MSc student, Kinesiology

Why did you choose to pursue graduate studies at the University of Waterloo?

After volunteering with Dr. Heather Keller for a couple years (2015-2017), I did my undergraduate thesis, research apprenticeship, and eight-month co-op term with her. I got involved in so many impactful projects during that time, growing from the "baby of the lab" into a more experienced student and mentor. Dr. Keller's clear advice and guidance, her prestige in the field, and ability to coordinate a large group of diverse students makes her stand out as a supervisor, and I liked that my experiences with her exposed me to different sectors (e.g., long-term care, community).

Before I started the Master's, an interesting opportunity to study nutrition risk for older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic came up. It was a joint study between the University of Waterloo and McMaster University, and I couldn't pass up this timely research project. I knew I would be able to secure government funding and wanted to get several publications out of my Master's.

Cindy WeiDescribe your research and what makes you passionate about it:

My research question in one sentence: as many older community-dwelling Canadians comply with pandemic countermeasures (e.g., shelter-in-place), does the associated isolation lead to nutrition risk (malnutrition), and does it change over time?

To answer this question, I phoned older adults once every three months for a year during the pandemic and used a validated nutrition screening tool to identify which factors (e.g., loneliness, resilience) affected nutrition risk. I'm writing two papers: one cross-sectional (baseline only) and one longitudinal (looking at change over a year).

I'm a data nerd, I love verifiable facts, and I love to write! I like to document mundane things in my life and mess around with numbers. As someone who is data-minded, I'm interested in learning about trends. This project was right up my alley because my undergraduate thesis had a very small sample size; my Master's research has 10x the participants! I'm happy to be working with a larger dataset and have learned, independently, more than I'd thought possible.

Tell us about where you are from:

I grew up in Coquitlam (kʷikʷəƛ̓əm - Kwikwetlem First Nation), British Columbia, and moved to Waterloo in 2015 to start my undergraduate degree. I did my BSc in Honours Kinesiology with Co-op and graduated in 2020. For the aforementioned co-ops, I worked at the Toronto Health Centre, taught anatomy and physiology at Centennial College (which you can read more about here), and did research in Dr. Heather Keller's Nutrition and Aging Lab.

What is the best part about being a grad student?

I love the freedom and power I have in managing my own time. As someone who is dedicated to making schedules far in advance and creating detailed action plans, the flexibility I have as a grad student is wonderful. I enjoy being trusted with organizing my own systems and time in a way that makes me the most efficient and practical student. I like the communicativeness that being a graduate student requires and being able to work with top experts in the field is an honour.

What activities, groups, events are you involved in?

I am Treasurer for the Symposium on Aging Research, a one-day meeting that strives to bring together students, faculty, and community members from across disciplines and with a variety of interests to present, dialogue, and learn about current research related to aging.

I'm also a member of the Waterloo Aging Network for trainees.

What campus services have you accessed?

Having applied to numerous major national and international scholarships, I am a major advocate for the one-on-one Writing and Communication Centre (WCC) sessions. Mary, Jane, and Amy (who no longer work for WCC) have been tremendously helpful in assisting me with putting my abstract ideas onto paper and structuring them appropriately.

I'm also in the Physical Activities Complex (PAC) all the time! I use the studio space and the fitness centre, as well as the Columbia Icefield (CIF) arena. The hours are great.

University of Waterloo's Tutor Connect portal introduced me to my statistics tutor Jose Avilez, whose tips always steer me in the right direction when it comes to statistical decision-making. I'm so thrilled to have found such a helpful tutor because his advice has truly expedited my analysis process. Prior to being connected to a regular tutor from Tutor Connect, I worked with several PhD students from the Statistical Consulting and Collaborative Research Unit. I appreciated the flexibility of this service, and overall, recommend to all my friends and new students that they take advantage of free services like these.

I am also starting therapy TOMORROW morning! I'm very much looking forward to meeting my therapist and having my first appointment, as I've been on a waitlist since mid-December. So, I can't quite say that I've accessed this service already, but I will be sitting in Needles Hall in <12 hours!

How do you spend your free time?

You can find me at PAC's Studio 1 several times a week, where I guide hour-long yoga classes for all levels (on behalf of the University of Waterloo Warriors Recreation). Additionally, I teach virtual movement breaks for the WCC productivity groups. I spend my free time--and too much money--on bubble tea and skincare. I also have a freelance job as a ghostwriter for a motivational speaker, which I think is very cool!

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Gong Cha at University/Phillip has the best milk tea in the campus region (including Chatime, Sweet Dreams, Coco, and The Alley), so it's 100% worth taking a little walk there. In summer 2021, I did a scientific experiment where I tried all of their milk teas with the same sugar, milk, and ice level (yes, controlled experiment here, albeit unblinded). Since then, I've never gone to any shop other than Gong Cha.

Students hear about burnout and wellness all the time, but it is worth repeating: self-care is everything. It truly makes you a better student overall. So, do that face mask! Light those candles! I set strict sleep boundaries and no-phone boundaries, and make sure there is plenty of time in my schedule for cooking regularly and exercising every day. Moving my body gives me a physical, mental, and cognitive boost and I strongly believe that even a little bit of movement is better than none at all.

What are your plans once you finish your education?

I'm taking a year off, during which I will publish papers from my Master's thesis and teach yoga/fitness virtually. I'll also ponder the PhD, though I'd only do it with a solid plan and a big scholarship. I'm also going to road trip across BC and Alberta with my family.

What are some of the challenging aspects of being a graduate student and how do you address these challenges?

Being a graduate student, particularly during COVID, can be isolating. On top of that, social media (specifically Twitter) can feel overwhelming and depressing. I find that Twitter can make me feel like I am not working as hard as everyone else, that I'm not as professional as other scholars, or dedicating as much time as I "should" to various tasks. My lab organizes very casual group socials. Every Friday evening, we have a Zoom event called "Do Things and Chat" where we just kick it from the comfort of our own homes. Usually, I'll do my resistance band exercises from my yoga mat and my labmates will stretch, and we laugh about non-research life things.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share that is interesting about yourself?

I tried not once, but twice, yes 2/2 of my lifetime opportunities, for the Rhodes Scholarship. In both 2019 and 2021, I was selected as the University of Waterloo's representative to apply, and both times was rejected on the provincial level! On a non-academic note, I used to skate on Waterloo's varsity figure skating team, I love to cook and bake, and cephalopods/cnidaria are my favourite animals (so much so that I used to work at the Vancouver Aquarium!).

Country of origin: Canada

Domestic or International: Domestic

Academic stream: Research

Full-time or part-time: Full-time

Research supervisorDr. Heather Keller

Graduate student awards held: CIHR (2020-2021) and OGS (2021-2022)

University of Waterloo