Self-Care Through Your Studies – Natasha Knier


The fall term of the school year is a busy one for not only staff and instructors, but also for the undergraduate students on campus. This is especially true for students that are starting university for the first time or students who have transferred from another university or program. Many adjustments need to be made in one’s life when entering a new school year, like how students can spend their time and the work demands that are placed upon them as the semester unfolds. So how do students go about managing all of these different deadlines, extracurricular activities and other aspects of their lives? Well, the key to this is to constantly work towards overall wellness. This encompasses both the physical and emotional parts of self-care, renewal and management.

As a Residence Life Don, my position with the university has a similar goal to that of a professor or instructor, as we are both striving to teach students new skills and ways to prepare for their future endeavours. One of the main things that makes us different, however, is that my time spent with them and my area of knowledge and resources is generally during the time that they aren’t spending in the classroom. So what does this mean? This means that I’ve seen several students struggle with the balance between different aspects of their lives, such as maintaining good grades as well as making new friends, or trying to get involved with extracurricular activities but still being able to get enough sleep. I will admit, however, that most of my advice and knowledge comes from experience. As an upper year student who has learned (and is continuing to learn) how to best manage a full course load, co-op applications, part-time jobs, and a long list of extracurricular activities, I have become passionate about helping first-year students learn from my own experiences, failures, and successes. So, here are my top 10 tips for maintaining a healthy, balanced, lifestyle throughout an undergraduate degree:

  1. Make exercise a priority. Adults are recommended to have two and a half hours of moderate to intense aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activities per week (World Health Organization, 2010)! For those that don’t have a lot of experience with exercise, this may seem daunting, however the university provides many opportunities to make physical activity a convenient and fun process. At the University of Waterloo, students have the opportunity to try a wide variety of fitness classes by buying a “Shoe Tag”, which allows them to attend any class offered that fits their scheduling needs. There are also three gym and recreational facilities, with one of them located right in our very own Ron Eydt Village (REV) residence!
  2. Try to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep. Sometimes this can be hard with lengthy assignments, midterms and exams to prepare for, but getting enough sleep is actually really beneficial to improving your grades and allowing you to focus during lectures (Moore, 2008).
  3. It’s okay to slow down. This is especially true for when you are sick and/or recovering from an illness. Your body often needs time to recover and heal, and by continuing to push yourself through this time, you can do more harm than good. Sometimes there are commitments in your life that are fixed, such as assignments, work, and other responsibilities, but if you do your best to minimize other activities and take time to rest, your body will thank you.
  4. Set aside time for yourself. This could be done in a variety of ways, depending on whatever activities you do that make you happy or help you to recharge. As for myself, I spend time doing something relaxing or working on a hobby that I enjoy, like walking my dogs or updating my blog. This step is easily overlooked even though it is one of the most important.
  5. Learn how to say “no”. One of the hardest things I had to overcome during my first two years of undergraduate studies was learning that it’s impossible to do everything. Of course, getting involved is an amazing part of the university experience, but it’s important to have a realistic approach to what you can handle during your busy class schedule. In addition to that, don’t be afraid to lessen or increase the amount you take on during your years in school.
  6. Be open to talking with someone. When times become stressful or difficult, it is important to be open to sharing your feelings and concerns with someone else. This could be a counsellor, a friend, a Don, or another trusted individual that will be a listening ear. Even just having someone to listen to you can help calm stressful feelings.
  7. Be someone for others to talk to! Relating to my previous tip, why not be a friend to someone else in times of need? Even if you feel like you don’t know what to say, sometimes people just want someone to listen to them to feel better. Besides, it always helps to know that you are not alone in your struggles.
  8. Find a mentor. A mentor is someone that you can look up to and gain insights from his or her life. No, this does not mean that you will find a “perfect” person, however, someone who is more experienced in life or who has traits that you admire can often provide useful guidance or words of wisdom. For example, if you know someone who has great stress or time management skills, this would be an excellent person to ask for advice when you are having trouble managing those areas in your own life. Many of the faculties at UWaterloo offer different mentorship programs so that first year students can learn from upper-year students.
  9. Learn management skills. This could mean learning how to manage time, stress, academics, or whatever is affecting your mental health. How does one go about doing this? Well, this could involve many of the above steps, such as reaching out and talking to someone, focusing on your physical well-being, or learning more about different management strategies. There are several different workshops and services on campus that can help students develop strategies for success, such as the Student Success Office (SSO) and Counselling Services.
  10. Develop a plan! Now that you know about different resources and options available to helping create a balanced lifestyle, it’s time to act on it! Create new habits that point towards a healthier lifestyle. Even slow, small changes can make a huge difference!

