It’s getting better

“They tell me that things will get better. I can only hope so.” With the recent suicides of five LGBTQ youth in three weeks this fall, issues of discrimination and bullying based on a person’s sexual orientation have gained prominence.

The community, faced with a suicide rate four to six times higher than in the general population, has manged to harness attention from politicians and media on continued inequalities. These struggles take place across society, including at U of T.

“It still feels […] like fighting the man,” said fourth-year student Alex Legum, sighing and shaking her head. “These are human issues.”

Legum, a member of the LGBTQ community, added that despite being a student in one of the most diverse universities and cities in North America, she continues to search for a sense of respect that remains elusive.

Steve Masse knows this struggle well. As a member of the LGBTQ community and former president of Woodsworth College, Masse advocates for increased awareness on discrimination, bullying, and respect for LGBTQ students.
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He is the first to admit, however, that many of the most vulnerable end up “suffering in silence.” According to Masse, discrimination and bullying can lead to “feeling worthless, misunderstood, or hopeless.”

Syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better” project in the wake of five teen suicides caused by societal homphobia.

University Life Assessment and Special Programs Coordinator Melinda Scott believes “students don’t know the best way to address [suicide].” Scott explained that acts of suicide are often the result of larger issues of discrimination and hate, that the problems can appear too large to solve.

To address these problems, U of T provides a series of programs and services that support the LGBTQ community. Initiatives such as Positive Space as well as student clubs like LGBTOUT work to create spaces within which individuals can “be themselves” without shame or fear of reprisal. Additionally, the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office provides an online harassment reporting system to ensure students can report incidents of hate or mistreatment anonymously.

However, Sexual and Gender Diversity Officer Jude Tate is worried about the “increased tolerance of intolerance” that has created a culture of silence and acceptance that can reduce the number of reported abuses and conceal issues of hate and harassment towards the LGBTQ community. Issues of intolerance appear to be found in the very fabric of U of T’s communities.

This is why Legum is realistic about the merits of programs such as Equity Studies, Women’s Studies, and Sexual Diversity Studies. While these programs can be seen as progressive, in some sense, “structural issues [have] made it impossible to integrate [this information] into other classrooms.” For Legum, the presence of these programs allows LGBTQ issues to be dealt with within these specific departments while ignoring the need for broader integration.

Unfortunately, Tate further suggests that curriculum reform on a broader scale to include diversity issues and address these issues has been very tough, and obstacles remain.

“They still have a long way to [go],” said Masse, who acknowledges that universities are heading in the right direction. But even if “places of education are becoming more and more inclusive and supportive,” the fact that we aren’t hearing about the sexual and gender diversity discrimination issues on campus does not mean they no longer exist.

“We assume we are modern enough that we don’t need to have [conversations about discrimination] anymore,” said Legum.

University comes together for holiday season

The University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Family Care Office, and the Student Housing Office are organizing their ninth annual food and clothing drive to help support needy families for the holidays.

“Every year, we help anywhere between 75–100 families. It’s a rather big project, and we want whatever little bit of help we can get,” explained Marketing and Events Coordinator at the Student Housing Service, Jerry Zhuang. “Every single bit of contribution will make a huge difference.

Drop boxes have been set up across campus to collect toys and canned food. Once items are collected, UTSU Member Service Coordinator Terri Nikolaevsky explained how the goods will be distributed. “The donation of new toys will then be distributed through the campus food and clothing bank to families in need on December 10 and 17 at our site location, 569 Spadina Avenue, in the Multi-Faith Centre between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.”

“While the food and clothing bank runs all year long, we specifically collect toys at this time of the year to ensure that our student families have a great holiday season in the face of tight budgets,” continued Nikolaevsky.

Zhuang hopes U of T will come together this season and improve upon last year’s results. “We delivered around 200 toys last year. Looking to deliver to the same number of families, maybe a bit more, it’s definitely growing.”

Despite being roughly aligned with the Christmas season, Nikolaevsky stresses that all faiths and cultures are encouraged to participate. “This year we welcome Multi-Faith groups to the fold who are actively seeking donations for our students and student families.”

“We’re doing things a little differently this year,” Nikolaevsky added. “Our efforts extend further to include an annual fundraiser for the food and clothing bank [that will] showcase […] exceptional U of T talent, a wonderful three-course dinner, and an auction.”

Jennifer Bennett, manager of the Student Housing Service, said the food drive is a very key community-building event.

