Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
We've gathered the most frequently asked questions from our current students. Click below to learn more:
1) What is a TCard and how do I get one?
Your TCard is your University of Toronto (UofT) identification for academic purposes. It includes your photo, UTORid, student number and a barcode. It provides access to services and facilities such as libraries, athletic facilities, exams, meal plans, online learning portal, printing services, and more. If you completed your undergraduate studies at UofT, your TCard and number will remain the same.
If you completed your undergraduate studies at another institution, you will need to get a new TCard. Due to COVID-19, there are currently alternative policies in place for obtaining this so please follow the instructions on the TCard website: https://tcard.utoronto.ca/how-to-get-your-first-tcard/
2) How do I get registered on Acorn?
ACORN is University of Toronto's student information service, and a hub for everything you need to manage your student life. In order for your status to change from “Invited” to “Registered” on ACORN, you and your supervisor must fill out the Graduate Education Management System ( GEMS) agreement. This is a form where you fill out your funding information. Our Admissions Officer will send out the link and info to guide you through this before the academic term begins. Until the GEMS agreement filled out and the department has approved it, your status will remain as “Invited”.
For more information about ACORN, check out the following link: https://help.acorn.utoronto.ca/how-to/
3) How do I defer my tuition payments?
To defer tuition fees you need to confirm that you are receiving a stipend. To do this, you and your supervisor must complete the GEMS agreement. This is a form where you fill out your funding information. Our Admissions Officer will send out the link and info to to guide you through this before the academic term begins. Once you have filled out the “student” section, the GEMS agreement will be sent to your supervisor so that they can complete their section. Once both student and supervisor sections have been completed, and the department approves it, you will be able to defer tuition fees in ACORN.
In ACORN, you can defer your fees through the “Tuition Fee Deferral” option on the left-hand side menu.
4) Could you please help me to understand the GEMS agreement
The GEMS agreement is funding commitment between you and your supervisor. This is a document that helps to ensure you will receive the baseline stipend payment for the upcoming academic year. On the agreement itself, you are required to provide information regarding where your yearly stipend will be paid from. This could include a current grant that your PI has ((e.g. CIHR), the site of administration paying your stipend (e.g. University Health Network), or the type of payment schedule that your PI has agreed to pay you (e.g. biweekly instalments of your stipend spread over the year). This is all information to discuss with your supervisor before filling out the agreement.
Additional information that will be requested on GEMS: If you have secured any grant funding yourself for the upcoming academic year.
Some more general information, including student # and your site of research will also be required. See the link below for a resource that includes some FAQ about the GEMS agreement https://www.glse.utoronto.ca/graduate-education-management-system-gems
5) I am currently looking for a supervisor, am I too late? Any advice?
There is still time to find a supervisor, but it is difficult these days because a lot of research funding is in limbo/ research foci have changed because of COVID. It is important to keep in mind the type of research you interested in. Perseverance is key.
The IMS website has a Faculty Directory where you can search by research area or “Theme” and then by type of research or “Platform” https://ims.utoronto.ca/faculty-search/
Do you have previous research experience? This is something to highlight when contacting prospective supervisors. Emphasize your skills and training. Try to add details about the papers you read from each lab. That way, faculty will see that you are interested in their work, keen and take initiative.
Good luck in your search!
6) Why should I apply to scholarships even though my stipend is paid by my dissertation supervisor?
Full funding must be provided by your supervisor for the duration of your graduate program [2 years for MSc; 5 for PhD and 6 for PhD (direct entry) and those transferred from their MSc]. Students are encouraged to apply for scholarships as they are excellent practice for your science communication skills to explain your research plan to both general and professional audiences. When assessing your own research from the perspective of reviewers, you can see (and hopefully) address weaknesses in your proposal and have opportunities for self-improvement. In addition, successful students receive an additional top up to their stipend.
Having awards on your CV is also helpful, and your supervisor will always appreciate being able to use some of the funds previously going toward your stipend for other purposes.
7) How do I find scholarships to apply for?
There are many scholarships available for graduate studies. Each award has a different deadline and varying criteria for its application.
Some of the most common awards include: OGS, QEII-GSST, CGS, and OSOTF.
The SGS website has a list of many of the available awards, https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/awards/, as does the IMS website.
The IMS has a Student, Faculty Affairs and Awards Officer who sends out notices of available awards, their selection criteria and deadlines, on a rolling basis. This is another way to know what awards are available. Be sure to keep track of the application deadlines, as they will come up faster than expected.
8) Where are scholarship deadlines found?
As mentioned above, the SGS website (https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/awards/ ) has a list of many of the available awards, including the award category, who is eligible (domestic or international students, and MSc or PhD), and application deadlines.
Additionally, the IMS has a Student, Faculty Affairs and Awards Officer who sends out notices of available awards, their selection criteria and deadlines, on a rolling basis. This is another way to know what awards are available. Be sure to keep track of the application deadlines, as they will come up faster than expected.
9) Can I apply for Teaching Assistant (TA) positions as a graduate student at Institute of Medical Science (IMS) and are we encouraged to apply?
You can apply for TA positions. Since IMS does not have an undergraduate department, IMS graduate students can apply and have successfully attained TA positions at other undergraduate departments. These include, but are not limited to, Human Biology Program, Cell and Systems Biology, and Physiology. For deadlines, please check with the respective departments and programs.
Students are encouraged to discuss applying for TA positions with their supervisor. Being a TA is an excellent opportunity to strengthen education, communication and leadership skills, but the time it takes to prepare adequately, lead tutorial/laboratory sessions and mark assignments will take time away from conducting research. Please consult your supervisor before applying for these positions to ensure that they are comfortable with you applying.
