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Image by Moresheth, Flickr

Image by Moresheth, Flickr

Just joining in? Catch up with Entry #1 and Entry #2.

Office Relationships

No, I don’t mean THOSE kinds of relationships (though they’re not entirely excluded). All work environments have a set of relationship dynamics in play, and up until this summer, I had never had to deal with office dynamics, or what some might call ‘office politics’. As an unpaid student intern, I was preparing for the worst. If they treated me like I didn’t know anything, I could hardly blame them – I’m not even studying anything even remotely related to mental health.

However, by and large I am treated as an equal. Although the paid employees delegate tasks to me, they usually ask for my feedback and take it into consideration. My boss always wants me to come to meetings to participate and offer my thoughts, even though I am only here for one more month. Once, I couldn’t make a meeting, and she rescheduled it just so that I could attend.

Of course, in a teeny tiny organization like the one I work for, things like that are easy to do. When you work for a large corporation, it’s inevitable that some things will slip through the cracks. I’m lucky, to be sure, but I’m still a firm believer that everyone else can be this lucky too, unless your boss is truly evil. If you want to be treated more like an equal and gain more experience, ask. Just make sure that you have the time for the new responsibilities. Why wouldn’t your boss let you sit in on a meeting if you’ve already finished all of your other work for the day? And if you show that you’re eager to learn, it’s harder for a superior to treat you like you’re “just a student” who doesn’t know anything.

That doesn’t mean I don’t deal with my fair share of confusion, though. Some offices are full of lively relationships, where people are friends outside of work and go for lunch together and gossip at each others’ desks. These days you even hear about progressive companies instituting things like company retreats and putting recreational activities inside their offices and whatnot. Others are cold and clinical – people do their work and go home, only interacting for business purposes. Mine isn’t quite like that, but I would hardly call it overly friendly.

Everyone gets along quite well at the office. We collaborate on projects, and even when staff members disagree they always keep the discussion respectful and informed. We make small talk about our weekends and the weather. But that’s about where it ends. No one sees each other outside of work hours or shares too much with each other. This is all fine, but what if you want more?

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a packed social calendar, but sometimes I wish that some of us were friends. I really enjoy the company of the younger people in the office – I think they’re smart, funny, and just all around cool people. I would like to spend more time with them and get to know them better. Yet, my few attempts to do so generally fail. I don’t know how to “take things to the next level” without it being awkward. Most people would just say, “Hey, can I add you on Facebook?” But in an environment where no one initiates these kinds of things, it’s hard to feel like you’re not being super obvious and weird.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that I have not yet solved. So this is me asking YOU for advice – how would you make friends at work? How would you take it to the next level?

As usual you can tweet be with your thoughts (or anything else) @chelsearrr and I will see you next month for my last post!

Image by Chris Florence, Flickr

Image by Chris Florence, Flickr

There is no greater incentive to studying for finals than knowing that you will be embarking on a week-long cruise trip with your family as soon as you’re done. That’s why the minute I handed in my last exam, I was more than ready, and looking forward to doing nothing but sleeping, eating, and lying around by the pool and beaches with a good book. What I wasn’t expecting though, was a much-needed kick in the pants.

Fast-forward to the last night of the trip: we were all getting ready to head down for our final dinner at sea. Having met at my parents’ cabin as agreed upon beforehand, we managed to bump into the caretaker of their room. For the week of your stay, one of the cruise staff is assigned to your specific cabin, so it’s common to see them at least one or twice a day. Being the talkative and social people that they are, my parents quickly became friends with the staff member that took care of their room (unfortunately, I don’t remember his name, so he will henceforth be dubbed “Bob”).

From brief daily conversations, my parents found out that Bob had family in Jamaica whom he regularly sent his earnings to. He also alluded to the hardships that came with working on a cruise ship, broaching on topics of equality and fairness (to avoid controversy and any potential lawsuits that my meager student funds could never dream of affording, I will omit the name of the cruise line). Suffice it to say, Bob wasn’t exactly happy with his current situation, and planned to transfer to another cruise company soon.