So there you have it – those are my top 10 tips for helping to create balance and finding wellness during the journey of pursuing an undergraduate degree. Hopefully this helps anyone reading this in any way that is beneficial to them – whether that be trying out my tips or offering some new knowledge to a friend. If you have any additional tips or comments about what I’ve said, leave a comment for me and for the readers – we’d love to hear what you have to say!


Photo taken by Natasha Knier, October 2015.


Moore, M., & Meltzer, L. (2008). The sleepy adolescent: Causes and consequences of sleepiness in teens. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 9(2), 114-121. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from

World Health Organization. (2010). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva, World Health Organization

Economic Repercussions of Illiteracy- Arifeen Chowdhury

18510337363_234bcff910_mAttending or working at a renowned institution like the University of Waterloo, issues such as illiteracy may escape daily conversation or thinking, especially in an academic community like ours. Measuring illiteracy is debatable; the most common method is a formula developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that accounts for the size and structures of a country’s economy [3]. Despite the common belief that illiteracy most affects the developing world, a recent report from the World Literacy Foundation (WLF) shows otherwise. It highlights that workforce illiteracy cause losses of about $898 billion every year in developed countries and $294 billion in emerging economies— the global economy will lose $1.2 trillion in 2015 [5].

Although many believe Canada is well prepared and established in the education front, the fact is nearly half of the adult population have low literacy skills (42%, between the ages of 16 and 65) and for the past 15 years there has been little improvement [3]. Things aren’t getting any better either. It is projected that by 2031, more than 15 million adults in Canada (3 million more than today) will have low literacy rates if the problem isn’t addressed immediately. All this equates to a $32 billion loss in the Canadian economy this year [5]. Across the border, the United States is projected to lose $362 billion [5] — more than any country in the world. While Canada does have one of the best literacy rates in the world, how literacy is defined distorts the gravity of the situation. With nearly half the working population having low literacy levels, productivity and efficiency is not even close to its best. This extends beyond the bank; low literacy can result in poor health, hygiene, safety and family planning. Andrew Kay, CEO of the WLF expressed, “There’s evidence that a person who is either completely illiterate or has functional illiteracy; that has a lifelong impact on them and their employment, and their ability to earn income. That’s [true] in all countries and all economies.” The Canadian Literacy and Learning Network states that a 1% increase in the literacy rate would generate $18 billion in economic growth every year, and investing in literacy programming has a 241% return on investment, yet nobody wants to chip in due to a lack of short term gains [3].

Canada, with one of the best educational infrastructures and high literacy rates of any country in the world, still suffers due to a significant population of people with low literacy levels. The report highlights to establish adult and parental literacy programs; improving school attendance and retention strategies; inculcating a common interest for knowledge; and strengthening government commitment to literacy initiatives. Numbers do not tell us the complete story, but we do know that immediate action at the grass roots is required. Poverty and illiteracy has been proven to go hand-in-hand, Canadians enjoy government support for K-12 education, but many cannot afford to continue towards higher education. However, the problem today lies in low literacy levels— material usually covered in primary and secondary schools. How do we use community based learning to bridge this disconnect? What is our role in this issue?


[1] Anderson, M. (15 August 2015). Illiteracy will cost global economy $1.2tn in 2015. The Guardian News and Media Group. Retrieved from

[2]Canadian Council on Learning (2010). The Future of Literacy in Canada’s Largest Cities report.

[3] Canadian Literacy and Learning Network (2015). All About Literacy in Canada: Literacy Statistics. Retrieved from

[4] Martinez R., and Fernandez A. (2010). The Social and Economic Impact of Illiteracy: Analytical Model and Pilot Study. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[5] World Literacy Foundation (24 August 2015). The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy: A snapshot of illiteracy in a global context.

