• covid-19,  grad school,  profs

    going the distance to bag those references

    hello! i am looking for reference letters for graduate school and i was thinking of asking a professor during summer courses. any advice on getting to know my profs this summer when courses are online?


    hello hello,

    good afternoon to everyone except profs who are still assigning textbooks that cost over a hundred dollars, even during an economic downturn.

    grad school! an exciting endeavour.

    excited despicable me GIF

    online summer courses! a mediocre endeavour at best.

    seth meyers ok GIF by Late Night with Seth Meyers< so i took a solid chunk of time and thought this out, because initially it seemed highly unlikely to me that you'd be able to successfully get to know a prof who's teaching remotely. even before this pandemic, i'd taken a few online courses and found that each time without fail, the instructor remained a nameless faceless entity. do online instructors even exist? confused demarcus cousins GIF by Bleacher Report

    i hate feeling useless, though, so here are the suggestions i scraped together for ya:< number one: online office hours

    as far as i’m aware, most instructors are still holding office hours using platforms like zoom or whatnot. these office hours are gonna be your best bet to get to know your profs. show up, have good questions, make it clear you’ve engaged with their material so that you make a good impression.

    brag chris redd GIF by Saturday Night Live

    bonus points for knowing what their area of research is and being able to talk to them about it– but only after you’ve spoken to them at least a few times.

    number two: engage with your prof via email

    it’s a second-rate strat, but if you’re unable for any reason to talk to your prof face to face over some kind of video call, sending them emails will at least let them know you exist. make sure these emails are polite, professional, and make you sound smart without trying too hard lol. respond quickly (which i suck at, rip me) and once again, ask good questions and express an interest in the class material! some form of communication is better than none.

    number three: make yourself stand out if you have class discussions

    now, i know this isn’t the case for many classes this summer, but some smaller upper-year seminars will still be holding live lectures with a participation or discussion component. if you’re planning to apply to grad school soon, my hope is that you’re an upper year able to take a small advanced class like this. participating is a good way to get noticed by your profs. the ones i’ve had have always appreciated quality participation, and if you do really well they’ll notice you and you won’t even need to try. it’ll then be easier on you when you reach out and want to talk about grad school later down the road.

    diana ross ease on down GIF

    number four: do well in the class, or make yourself stand out through assignments

    it goes without saying that sometimes these things are out of your control.

    Help Me Omg GIF

    if we all could do well in our classes we would. but in my experience talking to profs about grad school, they’ve been pretty transparent about how, if you want a solid letter, you should get an A in their course or have something academically noteworthy about you that they can discuss. if you can manage to do really, really well, or turn in a creative or surprising assignment, this will definitely get your profs to notice you as well as hand them material for whatever letters they may write you later on.

    hope this was helpful! good luck with your summer courses and grad school applications.

    be Boundless,


  • academic offense,  covid-19,  no one asked,  profs,  tests

    quercus test PSA

    hey hey hey there online schoolin’ students, and a good evening to everyone except profs who give closed book exams during a pandemic,

    this is just a friendly neighbourhood announcement that when you’re taking exams on quercus, your profs can actually see a log of your activity.

    some of yall might be aware of this already, but for those of you who weren’t, figured i’d put it up on the site. i know finals season is pretty much done but this might be applicable to anyone taking summer school. share to save a life, or whatever.

    so for backstory, quercus is basically the same thing as canvas, just renamed to fit u of t’s pretentious tree theme.

    canvas’s official support webpage is pretty transparent about the fact that, when a quiz or test is taken on its platform, it retains a ‘quiz log’ for up to six months. what can your profs see on this log, you might wonder?

