Three lenses

U of T photographers and their Instagram presences

Three lenses

Students often document their lives at and around U of T. But it takes a particular kind of student to dedicate an entire Instagram feed to campus life ⁠— someone who can see the beauty, as well as the brutality, in our academic surroundings. 

Jenny Qian (@jennybeverlyqian) is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology, Visual Art and Art History this summer. She plans to begin a Master of Management of Innovation in the fall, and has been running her Instagram account since 2013.

“I think my profile is a good reflection of who I am and how I have changed over the years and so this ability to track these changes is important to me,” she wrote in an email to The Varsity. She doesn’t remember exactly what urged her to create her account, but recalls she started “during a time when everyone around me started to get Instagram. I chose to continue using the platform because I am a visual person and prefer using photos to express myself rather than tweeting or writing a status update.” 

“As of right now,” she continued, “my profile is still very personal in content and so there really isn’t a specific goal other than posting about what I find to be beautiful. Because of this lack of focus, growth on my account is very slow. I am not sure if I will ever change though because I am happy posting about fashion, makeup, and food but also interior design, architecture, and my adventures abroad.” 

“I focus on capturing beautiful moments, spaces, and ideas within my daily life. In a sense, my feed is like a personal visual board of moments that inspire me aesthetically and so colour and lighting play a crucial part in my photographs,” she explained. “I have always been posting photographs of moments that I believe to be beautiful even if the subject can be mundane.”

Adrian Berg (@AdrianUofT), an Employer Engagement Coordinator at the Academic Advising & Career Centre at UTSC and alumni of the university, has similar reasons for posting photos, even though his feed is quite different.

“I tend to focus on architecture I find interesting – especially perspectives and angles that one might not normally notice,” he wrote in an email. “I’ve always dabbled in photography as a hobby (ever since acting as co-photo editor of the University College newspaper as a student many, many years ago) and this was a great creative outlet for my photography.” 

“I fell in love with UofT’s architecture as a student while spending so much time at University College and Hart House. There’s such an interesting contrast on campus of beautiful old historic buildings and striking new architecture.” He explained that as he worked on all three of U of T’s campuses, he wanted to set up his account to showcase their differing styles. Though, he warned, since he currently works at UTSC, the majority of his photos now stem from there. 

“I’m always seeing possible shots as I walk on campus or in the city,” he wrote. “To me, it’s just taking the time to see the amazing things that are around us every day, that we hardly notice while running through our busy days. My best advice would be to slow down, be in the present moment and look around (and up).” He highlighted a photo he took of a staircase in the Science Wing at UTSC as an example. “It would be easy to miss the beauty of the staircase when just walking around campus, but it’s a work of art from an architectural viewpoint.” 

Berg has been running his U of T architecture-focused Instagram account for a little more than two years. Like Qian, he has no specific routine for his account. “Sometimes I’ll go for weeks without posting anything (especially in winter) and other times I might post multiple times in a week.” It depends when inspiration — and the right light — strikes. 

It’s the same for Lauren Reid (@l_h_reid), who’s graduating this summer with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering. “I just post when I have pictures that I particularly enjoy or moments I want to remember,” she explains. 

For her, it was a year abroad that prompted her to start posting on Instagram more actively. “I enjoy having an Instagram feed that captures important or fun things that are going on in my life or the lives of those around me so I can look back in a few years,” she wrote over email to The Varsity

I spent 12 months working in England and travelling to various countries where I fell in love with trying to capture some of my experiences to share them with people back home… I loved travelling and capturing some of my favorite moments all in one place was an easy way to document what I was doing and later make it easier for me to re-live some of those experiences and reflect back on some amazing times.”

But her activity on Instagram also turned out to be a great way for Reid to connect with new people. “I also enjoy being able to speak and interact with a broader network of students and STEM enthusiasts [and it] gave me a great opportunity to show some of the opportunities easily available for engineering students. Over [Professional Experience Year (PEY)], I had several people DM me to ask about my travels and experiences and for advice on how they could pursue a PEY in Europe, and some enquired about working after graduation.” 

“My Instagram does not have a specific, conscious focus other than to simply portray life of a University of Toronto student who loves to go on adventures, skydive, travel and run,” she continued. 

“While I receive DM’s from current UofT students, it is especially gratifying to get DM’s from high school students considering pursuing an engineering degree. Through my Instagram they see me as a normal, approachable student with various other interests outside of school and it seems to light a fire within them where they discover the world can be very exciting then they thought, and it is open to anyone.”

