Graduate Student Life

Graduate studies in the department of chemistry brings you together with not only an exceptional research faculty and state-of-the-art research facilities, but also a student body from all over the world. Our tri-campus department spans the cities of Toronto, Scarborough and Mississauga, each campus residing in their own vibrant and diverse urban neighbourhoods.

Meet Some of our Students

Below you can hear from some of our students share their thoughts on what graduate life is like at U of T.

 

Katherine BrechunKatherine Brechun

I am starting the third year of my Ph.D. in the research group of Prof. Andrew Woolley in biological chemistry, where I work towards developing synthetic proteins with functions that can be controlled by light. I joined the Department of Chemistry after completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo. As an undergrad student I was in the co-op program, and I spent time researching in the Woolley lab. This gave me the opportunity to familiarize myself not only with the Woolley lab research and group dynamic, but also with the environment of the chemistry department. The chemistry department at the University of Toronto is an exceptional place to study. Not only does the department offer world class research, but it is also a lively and welcoming place to be.

The Department of Chemistry has a very active graduate student body. Numerous events throughout the year are organized and run by the members of ChemClub, a team of graduate students who volunteer their time for the betterment of graduate student life. Due to the numerous events, people in the department know one another well, which fosters a collaborative and support environment. I find equipment is shared openly, while knowledge and advice are spread gladly. Numerous self-organized groups and traditions have developed in the department, ranging from the Friday evening gathering of chemistry students at the Graduate Student Union (GSU) pub, to the volleyball teams and rock climbing groups that meet up on a weekly basis after lab work has been completed for the day. We are fortunate to enjoy a very close knit community.

I didn't apply to the University of Toronto for my undergraduate because I didn't want to live in a large city, however my time as a co-op student changed my opinion. I live downtown, and enjoy that one can easily walk or bike to any destination. I like the multicultural nature of the city. I live close to Chinatown, and enjoy buying my groceries in stores that sell numerous things I cannot identify. I also like being close to the lake, and I spend a lot of time there playing beach volleyball with half the Stephan lab. The UofT Athletic Center is located close to the chemistry building and has become a staple in my life; I spend as much time there playing squash as my schedule will allow.

Toronto is a very expensive place to live, but I can live comfortably on the stipend I earn as a graduate student. In particular, housing costs may cause some alarm. I live in a two bedroom apartment shared with a friend from the Nitz lab in chemistry. Here is an estimated monthly budget:

Rent/Utilities $ 700
Phone $ 30
Groceries $ 150
Tuition $ 700

 

My experience at the University of Toronto in the Department of Chemistry has been overwhelmingly positive. I would happily recommend the experience to anyone considering pursuing graduate studies with us.

Zhu DiyaDiya Zhu

I grew up in Shenzhen, China and completed my honours BSc at Mount Allison University, New Brunswick. After spending 4 years in a lovely small town on the east coast, I decided to go back to a big city and pursue graduate studies. 

Toronto was an easy choice: I enjoy living in Canada, U of T is regarded as one of the most prestigious schools in Canada, and the chemistry department at St. George campus has great research and amazing facilities. I moved here in September 2016 to start a PhD program in inorganic chemistry with Prof. Doug Stephan. The department has been helpful in the transition and very supportive of student-run clubs and activities. For example, ChemClub organizes a number of events, which are excellent chances to meet department members as well as releasing stress from study and research. Also if you like running, Toronto is definitely a good choice with beautiful routes.

I am currently living in a one-bedroom condo in the Yonge & Charles area. It’s 30-minute walk from the department. This is a nice residential area with many new high-rise condos. Although the cost of living alone can be expensive, you can have more personal space and it’s not hard living if you budget accordingly. My average monthly budget is roughly:

Rent $ 1200
Internet & cell phone $ 100
Food $ 200
Entertainment $ 100

Cyrille LavigneCyrille Lavigne

In 2012, I obtained my Honours degree from McGill Chemistry and joinedUniversity of Toronto just after. I chose Toronto because of theexcellence of the Chemical Physics Theory Group and joined theresearch group of Prof. Brumer. I currently work on radiationlesstransitions in molecular systems. As a theoretician, I cannot vouchfor the facilities: I haven't touched a NMR or a MS since undergrad.However the computational facilities are amazing, we get great officesand coffee and the Theory group offers an exciting and stimulatingenvironment.

As a Montré native, I always thought of Toronto as a boring,corporate city, compared with the bustling artsy scene of Montré. Iam happy to say that this completely unfounded. Toronto is an excitingcity where each neighbourhood is drastically different from theothers. I pretty much spent the first six months I was here in awe ofthe sheer number of places I still had to visit.