    Suspicious Zach Galifianakis GIF by BasketsFX

    well, funny that you ask. they can actually see a second-by-second ‘action log’ of when you view, answer, and skip questions. they can see every attempt you take at a question (previous answers don’t actually get overwritten) and every attempt you take at a quiz overall, as well as how long you spent taking the quiz.

    most importantly, they can see when you click away to a different tab or window. this shows up as “stopped viewing the canvas quiz-taking page.” you can see why a high recurrence of these alerts might look suspicious, especially if your mark jumps quite a lot after the assessment in question.

    suspicious disney GIF

    i’ve also heard (but don’t know where on the canvas support site to confirm this) that profs can see what course materials have been opened/are currently open/have been downloaded on your computer. because we don’t love making empty allegations, this article from the OTHER U of T, the university of texas, seems to serve as confirmation. the article also lets us know that once again, canvas/quercus does its job WAY too well and provides a briefing of how long those tabs have been open as well. which is a bit embarrassing for me, given that i never close those tabs even when i’m done with them. my profs probably think i’m obsessed with their material.

    obviously, canvas/quercus activity reports will generally not be an issue if your tests are open book, or if your profs have made other provisions to prevent students from cheating. but make sure you’re clear on what’s allowed and not allowed before taking an exam on quercus, just to be safe. dodging academic integrity issues is always cool. we like that.

    be Boundless,


  • profs

    no guarantees

    Odds of prof letting me skip assignments and tests for an out of country wedding? How would I ask the prof lol
    that’s something that you’d have to talk to the prof directly about. it’s totally at the discretion of the prof, so i can’t really say whether or not they’d let you “skip.”
    i suggest that you bring it up to your prof as early as possible (IN PERSON) and see if you can work out an agreement. there are no guarantees, especially if you want to fully skip assignments, but they may be able to work out some sort of accommodation for you, like extensions for assignments. i just wanna stress again, that it’s totally up to the prof and that there are no guarantees either way. hopefully, your prof(s) will be nice and accommodating.
    i hope this helps! good luck with your prof.
    david tennant good luck GIF
  • grad school,  profs

    butter up your profs

    Hey aska,

    I am currently a 2nd year student at Uoft and I know that I want to pursue graduate studies in the future hence, I want to start building relationships with profs. But the problem is that I am a terribly shy person and I never speak up in class. I am also really afraid to go to office hours as I don’t really know what to speak to professors about (i usually don’t have much questions to ask them). Do you have any tips on how to overcome my shyness around profs? And how much do you think profs will need to know u in order to write a good letter of recommendation?



    as someone who self identifies as a “talkative keener” i have a lot of experience talking to (and buttering up) profs. let me pass down my wisdom to you.

    participating in class and going to office hours is the best way for profs to know/ remember you, but i totally understand how difficult and intimidating that can be. i personally find that it’s a lot easier to speak up and make a personal connection with a prof if the class is a lot smaller. smaller classes are usually a lot more discussion heavy, which (personally!) pushes me to participate more and talk to the prof directly. plus, it’s not a faux pas to participate in a smaller class, it’s actually an expectation! while it is a lot easier in some programs to find and take seminar classes (for example, i’m in the humanities and i’ve been in small classes since first year), i think that seeking out small classes about things that you’re interested in and profs that you like can be a good way to get profs to know you.

    going to office hours can be absolutely terrifying, i always feel like i’m in trouble and i’m to going to the principal’s office or something, but it’s a great way to develop a relationship with a prof. even if you’re not having issues with the class or there isn’t much of a reason to go, attending office hours just to talk about something that you found interesting about the course material or to chat up the prof about their research will really help them to remember who you are. also, it really butters ’em up.

    corny tamela mann GIF by TV One

    another way to get over shyness around profs is to work with them directly. seeking out research opportunities is a good way to get to really know a prof/ have a prof really know you. plus, research experience looks great on a CV, especially if you have grad school aspirations.

    these are my suggestions, based on my own personal experiences. you aren’t me (unless there’s a serious glitch in the simulation) so these things may not work for you. stepping outside of your comfort zone can be scary and it’s easy for me from my anonymous student blogger pedestal to tell you what to do. hopefully these tips help you out and you get a great reference out of one of your profs.

    design love GIF by lironrash

    good luck!