 “Using photographs and personal anecdotes I am able to show elementary and high school students when I spoke at their schools, or at science fairs, that engineering can be fun and adventurous, and much bigger than they ever thought. It is certainly bigger, and better, than I ever thought.” 

“I enjoy being a role model for young people,” Reid wrote, “especially as my background is quite different. I attended a Performing Arts high school and majored in trumpet and dance, so now graduating as an Aerospace Engineer from UofT seems a bit off brand. I love to hear students and parents express surprise.”

“If I can show students who follow me that it is possible and hopefully through my Instagram encourage them to pursue their dreams then I will be very happy. I think my Instagram also resonates with some young people because it clearly demonstrates that being an engineer isn’t just sitting in front of a desk all day. I love aerospace engineering, but I also love to travel and skydive and go on adventures with my friends, and hopefully they see that as well.”

“When I started Instagram was a way to both document my travels and experiences during my PEY and to share them easily and instantly with friends and family back in Canada. That hasn’t changed much. When I learned others were interested – either current undergrad students considering an international work term, or high school students considering engineering, international travels and otherwise just expanding their horizons – then I started to include more, and different, postings. Judging from the number of DMs I receive I think there is an appetite for this information.” 

I love scrolling through and seeing what my friends are up to or following and interacting with other people in the world you might not have ever got a chance to meet or connect with,” Reid wrote. “The platform is so much more than just posting for yourself, it allows connections in places you wouldn’t normally think to look.” 

For all three photographers, sharing images of their everyday lives and experiences is at the core of why they keep posting photos. While they enjoy connecting with others, the number of followers or likes seems less important to them. Most of all, they keep posting what is important to themselves for the simple reason that they enjoy it.

“While I appreciate the likes, I’d keep taking photos regardless,” Berg writes. For anyone interested in starting to post on Instagram more actively, his advice is: “Just do it. Don’t worry about likes, just do what you want to do and enjoy it.” 

Reid seems to be on the same page. “I try not to concern myself with the likes any of my posts receive. It really isn’t about that for me… I also think you shouldn’t take it too seriously. It is social media after all, which means you should simply enjoy using it with your friends.”

Where to find community at U of T

It’s important to nurture a sense of belonging ⁠— here’s how

Where to find community at U of T

Roseto, a small town in Pennsylvania, drew the attention of scientists in the 1950s for its peculiarly low rates of heart disease. When compared to the neighbouring towns, there were no noticeable differences between the diet, exercise, water supply, income levels, or race of residents. In fact, Rosetans smoked, drank, and had a high cholesterol intake. Employment often entailed hazardous conditions which sometimes led to diseases and industrial accidents.

So, what was Roseto’s secret? 

It was a tight-knit community. Researchers called it the “Roseto Effect,” a phenomenon in which a group experiences decreased rates of heart disease because of their communal bonds. Everyone in Roseto felt welcomed, supported, and, most of all, healthy. 

As you embark on a new academic experience, one of your main priorities should be finding a community in which you can grow and learn. In other words, finding your own group of  ‘Rosetans.’ On a campus as large as U of T, it can be difficult to find a space where you feel like you belong, so we compiled a list of helpful, but often overlooked, places to find a supportive and welcoming community of your own. 

Small classes  

First-year students have a wide variety of small classes to choose from during their studies. The most notable ones are the First-Year Foundation Ones Programs and First Year Seminars. These classes cover a myriad of interesting topics, including representations of the underworld in classical mythology, cell and molecular biology portrayal in the news, time travel narratives, and popular culture in the digital age.

Small classes are excellent places to build relationships with like-minded peers, engage with professors, and find your spot at U of T.


Campus faith groups are some of the most active clubs at U of T. Many of them even have their own orientation events! Engaging with groups such as Power to Change, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), or U of T Hillel is a great way to find people who make you feel welcomed, regardless of your religion or level of faith. There are several rooms and meditation spaces around campus where you can drop in to relax, pray, or meditate in between classes. 

Hobbies, leadership, and arts 

There are over 800 clubs across all three campuses at U of T, and members present their clubs twice over the course of September during the Clubs Carnival and the Street Festival, in addition to college- or faculty-specific fairs. Making the choice as to which club to join may be overwhelming simply because of the sheer numbers. One strategy is to reflect on your interests and narrow them down to one or two you would like to engage with. Then, use those as a guide to help you find the best club through the Ulife database. 

Being a first year also gives you access to year-specific opportunities, such as acting as a first-year representative in a club you care about. Check out Hart House and Ulife clubs for announcements about applications opening for first-year representatives. Such experiences will enhance your leadership skills and introduce you to like-minded people. 