I have not done everything, but I can attest to the quality of thefood and beer. Toronto, being an extremely multicultural city, has amyriad of restaurant of every possible cuisine, most of them veryaffordable, even for a graduate student. The local food movement isgreat: Southern Ontario is one of the most important agriculturalregions in Canada and farmers markets and local store makes it almostpossible to avoid grocery stores completely. The micro and nanobreweryscene is probably one of the best in North America: I can name a dozenbrewers within city limits and I'm sure there are more.

I cycle everywhere in the summer and walk to work in the winter. Thecity is very flat, making it extremely easy to just pick up yourbicycle and go anywhere. Endless complaining about transit is amunicipal sport here but don't let it fool you: the system is fine andwill get you where you need to be.

The stipend is fairly comfortable but requires budgeting, especiallydue to the high rent prices. Someone with reasonable expenses wouldnot have any problems. I live in the West End (the Best End) atDufferin and College and greatly recommend it. Finding an apartmentis fairly hard, but that is expected in any major city. Here is abreakdown of my current expenses:

Monthly Budget:

Rent/Utilities $ 750
Food $ 200
Transportation $ 50
Bars $ 100

Ignacio LoaizaIgnacio Loaiza

I graduated as a physicist from the UNAM in Mexico in 2017, and joined the University of Toronto for grad school afterwards. My choice was made thanks to a summer internship program that I did in summer 2016, where I got the chance to work with Prof. Izmaylov. I really liked his supervising style, the work they were doing and the city, so it was a rather clear choice.Coming from Mexico City, I have never been a fan of big cities. I feel Toronto achieves a good balance between a big city, brimming with life and activities, yet has a certain relaxed vibe to it. If I had to sum Toronto down to one word, I would say diverse. I have never been to a more socially accepting, culturally diverse city, and I feel this is the main spot where this city shines. There always seems to be new, exciting spots in the city to discover, whether it's a new food place, a park, that tea place that's just amazing, and maybe some bars.When I first moved in here, I didn't know anyone. I made the lucky decision of moving into the Graduate House building and have met many friends there, always having some activity where you can meet new people. I would definitely recommend this for anyone new to Canada.As someone who was born and raised in Mexico, I always heard stories of the Canadian cold. I have to admit that I was more than slightly scared of the winter, but after it passed I don't think it's that bad, I could still walk around the city and go out with my friends (getting a good winter jacket is definitely a must). Also, I think this provides a nice balance with the summer activities, as there's always some camping trip or adventure awaiting around the corner when the weather's nice.Toronto is an expensive city to live in. Still, with the stipend I get, plus the TAing, and some budgeting, I do ok. Here is a breakdown of my monthly budget:

Rent/Utilities $ 900
Phone $ 50
Groceries $ 200
Tuition $ 700

Mark MiltenburgMark Miltenburg

I grew up outside of Waterloo, about 2 hours southwest of Toronto. I completed my B.A.Sc. in Honours Nanotechnology Engineering at the University of Waterloo, and after experiencing both industry and academic labs decided to continue to graduate school. I visited the University of Toronto during the Graduate Recruitment Weekend, where I saw firsthand the great research and community the department fosters. I joined the Seferos group in 2013 for my Masters, and switched to a PhD shortly after. My current research is on graphene-based materials for organic electronics applications.

Toronto is a great place to live. There's a lot of diversity, and tons of things to try. New and interesting activities like escape rooms, board game cafes, axe throwing, or archery tag keep popping up each year. There are specialized hobby shops for everything. I never get tired of exploring the city with friends as a cheap way to have fun. Within the department, Chemclub puts on a number of activities each year, which are fantastic for meeting department members and usually pretty cheap. There.s also intramural teams in the department, like hockey, basketball and soccer, which are a great way to stay active.

I live in a small apartment within walking distance of the department. I chose to live alone, so my expenses are on the high end. It can be tough budgeting lump sum payments, but you get used to it. My average monthly budget is roughly:

Rent/Utilities $ 1050
Internet & Cell Phone $ 100
Tuition $ 650
Food/Restaurants $ 250

Andrew ProppeAndrew Proppe

I obtained my BSc. in chemistry from Concordia University in Montreal, QC, my hometown. I worked in various research groups throughout my undergrad, in addition to one co-op job in industry. I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree, and spent the first year and a half of my graduate studies at Princeton before transferring to University of Toronto. I currently am co-supervised by Shana Kelley and Ted Sargent, and my research focuses on carrier transport in quantum confined nanomaterials for light harvesting and light emission.

