Creative Writing: Student Testimonials

Emma Witkowski

Major: 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.

Grayson Chong

Major: English
Minors: Creative Writing and French

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
I chose to pursue a major in English because I have loved literature since I can remember. I simply adore it more than anything else in the world. But more than reading literature and thinking about it, is when I am given the chance to write because it allows my creativity and imagination to run boundless. Therefore, pursing a Creative Writing minor seemed like a natural route. My minor in French allows me to be more well-rounded as a student and individual. As a dancer, I’ve always thought of language as another form of music and rhythm. Deciding to complete a degree with a major and two minors allows you to expand and explore all the subjects and areas of study that intrigue you.
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
Being a part of the English program has equipped me the ability to think critically and reflect on the wider implications of texts by connecting these narratives to real-life situations in our everyday world. The English department offers an expansive range of courses that focus on different time periods, from the early modern period to Postmodernism and everything in between. Much of the program involves analyzing text and thinking about how certain issues are still present in our world. The department offers both English literature as well as contemporary literature from the Caribbean and South Asia, which I personally think is wonderful. Creative Writing courses are also offered. If you decide to simply go into an English program, the Creative Writing courses will count towards your program as well. The courses offered by the department encourage both critical thinking with analysis of English texts and creative thinking with Creative Writing courses. Creative Writing minor classes are significantly smaller from the start. You need to submit a portfolio before you are officially enrolled in the course. These are extremely collaborative and many of them (if not all) involve critiques, where you submit a piece of writing to the class so that they can talk about it the following week. These workshops are there to help improve your writing, so don’t be afraid of them. The French department offers a wide range of courses from French grammar to French literature. These aid the expansion of the acquisition of the language and inform students about French culture and society as well.
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?             

  1. Go to your professor and TA’s office hours. Those are invaluable opportunities for you to ask questions whenever you need help with course material and assignments. It’s a good way to get to know them and for them to get to know you. Don’t be intimidated, they are there to help you.
  2. Find what interests you and what you’re passionate about. As cliché as it sounds, the saying, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life” is true. The things I was passionate about (literature and writing) propelled me to pursue what I’m pursuing. I’m more excited to start assignments earlier and do my best than if I was in a program I didn’t enjoy. The material seems more interesting and I feel like I am getting more out of my program because I’m immersed in something I love.
  3. Learn time management skills. Life is busy with school, work, volunteering, and a social life. Assignments pile up quick. Make sure you give yourself enough time to plan so that you won’t feel overwhelmed when you need to finish the assignment the night before. Planning ahead will minimize potential stress. I find having an agenda/planner helpful so that I can plan what I need to do in advance. It also ensures that I won’t forget about any upcoming assignments.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
There are a few things I’m still deciding on before I graduate. No matter what happens, I want English literature to be the centre of my career. I can’t see myself in anything other than that. In simple terms, I hope my career will allow me to teach English and write on the side. Right now, the plan is to apply to OISE to pursue a Masters of Education. I have thought about pursing an MFA in Creative Writing, as well. We will see where the universe takes me.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
I’m only in second year at the moment, so I may be unable to elaborate as much as I’d like. When I was in first year, I was initially pursuing a double major in English and French so that I could declare those two subjects as my teachables (areas of specialty) when I apply to OISE in the future. First year courses focused on exposing student to various periods in literature from medieval literature to Romanticism. Texts included a wide range of narratives and poetry. French only required that I take grammar courses before I could take upper year courses. Those were good reviews of all the basic grammar skills you’ve been learning since you were in Grade 12. I switched my program from a double major to a major in English with a double minor in French and Creative Writing in second year (which is the year I am in now). I made this decision because I wanted to take full advantage of the Creative Writing minor that UTSC has to offer. In second year, students are encouraged to focus on literary periods in the English canon and genres in more detail. There is a wide range to choose from, such as Shakespeare, Classical Myth and Literature, and Life Writing among others. Lecture sizes become significantly smaller as you progress towards graduation. The same goes for French courses. After taking grammar courses in first year, students are expected to still take grammar. However, they are also able to take courses that focus on French literature, society, and culture. In general, the options regarding the different courses available to students grows, but become more specialized according to your interests.