That night happened to be the first and only time I had the chance to meet Bob during the whole trip, and I am very glad that I didn’t pass up the opportunity. We exchanged introductions before he went on to ask if I was in university, to which I affirmed. Pulling a clean towel from his cart, he casually asked if I was doing well. Here I hesitated, reflecting back on the less than stellar grades I had accumulated that past term (which could have possibly been a result of daydreams of the Bahamas rather than memorizations of novel motifs and essay topics). I couldn’t help but give an embarrassed smile and said that I was trying.

What he said next will stay with me for the rest of my life.

He stopped what he was doing, looked me dead in the eye, and used the most serious, somber tone I could ever remember hearing.

Don’t try. Do.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking: that’s something you find written in fancy typography, printed over a filtered landscape photo and posted on some hipster Tumblr page (not that I spend my time browsing those…much). But it was more so the way that he had said those words that completely eliminated any semblance of silliness or trace of corniness.

Though I mean no offense to the caretaking profession, Bob probably didn’t grow up dreaming of doing what he does now for a living. Despite this though, he was making the best of his situation and was working hard to be able to provide for himself and his family, and to ultimately give them the chances that he perhaps didn’t have himself growing up.

From a more personal perspective, I come from first generation parents. I share a close relationship with my mom and dad, so I’ve heard the stories of their experiences as immigrants and their struggles to establish roots in a country that was completely new to them. As independent entrepreneurs, they literally built a business for themselves out of nothing, and continue to work at it for seven days a week with little to no holiday or vacation hours every year. As a product of such people, I know firsthand the meaning of work ethic and determination. Just like Bob, they had and still do put in such tremendous effort and hard work on a daily basis in order to provide my sister and I with the options we have today.

And there I was, consciously knowing that I was giving a mediocre performance in my classes and only applying half of the effort that I am capable of to my assignments and studies. My initial drive to achieve and succeed had dwindled from first year and was in danger of completely fizzling out by the end of my second. Despite what I said to Bob, I had stopped actually trying and had begun coasting. And even though I was aware of this change in myself, I couldn’t find the energy or reason to fix my slacker behaviour – until now.

With those powerful words from Bob, a reflection on my parents, and some tough love from my best friends (who had noticed my recent degenerating behaviour), I was suddenly reminded of how lucky I am to be in the position I am in. The life and career goals that I had set out for myself weren’t going to become reality by themselves. If I wanted them to happen, I needed to actively work hard and make use of the opportunities and chances available to me to bring them to fruition. I owe it to Bob, my parents, and myself to persist and retain that determination in succeeding in the future that I envision. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if my dreams and goals don’t happen in the exact way that I picture them. As long as I’m actively trying and giving the best of my abilities to the challenges that come my way, that’s all that matters.

After all, that’s the only thing that is really asked of us at the end of the day, isn’t it: to try, and to keep trying.

Image by Samuel Mann, Flickr

Image by Samuel Mann, Flickr

Just joining in? Read Entry #1 here.

I’ve been at my internship for nearly two months now! It feels like I just started yesterday, but when I think about everything I’ve accomplished and learned, and the new relationships I’ve formed, I realize just how long it’s been.

The common stereotype of the unpaid intern is someone who gets coffee and does other mindless tasks for their superiors. Sometimes I am asked to do things like that (never coffee though, that would be disastrous), but not too often. Usually I’m assisting with larger projects.

When I am asked to do menial tasks, I follow this tried and true advice:

When assigned a task, such as to make coffee, make the best damn coffee they’ve ever seen.