I love city living; UofT was my best option for graduate school since it has the most prestigious chemistry department in Canada, but is also located in an exceptionally great city. There are activities occurring constantly all over the city, e.g. festivals and gigs. There are tons of great bars and restaurants with a huge variety. Great beers and breweries as well. Most importantly, there are great people in the department to enjoy these things with! ChemClub organizes numerous events throughout the year that take advantage of many of the things Toronto has to offer, such as pub crawls, Jays games, brewery tours, curling, etc.

Compared to Montreal, I find Toronto to be more expansive, but the TTC makes it very easy to commute quickly anywhere in the city limits. The rent in Ontario is tragically high, but the stipend from the chemistry department makes this a non-issue. Most students I know live within walking / biking distance from the campus. I live on Spadina & Fort York, close to the CN Tower and the Rogers center. With some minor budgeting, it’s very affordable to often go to pubs, go out to eat, and just enjoy the city. My monthly budget:

Rent/Utilities $ 900
Food $ 300
Entertainment/Beer $ 200
Tuition $ 700

Lori vandenEndenLori vandenEnden

I grew up in rural southwestern Ontario and completed my undergraduate degree in Integrated Science and Chemistry at McMaster University. After a number of positive experiences working in research labs, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school. I chose to attend the University of Toronto because of the Environmental Chemistry program. This is a unique program that allows me to take courses and do research on environmental topics with a chemistry focus.

My current research project uses biomarker techniques to study the role of litter and root inputs in forest carbon storage. My supervisor is Dr. Myrna Simpson and because her lab is located on the Scarborough campus, I am a UTSC affiliated graduate student. This means that I spend most of my time in Scarborough, but if I need to go downtown for a class or a seminar, it is quite convenient to take the TTC. Although the Scarborough campus is smaller than the downtown campus, there are still excellent research facilities such as the Environmental NMR Centre and TRACES analytical lab. There is also a Graduate Student Association at Scarborough that organizes events such as trivia nights, invited speakers and professional skills seminars. I can also attend events downtown organized by the ChemClub, such as cultural nights and trips to locations such as Toronto Island.

The campus is in a residential area and is bordered by a forest and a creek. Nearby there are a number of parks and the PanAm athletic centre. I currently rent a one-bedroom basement apartment close to campus. I find this to be a nice balance because I get to live in a quieter area of the city with a lower cost of living, but it is still easy to get downtown.

Below is an approximate breakdown of my monthly expenses:

Rent $ 800
Tuition $ 112
Phone $ 50
Food $ 250
Entertainment $ 150

Samantha McWhirterSamantha McWhirter

I grew up in a small town in the Gaspe Peninsula in Eastern Quebec, so I had always imagined moving to a large city like Toronto to experience another pace of life. During my time at Mount Allison University (in Sackville, NB) I realized that Chemistry really excited me and while doing my honours research project, I decided that I wanted to pursue my PhD. It was after visiting the department during the prospective student weekend that I decided that I wanted to come to U of T. Seeing the world-class research being done here with the facilities and resources that were available and immediately feeling a sense of community in the department made it an easy decision. I am now entering my third year in Prof. Gilbert Walker’s lab, which is located at the downtown St. George campus. My research has focused on developing gold nanoparticles for biodiagnostic applications.

Life in the Chemistry department has been really great over the last two years. ChemClub regularly hosts all sorts of that bring graduate students and postdocs together, so that everyone can meet students from other labs while playing board games, going to a sporting event or enjoying some great free food. I decided to join the ChemClub executive as the Internal Events Coordinator this year so that I could participate in the planning of these events. ChemClub hosts large events like the holiday party and the formal that most of the department attends, as well as smaller trips outside of Toronto such as the ski trip and camping trip. Participating in these events definitely brings us together as a department, and it fosters a really supportive environment which is one of the best things about the Chemistry department at U of T. 

The stipend that I receive from U of T allows me to live quite well even in a relatively expensive city like Toronto. Finding an apartment downtown can be competitive and may take longer than expected, but keep an eye out and don’t give up because there are definitely lots of great places to live! I live in an apartment with two roommates in Kensington Market, one of the most vibrant and interesting neighborhoods Toronto has to offer with tons of unique bars, restaurants and shops to explore. I also take advantage of the cheap groceries that are available in the market and Chinatown as well. It’s only a short walk (less than 10 minutes) away from Lash Miller and is within walking distance to most of downtown, so I do not have to pay for transit very often which keeps costs down. Below is an example of what my monthly budget for necessities might look like:

Rent/utilities $ 900
Phone/Internet $ 70
Groceries $ 200
Tuition $ 600