  • jobs,  keeners,  law school,  profs,  work-study

    keen keen keen

    Hi there,

    I’m a second year student who’s eager to find some useful campus work that can lead to some great recommendation letters for law school. I’m particularly interested in working at the dean’s office or the office of my college’s principal. Is there an opportunity for students to find job placements in the above mentioned places? If so, where would I be able to find more information about this? I’ve done some research but haven’t found anything helpful regarding this inquiry.

    Also, how long should you know a professor before asking them for a really good recommendation letter? A year? 2 years? I know it depends on the student-teacher relationship, which can be built strongly even within the first month of classes, but would a letter be more credible for an ivy league law school if it read that my prof knows me for X many years, as opposed to one semester or only one year (depending on the course)? I’ve heard of some students taking courses with the same professors over the years only to get a great letter from them at the end, but I can’t do the same because all of my required and elective classes so far and in the future are taught by different professors. If I only enrol in the courses with my well-liked professors, I’ll be taking courses that I’ll get random credit for, but not towards any of my designated programs. Is there a specific way to go about finding the right prof now to build a relationship with, or should I just stick to my 4th year profs?

    Thank you so much for your help!!


    hey there,

    i want to commend your eagerness. i can dimly remember being that excited and ambitious about things, though it’s a memory that’s fading fast. hopefully that doesn’t happen to you, too. (i mean, it likely will, but that’s not a very nice thing for me to say to a stranger, is it?)

    i don’t know that i’ll be much help with the job-finding, other than pointing you in the right general direction, like a crotchety old woman who lives at the fork in the road and directs people down the path through the forest, not down by the sea, but doesn’t bother to tell you about the GIANT WOLVES you’ll have to fight to get through that forest (in this case the wolves are asking past employers for references, or something equally as unpleasant).

    every college has such a radically different way of organizing itself – with different responsibilities attached to each office, different relationships between different offices, etc. – that the answer will change depending on the college. for example, when you say ‘dean,’ do you mean dean of residence? dean of students? at some colleges, both those roles are handled by the same person. at others, they’re split up. the principal’s office also handles a smorgasbord of different responsibilities, and what they are varies at different colleges.

    feel your college out. go to events. get involved and meet people who know how the different offices work. i find that observation can go a long way, and sooner or later, you may hear about a job opening up that you can apply to.

    generally speaking, i find these administrative university offices tend to hire either full-time staff or work-study students, but again, that’s about as specific as my knowledge gets. one really easy way to figure out who’s hiring is by scrolling through work-study postings on the CLN.

    as for your references question: this may be annoying to you, but i feel like the answer is, don’t think about it too much? if you encounter a professor you really like, and you can find a way to take multiple courses with them by fulfilling degree credits, then do that. if not, don’t. I’ve never taken two courses with the same professor (the stars i.e. my schedule/course space/program req’s never aligned that way) and i’ve still asked for multiple professors for reference letters that they’ve happily given.

    keep in mind that professors – especially third and fourth year professors – expect to receive reference letter requests. a lot of those courses tend to be smaller, so it’ll be a lot easier to get to know them than it is in a huge first- or even second-year class. if you are concerned about really getting to know a prof, a good idea may be to take an upper year research course. as well as being a wonderful learning experience, these courses facilitate one-on-one time with your supervisor. research supervisors are great people to ask for references, because they have a much more sophisticated knowledge of your work ethic, skills, personality, etc.

    good luck with all of this! one final tip: start saving up for Harvard or whatever it is now. future you will thank you.



  • profs,  work-study

    research THIS!

    I was wondering how exactly a student could get an internship helping a professor with research?


    hey there,

    as with all things at university (and in life), there are two ways it can happen: you can go about it the official way, or you could just sort of fall into it.

    1. the Official Serious Business way

    you can get involved with a professor’s research in two main ways: through class work, or through work-study.

    many departments offer research courses called 299’s as part of the Research Opportunity Program. these are research courses geared specifically towards second-year students.

