what I wanted and where I would end up, or so I thought. What I didn’t know at that time is my later acquaintance to failure. My family and I chose to flee out of the country amid airstrikes and extreme lack of basic life needs. We ended up in Egypt, where I had to unpack the dreams that I packed back home, for me to get hit with reality. I did not have a stable life anymore and I was forced to remould my dreams. Nonetheless, I thrived in a culture, a country that was not mine. It was not home.

Let’s time-travel again to 2016, the year that I earned my secondary school diploma, placing second in my school. I was admitted to the school of pharmacy, and my childhood dreams, despite being remoulded, were beginning to unfold. I was the happiest I had been since leaving Syria at that time.

When my parents delivered the news to me, an opportunity to resettle in Canada as a new home for us, I was in shock; delighted because we will have a second home, but extremely worried about my education.

My first day in school in Canada was not in a university class as I expected, it was in a grade 10 high school class, preceding an ESL class. That moment felt like the lowest point of failure to me. I was the oldest, not the brightest anymore, and not an English speaker in my class.

Now, thinking about how far I’ve come, how it felt when I graduated high school (yes, for the second time), and how it felt to be selected as a UofT scholar, I realized that I would not have become the Shahed I am today hadn’t it been for the most difficult moment I’ve managed to go & grow through.

My dreams have been completely reshaped after going through failure moments. What helped the most, besides the support of my family, friends, and teachers, is not only reflecting on how negative failure is, but also on how positive the impact it leaves on me. It may sound like an impossible idea for us to comprehend. Learning about others’ failures makes us think otherwise, and that’s why I shared my story with you.

Dear friend, if you are going through a moment of failure, please be kind to yourself. Let it pass. Take a moment to reflect on what failure makes you feel and what you could possibly learn from it. It’s a process, befriend it. It will take you places.


Photograph of a spark creating a circle in a dark background.
Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

 

Success and Failure: A Feedback Loop
by Simran Panpher

Second Year Student
Published: Feburary 22, 2021

What do you do when the idealized past version of yourself fades away? My name is Simran Panpher and I am currently a second-year student at UTM. I came into university after recently had recovered from a severe ankle injury. As a former athletic individual, to not be able to join a sport/athletic team felt similar to a failure as a person. This situation resulted in
a mental struggle against not being able to perform to the best of my former capabilities. The obsession and constant comparison of yourself to your past however is not worth it. In order to overcome this situation, I had to pursue a different mindset. While it is simpler said than done, instead of regretting what I could no longer do, I realized I had to learn from my mistakes.

While there is no clear-cut method to overcoming  failure, I can start by encouraging you to allow yourself to reflect on the failure, and see where you went wrong without dwelling on it or bringing yourself down as a person. Use that failure to see where you can improve and adapt a fresh headspace. Finally, remember to stay in the present and keep pushing forward with your life, as failure can only define you if you refuse to learn from it.  Acknowledging whatever life stage you are in helps you progress as an  individual.

Reflecting back on the mental struggle I went through personally, I had to acknowledge that life challenges were not there to haunt me for the rest of my life. Pain/struggles are truly temporary, and you can bounce back from anything with perseverance and patience. This experience has taught me to stop letting others decide how life should be lived “correctly.”  Always remember that life is not a race, and to never compare your own self-worth based on the success of individuals around you. 

If you are someone who is or has gone through a similar experience with an injury/chronic illness, my best advice for you is to create a foundation that is guided towards fulfilling your own personal needs and work upwards. Acknowledge that recovery/healing is not a linear journey as you will experience good days and bad days. In times of challenge, sometimes you
will not meet the personal goals you set up for yourself and that is okay. Imagine a feedback loop consisting of successes and failures. Rather than differentiating successes from failures, the system must operate through the continual interdependence between the two. There is no success without failure, and this comes with hard work, time, and effort.

Thank you for reading!