The Benefits of Experiential Learning Through Co-operative Education — Thinushan Sandrasegaram

iheartcoopNearing the end of high school, students are pressured to select an academic path, one which they will be on for the next three to ten years (depending on program and level). I was lucky enough to have a relative who was enrolled into a co-op program at the undergraduate level to guide my decision making. She explained to me that co-operative education (co-op) provides a structured way of learning that incorporates in-class learning with periods of work placements. In addition, she shared personal experiences from her co-op terms to help me get a better understanding of how co-op can kick start my career. As a result, she strongly influenced me to enroll in a program that offered a co-op option.

Now having completed two co-op terms and nearing the end of my third term, I can proudly say that I have benefited greatly from my co-op experiences. In this blog post I will share some benefits that I have experienced from being enrolled into a co-op program.

  1. Additional source of income while gaining valuable work experience:

Through co-op most students have the opportunity to bring in a source of income while gaining work experience. I’ve used the money that I earned to help pay for housing/living expenses, tuition fees, and textbooks. As a result, I have reduced the total amount of funding needed from student loans.

  1. Networking and identifying the right industry and work environment for you:

Co-op provides students with a platform to network and meet new individuals. In addition, it is also an opportunity to work in different industries and work environments; this may allow you to determine which setting is the best fit for you. For example, I had the opportunity to work for a mental health clinic, an oil and gas company, and now a teaching centre; next I am hoping to land a placement in a governmental sector or a placement that requires extensive field work. As a result, when I complete my required co-op terms, I will be able to identify which industry and which work environment best complements my skills and interests.

  1. Learning new processes and software, while developing a diverse skill set:

Depending on the assigned task in your placement you may be given training on various organizational processes and software. The newly learnt processes and software can potentially provide you with a competitive advantage over other job applicants upon graduating. Likewise, co-op also provides the opportunity to enhance your skill set. For example, in my past co-op role, in order to improve my oral communication skills, I volunteered to present various topics to new clients. Furthermore, you can also schedule a performance evaluation with your supervisor(s) in order to gain feedback on your progress and continually improve your skills and performance.

  1. Exciting opportunities:

During your co-op term you may be presented with many exciting opportunities. In my past co-op term, I was able to attend two Toronto Raptors basketball games and visited Ripley’s Aquarium for the first time. Here at the Centre for Teaching Excellence, I have the chance to complete the Fundamentals of University Teaching certificate program, which is only offered to graduate students. Furthermore, my friends who worked for other organizations as co-op students have attended car shows and even got to travel parts of Canada. The opportunities that can arise throughout a co-op term largely depend on the organization itself and your role in the organization.

In short, being enrolled into a co-op program has many benefits. However, it is entirely up to you to decide if a co-op program aligns with your goals and interests. If you want to know more about co-op at the University of Waterloo visit the Co-operative Education website.


University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Co-operative Education. Retrieved from

Building Instructor-TA Rapport — Donata Gierczycka


If you have some free time, search the Internet for student reviews of the University of Waterloo. The results may be shocking. While some of the negative reviews are obviously biased, there are some common pieces of advice for the University, contributed by alumni or senior students. Most of these recommendations are related to teaching. Education is what students pay for, and in return they expect a proper environment to develop their hard skills and intellectual capacity. Students also expect to learn how to deal with daily challenges, and want guidance in mastering problem-solving skills as well as soft skills.

Continue reading Building Instructor-TA Rapport — Donata Gierczycka

“Transitioning from High School to a Post-Secondary Institution – What to Expect – Sunny Rakhra”

Every year thousands of students graduate from high school and look to pursue their life goals through post-secondary education. Leading up tstudents-with-laptopso the first day, students are excited about moving out, learning about a specific discipline, and having lots of freedom.  However by the end of the first week, some students are overwhelmed with the new responsibilities and changes.  I have described below four significant things I wish I knew prior to beginning my undergraduate studies.

  1. Professors are great!

Without a doubt, the relationship among students and professors is considerably different than the relationship between students and high school teachers. The class sizes are exponentially larger and some individuals may feel intimidated by professors. Consequently, students may be reluctant to ask professors for help.  Through personal experiences, I have come to a conclusion that professors are among the most helpful individuals on campus, because they hold scheduled office hours for students and are exceptional sources for career guidance.