    299’s are a really cool opportunity because you get to do real research for credit; it’s class time and work experience all bundled together. two birds with one stone.

    these courses tend to be for science students, so it’ll be trickier to find an opportunity as a humanities or social science student, but you can take a look at the courses available this year to get an idea of what’s out there. there are also similar courses for third and fourth year students (called 398/399s and 497/498/499s, respectively – take a look on the timetable to find out what departments are offering each year).

    the second Official Way that you can get involved in research is by being a research assistant through the work-study program. loads of professors advertise RA positions through work-study, for both undergrads and graduate students. just take a look on the CLN for opportunities – they’re being uploaded every day now, and applications close in late september.

    2. the sneaky back-door way

    of course, doing things the proper way is all good and well, but sometimes we just fall into stuff without knowing quite how we got there.

    sometimes, keeping your ears open is enough. get to know the professors you like. talk to them about their interests, their research. if you feel comfortable, let them know you’re excited about what they’re studying and ask if there’s a way for you to get involved. if you’re lucky, they might like you so much they’ll offer it to you – stranger things have happened.

    i hope you get to do some snazzy annotated bibliographies.



  • profs,  subject POST

    bug your profs!

    Hi aska!

    I’m a first year student trying to decide what my Subject Post would be. So I was thinking about doing a Psychology specialist, Economics major and Statistics minor. They still add up to 20 credits but do you think U of T would let me do such a combination?

    I also have another question: do you think it’s possible to ask professors to round a 79 to 80 after it’s on ROSI?

    Thank you and much love 🙂


    hey there,

    firstly, sorry for the abysmally late response. we’ve been pretty backed up on questions and are finally catching up. FINALLY.

    technically, you CAN do a specialist, major and a minor. it’s not breaking any of the rules around subject POSts (i.e. no more than three POSts total, no more than two specialists/majors). i don’t know how you’re gonna pull of those three POSts and fulfil breadth requirements, but you can give it your best shot. good luck to ya.

    as to your question: it’s definitely possible. do i think they’ll do it? probably not. but hey, you have their e-mail – feel free to give it a shot.



  • grad school,  profs

    s IR PLeasE i jSUt am tr yiNG to wRIt e A NIce E – MAiL

    Hi Aska,

    Let me just start of by saying I’m a little upset that I’ve been here at UofT for 3 years (going on 4), and I’ve only found your site now! SHAME.

    Anyways, I was emailing you today for some advice. I’m going to be applying to graduate school in the Fall, and of course, I will be needing some reference letters. I’m a person that HATES asking people for things, so I’m really not sure how to go about this. There’s one situation that I am particularly not sure about. Basically, there is this professor (probably one of my favourite). Last year I took two small lab courses with him, so I worked very closely with him and he definitely knows who I am. I even spoke to him about graduate school on multiple occasions. Problem is, he won’t be here in September. I REALLY want to ask him for a reference letter, but I’m not sure how to go about it, ESPECIALLY since it will have to be via email. (As a side note, he is the friendliest guy you will ever meet)

    HELP please!

    And thank you 🙂


    hey there,

    see?? this is proof that shamelessly promoting yourself isn’t annoying, because people are SAD, nay, DEVASTATED, when they don’t discover you sooner. on a completely unrelated note, aska also has twitter, facebook, google+, tumblr, and pinterest accounts. flolow4follw o.

    it depends on the deadline for the reference letters, but i would e-mail the prof a few months in advance giving them a heads up and politely asking them for a reference. if you need their e-mail address, you can use uoft’s handy-dandy phonebook.

    as for how exactly to go about it? my usual way is 1) remind them who you are (just in case), 2) write a paragraph explaining how amazing they/their classes are and generally buttering them up 3) then a paragraph briefly explaining your plans and what you need, 4) then a request that they contact you for more specific information if they want to help.

    and make sure to say “dear mr. prof” and “kind regards, suzy” or whatever because if you want a favour from a fancy prof, you have to write a fancy e-mail.

    obviously there is no right or wrong way to go about it, but since trying to write a polite letter to a prof is like jabbing your eyeballs with rusty spoons, it’s nice to have a template.



