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Super commuter: Grad student edition

I recently learned that there is a name for the thing I do nearly every week: super-commuting. Most Friday afternoons, I catch the bus in downtown Montréal and go home to Trois-Rivières for the weekend to see my cats, my home, and my boyfriend. Admittedly, the distance is only about 150km, so I don’t know if it counts officially as a super-commute, but it feels like one to me. It is certainly better than my previous super-commute, which was between Panama and Trois-Rivières, was closer to 7,600km, and only happened every 4-6 months.

 

Everyone’s favourite Friday afternoon.

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 3: Time on Fieldwork Flies – but Brazil Flies Higher. [français]

Les choses pourraient être pires au Brésil...

Les choses pourraient être pires au Brésil…

Les dernières semaines n’ont, au niveau planétaire, pas exactement été joyeuses. Entre Gaza, la Syrie, l’Irak, le Soudan du Sud, et l’Ebola, on s’en retrouve à ne pas vouloir allumer les nouvelles. Mais, caché derrière les flash-infos sur avions perdus et terres débattues, il y aussi du bon! Des développements, souvent invisibles de par leur lenteur, mais qui redonnent un peu d’espoir dans un monde dont on entend si souvent qu’il se désintègre. Pour les déprimé(e)s des nouvelles, et autres curieux, donc: un regard vers le Brésil.

Le Brésil – qu’est-il donc? Le pays du football, de la joie, de la fête? De la samba, du manioc, et de l’Amazone? Ou des favelas, de la corruption, et de l’inégalité? Les journaux pendant la Coupe du Monde avaient du mal à se décider, célébrant un moment les stéréotypes festifs de ce pays “accueillant”, “vivant”, et “dynamique”, avant de rappeler au lecteur que “tout n’est pas rose au Brésil” (ah bon?) et qu’il y a “une face cachée”, et même de la violence, de la misère, voyons-même, de l’injustice!

Le Brésil est, sans doute, un peu de tout ça, et bien plus. Mais au-delà des apparences, soient-elles négatives ou positives, ma recherche ici m’a porté à assister à l’émergence d’un nouveau Brésil, dont le changement, aidé par le haut, s’opère par le bas. Vamos lá!

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The trick to writing

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” ~ Red Smith

Writing

Joost Swarte

Today, I discovered the trick to writing. It’s plain and simple. So plain and simple, in fact, it’ll sound downright ridiculous. But here it goes:

The trick to writing is to write.

Doesn’t that sound absurd? Let me (slightly) clarify.

The trick to writing is to write as if you have no other choice.

This epiphany came from first-hand experience today, as I finally admitted to myself that this is the beginning of the end of my PhD journey. My general introduction was written in the winter (by me, don’t worry) and now I am beginning to produce as many journal-style papers as I can until I’ve conveyed everything worth conveying to the scientific community (I’ve collected a lot of data, it’ll be a while!). Today, I started to write my real papers.

Of course, by “started to write” I mean the process of actually typing strings of sentences onto a page. The “other” equally important process of writing (i.e., reading, annotating, outlining, bulleting, writing half-sentences that I reassured myself weren’t final because they did not contain THE perfect choice of words) had begun a while ago. And between that wonderfully productive time and today, something weird happened – I froze. Something about beginning the actual process of writing is inanely “freak-out-and-denial-worthy”, once you’ve grasped the reality that THIS tangible beginning of a collection of words, graphs and figures is going to be your Dissertation (capital “D” also spells “daunting”) and that you’d better be good at this because this is the beginning of your long career (hopefully) of pushing to publish papers upon papers (hopefully)…There’s an invisible line between the time when you’re ahead of the game and writing is easy because it’s early in the process, and when suddenly your task becomes to write and produce and submit and defend and graduate. Gasp. I recently crossed the invisible line and suddenly writing became less easy.

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Graduate Advocates for Sustainability

What sustainability really means. (Source: http://sustainability.csusb.edu/WhatIsSustainability.html)

What sustainability really means. (Source: http://sustainability.csusb.edu/WhatIsSustainability.html)

Sustainability is often wrongly dismissed as a synonym for environmental conservation and preservation. This narrow definition casts a dangerous blind spot on the economical and social factors that also make up the definition of a sustainable system.

McGill’s Office of Sustainability (MOOS) defines sustainability as “working together toward a shared vision for a flourishing future in a manner that integrates social, economic, and environmental dimensions.” Sustainability is therefore a very broad and inclusive concept.

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To tweet or not to tweet: why use social media?

I’ve recently been bitten by the twitter bug.

 

A little birdie told me.

I’ve had an account for years (Twitter says since 2011), but I’ve only started using the social media platform in the last couple of months. A recent conference here in Montreal had a big social media push, and several of my friends and colleagues are tweeters, so I tried my hand at it. I have since been posting fairly regularly. Not only have I learned that live tweeting is a lot harder than it looks, but I’ve also learned that twitter is a pretty awesome tool. Here are some of the things I think are the most useful about it:

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 2: Half-Time. Fieldwork, fast and slow.

one-does-not-bbraomAccording to rumours, something of importance came to end around a week ago in Brazil. Apparently. People still talk about it in the streets. It must have been a big deal. And indeed it was: after six weeks in Recife, the first half of my time in Brazil has come and gone! (Also: the World Cup). Six weeks full of encounters, experiences and events, which yielded a pitiful two interviews so far, and the half-time conclusion that fieldwork is fun! – and slow. And, also, that things rarely go according to plan, which, as it turns out, is usually all for the better. Tales, then, of winding paths – and of another kind of couchsurfing.

