Category Archives: We’ve Got Issues

Competitiveness: How It Can Make or Break You


Ah, competitiveness. How we’ve all had those moments when we wanted to be better than your friend, your class, or maybe even the entire school. The spirit of competition and that lingering sense of superiority exists within all of us. It’s no surprise that in a place like a university, competition is in everyone. It’s really how we utilize that drive that ultimately forms the dividing line between pushing yourself to succeed and running yourself into the ground. Continue reading Competitiveness: How It Can Make or Break You

My TAs: A Confession

Small class

We’ve discussed professors in the past, whether they’re nice or loud or mean or weird… but have you been observing your TAs, too? Here is what I think of mine!

I have three TAs this semester. The first one for film studies is a near-middle-aged man, light-brown skinned, possibly from Romania or Italy or Spain or somewhere in the Middle East. The day I saw him, he was wearing an oversized brown-buttoned shirt, and a pair of grey jeans. It was not interesting. I thought that he was experienced in the subject matter, but whether he was or not, he didn’t seem to want to share his experiences with his students. He spoke with the voice of a dying mosquito, and seemed very nervous. He can never finish a sentence in one breath, like he’s always thinking madly about the next possible word to say so we won’t think he’s talking rubbish. AND he said he did not know what Twitter was!

My next TA is in my computer science tutorial. Unfortunately, and ridiciously, his voice is shy monotone. He’s young and tall, and  the first time I saw him he wore a maroon turtleneck with a pair of old blue jeans. The class gave him the silent treatment, and he just stood there, hunched, with a silly smile on his face, and I suspect that in his head, he was screaming “Somebody say something for God’s sake! I am so terrible at this.”

My last TA was also in film studies. She is very talkative and easy-going! Hurray! This TA gave us a pretty thoughtful and fun lesson with plenty of questions and discussion. So, does this mean that females are better at being TAs? I sure hope not! Man! What are all you male TAs doing these days? Straighten your backs and show us your strong, confident male selves! That being said, despite all their different characteristics I do like all of my TAs. I hope I can say that for the rest of my degree!

Regretting UofT? Don’t.

Let’s start off by saying UofT is an amazing institution to begin with, but it’s no secret university can be somewhat soul sucking. I know there are some of you who have regrets about choosing UofT, or feel as though university is not for you. Perhaps some of you want to transfer to a smaller city, or a more social university. Yes UofT can be very daunting and secluded, even with all the efforts the university makes to get you involved. I’m sure there are hundreds of student feeling the same weight and loneliness at UofT as you. Living in a huge city like Toronto certainly has it’s ups and downs.

Ups: Opportunities are everywhere and it’s calling your name. Any interests/passions you may have (music, clubbing, life-drawing, thrift-shopping) or not sure what your passions are, it’s out there. And last but not least, absorbing culture and diversity. Toronto prides itself on its diversity and it makes you a more humble person without you even knowing it. For example, if you are in the LGBT community there are hundreds of organizations/events that you can partake in. Not every place in the world would have that. Now the trick is finding where all these amazing things are.

Downs: Having a million things to do but not knowing where to go or what to do. Being invisible in a sea of people. Nobody caring who you are or what you do. Highschool for me sucked simply because it was not what I expected and I felt out of place and alone. There were no such thing as cliques or rumours at my high-school because nobody cared or knew you well enough to play the stereotypes. A lot of people from my residence who came from small towns, amazed me with their stories of how Americanized their schools were. You know that whole party, jocks, nerds, mean girls, scandalous gossips thing. And a part of me has always wanted that since that is what I am conditioned to expect through Americanized programming. But it was mostly community that I wanted, and I came into university expecting to meet people like myself, get connected, and feel a sense of community.

However that has not been the case yet, since UofT is quite isolating. The hardest thing at UofT besides the overbearing amount of work, is the lack of social-life. Funny thing is we knew coming to UofT would mean forfeiting our social-life. Even moving into residence was not that helpful since everyone is busy with their own lives and not everyone makes the effort. It’s difficult to network and build connections in such a vast city of over 5 million people and even harder if you were a commuter. All I have to say to you guys is don’t worry. Truth of the matter is, you are getting one of the best educations in the world, and though it’s challenging and it’s a lot of hard work, it makes you a stronger, more well-crafted person. The key is to find balance between work and play.