  • profs

    With Warmest Regards, Sir, Professor, Professor Sir, I am Very Afraid of Writing this E-Mail

    Hi Aska,

    So, really this isn’t so much as question that can be answered by your sleuthing, I’m looking more so for advice. I’m just starting my first couple classes of my 3rd year in Summer, full on in Fall. I also obsessive-compulsively plan my courses for the next two years using the degree planner on ROSI. For one of my majors, I need a 4th year seminar that I WAS planning to take in my 4th year (duh), however by checking the timetable, I noticed it’s being taught next year by a prof who I’ve taken twice before and really enjoy/has been really helpful. I’d like to email him and basically ask about the course difficulty in relation to the 3rd year class I took last semester with him, to make sure I wouldn’t be completely lost if I took this 4th year required seminar in my 3rd year.

    This is where you’re advice would be useful. I know from talking to him last semester that he is not teaching summer classes. Is it considered bad form to email a professor during the summer break? Would you do it? He’s always been great about returning emails/questions during the school year but I don’t want to bug him if this is considered uncouth.

    Thanks! 🙂

    ~ McRudepants?


    hey there McRudepants,

    man, why is e-mailing profs so difficult? i break down every time i try to word an e-mail to a prof. and then they answer back with something like, “sure. – k.” sometimes i wonder why i bother.

    i don’t think it’s rude at all. a lot of profs teach summer classes and are doing other work for the university during the summer, and so they check their utoronto e-mail regularly.

    obviously, some profs might be away studying some rare form of snail in the amazon all summer, but i don’t think it’s inherently rude to shoot them an e-mail.

    also, if you need their (or any other prof’s) e-mail/phone number, you can use the UofT phonebook. it’s a super helpful stalking tool directory for students.

    i hope that helps!



  • prereqs,  profs

    Ah, ah, ah, ah, staying alive, staying alive (and enrolled in a course)

    Hi aska,

    I recently enrolled in a course that was fully capped off after the professor talked to the faculty on my behalf. But now I am worried that I might be dropped from the course as I don’t have the necessary prerequisite. Who checks the prerequisite and who decides to drop students from courses? the Faculty? I asked the administrator and she said as the professor got me in it probably not a problem but that I should ask the professor. I just need information.


    Hey there,

    First off, I want to congratulate you on actually doing a lot of good work to try and figure this problem out. Speaking with the professor is always a good starting point if you’re having a problem with the course.

    Unfortunately, the profs aren’t the ones who decide who stays in a course. That’s the job of the administrative overlords who pull the strings of the university. They are like a cloud that always hovers above us, demanding obedience. All hail it; all hail the glow cloud.


    Basically, if you don?t have a prerequisite for a course, the department that administers the course typically drops you.

    To avoid that, I would go to your prof and get permission to stay in the course in writing. Then go back to the department that offers the course and speak to someone about your situation, with your note. That way, you have concrete proof that you can stay in the course and when the time comes to chop away all those ne?er-do-wells who are trying to sneak into it, you won?t be one of them.

    Good luck, friend.


  • profs

    remove all obstacles, even profs

    Hey aska,
    I was just wondering if there is any way to have a prof removed from a course (perhaps a petition)?? I am in my third year and I have had bad profs, but none at this level. My main concern is that it appears that she does not know the material very well herself and therefore she is not good at explaining it. Lectures are her reading directly off the slides and any examples she gives she posts directly from the book’s solution manual.? She is new instructing the course, and perhaps at being an instructor.? Also, the language is a huge problem as her english is poor.


    Hey Heeey,

    My first reaction is to say “suck it up buck” buuuut NO … power to you.

    I fear that any actions you take are rather time consuming and it might be in your best interest to just switch into another class … which you can’t do because changes aren’t allow for ‘F’ and ‘Y’? courses anymore … wow … aska … get on your A-games here.