Being around people who share the same love you have for holding a brush, playing basketball, or standing on a stage can be empowering. Also, many clubs, such as the Hart House Debating Club and the U of T Improv Club, have excellent opportunities for travelling to compete or perform.  


The people you sit beside in class are people who share your goals, struggles, and curiosity. Overcome your fear and social awkwardness by turning to the person next to you and asking them how they found the lecture or assignments. You can form study groups, attend office hours together, and help each other with course material. The stranger you sit next to on your first day of class could very well be your lifelong best friend. 

Orientation and mentorship 

Orientation is an excellent pathway for finding your place at U of T. Regardless of what people tell you about orientation, you should not miss out on it. You will be surrounded by lots of other first-year students who are all looking to make connections. Each college and faculty hosts their own orientation, but there are also academic, religious, and accessibility orientations in order to ensure that all students feel welcome.

Another option is U of T’s mentorship programs. The university has several mentorship programs that pair first-year students with upper-year students who can guide them through the year, answer any questions they may have, and provide advice regarding their classes. Your mentor can be a great resource for both academic help and finding communities in which you can grow and learn. 


One of the advantages of being at a big university is the diversity among students. There are over 157 countries represented in the U of T student body and dozens of cultural clubs for members of different ethnic and racial groups, such as the Black Students’ Association and the Middle Eastern Students’ Association. There is also the Centre for International Experience’s Language Exchange and the Sidney Smith Commons’ Global Language Café, where you can drop in and practise a language with fellow students at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Whether you are interested in improving your Spanish skills or reconnecting with your roots, these clubs always welcome new members! Drop by the Student Life Clubhouse or find them during the Clubs Carnival or Street Festival. 


Your community might not necessarily be found on campus. There are several great organizations and groups in Toronto that always welcome university students to join their team. Volunteering at homeless shelters, local food banks, or community beach clean-ups is a great way to connect with your community. You could meet amazing people, while also working on great causes that give back to the Toronto community.

As the new academic year approaches, be open to seeking your own group of Rosetans that can drive away your heart disease, fend off your mental struggles, and be the shoulder you can lean on during this journey.


Disclosure: Shahd Fulath Khan was the 2018–2019 Secretary of the MSA at UTSG.

Under invasion! Watch out for the Japanese knotweed plant

Aggressive species can penetrate concrete and starve local plant species of resources

Under invasion! Watch out for the Japanese knotweed plant

UTSG is under invasion by an unusual suspect — a thoroughly aggressive plant.

The culprit is Japanese knotweed, also known as Reynoutria japonica, which is a flowering bamboo-like species that has spread across Ontario and the rest of Canada.

Its population threatens infrastructure and native plant life, as the plant can penetrate concrete and rapidly overtake other plants in the race for nutrients and sunlight.

Knotweed, a plant native to East Asia, is thought to have been introduced to the rest of Canada through Nova Scotia in the 1880s. By 1901, it was grown in Niagara, Ontario for ornamental purposes. Its reach extends widely — an online map lists 63 sightings in Toronto alone.

Its large leaves can block sunlight from plants that grow closer to the ground, starving them of an essential resource for survival. Layers of decomposing stems and leaves shed by the plant can obstruct growth of native species. The space it takes up can reduce wildlife habitats too.

Knotweed also poses a threat to infrastructure because its roots can penetrate concrete. In one case documented in England, the plant grew through a wall and into a couple’s home — slashing the property’s retail value by over $400,000.

Now, it has invaded UTSG as well.

The Varsity confirmed two sightings of knotweed on campus. At the time of its survey in July, a very large plant was photographed overtaking sections of a garden attached to a student residence at St. Michael’s College, and a smaller plant was photographed growing on Sussex Avenue behind Robarts Library.

Two other clumps of knotweed were documented as dotting the western perimeter of UTSG on either side of Spadina Avenue. One was photographed at 698 Spadina Avenue, which is the site for a planned student residence building finalized earlier this year.

Controlling the spread of knotweed can be very difficult. The plants primarily grow offshoots through an underground plant stem, or ‘rhizome,’ which can reach a length of up to 18 metres.

The rhizome can be found as deep as two metres underground — meaning that overturning the entire top layer of soil is the best way to prevent the plants from spreading.

St. Michael’s may be home to the largest knotweed plant on campus

The knotweed patch at St. Michael’s College was photographed in the alley between McCorkell House and Sullivan House at 2 Elmsley Place and 96 St. Joseph Street, and Maritain House and Gilson House at 6 and 8 Elmsley Place. All are student residences. It was also visible from the quad behind Teefy Hall.