“The food drive is important because it’s raising awareness and creating a community between people during the holiday time, which is such a hard time for so many.”

Cheryl McGratten believes that beyond just fostering a community, the fundraiser is a way of making those who are studying abroad or are new immigrants to the country feel more welcome. “The U of T food and toy drive is one way to help those recently separated from their countries, and share some encouragement, joy, and fun,” explained McGratten, adding that she hopes they will also enjoy the diversity and multiculturalism of this city.

“It’s a great feeling, to be standing in the middle of a mountain of toys, and knowing that lots of kids will be having a wonderful winter holiday,” explained Zhuang.

In helping promote the fundraiser, the co-coordinators’ favorite catch phrase is: “We want people to help us gift a smile.”

Students gather to present visions for next big app

Last Tuesday a lecture hall in the Bahen Centre was packed for DemoCamp2, a symposium of eight presentations by U of T students demonstrating their web developments and entrepreneurial skills.

“People were actually standing in the back. They couldn’t find any more seats,” says Reginald Tan, president of Web Startup Society, who hosted the event in partnership with the U o T Entrepreneurial Society. Over 160 guests attended, well exceeding both the expected attendance of 100 and the room capacity of 150.

“We had to start turning people away after they exceeded the room capacity,” said Nitish Peters, president of UTES.

Tan and Peters created DemoCamp2 to combat what they perceived to be a lack of entrepreneurial spirit in the University of Toronto’s technology field.

“At Stanford, it seems like every single computer science student was creating a startup,” said Tan. “But when I went to U of T, I didn’t really see anything like that going on.”

Peters attributes U of T’s focus on high GPAs as a detractor from the “startup culture” found at other institutions. “DemoCamp fosters an environment where people can define their own success and show how they are following their dreams as opposed to the stereotypical environment right now where people are very marks-focused,” he said.

It wasn’t just U of T students who attended, students from all across Ontario came for the presentations as well.

“A lot of people from Queens and York showed up and really loved it, and said they wanted to start a DemoCamp at their university, which is really cool. I’d like to see that happen,” said Tan.

In contrast with last year’s DemoCamp, which was run by WSS in partnership with Rafal Dittwald, President of Skule Webdev, this year’s collaboration with UTES focused on the utility and marketability of students’ web applications, as opposed to nitty gritty tech details.

“The audience at this one was much more focused on the startup aspect, rather than the craft of making the project,” notes James Cash, the only presenter to even mention code in his demo for the Google Chrome extension, ComicNav.

Three of the eight demos were presented by student entrepreneurs with limited technical knowledge. Danial Jameel of OohLaLa, who switched from computer science to political science, showcased a mobile app for discount student coupons.

First-year commerce student Donny Ouyang, of the tutoring site Rayku, hires developers out of his own pocket. “Donny buys websites, hires developers to make improvements, then sells them off for five times the profits — instead of flipping real estate, he flips websites,” said Tan. “Rayku was his first start-up.”

When Khaled Hashem of was asked a technical question, his response was, “I don’t know, ask the tech guy.”

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The other five presentations were given by so-called “hackers.” First up was fourth year electrical engineer Bijan Vaez with EventMobi, an iPhone application that allows users to view important details about the live event that they are attending. Next were Lori Lee and Andrew Danks, undergraduate students in computer science who developed LoveUT, a dating site exclusively for U of T students that has accumulated over 800 users. Michael Rice, a second year computer science student demoed Remember To Watch, an SMS reminder for TV shows recently featured in PC Magazine and After James Cash demoed ComicNav, wunderkind Vincent Cheung took the stage and demonstrated his massively successful Shape Collage, an automatic photo collage maker.

Cheung emphasized the value of every utility-based web startup in his presentation: “A lot of [the entrepreneurs in the audience] laughed at the ComicNav extension, but I liked it. You never know, it really could be the next big thing.”

When the event ended, Reginald Tan appeared very pleased with the results.

“Ultimately, what we wanted to achieve from DemoCamp is to glorify these student hackers and hustlers. And we did just that. Democamp UofT encouraged students to do what they do best: build great things. And the great thing about the Internet is that you can make an immediate impact on the world if you create something really valuable.”

Note: this article originally stated that Danial Jameel hired student developers with money he won from business competitions, but this is not the case. It also neglected to mention that last year’s DemoCamp was in partnership with Rafal Dittwald. The Varsity regrets the errors.

UTSC Library operating hours shortened

The University of Toronto Scarborough Library has launched reduced hours in response to recent pilot studies, stirring mixed feelings from staff and students.