I don’t know why I keep using coffee as an example when this has literally never come up for me. I suppose the coffee itself is a stereotype! A better example – when I’m asked to enter data into spreadsheets, I do it faster (and more accurately) than anyone has ever done it before. And then I say, “What else can I do?” By getting this sort of thing out of the way, you not only impress people with your dedication, but it allows you to have the time to move on to other projects that might be of more interest to you. You’ll hear this all the time, but it is truly one of the only pieces of advice I can honestly say that everyone should always follow, no matter what the situation.

That said, the major projects that I get to work on are really exciting. My superiors are very dedicated to making sure that I get something out of this internship – real, valuable experience in which I’ve learned a variety of different skills. I could judge this just based on our first interview – I was asked what type of work I would like to be doing, and how it would fit into my academic and professional goals. So don’t feel like all internships are a waste of time because that’s all you’ll do! Chances are it won’t be. If you’re lucky enough to be able to choose where you work, look for employers with an attitude like this, and don’t be afraid to tell them exactly what you want. You’ll be nearly guaranteed an enriching experience.

My major projects:

  • The Blog – I edit the blog that is featured on the organization’s website, featuring a rotating set of different contributors every day. I then promote the blog posts on social media, and I monitor the Facebook and Twitter feed during the day. I do a lot of other miscellaneous online stuff too – this week I got to design an email newsletter, which I’m sure will be a very useful skill for future jobs.
  • The Videos – I mentioned in my last post that I first worked with this non-profit on a video project. In the winter, they began to shoot a series of videos featuring different people talking about their experiences with mental illness. I was the subject of the first video. Now, I am finding subjects for future videos, interviewing them and shooting the videos, and editing them afterwards. All of this is completely new to me, and I think this is the project that I am learning the most from.
  • The Book – During my very first week, all I did for days straight was edit a manuscript for an updated edition of a book that the organization is putting out. This definitely utilized my strengths, but it was quite the project – all of the files were so disorganized and it took a while to make sense of everything. I also felt like I would go blind from staring at a jumble of words on a screen for so many hours on end. However, I think that it’s in good shape now, and I’m excited to move on to the next draft! I learned a lot from the minimal research that I did for the book as well. I hope I’m around long enough to see the finished product.

That’s it for now – I’ll be back next month with updates and more tips for you guys! In the meantime, you can follow me @chelsearrr on Twitter. I’m always ready to talk internships or anything mental health.

Image by pixabay

Image by pixabay

When I graduated high school, I (surprisingly) did not know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I knew getting an education was important, and since I liked school anyways, I applied to a few popular Ontario universities and accepted an offer to attend a Visual Arts program at a university an hour from my home. I figured that while I didn’t know exactly what career I wanted, my experience in university would help me figure it out eventually.

When I moved into my university residence, I was floored by how much I loved the school and the people in it. I spent my first semester getting accustomed to university life and attending classes. However, while my classes were interesting, I realized I was not passionate about anything I was learning. I felt uneasy knowing my program was not giving me the life changing clarity I craved, and that I still had no idea what career path I wanted to take. I felt even more nervous thinking I was stuck in a program I didn’t like for the next 3 years.

As fate would have it, on a particularly cold, snowy night, my friends and I decided to go to the theatre to see the movie Avatar. The animation and visual effects of that movie blew me away, and made me realize that computer graphics and design were the kinds of things I wanted to do.

I left the theatre confident that visual art was not something I could see myself doing as a career. Instead, I dove into research about programs that offered the creative outlet I was searching for, but had options for animation and graphic design, things I was truly interested in (thanks to Avatar’s inspiration!).

The university I was attending did not offer programs that related to what I wanted to do, so I chose to expand my research to other schools. I searched for programs with key words like “graphic design” and “animation”, and came across a plethora of programs focusing on these interests.

I contacted a few schools to get more information about their programs, and I ended up being accepted into a university two hours away. Their program offered a university degree with a college certificate so that students are provided with the academic and applied learning of both types of institutions.

I finished my first year as a Visual Arts major, and used the credits I had earned towards my degree at my new school.