  1. Independence

Whereas high school teachers might consistently remind students about upcoming assignments and exams, university professors might remind students about an upcoming assignment or exam only once or twice. Clearly, as students enter a post-secondary institution, it is the students’ responsibility to complete the assigned work and readings independently. Essentially, the university experience revolves around the goal of promoting independence.

  1. Sleep-Grades-Socialize

I am sure everyone has heard about how university students are only capable of choosing two-of-three options when it comes to sleeping, socializing, and obtaining good grades. However, such a statement is false, as many students are able to systematically balance all three options.  All it takes is excellent time-management skills, as such a skill will allow you to balance good grades, spending time with your friends, and obtaining the sleep your body requires.

  1. Make a schedule

Studies have indicated that it takes approximately twenty-one days to form a new habit or routine (Clear, n.d.).  With that in mind, establishing a study schedule will not only have a positive impact on an students’ grades and mental stress, but can also improve their time-management skills. Such positive outcomes are evident because once I began to follow a schedule, I saw a noticeable difference in my grades, while having much more leisure time.

In short, being prepared and recognizing the importance of making a schedule, understanding that professors are a vital tool for success, fostering the responsibility of independence, and defying the false ideology around sleep, grades, and friends will provide students a sufficient foundation on what to expect during the adjustment period

Finally, the University of Waterloo has Transition Programs  available for new students to make the adjustment process much smoother (University of Waterloo, n.d.).


Clear, J. (n.d.). How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? Retrieved 2015, from James Clear:

University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Access Ability Services. Retrieved from


Teaching and All The Feels — Aimée Morrison

This post has been reprinted (with permission) from the Hook & Eye blog

feelingsI have that nervous feeling in my stomach again–those butterflies, or that flip-flopping feeling, a vague nausea and discomfort. It’s final paper time, and while I’m not writing any myself, I assign them. And it makes me incredibly nervous, shepherding my grad students through their projects’ various stages. I want so badly for them to succeed; I worry so much about how tired they look, or frustrated, or, worse, how silent they get.

Teaching. It’s very emotional.

Over the past ten years, as I have wrestled with my teaching persona, teaching practices, teaching goals, one thread runs constant–trying to manage my own emotions. I started out perhaps over-attached to results: if a student did poorly on an exam, say, I would take all that on as a personal failure of mine. There was a lot of crying. It was not helpful. I tried to learn to not take it as a personal affront when students were often absent. I had to learn that sometimes it’s not about me when students look bored and tired every single semester once week 7 rolls around. I was very emotional but about the wrong things and it was gruelling and ineffective.

Then, for a while, I tried too hard to swing the other way. Teaching became more contractual and transactional. I would lay out some rules and try to enframe the teaching situation as mutually beneficial but largely impersonal: trying to protect my own feelings and recover from my over investment in outcomes that were beyond my control, I tried to take my feelings out of the classroom. But even as I tried to pull away from my misguided mother hen tendencies, my students still sometimes cried, or got angry, and I was doing them a new disservice by trying to deny them that reality.

Real learning is transformative–and all transformations are fraught with fear and excitement and loss and gain. The crucible of the new self is necessarily hot; it burns. Teaching, I find, is as emotionally and personally wrenching as learning is, and I need to find new ways to incorporate this reality into my work, even as I create some boundaries for myself and my students.

For me this starts with acknowledging that I care a lot about the material I teach, and I am, actually, really invested in having students learn it. This might be an ethical and respectful methodology for research on the internet, or it might be the history of the www, or it might be the difference between technological determinism and social construction, or it might be the design theory of affordance, or it might be feminist pragmatics, or it might be how to make a daguerrotype. It really matters to me a lot that students understand these things and, crucially, see the value in them.

When I teach, I necessarily make myself incredibly vulnerable to my students, by reaching out to them with ideas and sources and methods and assignments and illustrations, and asking them to hold on. It requires, I find, an incredible outlay of empathy for me to try to find where the students are at already, intellectually and ideologically or whatever, and go to them there to ask them to come with me to where the class is designed to take us. It is rarely the case now that I teach just from what I want to say; I’m always doing this sort of dance where I try to figure out the emotional temperature of the room, poll the interests, prod the knowledge base, and figure out a context-specific approach.

The best way I can find to describe it is this: It feels like being on a first date with 40 people at the same time. Every single time I teach.

