Mental Health Studies: Student Testimonials

Godfrey Wignarajah

Majors: Mental Health Studies and Conservation & Biodiversity

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

Ever since I was young, I had this need of wanting to help people to make their lives easier - it was later in my first year at UTSC that it was specialized into wanting to help those afflicted with mental illness to adapt to a better lifestyle. At the same time, I was always interested in the world in how it was able to sustain all of us. I wanted to learn more about the specifics and understand the problems that humanity has caused as a whole to reduce biodiversity and find a way to mitigate it. I felt (and I still do) that these majors would help me open my mind to what is happening in the present day; how mental health has a profound effect on us all and what we can do to help those afflicted by mental illnesses, to hopefully create a better situation for them. The same applies for Conservation and Biodiversity; it would make me understand more about this world and how over-stressed it is due to us taking it for granted as well as try to learn about possible methods to reduce our impact on this world.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Mental health is a lot of psychology to take in. First and second year courses make for a bit of general knowledge about psychology as a whole as well as the different mental illnesses that are found. It helps opens doors to different sectors of mental health such as being a social worker, councilor, psychiatrist, etc. After second year, courses in this major are chosen based on the area of interest within mental health. This also opens doors for volunteer opportunities to make your resume look good. It helped lay the foundation for me to pursue mental health as a career. Conservation on the other hand is a mix between memorization and outside work. In this major, it is likely that you would go on field trips to look around different parks to learn about the different species out in those areas as well as the reality of what current leaders are doing about climate change. You would get a chance to see what is being done in order to mitigate the effects of climate change while learning in the classroom about how it occurred and the logistics of current events that are trying to make it less of a problem. The major itself can lead to government jobs involving the environment as well as research related areas.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

First tip would be to expand your horizons; it is not enough to just study the material for the majors to get through university. Meet with people in the field, talk to your professors do volunteer work that is centered around these majors, network with people that are around these majors. Getting the grades is important, but so it getting the experience to stand out for those potential interviews. It will help you in the long run after graduation to either find a job or continue your studies onward.
 
Second tip is to manage your time. University is a lot different from high-school; there will be no one to keep you in track for your studying/assignments. If there is an assignment that is due a month in advance, get started on it immediately! If you know your plan for when you start in a semester, then it will leave you with more time later on to plan out your extracurricular activities. Eventually it will become a habit to organize your time effectively and you'll thank yourself later.
 
Third tip - keep your head high! - University in its own right is a daunting experience; you will have your highs and you will have your lows. Make sure to always de-stress after a major assignment or exam has passed - this will help to keep your mental health in check. Once you get into your rhythm, your university life will be much easier. Remember to follow through with managing your time effectively - if you have, the results will show and it will all be worth it when you get that degree.

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

My biggest interest has to do with mental health and illness and how it affects adolescents who are in high school/transitioning to university. My goal after graduation will be to do further studying for a graduate certification at a certain college to get more experience in the field. Jobs such as a social worker or a mental health councilor are within this field and post-college, I plan to start my career with one of these jobs. There is also a good chance that after a few years, I will probably pursue a Master's degree under mental health as well.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

In the first year, the courses I took under both majors related to general Biology, Chemistry, Psychology as well as Calculus and Statistics. These courses require strong knowledge from courses taken in Grade 12 as a prerequisite. First year is also the time for you to socialize with people in your major - to make some friends/study partners for your journey through it all. Second year will start with the courses needed to expand your knowledge for your major - in this case for Mental Health, courses based on abnormal disorders and personality are needed to expand your knowledge. Courses such as Evolution and Ecology are needed as well to expand your knowledge for Conservation & Biodiversity. This year makes it so that students start to delve into their majors further to find which ones suit them the most. Third year starts to heavily delve into the majors; it is not uncommon to find assignments for your courses in this year. This will help open the student to more topics about what they are studying as well as completing coursework that helps to cement that knowledge for future reference. In this year, the courses you take are now specialized towards your interest. Fourth year varies for coursework - some courses are heavily specialized towards the area of study that you are interested in, with coursework and exams to boot whereas some courses are more seminar based, discussing current issues about the topic of interest. This is the year where most graduate schools look for good grades as well as professional employment.