While transferring meant another transition into another new school, the process was easier than I had anticipated. The staff at both universities helped me with each step of the transfer process, so I was able to attend my new university in September as a second year student. While the process was at times stressful and scary, it was comforting to know that the decisions I made in high school were not set in stone, and that I had the power to change my mind to find what I was truly interested in doing.

Image by Nicola, Flickr

Image by Nicola, Flickr

Whether you’re asked this question in the middle of an interview for your dream job or by some very prying relatives, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is quite difficult to answer. Granted, some of you may know exactly how to respond, but several of you are probably stumped. If you had asked me this question before my first year of university, I would have said something along the lines of “After graduating university with high marks in all of my accounting classes, I’ll be working towards earning my Chartered Accountant (CA) designation in one of the top accounting firms downtown.” If you ask me this question now, you’re going to get a response that’s less specific and more conceptual. Compared to the old answer, the new one may sound like a big “I’m not sure.” However, it’s actually a much stronger and more suitable response.

As a student of a highly esteemed business school, several of my classmates seem to know exactly where they’re headed in life. I see peers who are moving so quickly with their careers – networking with industry leaders, making the right connections and, most importantly, landing internships that undoubtedly lead to full-time employment. I used to be one of these people.

I landed my first accounting internship even before I graduated from high school. For this company, I worked on several different projects that ranged from doing research on potential clients to doing advanced Excel work. At the same time, I did some bookkeeping for a small car dealership a few times a week. The work definitely taught me a lot and I’m thankful for those experiences, but I couldn’t help but feel unfulfilled without any indication as to why. After a month, I decided to move on from this position, hoping to find something else. It was the best decision for me at the time and I don’t regret it.

Then, my first year of university came around. Refusing to be fazed by a not-so-pleasant experience, I went ahead with my decision to pursue accounting. I attended almost all of the accounting networking events hosted by my school’s career centre and accounting club, did extensive research on which courses I needed to take in order to get my CA designation and even went so far as to plan my third and fourth year so that I get my designation as quickly as possible.

However, things changed when I took my first accounting class. From all of my excitement over a future career in auditing and adding “CA” after my name, I didn’t really stop to think about what accounting actually was. Since I was in a special program in high school, the only accounting class I ever took was an online course that taught more bookkeeping than actual accounting. In contrast, my university accounting class taught me that accounting is more than just bookkeeping and looking at numbers on a page. Don’t get me wrong, I was doing well in the class, but I wasn’t enjoying it. Halfway through the term, I had a sudden realization. I couldn’t see myself doing accounting for the rest of my life. In five years, I couldn’t see myself working as a Staff Accountant in one of the top accounting firms and my business card wasn’t going read “Jan N., CA.” I finally understood why I had my reservations about my first internship. For once in my life, I didn’t know what I saw myself doing five years down the road. My career path had hit the wall.

Now, if you’ve ever been through this “career limbo,” you can’t help but feel lost. When you don’t know what you’re passionate about, it affects everything: including your attitude towards your schoolwork and your extra-curricular activities. During that period, I spent most of my time frantically searching for other career paths; desperately trying to recreate and rebuild my five-year vision.

Fortunately, after some time, I had another realization. Some of the greatest leaders of our time didn’t know what they would be doing in five years. They weren’t caught up in trying to achieve some concrete plan. Instead, they focused on solving problems and succeeding by constantly improving their selves. Consequently, I realized that I was approaching the question in the wrong way. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” isn’t meant to yield responses that must be obeyed and followed; it’s meant to motivate and serve as a constant reminder of one’s goal.

After taking a long, deep breath, I realized that my previous five-year vision was bland and uninspired. It didn’t allow for any sort of growth and limited me to a goal that thousands of students already have. I needed to open my career path to possible detours and bumps along the road. For example, after speaking to a professor about a certain business field, he told me that graduate school would be necessary – a path that I didn’t even consider until speaking with him. No one’s career path is ever linear; there are going to be curves, ups, downs and loop-the-loops. You just need one strong and clear vision that you will work towards every day, but has ample room for adjustments and improvements every so often.