 

A figure is walking toward a cave opening where trees, greenery and light can be seen.
Photo by Avery Lam-Hong

 

Discovering Success From Failure
by Avery Lam-Hong

Third Year Double Major in Chemistry and Biology for Health Sciences
Published: February 23, 2021

A relevant and prominent example of failure that comes to my mind is when I failed to become a Team Leader (TL) for the Centre for Student Engagement (CSE). Having had prior experience working at the CSE, I thought I had a good chance of being selected as a TL for one of their many portfolios. I prepared my documents well in advance, reached out to current TLs for insight, and I even attended sessions with the Career Centre to improve my resume and do mock interviews. I had prepped myself in whatever way I could to ensure success in receiving the position for which I had hoped. I applied to be a TL for 4 different portfolios, and when my interviews for all 4 of them came around, personally I thought that everything went well. I awaited my results eagerly, dreaming of waking up and seeing an acceptance for any of the 4 positions. That was my hope, until it was shattered upon receiving my results back for all 4 positions several weeks later.

Turns out, I had been waitlisted for every single one of them. I was absolutely devastated, particularly because I had worked arduously, and I was quite optimistic that I would receive at least one offer. But the mere fact that despite the best efforts I put forward, there was always one person better than me for all 4 positions to which I had applied, it made me feel dejected, crestfallen, melancholic, lugubrious. Words couldn't even begin to describe my disappointment in both the results but also with myself, it was simply ineffable. That was until I had consulted with my friend regarding the results, and after she provided some comfort, she offered me some suggestions and advice for other work-study positions being offered at UTM, such as at the International Education Centre (IEC). I was unsure because at that moment, I was not only overwhelmed by the rejection of all 4 application, but also desperately clinging onto hope that despite being waitlisted, maybe someone will drop their offer so that I could claim it for myself. Ultimately, I went ahead to apply for a TL position for several portfolios within the IEC. I didn't expect much, but I did my best nevertheless, and a few weeks later, I was on cloud nine.

I had been offered a position as a TL at the IEC and I was simply ecstatic, exultant, euphoric, overjoyed. Words couldn't even begin to describe my happiness in both the results and with myself, it was simply ineffable. From this experience, it taught me to always keep trying and to never give up, despite the unfavourable outcomes that may surface. Although it required some words of encouragement from my friend for me to consider applying in the first place, at that point, I thought might as well try it and regardless of the results, at least I attempted. Failure is never easy, and it can take a huge toll on our self-esteem or self-image, but it is sometimes very much needed in order to seek personal growth and development. Had I been adamant about the situation that unraveled before me, I would've never applied to be a TL and the aftermath of where I am today would've been completely different.

No one's journey is a perfect path, there will be obstacles and adversities that cause us to stray from our original path or even advance backwards, but I truly believe that those are necessary to discover true progress. Moving forward, I now find success even in failure, and that we should always use failure as a learning experience, not as a deterrent. After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.


 

Tall beaker partly filled with yellow and green liquid
Photo by Kaitlyn Harris

 

PART of Something Bigger: Research Training at UTM
By Kaitlyn Harris 

Second Year English Major with Minors in French and Education Studies
Published: January 29, 2021

As university students, we’ve all dreamed of being on the cutting edge of our field. But let’s be honest — entering the world of research can be intimidating! There’s jargon to learn, specialized skills to master, and a community of really smart people who already seem to know what they’re doing. But if you don’t yet know your literature reviews from your annotated bibliographies, you’re not alone! UTM’s Program for Accessing Research Training (PART) is designed to help undergraduate students develop the necessary skills to get started in research.

The program is divided into three types of modules: Core, Qualitative, and Quantitative. Core modules provide the foundational skills for research in any discipline, such as database searches and scholarly writing. (These will also come in handy for your regular courses!) From there, you can choose to specialize in either Qualitative or Quantitative modules. Attend as many or as few as you like, or even mix and match! Whether you’re majoring in the sciences, social sciences, or humanities, you will find courses specifically geared toward your field and interests.

