Back to Skule™ 2020 with ChemE student leaders: Nina-Francesca Farac

As the Chemical Engineering Graduate Students’ Association (CEGSA) prepares for the 2020-21 Skule™ year, writer Amanda Hacio caught up with incoming president, Nina-Francesca Farac (ChemE PhD candidate), to learn more about what her plans are for the upcoming Skule™ year, how she’s preparing for the Fall, and how students can get involved in CEGSA.

This is part three of three in the “Back to Skule™ 2020 with ChemE student leaders” series.

Nina-Francesca Farac (ChemE PhD candidate) is the incoming 2020-21 president for the Chemical Engineering Graduate Students’ Association (CEGSA).

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am currently a third year PhD student in the Bender Lab where I study small organic molecules for energy- and light-based applications, mainly organic solar cells and organic light emitting diodes. My parents are Croatian, and I have lived in Toronto my whole life (you could consider me a typical Torontonian). Outside of school, my interests include optimizing my skin care routine (shoutout to Three Ships Beauty  founded by ChemE alumna Laura Burget), bookmarking recipes I have yet to try out, the show Dark on Netflix, and practicing languages any chance I get (I know three fluently).

For students new to ChemE this year, can you tell us about CEGSA and your plans for the 2020-21 academic year so far?

The Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association (CEGSA) is a student-run group that aims to foster a strong sense of community throughout ChemE, maintain a social atmosphere built on friendship and unity among our members, and to promote professional development for graduate students in the Department. With the ongoing and ever-changing situation brought on by COVID-19, we will be focusing our efforts on virtual experiences this year in lieu of traditional in-person events. We will leverage online platforms to not only promote CEGSA-related information and activities but also to host inclusive and fun events for students, faculty, and staff!

What University, Faculty and/or Department resources have you found most helpful to manage the changes brought on by COVID-19 and the pivot to online learning? 

Within the Department, there have been updates made to the ChemE website regarding COVID-19 safety training for those doing research and COVID-19 FAQs for graduate students. Outside the Department, other U of T resources that provide helpful information regarding changes brought on by COVID-19 and/or e-learning include:

Outside of U of T, Manchester University in the UK has created some helpful resources about remote learning I often reference. I also find The Life Scientists’ Guide for New PhD Students to be a very helpful resource!

What advice do you have for graduate students going into the school year? 

My advice is two-fold: ask and stay engaged!

  1. Ask people within your lab group and outside your lab group if you are unsure about something. This could be anything from administrative tasks to what courses to take, how to submit a tuition deferral, research questions, what clubs/student groups/activities are recommended, etc. It is important to take initiative and ask for clarification.
  2. Make sure to attend (virtual) events, join extracurriculars that interest you, and meet/network with people inside and outside of your lab!

What CEGSA events should students look out for? 

Weekly Fika Fridays! This is ChemE’s traditional, weekly coffee breaks held on Friday afternoons and is open to all students and faculty wanting to participate. These generally take place in the graduate student common room (WB247), but they will be online for the time being. The online link will be shared with all ChemE graduate students, so look out for your weekly Fika Friday emails.

CEGSA is also planning to host our annual Welcome Wine and Cheese event virtually this September, so stay tuned for that as well! This will be a great opportunity to meet other students in the Department. CEGSA will also be participating in the Virtual Welcome Back Pub Night on September 17 hosted by GECoS, so be sure to grab your tickets. This is a great opportunity to meet new friends (and old), play some Jackbox games over Zoom, and get a $15 UberEats gift card (while supplies last).

How can students get in touch with you or CEGSA to learn more or to get involved? 

CEGSA has a Facebook and an Instagram page where students can follow us or reach out to us. You can also reach out via email at If you’re interested in getting involved or joining CEGSA, nominations for Vice-President of Student Affairs and nominations for the Junior Executive positions are now open and close on September 21st. The elections will be held on the week of September 21 (exact date TBD). An e-mail detailing the instructions on how to apply was sent out last week, so be sure to check your inbox!  If you are not interested in an executive position, you are always welcome to join as a lab representative or an active member.

I highly recommend ChemE graduate students to consider getting involved with CEGSA and/or participating in CEGSA events—now it is more important than ever to maintain our strong community, but we need you there!