Now is your turn to answer this question. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Image from

Image from

It was impossible. I had a huge assignment due in a few days, and there was no way I could have it done by then. The assignment involved a massive workload, which would take me a lot of time. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that time. To save my grade, I decided to skip class to work on my assignment.

Skipping class meant missing out on a lot of knowledge I’d need for future tests; it’s amazing how much content can be covered in a 3-hour lecture. It also meant I was less informed about homework and assignments that were due. To stay up-to-date with class, I asked friends to send me their notes and to figure out what assignments and tests were upcoming. If I did not have a friend in a class, I was forced to ask a stranger when I got back.

Knowing I was on a short deadline, I made sure to manage my time wisely. I put away my phone, knowing that calls and texts would distract me. I listened to music, as it allowed me to focus better. I made sure to take breaks only when I needed them, as they could be time-consuming. When I did take breaks, I kept them to five minutes and watched YouTube videos, which were the perfect length for a short break.

I drank caffeine to stay awake and focused. Skipping class was exciting, even if it was to study. I got to miss class and be very productive in a limited time. However, I had to rely on someone else’s notes to be accurate, I couldn’t ask my professor questions on new material, and I was pressed for time. But I felt I had no choice. I normally got As on the assignments I skipped class to complete and I was relieved to have them done on time. If I had gone to class, I probably wouldn’t have finished them at all; but there was a significant tradeoff in the lessons I missed.

I do not recommend skipping class to study or finish assignments. Being on a tight deadline, I was very anxious, constantly looking at the clock with my stomach in knots. The stress of finding someone who would give me notes from the lecture I missed was not an easy task either; even once I had them, I couldn’t guarantee they would capture all the important information. I risked missing pop quizzes, and felt the effect through deductions in my attendance and participation marks. Skipping class to study saved my grade a few times, but be sure to weigh the pros and cons before you do it yourself. Attempt to manage your time instead throughout the semester to avoid last minute assignments.

Image by COD Newsroom, Flickr

Image by COD Newsroom, Flickr

My name is Chelsea – I’m a fifth year student at the University of Toronto, and I just got an internship! Yay, right? Well, I sure am excited about it, but there are others who aren’t so thrilled (and they make some good points).

I should specify that this internship is unpaid. There’s a lot of debate over whether or not unpaid internships should be legal, but I will say that in my case I believe it is justified. This is because I’m interning for a tiny non-profit that raises money for mental health research and creates awareness. They only have 3 employees. They likely can’t afford to pay me.

I’m going to be posting about my experience throughout the summer, because so many students end up in internships or want one, but it’s difficult to know what it will be like until you’re there. My particular situation may be a little unusual but I hope that it can still shed some light on what you can expect (or at the very least, entertain you)!

First, the basics:

How I Got The Job

  • I was contacted by the executive director to be filmed for a video project they were doing. She reached out to me because she read an article I published in our student paper (you can read it here). Although you should never do something just because you feel like it will “look good”, sometimes your extracurriculars really can get you noticed!
  • I did not apply for anything. In fact, the position wasn’t even advertised. I asked about potential opportunities. They asked for my resume, I had a meeting with them, and that was it! Even if you don’t see an open position, it never hurts to ask!
  • Although I haven’t yet graduated or study in the mental health field, I demonstrated good leadership skills and good ideas. Every time I interacted with them I was enthusiastic, and I wasn’t just putting it on – I really am passionate about the cause and the work they do.