Knotweed plants have a distinctive appearance. Their hollow stems resemble bamboo once they mature, reaching up to three metres in height.

They have broad leaves shaped like a heart with a flattened base, which grow off the stem in a zig-zag pattern. The node where the leaf meets a stem is reddish-purple.

The plants blossom in late summer or early autumn, growing tufts of small white flowers.

At St. Michael’s College, the largest plant was photographed at over two metres tall and spreads out over about five metres, and pressed onto the side of a building.

Knotweed was observed growing on both sides of the paved alley, clearly demonstrating how its roots can push through and around concrete obstacles.

Three other locations nearby

The other Japanese knotweed plant on UTSG was photographed growing at the privately-owned house at 16 Sussex Avenue and near other homes. This is close to the Robarts Library and the Sussex Clubhouse, which houses many student organizations such as The Varsity and the Sexual Education Centre.

Another privately-owned property at 15 Glen Morris Street was photographed with knotweed plants growing in its backyard. The plants were spotted sandwiched between Graduate House, a residence building for graduate students, and the Early Learning Centre, which provides services for children of U of T students, staff, and faculty.

The final location was photographed just off-campus at 698 Spadina Avenue, beside the now-closed Ten Editions bookstore. It will be the site of a new student residence.

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How The Varsity identified the plants as knotweed

To initially identify the plants as knotweed, The Varsity followed identification guidelines prepared by advocacy groups. The visual identifiers — of having heart-shaped leaves, a hollow stem, and reddish-purple nodes were previously referred to in the article.

Tyler Jollimore, a Master’s student at Dalhousie University’s Department of Plant, Food, and Environmental Sciences, also confirmed that the sighted plants are knotweed in written correspondence with The Varsity.

He concluded the plants’ identity by examining photographs of the plants taken at the four sites listed in the article, which are included in the photo gallery above.

He added that well-informed observers can reliably identify the plant, even without his expertise as a Japanese knotweed researcher.

“So long as individuals have done their research, identification of Japanese knotweed is possible by anybody,” he wrote. “[The] appearance of Japanese knotweed makes it quite easy to identify as it tends to stand significantly taller than other herbaceous plants.”

The difficult task of eradicating knotweed

Knotweed spreads through stem cuttings and can quickly grow to colonize a new area, especially in a moist environment.

Once entrenched, the plant is very difficult to remove. Weather is no impediment, as it can endure harsh conditions and even survive floods.

The plant is especially effective at reproduction when growing alongside rivers. Its roots can break off and travel downstream, enabling it to start new growth in a different location. This is one of the ways it can spread quickly in a city near bodies of water.

Controlling knotweed populations with herbicides can take three to five years.

Physical removal alone is an ineffective strategy

One of the more common ways to eradicate invasive plant species is to cut the plant to reduce its height and diameter.

However, this physical method is not lethal to knotweed, as it can grow back again the following year. It can also make the problem worse. “Cutting could increase the chance of knotweed spreading,” noted Jollimore.

“People (more specifically children) may pick it up and play with [the plant remains], resulting in it being moved to another area,” he wrote to The Varsity.

Ecologists are currently studying effective means of knotweed control. Jollimore noted that according to the findings of a recent study he was involved in, “injections of glyphosate — a [herbicide] — can provide significant reduction in knotweed stem density in the year following the treatment.”

In this approach, every stem of the plant needs to be injected for the treatment to work. This can be labour-intensive, especially if an area contains a high density of knotweed.

“Using cutting and then spraying a herbicide to [prevent] regrowth one month later,” wrote Jollimore, could effectively reduce knotweed populations. Any removed portions of the plant must be disposed of to reduce the risk of spread via the cuttings.

Glyphosate is controversial as a likely human carcinogen. Ontario law has prohibited the use of glyphosate for plant eradication conducted for aesthetic purposes since 2009.

But the Ontario Invasive Plant Council, an advocacy group, wrote that the ban does not apply to glyphosate usage for knotweed removal. The plant’s eradication is motivated by the need to prevent damage to infrastructure and biodiversity, wrote the Council, which qualifies the plant as an exception to the ban.

As “glyphosate-based herbicides are significantly better than all other herbicide groups currently used for knotweed control,” according to Swansea University scientists, the herbicide’s application may still be the best approach for knotweed removal.

Invasive plants at U of T “physically removed” if discovered

Every treatment method against knotweed will require time and careful planning. Most treatments will damage the stems after the first year of treatment.

To prevent the spread of knotweed in the first place requires vigilance by local residents and plant owners.

“Be careful [when] accepting fill soil,” wrote Jollimore, adding that people should “use a keen eye when purchasing plants, as occasionally knotweed may be labeled as something else such as bamboo or Chinese rhubarb.”