    There are multiple factors that could make this process difficult and time consuming. First, the union. Second, if they are a tenured professor their job is essentially gaurenteed for life. Thirdly, if its an individual complaint it might be ignored.

    Your best bet is to get other students on your side and make a formal complaint to the department and/or the faculty. I highly doubt they will take a professor out during the term, unless something insane was happening in your class (ie fire, nudity … flooding)

    If she is a new professor, it might just be that you are the lucky class that gets to be her test dummy (they all had to start somewhere). This will give you the indepedent learning skills required in later parts of your life … probably.

    I’m usually out the door within 30 minutes of a class if I couldn’t understand what the prof was saying.

    Weeeeell ya … good luck.

    forever yours, babe,


  • profs

    Dammit i had that answer first

    Hey Aska,
    i always get really nervous before asking my professor any question. by nervous i mean that my heart pounds and races off while i think about wording the question perfectly. As a result i speak really fast when i finally get the opportunity to ask the question. this occurs regardless if i speak to the professor one on one or in front of the class. I’ve been told i should ask questions even if i don’t really have one to desensitize my nervousness. is this a good idea? what other options/methods are there to ask my questions? any advice would be good.




    It’s like going on a date with a guy/girl you’ve had the BIGGEST crush on in your ENG353 class. Your heart starts racing, your stomach gets that terrible feeling, your hands start to sweat and you know that you are going to start to stutter when they tell you that you look nice.

    I feel for you, you want to answer a question and then that dweeb 4 rows down gives the exact answer you wanted to give.

    I really wish we had potions class like Harry Potter and had Snapes special little book and could just conjure up a confidence potion, but we don’t.

    This just might be a case of doing what scares you the most to become a better person. This does not work in the case of being afraid to jump in front of buses or off of bridges.

    Coming from personal experience, when you start to ask questions, you start to realize why you are scared to ask a question. Whether its being afraid to sounds dumb, that you are going to have the wrong answer, or that the entire class is going to turn around and stare at you. So what if you’re wrong, someone else was thinking the same wrong answer and you both learn from it.
    The odds are you don’t give yourself enough credit and your intelligent thoughts are just what the professor has been looking for.

    Stop thinking so much about what your going to say, it will come out right as you start speaking.

    The next time you’re speaking with one of your professors, tell them your concern. Who better to help you with speaking then the person who stands in front of hundreds of students a day. They have probably been in your place and can give you some suggestions.

    You will enjoy your class so much more if you can participate with confidence.

    I know, easier said than done. But you’ve got this.

    Stay Golden,

  • profs

    Student-Professor relationships are hot

    Hello, I am a 2nd year student doing an immunology major and physiology major. I’m interested in doing research this summer and every application asks for a letter from a professor in my field of study. This is a problem because first year I was in very large classes, and this year I’m in even larger classes (I literally have all of my classes in Con Hall, like EVERY SINGLE ONE) so I don’t really know any professors, and they definitely do not know me. Do you have any advice on how I could go about getting a letter out of one of them. I have a high GPA but I’m not sure that it would help. Thanks so much!


    Whaddup future brown-noser (read on, it will make sense),

    Write a letter as if from them, stalk them, and then get their kid to ask their parent to ‘sign a field trip’ form and secretly slip your letter in so they sign it instead. This might involve bribery.

    OH … or forge their signature (if the cops ask, I was tooootally joking when i said this)

    I would say go in to office hours and chat them up a couple times. Slip in that their subject matter is the most interesting thing you have ever learnt and it has inspired you to do research this summer. Seeings as they are the one that has inspired you, you would love nothing more then for them to be the one that writes the letter for you.

    The only way you can really do this, is to develop a relationship with your prof (no, not that way, it will get you kicked out of school). Go in and have a little chat with them a couple of times. I’m sure you’ll be the only one in the office hours, as no one ever goes to those things.

    Love Always,