Why I Wanted The Job

  • I am NOT expecting it to lead to a paying job. If it does, that would be the best thing that could ever happen to me, but it would be unrealistic to expect that. No matter where you’re interning, even if it’s for a massive company, don’t do it just because you want a job there. Do it because you enjoy the work and want the experience!
  • I had opportunities to take a full time paying job this summer (even if it was just retail). I did this instead because I am passionate about it. I can get a full time job when I graduate! My parents disagree and we’ve had numerous arguments over it, but at the end of the day, I can still support myself, and what matters most is what you want, not what your parents want.
  • Mental health awareness is very important to me because I struggle with mental health issues and so does someone close to me. That’s why I’m willing to go to the lengths that I do in order to work here. I work 7 days a week most weeks. Typically, my schedule is that I work Monday-Thursday at my internship, and then I’ll work Thursday night, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at my (paying) part-time job. I have to do this in order to be able to support myself.

I hope that this is helpful, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of my experiences with you this summer! I’ll be back next month with entry #2. If there’s anything you’d like me to cover, let me know! If you have any questions or want to talk, you can tweet me.

Follow Chelsea on Twitter, Tumblr, and WordPress.

Image by Kamyar Adl, Flickr

Image by Kamyar Adl, Flickr

I was awash with information during my first year of university. However, no one really sat down with me and discussed some of the smaller – yet still really useful – bits of advice. So, I’ve compiled a list of my own experiences and lessons learned:

  1. There are tons of different places to buy textbooks.

    As a first year student, I put little time or effort into scheduling my classes or being organized in general. Eventually my disorganization caught up with me, and I had to rush out at the last minute to buy several textbooks. Of course I didn’t have the luxury of shopping around: I headed straight to the school bookstore.

    Although the bookstore is almost guaranteed to have the textbook you need, you also pay a heavy premium for the convenience. Textbooks can often be found cheaper from other students, secondhand bookstores, or online. When I started my second year, I met with other students to sell my old textbooks, and bought new ones in the same way. I’ve also had a lot of success with the Toronto University Student’s Book Exchange.

  2. Organization, planning, time management and motivation are key skills to succeed in university.
    I was not a lazy or unmotivated first year student, but I was a disorganized one. I didn’t realize, but the Student Federation at my school hands out free student planners at the beginning of each school year. It’s vital to snag a planner early, and then find out the due dates of major assignments, projects, and exams. You can find all of this information in your course syllabus. Go through your planner and highlight any important dates. Organization is vital! If you take a few baby steps now in planning your year, it will pay off in the long run. I stuck to this method for the rest of my academic career, and realize now that there is no such thing as too much planning. There’s nothing worse than forgetting about a deadline.

  4. In my first year of university I wanted to cycle to school. Great – off I went!
    I would lock my bike up outside on a bike rack. However, a few months later I finished class one day and came outside to an empty bike rack – my bike had been stolen. I was gutted, as it was a pretty new bike, and my main way to get to and from school. For the rest of the semester I was relegated to taking the bus. However, when finishing my final semester of first year, I learned that York had an underground, gated and locked, bike cage. I wish I knew about it before. Eventually I saved up enough money to buy a new bike, and by my second year I was back to cycling, and now storing my bike safely and securely.

    After a quick look, most universities offer some kind of bike cage. Although they are not normally advertised, it’s definitely worth looking into. For example, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary and York University all have bike cages.

  5. Here’s a tip I was lucky enough to hear before I started first year: if you haven’t been able to get into a course that you really want, fear not!
    The first week of college and university is a big game of musical chairs: students will constantly be adding and dropping courses. There’s a good possibility that if you try to enroll every day, eventually you will be able to get into the course you were after. It’s also best to attend the course, even if you are not enrolled. Explain your situation to your professor, and they can often help with your enrollment, and your previous attendance is a great example of your commitment to the class. Just be careful of class drop/enrollment deadlines, and make sure you have a backup in case you don’t end up getting into your preferred class. This tip allowed me to get into classes that were previously full. It’s frustrating when you desperately want to get into a class that is full, but it’s important to remember not to give up and move on too easily. Keep at it, and eventually your persistence will be rewarded.