 

Candice Richardson

Specialist: Mental Health Studies with Co-op
 

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

 
I have always planned to pursue a career in medicine; however, my passion and specific interests lie in the area of mental health and illness. Based on extensive research into University of Toronto programs and advice from older students, I knew I wanted to complete my undergraduate degree in the area of life sciences. I choose the Mental Health Studies Co-op program because it’s the best of both worlds; I am able to take all of the required and recommended preparation courses needed for most medical schools, while also taking courses pertaining to mental health! This program is unique in that it requires you to take neuroscience-based courses, as well as those from more multi-disciplinary perspectives such as Health Studies and Sociology. This allows you to gain a full understanding of the scientific and physiological complexity of the neuroscience of mental illness, while also giving you a broader perspective as to how society responds and contributes to mental health, contributing social risk factors, and so much more!
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
This program is quite unique, and the first of its’ kind in Canada; it combines neuroscience and psychology to give students a multidisciplinary perspective of mental health. This program has allowed me to grow as a leader, hone my critical thinking skills, and understand mental health from various perspectives. This program involves two four-month or one eight-month work-term interspersed throughout your studies. Although the co-op program is quite competitive and rigorous, it is such an incredible opportunity to gain work experience during your undergraduate studies. The co-op program involves mandatory workshops: cover letter and resume writing seminars, one-on-one interviews, and career planning. Students can complete paid work-terms at a variety workplaces including hospitals, community organizations, businesses, and so much more. The Mental Health Studies Co-op program is so wonderful because it allows you to tailor the courses you take toward your specific interests. For example, in first year you are only required to take Introductory Psychology parts one and two; so if you are a student planning to pursue sciences/medicine, this leaves you space in your schedule to take chemistry, biology, or physics, whereas if you would rather take humanities courses, you can do that too! Similarly, there are upper-year courses within the “Psycho-Social Grouping” and “Psycho-Biological Grouping”; although you are required to take credits from each, you can choose to do more credits in the area that you prefer. There are a broad range of classes to take, some of which cover foundational concepts, whereas others delve into specialized areas of the discipline; there truly is something for everyone!
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
1) Keep an open mind! UTSC is a fantastic learning environment with so many courses offered across all different disciplines. Although you may have to take some courses for your breadth or degree requirements that you may not be particularly interested in at face value—you’ll be surprised by how much you will get out of these courses if you go into it with an open mind. You may even find a subject you love, and be able to pick up a minor in it! 2) Network! Throughout my time at UTSC, I’ve come to learn how truly important networking is; networking has played an immensely important role, from helping to find co-op supervisors and attain new volunteer opportunities, to connecting with upper-year students who have helped me to grow and learn. Although it can be difficult to put yourself out there and speak with professionals, professors, and older students, these are some of the greatest learning opportunities you will ever have! You can grow and learn so much from the experiences of others, and there are so many campus groups and faculty that make UTSC a welcoming place for you to be able to express yourself and gain experience within a non-judgmental and open-minded community. 3) Get experience wherever you can! As an undergraduate student, it can sometimes be difficult to find work or volunteer experiences in the area of your “dream job”, but please don’t get discouraged! Any work or volunteer experience will help you grow, learn, and build your resume, allowing you to work your way up! Even though work experience may not be directly in your field, the skills you learn in any workplace are transferable to new environments and experiences!
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 
The Mental Health Studies program allows you to gain knowledge and experience in the critical field of mental health while preparing you for future graduate studies and potential careers in research, social work, medicine, and so much more! The possibilities after graduation are numerous; although I plan to apply to medical school that by no means is the only option! Some students chose to pursue post-graduate certificates in certain areas such as research technology or child and youth services, while others apply to graduate school for clinical or experimental psychology. Furthermore, University of Toronto now has a joint Mental Health Studies and Masters of Social Work program!
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

Along with many other programs, the first year of the Mental Health Studies Co-op program focuses on laying the foundations that will allow you to be successful in the program, while helping you to transition from high school to university life. First year is also the time to explore all the wonderful opportunities that UTSC has to offer, this includes courses in other disciplines, student organizations, clubs, and volunteer opportunities. In second year, courses delve into more specific areas of the field including behavior modification, social and developmental psychology, the brain and behavior, and psychological research methods. This is also the year in which students begin working with the co-op office in preparation for their first work-term. Third year is when courses become more specialized, in areas such as cognitive neuroscience, psychological assessment, clinical neuropsychology, cross-cultural psychology, and so much more! Third year courses often offer lab or experiential components to allow students to gain a more hands on understanding of course material. Fourth year is generally dedicated toward finishing your degree requirements and courses required for professional or graduate studies you plan to apply to; many students also choose to complete an undergraduate thesis to gain research experience. As you progress through your degree, you will often find yourself juggling more and more commitments including your studies, volunteering, work, extracurriculars, and applying to graduate schools. Remember to pace yourself, learn time management skills early on, and practice self-care!