I know everyone says this, but seriously, it doesn’t matter if you graduate with a 4.0 GPA if you’re lacking the communication skills you need to nail an interview to land the job.

Musical Review of The Wedding Singer at Hart House

The Wedding Singer is a musical adapatation of the 1998 movie of the same name. Because most of you have seen it, and are familiar with the plot (even if you’re not, it’s a predictable rom-com) I’ve decided to skip to the good stuff. This is a review of Hart House’s ongoing production of The Wedding Singer, set to the music of the main theme/opening number of the show. Enjoy!

I saw this play 3 hours ago
I’m still humming some of the songs
‘Decided to write a review
Of what went right and what went wrong.
Now indulge me a moment, if you please;
I have a lot to say about this show,
and the actors I thought were good
and bad.
Here it goes:

Isaac has that “X-Factor” –
an accessible actor.
But his pitch control could
use improvement.

Ashley Gibson wasn’t bad,
and her singing really had
a lovely quality
that makes us all love her.

Cortina was a great, strong crooner
even when her mic went berserk.
But she couldn’t bring the humour
to her lines – they needed some work.

Horsman was a delightful dancer,
and her songs really brought
us to the moment.
Cattel was a rapping grandma –
what can I comment?

The ensemble was quite strong,
even in the weaker songs,
and their dancing was all
This show is just lots of fun
(‘cept for those who’ve seen it once).
I would recommend
you see it sometime soon.

(L to R) Ashley Gibson as Julia and Isaac Bell as Robbie. Photo credit to Scott Gorman.


Note 1: Yes, it’s not perfect. Considering the constraints – a review deadline and an imposed rhyme scheme and working in people’s names and accurate descriptions of their performances – it’s really not that bad. Seriously, if you’re looking for someone to write the opening for the next Tonys…

Note 2: Apologies to Mr Bell, who is treated with undue familiarity for the purpose of meter.

Note 3: There is some precedent for the moment/comment rhyme, imperfect though it may be. See Shakespeare’s Sonnet XV. I take full responsibility for the mangled syntax.



April is the Cruelest Month

First, I’d like to apologize. To poetry fans. To English students. To anyone who’s had any cursory exposure to literature and the search for deeper meaning in words beyond how nicely they fit into blog post titles. And of course, to Mr Eliot.

April is the cruelest month, though, at least for students. It’s exam and final essay time, that moment when the pedagogical procrastination that manifests itself as culminating assignments of obscenely high value rears its ugly head. Or ass. Excuse me; I’m frustrated.

I am frustrated because just yesterday I completed the first of my two exams this semester (the other is on the 29th; go figure) and just this evening I incorrectly answered a Jeopardy question about a topic that had been on the exam. Now, I’m almost certain I got that question right on the test, which means that in the twenty or since, I forgot something fairly important. Something fairly important that I learnt in a class that cost almost a thousand dollars. Something important and expensive that I spent twenty-four hours of class time learning and another thirty or so studying.

Rather than try to project my own experience on to you (I’m honest like that), I’ll ask you to think back to your winter examinations. If you had to take them again, right now, how much lower would your mark be? 10%? 20? “But of course it will be lower,” you say. “That was months ago.” “But,” I say, “why would you take a class if not to learn? And what is learning if not remembering and understanding after the fact?” And therein lies the problem: final exams are not conducive to learning.

They’re not necessarily obstructive, either; there’s no evidence to suggest that culminating exams encourage the forgetting of information, but there’s very little to suggest that they actually evaluate what students will retain. The most common form of preparation is studying all the relevant material at once, over the course of a few weeks or days. This leads to cramming, which, even when it does lead to higher exam grades – which is not as often as you might think – it almost always leads to lower long-term retention. This can be attributed to the distinction between long-term memory and working memory. (Here I apologize again, to psychology and neuroscience students.) Speaking generally, working memory lasts only in the short term, when the mind is focused on a project and the brain is employing all necessary processes and stressors to complete that project. Once that project is done, the memory is largely discarded as it is no longer useful.1

Long-term memory, however, is not subject to the fallacies of short-term methods like cramming, and is activated by studying important material in smaller chunks over a large period of time. Think back to a class that had multiple smaller evaluations throughout the year. How well do you remember material from that course, compared to the others you took that year? I know that I can tell you way more about De Morgan’s Theorem than I can about religious imagery in Skyscrapers of the Midwest, and that I can offer much more insight into the influence of African culture in the Caribbean than I can to um, that Shaw play with the guns. Long-term memory is simply better stimulated through evaluations spread out across the year, rather than only once or twice.