Last year’s 24/7 service ran 10 weeks through fall and 13 weeks through winter. This year, the service is scheduled only during exams from December 7 to December 21, and from April 9 to May 1. This represents an almost 80 per cent reduction from the previous year. For the remainder of both semesters — after Thanksgiving during fall and after February 7 during winter — the new extended hours stretch from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Mondays to Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Fridays and noon to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.

“The library worked very closely with students in determining hours that will best serve their needs,” said Victoria Owen, UTSC’s head librarian. “We spent years conducting pilot projects, […] consultations, surveys, and focus groups to establish a schedule that is most beneficial to them.”

Since 2005, the library has been running a series of pilot projects that test the efficiency of various operating hours. Last year’s study showed that after 2 a.m., average student usage fell to 31 before exams and to 78 throughout the exam period. The numbers continued to drop until 7 a.m. when they reached an average of 17 and 50 respectively, followed by an upward trend throughout the day.

Owen explained that the changes were “designed to maximize resources and meet student demand where it exists,” but some are concerned that the library‘s current layout is still not quite meeting students’ needs.

“As a university, we aim to educate students and have them attain academic success — longer library hours will help us achieve [this] mission,” said Fran Wdowczyk, special advisor to the chief administrative officer and chair of the study space working committee advocating for the increase of 24/7 study spaces on campus.

“Some students have approached me troubled with the reduced hours,” said Scarborough Campus Students’ Union VP Academics Sulaimaan Abdus-Samad. “They just want a place where they can focus for long periods of time and not have to think of leaving at a certain hour.”

Third-year student Philip So has his own reservations. “Though a 24-hour service is ideal, we are throwing away resources by keeping the library open when less than one per cent of the [student body] is using it,” said So.

The Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre is the library at UTM, a campus of similar size to UTSC. It holds extended hours until midnight and also offers 24/7 services only around exam periods.

“UTSC has some of the longest hours among the U of T libraries,” asserts Owen, but Wdowczyk believes that there is still room for improvement.

“Increasing hours is a move that will propel the students towards success, and we will continue to work with the library so that the needs of students are realized.”

Science in brief

Boys of the bottle: Why men are more susceptible to alcoholism

Alcoholism is a disease marked by a physical dependence on alcohol, leading to uncontrolled drinking in spite of serious health and social consequences. Past research suggests that men are twice as likely as women to develop alcoholism within their lifetime, but the reasons for this discrepancy are not well understood.

To address this issue, Dr. Nina Urban and her colleagues from the New York State Psychiatry Institute conducted a study examining how men and women respond to the rewarding effects of alcohol. Since dopamine mediates some of alcohol’s rewarding effects, its release within the brain following alcohol consumption was selected as a marker for the degree of reward experienced.

By measuring the amount of dopamine released in the brain with positron emission topography scans, the researchers found that men’s brains released larger quantities of dopamine than woman following alcohol consumption. This research suggests that men may find alcohol more rewarding than women, which may help to explain why men are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism. — Ken Euler

Source: Elsevier

The Holograph: A new hope

Remember when Princess Leia sent her “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” message via that crazy, futuristic holographic system? Well, that craziness is no longer reserved for science fiction.

Nasser Peyghambarian and his team from the University of Arizona have created a holograph that can transport a moving 3D image from one location to another in near-real time.

The new device projects a 3D colour image onto a special sheet of plastic using a fast-flashing laser. Unlike past holographic devices, which show only a static image, this can update its image every two seconds, or in less than one second over the Internet, giving the image the appearance of movement.

Bell Labs transmitted the first hologram over a television system in 1966. Since then, the idea of holographic movies has been a hopeful goal, with Stephen Brenton developing the first updatable holographic display at the MIT Media Lab in 1989. This new technique shows promise to advance the development of 3D film, if not at least revolutionise the industry of Star Wars paraphernalia. — Ariel Lewis

Source: Wired Magazine

From Zero to love in 0.2 seconds

To what degree is love biologically based? Newly published results from a multi-national team in the Journal of Sexual Medicine may hold an important piece in the puzzle.

According to Stephanie Ortigue, the study’s chief researcher, falling in love elicits a similar chemical response in the brain to euphoria induced by stimulants such as cocaine in less than a fifth of a second.

While psychologists often define love as a socio-cultural process, the study’s results show that a person who falls in love also activates up to twelve areas of the brain to release euphoric chemicals like adrenaline, dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin. These chemicals affect cognitive processes such as social imaging, metaphors, and self-perception.