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The Summer is Heating up

With temperatures as high as 32°C and humidity levels above 50%, Montreal sweltering summer heat has finally arrived. When your colleague, back from China, says the weather in Beijing was cool compared to Montreal, you know it’s hot.

What is also heating up is work on the Thesis. The August deadline is looming on the horizon like a heat shimmer. Is it hot outside or is this bead of sweat here for another reason? Let’s just say I haven’t been writing blog posts lately for good reasons.

What is hard about academia is determining where to draw the line in the proverbial hot sand of research. It is clear to me at this point that there is no endpoint. No finishing tape to cross. It is all about the next questions that can be asked and the new spaces that can be explored. The results obtained are never completely different from what has passed before. What is next will not be too far from the present either.

excavating-fossil

Brush away but hopefully not in bad lands
(Source: Jurassic Park – The Lost World)

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 1: “First Steps”. Qui a dit que le Brésil était chaud, cher, et carnivore?

Recife! (État du Pernambuco, Nord-Est du Brésil)

Recife!
(Pernambuco, Brésil)

Comment ne pas commencer un voyage: arriver à l’aéroport avec exactement 4 dollars canadiens dans les poches, pour se rendre compte que les cartes bancaires ne marchent pas au distributeur. Peut-on payer par carte de crédit au bureau de change? Non plus. De toute façon, celles-ci ne marcheraient peut-être même pas, faute d’avoir prévenu la banque du voyage… et je ne sais pas exactement où je dors ce soir. Excellent début.

Les premiers moments en nouveau territoire présentent toujours leur difficultés, qu’une bonne organisation ne peut pas toujours prévenir (sauf – voir ci-dessus). Comment fonctionnent les bus, les banques, la vie? Où vivre, avec qui, à quel prix? Quand jouer le touriste, en prenant son temps pour découvrir les lieux, quand jouer le troubadour, en prenant sa bière pour découvrir les gens, et quand se retirer pour travailler, afin de démarrer la recherche sur les chapeaux de roues? Tant de choix, d’opportunités, et de dilemmes dans ces premiers jours – jours au cours desquels, jonglant entre rêves et réalités, trêves et activités, et fèves [le feijão!] et festivités, j’ai découvert que le Brésil n’était ni si cher, ni si chaud, ni encore si carnivore qu’on ne le raconte. Récit d’un début de voyage.

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Tropical Tribulations, “Pilot Episode”: Airport Ponderings

indexBack in January, I wrote one of my first posts for this blog – titled “Un novo ano, um novo desafio” [a new year, a new challenge] – about how I wanted to start learning Portuguese. Why? Because I was then planning to conduct fieldwork in Brazil, in the Summer of 2014.

Things since then have come a long way. And so have I, since I appear to be sitting in departure Terminal D of Miami Airport, whose walls are plastered with the above banner. For it has come to be! After a Fall semester spent poking in the dark (topic-wise), and a Winter semester full of Portuguese audio-CDs, vocabulary lists (thanks, Anki!), proposal writing, ethics reviews, funding applications, and other shenanigans, I am indeed going to Recife, capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, for three months of fieldwork, on a topic I won’t bore readers with (just yet).

That my fieldwork coincides with the World Cup is, obviiiouslyyyy, sheer coincidence. Bit like a Black Swan. But still: for all those who were worried that this blog would not contain live-reports from “Copa” games, worry no more. I will try to regularly post updates “from the field(work)”, about travel, research, and futebol. But first, boarding calls. Next step, this:

images

ps: for those remaining in (beautiful) Montréal, PGSS will be screening many Copa games at Thompson House.

Big Ideas, Small Talks

KristinaMJohnson

Kristina Johnson, CEO of Enduring Hydro and former undersecretary of Energy
(source: Public Domain)

Small talks are the bread and butter of graduate life. You know, those little pamphlets pinned to billboards across campus? Well, some of them don’t advertise an n’th tutoring service. They don’t advertise a social club, a new search engine or even a “Four year-old computer CHEAP!!!”. No, some of  these pamphlets advertise small talks, in rooms you didn’t even know existed, by people which the unassuming presentation belies their extraordinary background.

On Wednesday May 28th, the McGill Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design held one these conference talks on “Renewable Energy and the role of Engineers”. The talk was given by Kristina Johnson who was on campus to receive an honorary doctorate. She is an incredibly distinguished woman who held many prestigious positions, but who donned her engineering hat for the occasion. Well, that hat and the one of former undersecretary of Energy under Steven Chu during Barack Obama’s first term. Her role boiled down to this: she had to manage a 10.5 billion dollar portfolio of investments in renewable energy with the goal to reduce the United-States’ carbon emission by 83% based on 2005 emission levels by 2050. This is not a small feat.

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