Each class is conducted in small groups and facilitated by either a PhD candidate or a UTM professor. They will teach you the basics of the skill, and then give you an opportunity to test your knowledge with group work or a short homework assignment. It’s also a great atmosphere to network with people who are currently conducting original research, and to learn about the kinds of projects you could eventually work on. 

My experience with this program was overwhelmingly positive. Each class addressed concrete and practical skills that I could use as a research assistant, graduate student, or even in my regular undergraduate courses. All of the facilitators offered a unique perspective into the diverse possibilities of research, while also engaging with our questions and incorporating our interests into the activities. In the Research Design module, I was even able to have my original research idea reviewed by a professor! The small groups really allowed us to feel like part of a scholarly community, and inspired me to get involved with further research opportunities at UTM. 

After participating in PART, I feel more prepared to participate in a real research project. The program gave me the confidence to apply for an ROP next year, because I know that I have a strong background in the knowledge and skills necessary for the course. I also learned about more graduate school and career options than I ever knew existed! The community of scholars at UTM is exceptionally knowledgeable, passionate and supportive, and PART is a fantastic way to engage with fellow scholars and build upon your academic skill set.

To learn more about registration, module subjects, and CCR accreditation, click here!


Impactful Mentorship & Real-Word Experience with ROP
By Dalal Mahir

Second Year Psychology Major with a Double Minor in Biology and Anthropology
Published: January 29, 2021

Hi, my name is Dalal Mahir. I am currently a second-year student taking part in a PSY299 ROP with Professor. Stellar in the Psychology Department, here at UTM. I believe that the Research Opportunity program is a great segway into learning more about academia and research. As a first-year life-science student, I remember that the scientific method was mentioned and thoroughly explained in all of my introductory courses. Afterall, it is the foundation that we need to understand how some of the most fundamental theories that we read about in our textbooks came to be. Although, while it is important to conceptualize the process, I believe that by taking part in real world research and seeing the scientific method applied in person better enhances one’s understanding of a topic. It truly allows you to appreciate the essence of which we base out literature. Throughout my ROP, I have gained countless valuable skills that are often overlooked or not taught in concept-based classes. Compiling a literature review, analyzing data, or learning how to use new and relevant software, are all skills I have had the pleasure of learning throughout the first semester of my ROP.

Initially I started university thinking I was going to be a Biology major. Although, due to my ROP in psychology I had discovered a new-found interest in the field of Social Psychology. After reading the countless academic articles, as a part of the literature review process, I learned more and more about the incredible applications and advancements that are being made in the field. I was intrigued at the fact that it was such a broad field with a plethora of research possibilities- seeing that it is a new field. And so, with the guidance of my ROP supervisor, Dr. Stellar, I started to learn more about the research procedures and their real-world applications. Coming into university, I was dead-set on a biology degree; although, after having witnessed and taken part in psychological research, I had found a fascination in an unexpected place, which had ultimately caused me to change my program of study from a biology specialist to a major in psychology.

The research opportunity program not only helped inspire me to take on a different field of study than what I had originally intended, and helped introduce me to the field of academia, but it has also allowed me to foster some invaluable relationships with my mentor and my fellow lab-mates. Through this experience I was also able to learn a variety of new and field- relevant skills which I am confident will help me in the near future as I progress my research career. Ultimately, I urge anyone who is thinking of pursuing a career in academia to take part in this opportunity. As far as my experience goes, and still is going, I have found no downs to taking part in this program and I am very excited to work in the lab in the following year as well! Lastly, I just want to tell any students who are contemplating whether or not they should apply, while it does seem daunting to start taking part in research at first, I feel that the professor and graduate students at the lab are more than willing to help you adjust and learn the methodology. Afterall, they don’t expect you to be an expert, oftentimes they simply wany an earnest student who is enthusiastic and eager to learn!

To learn more about how you can get involved in the Research Opportunity Program, click here.