Brian Longmire

Majors:  Neuroscience and Mental Health Studies
 

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

I have always had a passion for psychology, but I was intrigued by the neuroscience program at UTSC. I remember when I was 15, completing the Career Cruising assessment and being recommended for a career in psychology. I knew that I always wanted to have a career where I could help people, and studying psychology offered me that opportunity. I also have been deeply fascinated with the mind and how the workings of the brain give us our conscious experiences.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

My specific program combination has given me a diverse educational experience, which I am really thankful for. I'm afforded the opportunity to learn about the mind from a more technical and biological perspective through my neuroscience courses, while my psychology courses give me a broader, more holistic viewpoint in terms of how the mind operates and interacts with the environment. My first and second year courses were heavily focused on reading, which was daunting and overwhelming at times. However, my upper year courses were extremely interactive and engaging which allowed me the opportunity to really dive into the subjects in psychology and neuroscience that I'm most interested in (e.g., free will, consciousness, personality disorders, etc.)

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

I would recommend that students interested in psychology and neuroscience take the time to get to know their professors, as well as the other students in their program. The psychology and neuroscience faculty at UTSC are absolutely phenomenal and many professors go out of their way to help students succeed and flourish. Moreover, students should take the opportunity to explore opportunities for learning in a variety of contexts, not just inside the lecture theatre. For example, there are many opportunities for students to get relevant practical experience through supervised study courses, thesis courses, volunteer positions within professor's labs, and community organizations. I would also recommend that students foster an understanding of what they find interesting within psychology and use that passion and interest to help orient them to the opportunities that are out there and worth pursuing. I also can't stress enough the importance of good time management skills. With all of the reading that you have to do for your psychology and neuroscience courses, things can get away from you if you don't get a handle on a way to effectively organize your time. Most of all, don't forget to have fun and enjoy your studies!

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

I'm currently in the process of applying to graduate school for programs in social work and counselling. Upon graduation, I aim to work in counselling settings with people from diverse backgrounds who are seeking treatment for mental health concerns. Specifically, I'm interested in working in suicide prevention and helping people who have been affected by suicide.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

It's been an interesting 4 years to say the least. In first year, I really concentrated on doing well academically. I believe that this year is integral to a positive overall university experience as it lays down the foundation for success in second through fourth year by equipping students with the skills they need to navigate through their courses and access the plethora of services at UTSC. In second year, I was interested in getting more involved on campus which I made sure to balance with my academic demands and I really enjoyed getting to know many more people on campus, both inside and outside of the classroom. In third year, I took some of my favorite courses at UTSC such as psychotherapy, drugs and the brain, and clinical neuropsychology. These classes were not only extremely interesting but engaging as well and they really helped me solidify what I want to do upon graduation. As I look towards graduation, I am really enjoying the thesis course I'm currently taking. It's allowed me to synthesize all of the skills I've learned throughout my undergraduate career while at the same time allowing me to really delve into a research area that I find fascinating!

Fareha Nishat

Majors:  Neuroscience and Mental Health Studies
 

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 

I’ve always been interested in the brain and when looking into programs for university I realized that neuroscience wasn’t an option at many universities, and UTSC uniquely had a neuroscience program that had been active for many years. I choose this program because I wanted to have a strong foundation in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and basics of brain for my future graduate studies. I was initially enrolled into the specialist neuroscience program but switched to a double major in neuroscience and mental health as I became more and more interested in the clinical side of brain disorders. One of the things that really pushed me towards doing a double major was being able to actively learn about the more biological aspects of the brain if my neuroscience classes while taking psychology courses which informed me of the more behavioural aspects of the brain.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
The neuroscience program at UTSC is quite rigorous, the content can get challenging but I think this allows students to decide if this area is really what they are interested in. This program has a heavy focus (especially in 3rd and 4th year courses) on how to read, analyze, critique scientific literature and present in a simple short way (be it in written form or verbally through presentation) which I really valued as it prepares you well for graduate school. Although there aren’t many course options in the neuroscience program, the ones offered cover a wide area of neuroscience which gave me a great understanding of the entire neuroscience field and allowed me to hone into what I liked, where the field currently is and how I saw myself fit into it. The mental health program at UTSC is the first of its kind in Canada; it gives you two options of focus either a psycho-social or psycho-biological grouping, which I found really helpful as it guided me in choosing what area of mental health I found particularly interesting and what courses to take for that interest. Even with the groupings there's still room to explore the plethora of psychology courses offered at UTSC, I especially honed into the developmental courses and this really ignited my passion and laid the foundation for my research interest in youth mental health.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
1. I think one of the important things to figure out for any student is how they best learn, not all of us learn by memorizing notes. In my case I’m a visual and auditory learner, so I would make tables, charts, networks (which comes in handy when memorizing neural networks) to study rather than just copying my lecture notes. I would also record myself summarizing topics which I would listen to over and over again until it almost became the voice in my head!
 