Knotweed growth is hardly restrained by “unorganized, poorly thought out management strategies,” he continued. “You want to work smart, then hard — not the other way around.”

Mark Simpson, University of Toronto Director of Building Services, Grounds and Trades responded to The Varsity’s inquiry about sightings of Japanese knotweed on campus.

“The grounds department does, from time to time, find invasive plant species such as Japanese knotweed on University of Toronto property,” he wrote. “Such plant species are physically removed whenever they appear.”

A U of T spokesperson added that the knotweed sighting at St. Michael’s College was not on U of T property. The removal of knotweed at this location on campus is therefore not the responsibility of the grounds department, as the property of St. Michael’s College, which is a federated college, is not managed by U of T.

“The University of St. Michael’s College respects the environment, and follows the University of Toronto’s policy regarding invasive plant species,” wrote Michael Chow, Director of Facilities at St. Michael’s College, in a statement to The Varsity. “Our 11-acre campus is home to over 150 species of flowers, trees and other foliage, which our grounds team tends year-round. We’re aware of the plant in question and took appropriate action in late July.”

It’s important to report any sightings of the Japanese knotweed online, as earlier recognition of this invasive plant can help suppress its further growth.

Correction (August 13, 12:02 pm): A previous version of this article implied that U of T is responsible for removing knotweed at St. Michael’s College. A U of T spokesperson has written that the university is not responsible for this removal, as the property of St. Michael’s College is not under U of T’s management. The Varsity regrets this error.

Editor’s Note (August 15, 12:23 am): Additional photographs have been added to the article to provide visual documentation for all four knotweed sightings described in the article. The Varsity has also included further comments from Jollimore, which confirm that the photographs contain knotweed.

Editor’s Note (August 18, 9:47 pm): A statement from a St. Michael’s College representative has been added, who wrote that” appropriate action” was taken to address the two-metre tall plant sighted near 2 Elmsley Place.

Doors Open 2016: five spots around campus

Once a year, many of Toronto's hidden gems open to the public

Doors Open 2016: five spots around campus

If you are on the lookout for free things to do this summer, check out Doors Open Toronto 2016, an annual event that opens up Toronto’s architectural treasures to the public for free. Going into its seventeenth year, this year’s event will have 130 buildings opening to the public from May 28 to the 29.

Doors Open Toronto is an opportunity to discover Toronto’s hidden gems, learn some facts that can be used as conversation starters, and visit locations that are not typically open to the public. Since it is a challenge and a half to to visit all 130 buildings, I compiled a list of top picks that are 15 minutes or less walking distance from the University of Toronto, St. George campus.

Bata Shoe Museum

First off is the Bata Shoe Museum on Bloor Street, which is quite close to Robarts. You may be questioning the fascination with shoes, but I have discovered by going to the Bata Shoe Museum that they are not just fashion statements — they become time capsules, preserving ways of life and culture from the past. 

Location: 327 Bloor Street West

Admittance: Saturday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm; Sunday 12:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Munk School of Global Affairs

Next is U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs, located just down the street from the Bata Shoe Museum. Take advantage of the free tours that are running three times a day during Doors Open Toronto. Having walked into this building accidentally the other day, I was charmed by the contrast between its classically-designed exterior and its modern interior.  

Location: 315 Bloor Street West

Admittance: Saturday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm; Sunday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm

Women’s Art Association of Canada

Further north is the Women’s Art Association of Canada, where you can discover the Dignam and Upjohn galleries. For art students, visiting the association is an opportunity to learn more about the scholarship programs. After getting your daily scoop of creativity, enjoy a cup of coffee in the garden and then continue down to the other end of campus.

Location: 23 Prince Arthur Avenue

Admittance: Saturday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm; Sunday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Later, journey to Queen’s Park and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Get a look inside the Legislative Chamber, while reading up on some history. Many students pass this building on the way to class every day, and this is an opportunity to see inside.

Location: 111 Wellesley Street West

Admittance: Saturday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm; Sunday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm

MaRS Discovery District

It is hard to miss MaRS discovery district, which is at once housed in both a vintage hospital building a contemporary glass giant. As a home of both major medical innovation and technological advancement, it is worth checking out the live presentations of projects that MaRS offers.  

Location: 101 College Street

Admittance: Saturday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm; Sunday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

If you have additional time on your hands, a MetroPass, and curiosity to learn more about Toronto, you could also visit: the Aga Khan Museum, Design Exchange, Toronto City Hall, Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, or the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Check out the complete list to find your new favourite.