Programs and Courses
10) What is a Program Advisory Committee (PAC) and how do I choose members for my PAC?
As the name suggests, the PAC is composed of various faculty (along with your thesis supervisor) with the objective of guiding your research project, as well as testing your scientific competency and progress. To remain in good academic standing, IMS students are advised to have a PAC meeting every six to eight months. When choosing PAC members, consult with your supervisor. The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) has strict guidelines on the potential member’s status at University of Toronto as well. Students can take initiative, consult senior graduate students for suggestions and create a list of potential PAC members to discuss with their supervisor.
11) What courses can I take?
The IMS department offers many different courses, the descriptions of which can be found here. If the topic you are looking for is not covered by IMS courses, you may inquire about taking courses with another graduate department, but you will need approval from both departments to do so. For more information, you may contact the Curriculum and Office Administrator email@example.com or see Courses in the Main Menu.
12) What is MSC1010H and do I need to enroll in it?
MSC1010H is a required seminar course for all IMS graduate students. You will be enrolled in it automatically in your first year and receive information about the lecture schedule. For more information, please visit https://ims.utoronto.ca/courses/msc1010y-1011y/
Modules will be discussed in the MSC1010H Seminars.
13) Should I be discussing courses with my supervisor before signing up?
Yes, you should definitely discuss courses with your supervisor. The courses should be selected to support your specific research project and complement your existing knowledge and skills.
The IMS has specific course requirements that must be satisfied in order to graduate https://ims.utoronto.ca/courses/course-requirements/
For MSc candidates, you must take an equivalent of one full course equivalent (either a full year course or two half-year courses).
For PhD candidates, if you enter into the program with a recognized MSc degree, you will need to take one full course equivalent (either a full year course or two half-year courses).
If you are transferring from the MSc program or are coming in through the direct entry program, you will need to take two full course equivalents (two full-year courses, 1 full year course and two half-year courses or four half-year courses).
14) Do IMS courses or modules often, or ever, become full?
Yes, IMS courses and modules do fill up, but it really depends on the course/module. As mentioned above, talk to your supervisor about which courses you should take, and enroll early.
15) Is there a best time to complete my course requirements?
No, there is not a best time. This is largely dependent on student’s and supervisor’s preferences. However, based on past experience, students are advised to finish their course requirements within the first year of their program if possible, so they can dedicate the remaining portion of their time for research. Students may need to take additional courses depending on their requirements (e.g. as part of PhD program/collaborative specialization).
16) What are Collaborative Specializations, and do I need to enrol in them to graduate?
Collaborative Specializations are programs that a student can join in adjunct to their degree program at the IMS. Joining one of these programs is not mandatory for graduation, but the programs can enrich your graduate education experience as an IMS student. Please note that some Collaborative Specializations may have additional requirements that must be fulfilled in order to successfully complete the program and have it added to you diploma.
17) As a research/thesis-based graduate student, are there defined work hours or hours that I need to be at the laboratory or clinic?
No, this is largely based on your project, particular stage of the project, and your supervisor’s preferences and/or expectations laid out at the time of starting your research. For example, a student working on a basic research project will undoubtedly spend much more time at the lab compared to a student managing a clinical project. A student in the middle of the thesis project will likely spend more time at the lab or clinic compared to a student at the start of the project (when doing literature review) or end of the project (when writing manuscripts or thesis). Please discuss this with your supervisor so there is a clear understanding of their expectations.
18) Should I attend conferences as a graduate student? How do I secure funding for this?
Yes! Conferences and scientific meetings are an important part of graduate school and training as a scientist, as you can present your findings to colleagues from other regions of the country and /or globally. In addition, this is an excellent opportunity to learn about the newest findings in your field and network with leaders at the forefront of your research field.
It is recommended that you ask your supervisor for a list of conferences to attend. For sources of funding, the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) Conference Grant and departments at respective research institutions offer various travel funds that can cover part of your expenses. In addition, the organizing committees of conferences often offer travel awards that registrants and attendees can apply for. If you are the primary author of the work being presented at the meeting, your supervisor will be able to offer funding for travel (depending on the resources available and the number of meetings you are attending).
Other resources including student groups and social media
19) Is there an IMS Facebook group, or something similar, where students can ask each other questions?
The IMS Student Association (IMSSA) has a social media presence, but there isn’t really platform to ask questions. Go to the IMSSA website to add them on social media: https://ims.utoronto.ca/imssa
The best way to get your questions answered is by joining the IMS Peer-to-Peer Mentorship Program. The program hosts events during the academic year for mentees to ask their questions to a diverse group of mentors. The program also pairs 1st yr IMS students with a Mentor for one-on-one discussions.
20) How can I get involved in extracurriculars during my degree?
The IMS offers many opportunities to enrich your graduate experience with extracurriculars. More information about these can be found on the IMS website, but some examples include IMSSA (Institute of Medical Science Students’ Association), Raw Talk Podcast, IMS Magazine, IMS Mentorship Program and U of T Talks. You will begin to receive emails from the IMSSA Communications Team (commims), SGS and other U of T student groups about campus events and activities when the academic year starts.
21) I feel lost in graduate school. What are some resources and where can I seek assistance?
The transition to graduate school is challenging. You may encounter difficulties as you navigate through graduate school. At the IMS, depending on the nature of the problem, graduate coordinators and senior graduate students (through the IMS Mentorship Program) are available to provide insight and/or advice. The School of Graduate Studies also has multiple resources to orient students for success, see here. Last, but not least, the student’s dissertation supervisor, senior graduate students in the same laboratory group and fellow colleagues are also valuable sources of experience, information and mentorship. Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a form of strength.