2. Find something you’re passion about, there’s probably a club for it and join it! School can become quite daunting at certain points and it's really important to have something that you can use as your release. A club, society or student group can help you with that as you can spend time with like-minded people and learn more about the world and yourself.
 
3. UofT has so many connections and as a student starting your academic career you should definitely make use of it, apply for everything that you find interesting because at least one of those will work out. If you’re not in the co-op don’t fret you can still get a lot of research experience from volunteering and work studies. I would suggest looking into the career learning network to find those opportunities that best align with your interest. One of the coolest things about going to UTSC is that you’re still connected to the entire UofT network so you don’t have to limit yourself to professors at UTSC, there is probably a researcher either at St. George, Mississauga or at one of the many hospitals that UofT is connected that's doing research in whatever you’re interested in. And if you don’t know what you’re interested UofT is the best place to be because you can explore anything and everything.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
 

This degree is specialized in the sense that within my graduating class, there were approximately 150-200 students who graduated with a degree in neuroscience. This degree allows you to either go straight into graduate school, spend a couple of years working before pursuing graduate studies or go into the workforce immediately. It’s versatile since the skills you acquire (critical thinking, analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, presenting) can be applied to any graduate field or any research oriented job. I graduated in June 2016 and am currently working as a Clinical Research Project Assistant at the Hospital for Sick Children. I am lucky enough to work in an area that is both related to my degree but also is an interest of mine; I work in the Neuropsychiatry Research Unit in a study that's testing whether a videogame can be used as a treatment method for ADHD. My undergraduate degree definitely played a role in me getting this position, my coursework in developmental psychology and neuroscience as well as the research experience I was able to attain through volunteer opportunities and work study positions. I plan on pursuing graduate studies in epidemiology; I want to look at mental illness among minority youth - specifically in second and third generation migrant youth. This may seem like a different direction compared to my undergraduate studies, but I took an epidemiology course in my fourth year and it really opened my eyes to looking at neuroscience and mental health through the lens of population health so I decided going to combine them to study mental health epidemiology.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
In my first year I took the introductory biology, chemistry, psychology courses which were outlined by the program requirements. Most of the content in biology and chemistry was similar to what is taught in grade 12 but the testing material and the pace at which you’re learning is quite different and can take some time to get used to. In first year, I think it’s important to take baby steps, it can get quite overwhelming so taking a lighter course load or taking some courses that are outside of your program requirements can help lighten the load and allow you to really branch out and explore the different courses offered at UTSC. My second tip for first year would be organize when you’ll be taking courses to fulfil your BREADTH requirements, I personally completed everything after finishing second year but you can finish it in your fourth year it's just important to remember so you aren’t scrambling near the end. Second year is when you take your first neuroscience course - Neuroanatomy Laboratory which is a great class to start you off to this field. It's almost like two classes in the sense that the lab component is very heavy and requires a lot of attention but it’s very rewarding when you get to the end and you realize you can name any area of the brain by just looking at a cross-section of it! I also took the following program requirements: cell biology, molecular biology and human brain and behaviour. A good tip is to take neuroanatomy before human brain and behaviour (or vice versa), the content in both class is heavy on neurophysiology/anatomy so having that previous background helps in doing well in each course. In terms of the mental health program, second year you’re free to choose from the plethora of second year psychology courses offered at UTSC which gives you a more detailed understanding of each area and prepares you well for choosing which grouping psycho-social or psycho-biological you want to focus your third and fourth year on. My second tip for your second year would be take a statistics course, I don’t think I can explain in words how important it is to have a good statistics understanding - the only way you’re going to be able to understand and analyze scientific literature is by having a good statistics foundation. My third tip for second year is making sure you have sort of volunteer or work study position in research, it’s really important to start early as it allows you to gain as much experience as possible within your undergraduate career. The neuroscience program in third year asks to complete three courses, Learning and Motivation, Sensory and Motor Systems and Human Physiology I - I took these courses over my third and fourth year and would suggest the same for anyone pursuing this program or taking them in separate semester in the least. Each of these courses is very content heavy and cover a wide area in a lot of detail - it’s much more manageable to tackle these courses independently rather than in one semester. Third year in the mental health program you decide which grouping you’re more interested in, based on what specialization you choose your courses. I choose the psycho-biological group so most my courses dealt with the clinical implications of behavioural disorders or brain heavy analysis of psychological constructs. Fourth year is really about finishing up your course requirements and taking courses that you maybe didn’t have a chance to take earlier. I really enjoyed my D level courses (Drug Addiction and Current Topics in Developmental Psychology) these courses are very heavy on presenting, group work and writing but I think this really prepares you well for graduate school and even the work force. The four years are going to go by really fast, you might feel overwhelmed, you might get into fourth year and realize there was an entire area of science that you didn’t know about and now really want to explore but all these feelings are normal and okay; the important thing is to be aware of these feelings and acknowledge them because keeping things bottled up is going to make the academic and social responsibilities you have even more daunting.