Love also stimulated blood levels of nerve growth factor, a chemical important in human relations.

The findings ground love on a scientific basis, not only helping to explain the effects of interpersonal relations, but also aiding mental health and neuroscientific research on depression and emotional stress. — Keegan Williams

Source: Science Daily

Tipping the balance between male and female organ development in plants

The duplication of genes and their subsequent ability to take on new roles is regarded as a major driving force of evolutionary change. But how are these new functions acquired and what sorts of effects can they exert? A new study by the University of Leeds suggests that even the slightest adjustment in the coding sequence of a gene following duplication can have a profound influence on its function.

By studying a gene that controls the development of male and female organs in the plant species Arabidopsis (rockcress) and Antirrhinum (snapdragon), the research demonstrated that just a single amino acid change between otherwise identical duplicates can determine whether the gene specifies both male and female organs, or only male ones.

The study thus provides an elegant example of the subtle factors that tip the balance between male and female organ development in flowers, while also highlighting the dramatic changes in function that can stem from the simplest of alterations in a gene. — ED PARKER

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Homeless youths most often victims of crime: study led by York U researcher

According to a new report by researchers at York University and the University of Guelph, homeless young people — often perceived as delinquents themselves — are the most vulnerable to violence. The report states that they are victims of crime at rates that society would consider unacceptable for any other group.

The researchers interviewed 244 homeless youths across Toronto about life on the streets. Female street youth, especially lesbians and bisexuals, were more likely than males — 85.9 per cent, compared to 71.8 per cent — to be victims of crime, especially sexual assault. They were also more likely to report extremely high levels of violence and abuse from intimate partners. Most alarmingly, only 20 per cent alerted police about their victimizations.

The report concludes that the solution calls for a balanced response that, instead of relying mostly on emergency services, would balance preventive measures, an emergency response, and transitional support to move young people out of homelessness quickly.

The study was commissioned by Justice for Children and Youth, a not-for-profit clinic providing legal advice and support to homeless youth in Toronto. — Kim Tran

Source: York University

Profs allege donor influence

Two U of T professors say philanthropists are determining the university’s priorities, and not the faculty and students. Professors Paul Hamel and John Valleau believe there is a possibility that university benefactors could even shape academic work.

“We’re finding that philanthropy is driving the priorities of the university,” said Hamel. “They’re being set by administration, independent of what the faculty or the academy determines should be the priorities.”

The two started probing benefactor influence by examining the donor agreement [PDF] for the Munk School of Global Affairs, posted online by Hamel.

“The very first sentence states [the school] will be a top priority of U of T,” said Hamel. “Who decided that?”

The $35 million donation — the largest in U of T history — was announced in April and comes from The Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation. The remaining $25 million comes from the Ontario government. The charity also hired Ensight Canada, a lobbying firm, to advocate federal funding for the school.

Peter Munk is the Chairman of Barrick Gold, a multinational mining corporation. The school aims to become internationally renowned by housing programs involving global politics and a potential journalism program.

Hamel and Valleau’s main criticism is that the school was never determined as a priority at the Academic Board of Governing Council.

U of T Provost Cheryl Misak explained that through academic planning, faculties identify priorities and then seek donors who can meet their goals.

“Departments will put through their academic plans that they have an idea and we find ways of doing it. An academic priority is identified on the ground,” said Misak. “The idea that donors are driving academic priorities is crazy, just crazy.”

Misak said that, although not explicitly stated in meeting minutes, global affairs have organically become a top priority of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

“Every university wants to study things global, it’s a really serious priority of every university,” she said. “We already had a Munk Centre. The faculty wanted to enhance its offerings for student programs [so] we asked him for more. We’re really lucky Munk stepped up to the plate. Peter Munk has allowed U of T to be a world leader in the region of global affairs.”

But Hamel feels the donation was arranged to deal with limited resources.

“[The donation] was pursued by administration sort of like a business deal,” said Hamel, explaining how priorities require resources and noting that the deal comes in the midst of the faculty’s almost $60 million budget shortfall [PDF].

Of the charity’s $35 million donation, $15 million is set to be donated in annual increments until 2017. A university liaison must report to the charity each year. Hamel says over the course of the donations, school directors will be conscious that “hanging in balance is $15 million” opening potential for “influencing the academic mission of the university.”

Misak says that reporting to the charity is a matter of accountability, not agenda-setting.

