#UofTBTS16: Are you a U of T student with a question? Check out askastudent
They're known as aska, the online persona of the writer(s) of askastudent, a blog that has been answering questions submitted by future and current University of Toronto students for a decade and a half.
Known for its lighthearted tone and helpful responses, the blog primarily serves as a resource for future and current students about academics and student life at the university. But aska has become accustomed to receiving (and answering) queries about anything and everything.
U of T News asked aska a few questions about what it’s like to lead a double life, what students can expect when they submit a question, and any advice they have for incoming students.
What are your names?
aska 1: People call me aska, people call me askastudent, people call me S O U L D E S T R O Y E R, but seriously, I can’t tell you my real name. This is Hannah Montana levels of serious, and I don’t need people to know about my Miley Cyrus side.
aska 2: I prefer to go by “Your Excellency” but it hasn’t really caught on in my social circles.
So what exactly can you disclose?
aska 1: I can tell you that askastudent is a work-study position at Innis College at the UofT. The idea that sparked askastudent is a simple but powerful one: what if students had the tools to communicate openly and honestly about questions relating to the university? askastudent is our answer to that question.
In 1999, the first year that askastudent ran, it was actually a phone service (yep! We’re THAT OLD – aska would be entering Grade 12 now if they were a person). After year one, we switched to an online blog and never looked back. Right now there are two askas, but that’s not always the case. There have actually been fifteen askas since 1999, and it’s a legacy we’re proud of. Previous askas are now film producers, actors, UofT staff, journalists and more.
Our trademark sassy tone is partially a result of the collective student voice that askastudent has naturally developed, and partially a free therapy session for me, personally.
aska 2: Yeah, what aska 1 said. Askastudent is a great place to find people who are in the same boat as you. We’ve amassed thousands of questions since 1999 and it’s likely that someone else has worried about the same thing as you. I think another purpose of askastudent is to convey a sense of JLaw-level relatability and to bring a human touch to advice as opposed to cyborg generated information. I didn’t say that. That was a joke. We don’t have cyborgs yet.
What are the most frequently asked questions?
aska 1: Colleges, colleges, colleges. People are always asking my advice about which college on the downtown campus they should be in. It puts me in an awkward spot because I have no unbiased way of answering that question. I try to explain that there is no ‘best’ college, and it’s all down to personal preference.
aska 2: I’ve only been aska for a couple of months, but so far I would say that the most frequently asked questions are: How do I make friends if I’m an international student or commuter? How do I come back from a bad semester and stay motivated? How do I get into my subject POst in second year if I don’t have enough credits? I’m on a waitlist for residence or a class, will I get in? If we were psychic, we’d probably get a lot more page views.
How long does it typically take to answer a question?
aska 1: If I could write without interruption, I could probably answer a question in an hour flat – research, writing, adding funny pictures, and all. However, aska also works at a front desk, and so it can sometimes take a whole day to get through one question with all the other tasks we do.
aska has the benefit of knowing a lot about U of T just from working at a U of T office, but I do often have to go on Google odysseys or call other offices for help if I don’t have the answer to a question. (I find I’m always calling the UTSC registrar’s office. Sorry, UTSC.)
aska 2: It really depends on my touring schedule. I try to answer questions as soon as I can, but it’s really nice to have another person to answer questions while I’m away touring with my ABBA tribute band.
In terms of how long it takes me to write each answer, I try to do a lot of research and put a lot of effort into making the response as well-informed as possible. It can take a while. A lot of the times, I’ll consult my colleagues for help if I’m not sure how to respond. Believe it or not, we don’t actually know everything!
Can every student expect to hear back from you?
aska 1: We answer every question, and we try to answer within two weeks’ time. askastudent is definitely not an urgent hotline, so if you have a question you need answered that same day, or even within the week, DEFINITELY consult your college registrar’s office for assistance.
aska 2: If they contain super private information, we tend to not post the question on the blog and answer it over email instead. Again, it really depends on my band’s touring schedule. We’re HUGE in Stockholm.
Are there any questions that stand out?
My all-time favourite question, though, is from this Grade 9 student, who was afraid they wouldn’t get into U of T Engineering because they accidentally lit their Axe body spray on fire at school and got suspended for three days. Seriously, just read it. It’s worth your time.
aska 2: Looking at the 'weirdness' category is always a fun surprise. When we say you can ask us anything, we really do mean it, so I guess we’re kind of asking for some weird ones. On the other hand, hardcore keeners always stand out because I’m the complete opposite and can’t imagine what it would be like to have that mindset.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for incoming first years?
aska 1: As a breakthrough star in failure, my advice is: don’t be afraid of failing. It’s natural to be nervous, but try to embrace the uncertainty ahead. There’s nothing you can’t bounce back from. If you don’t get into the program of your dreams, you can try again or find something else that’s a better fit for you. Try to do right by yourself and learn from your experiences, even if other people are telling you you’re not doing the ‘right’ thing because you’re not going the doctor/lawyer/engineer route.
aska 2: Sleep, eat, go to lecture, and don’t forget to have a life. Try to find a balance between work and play, and you’ll have a great time at U of T.
Why should students submit questions?
aska 1: The university is great at providing information, but making the information fun is a way to make it more accessible to people. That’s my pedagogical justification for why I link to so many Sonic the hedgehog memes in my posts.
You should ask us questions if a) you have a question that’s not too urgent and b) you don’t mind being teased a little bit for the good of the website. I hope people understand that it’s all in good fun, and remember that we’re all on this wild U of T adventure together.
aska 2: I just want students to know that there are people out there who care and that you’re not alone. Even though this is technically a job, we do actually enjoy helping people who feel lost. I try to make sure that the asker feels like their question is valid and that I am leaving them with as much information as possible. We genuinely hope that we have helped in some way, shape or form.
Students should write to us if they want to hear advice from an honest, student perspective. Please don’t give up hope if we take a while to respond. After all, we are students too. (Or in my case, an international tribute band pop star). We are trying our best and you will definitely get a response from us eventually.
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