Emma Witkowski

Majors: Mental Health Studies
Minors: Women and Gender Studies and Creative Writing
 

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
Initially, I was directly accepted to UTSC's Co-op Specialist Mental Health Studies program from high school. I always learned best through application and so co-op felt like a necessary part of post-secondary education for me at the time and I had felt like I knew "exactly" what I wanted to do after University...but I changed my mind! I'm grateful for the two years I was in the Specialist Co-op program. I had the opportunity to network with current professionals in the Mental Health field and learn more about it, and through it I learned that I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do anymore. So I took a two year break from school. I went to work co-founding a dog walking business and thinking a lot about who I was and what I wanted my future to look like. I knew coming back to finish my degree was the right thing to do. Still very interested in the course material and perhaps pursuing it after school, I kept Mental Health Studies on as my major, but I expanded my fields of study to Women and Gender Studies and Creative Writing - two of my life long passions. The University of Toronto presents opportunities for networking and professional development in whichever field you choose. Now that I'm back, I understand I don't have to sacrifice the rest of my passions to pursue just one. Having a more balanced program choice contributes to my success in a BIG way - I am more interested and involved in my own education, and find it much easier to engage in course material.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
Mental Health Studies are my biggest lectures by far. I have no science background so that presents a challenge for some of the more “sciencey" based courses. There's typically one textbook per course and it's very much independently motivated. The professor won't track you down personally to tell you to hand something in. Women and Gender Studies have small (around 20) to medium sized (100-200) lectures. Participation is THE KEY. All my professors and teaching assistants will learn names. There are discussions every class that centre around readings and course material, but also personal anecdotes. Creative Writing involves....a lot of writing. Surprise! Well, I actually was surprised at the amount of material I'm expected to produce for each course. They are small classes (under 20) with students of all ages and academic backgrounds. I haven't yet encountered a multiple choice question and I work very closely with my peers in these classes. Opportunities for extracurricular activities seem to be more easily accessible than my other programs - example, poetry readings! Publishing events! Student groups!
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?  
 
1) Take advantage of office hours, tutorials, and help centres on campus. They exist to assist in learning and are well worth the time invested to actually go.
2) Build relationships. This goes for anyone you encounter - professors, students, peers, other University employees, alumni, community partners, etc. It will help in areas you didn't even know you needed help in.
3) Take care of yourself. This is a controversial statement but....nothing is worth an all-nighter. Get your sleep. Eat properly. Exercise. Drink water. It will make life easier and your grades will almost definitely thank you for it as well.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 

I'm not totally sure, but here are a few options: 1) Apply to midwifery programs 2) Write for a feminist-y blog (ie, Shedoesthecity) 3) Work in communications, perhaps for a non-profit that focuses on mental health initiatives 4)Apply for a Masters 5)ALL OF THE ABOVE?
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
First year, I took a wide range of courses despite being in a Specialist Program - Intro to International Development, Psychology, Studio Art, Intro to World Religions, etc. This year was really about getting the study, listening, note taking, and critical reading skills needed to succeed while also determining interest. I also met loads of new friends this year. I didn't focus on extracurricular and/or community involvement until second year. I worked as a Residence Advisor on campus, attended more events, volunteered off-campus, and took courses more specific to my program. This was also where I decided I wanted to change things up a little. Third year I changed my program and did some academic catch-up for my new Double Minors, so it was a little bit like first year all over again. However, it was invaluable - I got some sweet practice improving those basic academic skills I learned in first year. Now I feel ready to tackle whatever is coming.