“When people give, they give for a purpose. They want to know the money was actually used for that purpose,” said Misak.

“You just want to have a check to make sure the money given to where it’s intended. Occasionally, when someone gives a lot of money […] they want the school to be really great, not just sort-of-great. So it’s [the initial] $10 million donation and then we review that it’s on the track to greatness.”

“We need to revisit the structure of governance at the University of Toronto,” said Hamel, adding that he and Valleau are now examining other donor agreements and have started presenting to other faculty members.

They also take issue with the agreement’s space usage of the school, located in the Heritage Mansion at Bloor Street West and Devonshire Place.
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The donor agreement states that the Canadian International Council, a corporate think tank including Peter Munk and Munk School director Janice Stein, gets up to 25 per cent of the building.

“We’re having a space problem at this university,” said Hamel. He admitted that CIC will pay rent for its space, but noted it will share areas like meeting and dining rooms.

“There’s not enough space for classrooms, study space, but they get space,” he said.

Of the agreement’s requirements, Hamel finds the front door policy the most bizarre.

The agreement states that “the main entrance of the Heritage Mansion will be a formal entrance reserved only for senior staff and visitors to the School and the CIC.” Others must enter at secondary entrances.

“It’s so pernicious,” said Valleau. “It seems so out-of-touch with the social mores of the university [and] doesn’t seem to be an important contribution to scholarly life.”

“I can even walk into Simcoe Hall in the front door, like anyone else,” said Hamel. “The point of this university is not to make it hierarchical and exclusive in certain domains, the point of the place is to make it open to everybody. And here explicitly written in the agreement, and agreed to by the university, is precisely the opposite.”

He also noted the agreement’s emphasis on branding. For all eight years of the donation, the foundation will contribute $250,000 annually to branding. The university will hire a media-tracking service to examine the school’s media coverage.

“To agree in advance to [the branding campaign] seems like an extraordinary thing to do as it appears to limit university authority,” said Valleau.

“[This] runs completely counter to the essence of what an academic place is supposed to be, because branding and marketing are really often antithetical to academic work,” said Hamel, asking if academic work unfavourable to Munk’s corporate involvement would be publicized.

“It’s amazing how much emphasis is put on branding in the document.”

Misak says the university community has achieved much because of its benefactors.

“We don’t get enough funding from government and tuition to make these investments. I get a little exercised over this,” said Misak. “What we’ve been able to do over the past decade because of our benefactors: public health, nursing, global affairs, social work; these are all our biggest gifts from the past decade. We need to celebrate our donors.”

But Valleau says it’s a question of independence.

“[U of T] is under pressures and the question is how it’s coping in satisfying these pressures,” said Valleau. It appears there is no governing structure serving the university in a meaningful way.“

Hamel said he believes university administration is glad he and Valleau are looking into donor agreements, since universities are about critical thinking. He noted that administration provided the donor agreement quickly upon request and without question.

The Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation, which shares a phone number with Barrick Gold, did not return an interview request by the time of publication.


Green with envy

Ever wondered whether there’s more than meets the eye to those green vegetables at your local supermarket? A recent study by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong of the Rotman School of Management shows that green products are tightly linked to ethical and social behaviours. Mazar and Zhong’s research shows that purchasing food products goes beyond just price and quality preferences.

According to Mazar, “Our daily actions need to be viewed in a bigger context. Previous decisions and actions can affect subsequent decisions and actions.”

The study uses theories of behavioural priming for the bulk of the research. Behavioural priming is based on the principle that showing a subject a stimulus in the environment will affect subsequent behaviour, even if this effect is unconscious. For instance, other researchers have demonstrated that seeing the Apple logo enhances creativity.

Mazar and Zhong suggest that, since green products are associated with environmental, humanitarian, and ethical considerations, exposure to green products should influence superior levels of conduct.

Mazar and Zhong performed three experiments to test the influence of green products on behaviour. In the first experiment, participants were asked to rate people who purchased organic foods, versus those who purchased conventional foods.

As expected, the people who purchased organic food were rated higher in altruistic behaviour and cooperativity than those who had purchased conventional products.
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Although Mazar and Zhong predicted that being merely exposed to green products would increase altruistic conduct, on the basis of recent theories of moral regulation, they also predicted that actually purchasing green products would reduce subsequent altruism, due to the establishment of moral credentials. In other words, if you’ve done your good deed for the day, you’re allowed to deviate from squeaky clean actions for a bit.