These kinds of observations have not gone unnoticed. At Harvard University, for instance, only 23% of classes end in final exams.2 Elsewhere in the world, universities are slowly turning to alternative methods to final exams, including the obvious choice of fewer, smaller evaluations. Not as always, the University of Toronto is fairly slow to catch up (that’s the closest thing to a compliment that I can give right now.) Although the percentage of classes with final exams is decreasing, they are still the norm and, in fact, mandatory in first-year courses.3 Welcome to UofT!

I recognize that there isn’t any actually useful information in here. Regardless of whether or not you know how effective exam studying is, you probably still have to do it. It probably still sucks. And you probably won’t remember much of it in a short while. Cruel, eh?

Finish Your Antibiotic Courses and Don’t Abuse Drugs

If you are easily grossed out by thoughts of yucky things, just obey the title and we won’t have any issues.

It started last Friday. Wait, no. Too fast.

It started during Reading Week. I got three wisdom teeth removed. I only had three. Two on my right side. It was a painful recovery – as expected – but I survived. I had my medicine and finished my full antibiotic course. I turned into a chipmunk for half a week. The check-up appointment with the oral surgeon went well; he said the recovery looked good. Life was good.

Then it started last Friday. I felt a strange swelling in my lower right jaw. Unsure if I had just slept wrong the night before, I decided it was probably nothing to worry about. Never make this assumption. Continue reading Finish Your Antibiotic Courses and Don’t Abuse Drugs

Leadership through Forfeiture

For those out of the social media loop, student news feeds were overrun today by links to a public Facebook note by Sana Ali, the unopposed Team RENEW candidate running for the position of VP External in the on-going UTSU election. In her note, Ali  forfeited the election and terminated her relationship with Team RENEW, and offered some heavy criticisms of the party’s practises regarding open discussion and diversity of thought. She describes attempts to “squash dissent and individuality”, and reveals that her official candidate statement was written for her by the team. She accuses Team RENEW of drastically altering their platform from past slates’, of choosing her because of her ethnicity, of restricting her communication with opposition, and of manipulating students’ ignorance and apathy so as to gain political advantage. Her criticisms are concise, clear, and specific; entirely unlike the whole of her former team’s platform.

At time of press, over one thousand students have liked Ali’s note, an impressive number considering how few follow student politics and how little time the content has had to spread. There are dozens of comments as well, almost all of which are complimentary, often lionizing. Ali’s note is being heralded by some as “an inspiration” and indeed it should be: she’s got us all caring, though perhaps just a little, about a one-sided election.

There is something unintuitive in commending Ali’s action, though. How, exactly, is forfeiting noble? Why are we commending inaction? The answer is both chilling and condemnatory, not of Ali but of the campus that has nurtured the rise of Team RENEW: our state of political affairs is such that the most brazen, powerful action taken by one of our political candidates in recent memory is refusing to take part in something unethical. Ali’s decision is impressive because it is brave and principled, but the consequences of her decision are important not because they are good but because they are not bad. So surrounded are we by the haze of political doublespeak and the murk of self-serving governance that plain honesty’s dim glow is enough to draw us near.

I’m not going to chastise a body of tens of thousands of students, including me, if only because I know it could do no good. We, students, are among the most opinionated and vocal demographics in the world; we are surrounded by geniuses and innovators whose insights we absorb and analyze daily. The discord between our beliefs and refusal to act on them is so immense that there must be an underlying cause so powerful it not only compels us to apathy but blinds us to the extent.

I don’t believe, as Ali suggested, that there is a campus-wide epidemic of mass ignorance. Nor I believe that we are too lazy to mobilize. Apathy is a thing of its own kind; it is emotional inertia. We act only when we care, we care only when we must. We are not an active entity conflicted by the obstacles of ignorance or oppression; we are a motionless body with no apparent incentive to get up and improve our environment. There is, fortunately, unfortunately, simply nothing so terrible or unjust to compel us to take action at all.