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09.02.20 – Advice for new Daniels students, from current Daniels students

First-year students at the Daniels Faculty always need a little help getting acclimated to U of T, but this September the situation is a bit different. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fall semester classes will be online only, meaning new students will have to navigate the first few months of their studies from home. With that in mind, we asked some upper-year students for advice on getting started, and also for some pointers on maintaining work-life balance during a time when it's difficult to get out of the house. Here's what they said.

David Kalman

David Kalman

Undergraduate architecture, year four

What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started at the Faculty?

The biggest thing is: start your assignments the instant you get them. It gives you time to fail. Build in enough time to screw up, so that you're not submitting something you're not happy with.

What types of things should new students definitely be doing during their first month?

I would say, get up to speed with Rhino. You can waste a lot of time not knowing how to use software. When I started at Daniels, I talked to an upper year who gave me a bit of help on Rhino. That helped me so much with getting ideas out. I was less nervous to put work forward.

The student workload at Daniels is quite heavy. How do you balance work and life?

You're not getting any work done when you're tired. Have a sleep schedule. If you're working at three in the morning, realistically you're probably not working as well as you would be if you were sleeping all night and waking up at 8:30. So just go to bed. That's something I learned the hard way.

 

Saaraa Premji

Saaraa Premji

Master of Architecture, year three

What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started at the Faculty?

In the beginning, I had motivational tendencies that leaned towards avoidance and fear of failure. Now, I always have a set goal in mind, and I'm motivated to achieve that goal. And the goal is always something a lot smaller than having a good project. It might be something as simple as, "I want to draw a beautiful plan." I have small goals like that, and they guide me through studio.

What types of things should new students definitely be doing during their first month?

I would make an extra effort to schedule time to talk to my professors — especially now that you don't get the casual conversations when you bump into them in the halls. I would just schedule 10-minute phone calls and get to know them a little bit, and let them get to know you.

The student workload at Daniels is quite heavy. How do you balance work and life?

I think having a dedicated space that you only use for schoolwork — whether that be a specific desk, or a specific chair — can help create that separation. Something I've started to try just recently is to have a separate user account on my computer for work. The background is different. Maybe I'll even change the theme. It's a virtual way of entering an office.

 

Celine Yi

Celine Li

Master of Urban Design, recent graduate

What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started at the Faculty?

I wish I knew that there were a lot of possibilities for me to explore outside the Faculty — a lot of things that the city and U of T have to offer. I'd suggest getting out of the box when selecting elective courses. Attend public lectures and exhibitions. There are a lot of options out there just waiting for you to reach out and grab them.

What types of things should new students definitely be doing during their first month?

I think it's really important, if you're in a city, to explore the city and be sensitive to what's going on there. Toronto is changing dramatically. New students should also try to get involved at U of T — not only at Daniels, but in other disciplines as well.

The student workload at Daniels is quite heavy. How do you balance work and life?

My way to balance work and life is to regularly exercise. I made a schedule for myself that involved going outside and running a few kilometres. And I also discovered some YouTube yoga channels. At the beginning, I forced myself to do these things, but now I've realized that they're becoming part of my routine.

 

Matt Nish-Lapidus

Matt Nish-Lapidus

Master of Visual Studies, year two

What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started at the Faculty?

There were some administrative things that weren't totally obvious at first, like the whole process for choosing an elective course outside of the Faculty. Make sure that you're figuring out what you want to take early and getting the paperwork done early enough, so it's not a scramble at the last minute.

The biggest thing I would say to anyone coming into the program is just to have trust in their own interests and really figure out how to use all the courses that they take, including electives, to deepen and expand on the area of interest that they think might become their thesis project.

What types of things should new students definitely be doing during their first month?

Definitely, once they're open to the public again, familiarize yourself with the university's libraries. They're the best resources we have at U of T. The first thing is just knowing that there are multiple libraries. There's Robarts, and the library in the Daniels Building, obviously. But for Visual Studies students there's also the Art Library, which is a dedicated resource full of everything you'd ever want to know about art history. And there's also the Innes College Library, which has a bunch of cinema studies materials that are incredibly useful. And remember: librarians are really good at helping you find the things that are related to your interests and topics. You don't have to know what you want before you go. You can just show up and say, "Hey, I'm interested in conceptual art in the 1970s." They will have tons of stuff for you.

The student workload at Daniels is quite heavy. How do you balance work and life?

If you start to feel burned out, take a day off. Your readings and your projects and stuff will still be there for you, and you can get them done later. But if you force yourself to work through exhaustion then often things end up taking longer than if you give yourself some time to relax.

 

Agata Mrozowski

Agata Mrozowski

Master of Landscape Architecture, year two

What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started at the Faculty?

I had a sharp learning curve when it came to figuring out design software. Sometimes you have to rely on Google or other sources, but there are also people who can help. For instance, when we had to learn GIS, I found that the folks at the Map and Data Library were super knowledgeable and awesome.

Another thing I wish I'd known is that this program requires a good computer, with a powerful processor and at least 16 gigs of memory. At first, I had an old Mac that just really didn't cut it. Oh, and always back up your work.

What types of things should new students definitely be doing during their first month?

Make an effort to connect with your cohort, because your peers are also your mentors. I've learned so much from their patience and generosity. Set up a Facebook group or get an Instagram chat going, or have a weekly hangout on Zoom.

The student workload at Daniels is quite heavy. How do you balance work and life?

During my first year, I turned to Student Services at Daniels for help. That really helped me troubleshoot and provided support when I needed it.

Another thing I think is critical is that people need to leave the house every day, whether it's for a walk, a bike ride, or to grab something from the corner store. Treat yourself to a coffee. Just get out.

And if you can't leave the house, just prioritize your eating. Eat your vegetables. Have a smoothie or something. At least then you're getting some vitamins and nutrients. Pick a night every week to prep your food. Do it with family members, or friends, or roommates, or whoever's in your bubble. Make it a thing. I ate way too many croissants during first year.