The second experiment showed that participants who were merely exposed to a green store shared more money than those exposed to a conventional store. However, participants who actually purchased products in the green store shared less money than those in the conventional store. Therefore, exposure to green products increases cooperative behaviour with others, while acting according to one’s values — in this case, purchasing green products — establishes the moral credentials needed to later engage in deviant behaviour.

In the third experiment, Mazar and Zhong tested whether purchasing green products would increase the tendency for participants to lie. First, participants were asked to make purchases in either the conventional or green product store. Then they completed a visual perception task, in which they were asked to indicate which side of a computer screen contained a larger number dots when these dots flashed briefly on the screen. This was easy to identify, because there were always substantially more dots on one side than the other.

The first round of the task did not involve money, but subsequent rounds included payment for correct answers. The results showed that those who purchased in the green store tended to lie in order to earn more money. These participants earned on average $0.36 more than those in the conventional store.

“This paper is another demonstration of the licensing effect, and suggests that if people view the purchase of green products as a moral behavior rather than the norm without any moral association, the act of purchasing green products has the potential to boost our moral self-image, and thus, subsequently license more selfish actions,” says Mazar. These three experiments provide key evidence to suggest that consumption is more tightly connected to our social and moral self than previously thought.

According to Mazar, “Our findings suggest that in order to achieve long-term societal welfare effects, we need to study actions and behaviors in their larger context, and observe whether they might have any counter-[productive] effects further down the road.”

U of T lets students get outside

The University of Toronto may be the highest ranking university in Canada, but when it comes to hands-on experience, there is no doubt that it is lacking.

Enter the extern job shadowing program.

The program runs twice a year and is available to all students. It gives them the chance to explore a career area they are interested in by visiting professionals in the workplace.

The first session runs during Reading Week from February 22 to 25, and the second session runs from May 2 to 6. Placements vary in length from an hour-long informational interview to a week-long placement. U of T places about 450 students every year.

“Students, many times, get all the academic info they need but don’t have an opportunity to have a glimpse of the real world,” said Bibian Aguirre, coordinator of career exploration programs and services. “This program gives students exposure to a career they might be interested in pursuing.”

However, she stresses, this program does not offer students experience in a profession, but rather exposure to what it is like. It cannot be listed under work experience in a resume, and students do not get paid, nor are they guaranteed a job out of it — in fact, they shouldn’t expect a job at all.
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But Aguirre believes that the opportunity this program offers makes it worthwhile.

“[Students] can participate as much as they want,” she said. “The program does not necessarily end when they say goodbye to their host. Many times we have had students who have kept up relationships, and their hosts become their mentors. […] It’s a great way to network.”

Renita Persaud, a life sciences major who graduated in June, received a placement at Mount Sinai Hospital with two orthopaedic surgeons.

“I wanted to gain additional perspective and practical understanding of the field that I intended to enter,” said Persaud. “I also wished to see the day-to-day interactions, demands, and specifications of the profession. What I wanted to investigate was the effects of the occupation on the professional.”

During her five-day placement, Persaud was able to observe surgeries, interact with residents in the surgical skills labs, and visit pre-op and post-op patients. She also managed to attend a lecture with visiting specialists from the Mayo Clinic in the US.

“I believe that this experience allowed me to understand not just the professional requirements but the personality requirements of the occupation that I want to pursue. I found that information to be instrumental in my decision to pursue further studies.”

Students apply for up to four placements from a list posted online in December by the Career Centre. Along with an application, students hand in a resume which is reviewed by a panel of staff.

If selected, students attend a briefing seminar. They only learn what company they are going to connect with during this seminar. This ensures that students apply based on a career interest rather than a company. Students receive a certificate upon completion of the program.

The career centre has built up a database of organizations willing to host students for placements. Many of these hosts are U of T alumni.

“For them it is really good to give back to their community,” said Aguirre. “They know what it is like to be in the students shoes. […] Our hosts really appreciate that they’re making a difference in the lives of students.”

Saim Siddiqui, a fourth-year economics and political science student, got a placement at the US consulate that lasted a few hours.

“I suppose [it helped],” he said. “My placement, unlike that of many others, was much shorter […] but it gave me a good idea of the workplace. The placement company can be quite helpful.”

These short placements, usually informational interviews, can be a challenge, said Aguirre. “Many students think, ‘I’m going to have to go through that process for a two hour placement?’ We tell our students it’s very valuable and gives relationships of mentorship and networking.”

The next orientation sessions will be held in February and March of 2011. More information is available on the U of T career site.