  7. Here’s something I didn’t learn until my third or fourth year: relax.
    Your first year of university is not necessarily about blitzing classes and getting A+’s in everything. First year is really about finding your rhythm. And you will find it! First year classes are an introduction to your academic career, and are designed to make your transition as smooth as possible. I will always remember my first year economics professor juggle three balls. He said that each ball represented a part of your life: school, work, and your personal life. You will eventually drop one of these balls – but that need not spell disaster. Know that you will struggle and fail in some areas, and that there is always support to help you succeed.

Image by Phil Whitehouse, Flickr

Image by Phil Whitehouse, Flickr

Office politics are unavoidable. Where there are people, there will be conflict. Optimistic, inexperienced young people entering the workforce can be vulnerable to workplace tensions. Many working students simply want to prove themselves and work hard. That may not be enough to succeed at work. If students do not heed their workplace’s political landscape, they can unintentionally offend co-workers in their endeavor to impress their superiors, risking conflict and possibly their reference and/or paycheque.

Temporary summer employment presents a special case of office politics. Perhaps vying for employment the next summer, or after graduation, or in trying to show their work ethic to improve their reference, summer interns can irritate permanent staff by working at a different standard than expected.

I’ve heard several stories from friends and family about how, during summer employment, they were told by permanent staff members to work slower, or less efficiently, so as not to raise standards.

I recently learned my lesson in office politics during a summer job. I found a summer job with a real estate management agency as an office assistant. I signed a contract stipulating I would work downtown at their newly acquired property from May until August. The real estate company recently bought an old apartment building, and I was to help the existing resident manager revamp the building’s office.

An introductory meeting at the company’s head office provided welcoming words and a briefing about duties, when fellow summer student workers and I eagerly showed up for our first day. Head office was in an impressive marble and glass building. The meeting was held in a sunny corner conference room with friendly vice presidents to greet us, and several fruit plates. We (the summer students) were given individual portfolios containing information about the company, and contact information for the resident building managers we would be working with. According to my portfolio, my resident manager’s name was Valerie. The next week, on my first day of work, I arrived at Valerie’s building and buzzed her apartment from the directory. I wore a blazer, collared shirt, and dress pants. A grumpy woman, around fifty years old, emerged from a ground-floor apartment wearing cutoff sweats, a holey t-shirt, and a look of confusion. She opened the door halfway.

“Who are you?”

“Hi, I’m Helen. Are you Valerie, the building manager?”


“I was sent by Realty Management Inc.” She stared, unresponsive. “I’m working here for the summer.” Further confusion. “I’m a summer student, they hired me to help with the office until August.” Still no response. “Is that the building’s office?” I pointed to a closed, unmarked door off the lobby.

Valerie turned, seeming to see the office door for the first time. “Er – yes.” She let me in the front door and led me to the office, withdrawing a bulging, rusty set of keys. While she jangled the ring looking for the right key, I pondered the power of a fruit plate, and how official it could make a meeting seem.

Despite the legitimate impression last week’s meeting gave, the certainty of the HQ administrators, and the neatly organized folders, Valerie had no idea I was arriving, or even that I was assigned to work in her building for four months.

The office door swung open, revealing a dark, dank room with dust coating every surface. Ah. The disused, cluttered office accounted for the miscommunication. It seemed that Valerie hadn’t been using the office, and instead had been conducting business out of her ground floor apartment. The phone, desk, and computer lay dusty and unused.

“So, you will work here all summer?” Valerie asked, lowering herself into the desk chair, stirring up dust.

“Yes, until August. I’m here for anything you need in the office. Filing, organizing, helping with the computer.” I sat down opposite the desk in a metal chair similar to those kept in church basements. She simply stared at me from across the desk, creating an silence far too awkward for such a small, dark room. I smiled, trying to ease the tension. “So, anything I can help with, just let me know.”

She continued staring, unmoved. “I don’t need any help.”