To be clear, I’m not in it to be “loved” or even liked. I’m trying to put myself–Aimée Morrison, the situated human being–behind the ideas but of course teaching and learning are human acts so I’m still there. Reaching out, trying to get in 40 heads and hearts at the same time, trying to shift something in someone’s understanding: “even though this was a required course, it was surprisingly useful.”

I begin finally to understand that this is why teaching days are so gruelling. Why if I teach in the morning, I’m not going to be writing in the afternoon. It’s the interpersonal work, the mutual vulnerability, the work of empathy, the work of caring. In my worst moments I want to withdraw–I say things like, “If they won’t do the readings, to hell with them.” But really, I am usually overwhelmed with the sheer importance of the work I’m trying to do, and how much I care and how much I care about having students come to care about what I teach as well. I’m not naturally empathetic and I’m much more inclined to try to structure the world into rule-based interactions we can process cognitively and rationally, so the empathy required of teaching is not something I come to naturally. It’s something over time I’ve come to learn is crucial: learning is transformative, and thus scary and personal. Teaching must be these things too. All the feels.

— Aimée Morrison

Image courtesy of Nic Walker.

How Can Instructors and TAs support Student Mental Health? – Kristin Brown

when-we-break-a-bone-vs-how-we-deal-with-a-mental-health-issueStudent mental health is an issue that is close to my heart. Outside of my PhD research and work at CTE, I am the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Stand Up to Stigma, a student-led mental health initiative on campus partnered with Counselling Services and Health Services. Our goal is to start (and continue) a conversation about mental health at UW. Last term, I created a CTE workshop regarding how TAs and instructors can support student mental health – this blog post provides some of the resources available to help students in distress and promote mental well-being in the classroom.

What’s the issue?

A recent survey conducted by the American College Health Association (2013) highlights the current issues Ontario post-secondary students are facing with respect to mental health. Within the past year:

  • 59.2% of students had felt academics were traumatic or very difficult to handle;
  • 57.9% had felt overwhelming anxiety;
  • 40.1% had felt so depressed that it was difficult to function;
  • 12.2% had been diagnosed or treated by a professional for anxiety;
  • 10.0% had been diagnosed or treated by a professional for depression; and,
  • 10.9% had seriously considered suicide.

The link between mental health and learning

Mental health problems are negatively associated with several learning outcomes, including lower GPAs and an increased chance of withdrawal from academic programs (Eisenberg et al., 2009; Hysenbegasi et al., 2005). Several sources have advocated for a campus-wide approach to mental health, which posits that all members of post-secondary institutions (e.g., administrators, faculty, and staff) should play a role in student mental health instead of counselling services only (Kitzrow, 2003).

What mental health support resources are available for UW students?

  • Counselling Services: individual and group counselling, workshops (e.g., stress management, mindfulness, coping skills), emergency situations
  • Health Services: medical doctors, psychiatric services, emergency situations
  • Accessibility Services: academic accommodation for students
  • Good2Talk (1-866-925-5454): free, confidential, and anonymous helpline for any post-secondary student in Ontario; available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year
  • Here 24/7 (1-844-437-3247): connection to addiction, mental health, and crisis services at 12 agencies in Waterloo, Wellington, and Dufferin counties

How can faculty/staff support student mental health?

  • Queen’s University and Western University have excellent resources for staff and faculty that highlight common signs of distress, how to talk to a student in distress, and how to make referrals to support services.
  • The Council of Ontario Universities has developed a series of videos that explain the issue of mental health in the post-secondary population, how to support students in distress, and the role of the university community in supporting student mental health.

How can I incorporate mental well-being into my classroom?

  • Simon Fraser University: This evidence-based resource provides strategies and examples from Simon Fraser University faculty for how you can build well-being into your class.


Eisenberg, D., Golberstein, E., & Hunt, J. B. (2009). Mental health and academic success in college. The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 9(1)

Hysenbegasi, A., Hass, S. L., & Rowland, C. R. (2005). The impact of depression on the academic productivity of university students. Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 8(3), 145.

Kitzrow, M. A. (2003). The Mental Health Needs of Today’s College Students: Challenges and Recommendations. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice: 41(1): 167-181. doi: 10.2202/1949-6605.1310