Graduate School Experience at the University of Toronto


Alisha Giglio

Masters in Chemical Engineering-University at University of Toronto

Part 2: Life as a grad student at UofT

I began my studies in my MASc program at UofT in September. At UofT, it is common for graduate students to find their own housing downtown Toronto (although there are some programs can help international students with on campus housing), so I found an apartment in Kensington Market, which is a 15 minute walk from the Chemical Engineering department where I would be spending most of my time. UofT is in the middle of downtown Toronto, surrounded by many different neighborhoods. Students tend to live in the Annex, Harbord Village, or Kensington, and other areas such as Little Italy, Yorkville, Chinatown, the Entertainment district and Toronto’s famous Eaton’s Center, are no more than a 20 minute walk from campus.

Graduate School Experience at the University of Toronto

Once I was settled into my new apartment, it was time to begin my studies at UofT. My MASc degree was a two-year program, and within my two years I had to complete 3 courses, and of course, my research thesis which would end up being published by UofT. Writing academic papers and publishing in journals is also recommended by the university and your professor, but it is not a requirement to graduate.

I took two of my three courses in my first semester at UofT, and during this semester I began my literature research and prepping for my laboratory experiments that I needed to complete for my thesis. The graduate courses I took we’re difficult, but I had very small class sizes and the professors were available for assistance, which made it possible to get through classes with good grades. The professor I was working with was also an exceptional teacher, mentor, and supporter, who helped me navigate starting my thesis process and guided me through my research and presentation of my results.

After the first year of my program, I had completed the required courses, however I felt like I had not made enough progress on my thesis. I needed to buckle down and get in the lab to produce some results. Being a graduate student can be very overwhelming, and a lot of graduate students experience imposter syndrome where you feel as though you are not qualified or doubt your skills. Graduate school comes with high expectations to achieve success, and I was attending Canada’s top school, for a degree in Chemical Engineering! I will say there are so many resources at UofT to help you get through the stress of school, and I would encourage everyone struggling in university to live a balanced lifestyle to manage stress and wellbeing.

By the end of my program I had finally finished running all my experiments and building the conclusions of my research thesis. The last thing for me to officially complete was my thesis, which would be a 100+ page report of my research topic. I also had to defend my thesis in the form of a 20-minute presentation in front of my professor and two other professors in the department, demonstrating my knowledge of the field and my discovery of new information. As well, since I had generated a good experimental procedure and results during my degree I was also encouraged by my professor to write two research papers for publishing in academic journals. As these papers were not a requirement of my degree, I ended up finishing them after I obtained my MASc designation. The process of writing, peer-reviewing, and publishing an academic journal can be very long, and it took me about a year per paper to finally get my articles published.

Attending UofT for my MASc degree was one of the best decisions I have made. The research thesis helped me improve my problem solving, communication, presentation skills which are transferrable to many careers, as well as demonstrated my exceptional technical skills in chemical engineering, which set me up to obtain my dream job after graduation.