I don’t remember how I responded, but I know I could not conceal my overt shock at her blunt insensitivity. Within five minutes on my first day, I was plunged into workplace politics – the real estate company wanted me to help modify Valerie’s office, but Valerie didn’t want to change her managerial style (or lack thereof), and she certainly did not want a new style taught to her by a random student. Valerie likely thought that with the new company buying her building, I could have been sent to work with, learn from, and eventually replace her.

It seemed I had signed away my summer to work with someone who didn’t want my assistance and who disliked me on principle, even if my intention was only to work hard and do a good job. The former building owner had allowed a “hands-off” managerial style, while the new company wanted an involved, hands-on manager. Judging by the dusty state of the apartment building’s office, Valerie was dedicated to the former “hands-off” managerial style. Many times, when I pried too far into office logistics, or tried to improve efficiency, she would shut me down. Due to our disparate motivations, throughout the summer, the awkwardness between us never fully dissipated, and there were several incidents where she purposefully prevented me from doing my job, likely to retain her own job security. However, I never pushed back hard enough to spark conflict when she isolated me from administrative business. As a senior employee, she was more trusted and valuable.

If a conflict arose between us, as a temporary employee I was more disposable.

Fortunately, with some extreme patience and unrelenting cheerfulness, Valerie eventually warmed up to me. We parted with a hug.

During summer employment, students have to adapt to workplace politics quickly in order to succeed – to do a good job and exit with their deserved compensation without stepping on too many toes during their brief time working. As passers-through, their obligation is not to point out the faults of their co-workers, even if they are less than friendly. The goal of a summer student employee should be to depart with experience, a solid, good quality reference, or even just a full paycheque for their work. Thanks to Valerie’s rudeness, I learned my lesson: professional enthusiasm is best applied in combination with political awareness – check office politics to secure your paycheque.

Saving Money Image by Scott Waldron, Flickr

Image by Scott Waldron, Flickr

School can be expensive — and that’s not even counting tuition. I found myself blowing away a lot of money during my first year of university on things that I could have easily saved an extra few bucks on, which (believe me), adds up. I spent excessively partly due to the nature of post-secondary education and my own circumstances— which meant textbooks, commuting, and buying food. Despite needing to spend a lot more than when I was in high school, I decided to cut back after my first year of university ended. For those of you who are about to go to college or university, or are spending way too much in school, here are some tips for saving money:

  1. Make or Bring Your Own Food

  2. Sure, the five dollar price tag on that Tim Horton’s sandwich may not sound like much, but get it five days a week and you’re out 25 bucks. Monthly, this would cost $100 dollars, and $300+ for a school term. Instead of buying food on campus, try preparing your own food and bringing it from home. In a similar vein, avoid buying coffee. Try making it at home and bringing it in a travel mug.

  3. Make Some Changes to Your Commute

  4. Using public transportation can add up. For example, a one-way Toronto transit fare is $3 – pile on another $3 for a return trip and you’re at $6, totalling $30 for a full week of classes and $120 for a month’s worth. If you live reasonably close and the weather is nice, try walking or cycling to class instead. For those of you who have no choice but to take the bus or subway, consider investing in a Post-Secondary Student Metropass if you have regular classes — it costs $99 and requires photo identification to be taken. More details can be found on the TTC website. Monthly passes are also tax-deductible, so that might help you save a bit more too. If you drive to campus, compare your parking and gas costs with those of public transportation to see which one has larger savings for your wallet.

  5. Scour the Internet (and Other Places) for Discounts

  6. This one is fairly evident. According to stats quoted by the Globe and Mail, the average Canadian postsecondary student spends about $500 to $1,000 on textbooks and course materials each semester. That’s a hefty amount, which is why there are many other ways to acquire textbooks. Search for places to trade or buy used textbooks, such as Toronto University Student’s Book Exchange, or Rye Books. Other options are even more general classified ad sites such as Craigslist or Kijiji. Try keeping an eye and ear out for potential sales or trades on your campus as well.

    Do you have more money-saving tips? Tweet us @StudentsDotOrg!