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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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Small World: Conference Season Begins

Last week I attended the Genomes to Biomes meeting, held right here in beautiful downtown Montréal. This was the first ever joint meeting of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution-Société canadienne d’écologie et d’écolution (CSEE/SCEE), the Canadian Society of Zoologists-Société candadienne de zoologie (CSZ/SCZ) and the Society of Canadian Limnologists-Société canadienne de limnologie (SCL). A lot of acronyms for one meeting!

So what does one do at a scientific meeting? Well, for the most part, you talk.

G2B_Sucrerie

After the talks comes more talking. The closing banquet of Genomes to Biomes, at the Sucrerie de la Montagne, May 29, 2014.

 

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Go Habs… Go!!! An evening (and not just any) at the Bell Centre.

Tuesday. May 28th. 14:12 minutes into the 2nd period, 21,273 go silent. It is the fifth game in the NHL Eastern Conference Final, and the Montréal Canadiens are up against the New York Rangers. In this 14th minute of the second period of the fifth game, the Rangers have tied the game (again), back from trailing 4-1. The Bell Centre is less than amused. And for a moment, the fear – that fear – is back. The fear that the Habs will not, after all, make it tonight. If the Rangers win, the Habs go home – or rather stay home.

"So how do they etch the symbols into the ice?" ...

“So how do they etch the symbols into the ice?” …

 But they didn’t.

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Running Thoughts

A per-kilometer check-in on running the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon for the second time, on May 25, 2014.

Starting Line-      Apparently, there’s a man here running his 728th marathon. He is 88. Amazing.

Kilometer 1-      Yay, crowds of runners! (5min06 sec)

2-      I can’t believe these people woke up to cheer us on. It’s 7AM. Go back to bed. (9:52)

3-      The Rideau Canal is beautifully misty. (14:41)

4-      So I just gotta do this like 10 more times…

5-      Poster reads: “Pain is just a sign of de-feet.” Puns. (23:56)

6-      You know what? I’m not feeling too bad. Surprising given how much sitting I’ve been doing. (28:37)

7-      The sound of so many feet running is spectacular. And a bit frightening. (33:19)

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Let’s talk business

During Winter 2014, I participated in Basic Business Skills for Non-Business Graduate Students (BBS), offered through SKILLSETS. Recently, I sat down with David Syncox, Graduate Education Officer, to learn more about the course.

Could you give me some insight on how the course came about?

It really is a fairy tale story. Two PhD candidates, one from Experimental Medicine and the other from Human Genetics, had the idea of setting up a lecture series on basic business skills. Unfortunately, even though they were part of a student consulting group at McGill, they experienced difficulties in doing so.

These graduate students came to me in 2009, right after SKILLSETS had been founded, and together we created BBS. To their credit, they worked tirelessly to coordinate the series, picking topics, determining the cases, booking rooms, and inviting presenters. During the first session, in Winter 2010, we had 30 students. By Fall 2010, we had 150 people apply for 50 spots. We quickly realized this was going to be a very popular course, and we needed to scale-up our capacity to accommodate students.

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Writes of Passage

"Poetry Reading"  from www.analogartistdigitalworld.com

Café Mariposa is a tiny place located in Notre-Dame-De-Grace. It’s not very conspicuous and from the inside looks like a cozy room crowded with colorful objects. Paintings of a nude woman, with an overtly protruding bosom line the walls of the place. Inside, several tables are assembled together to increase the surface area of interaction for the guests of the Quebec Writer’s Federation Schmoozer. The focus of the event is to celebrate “Montreal Writes” – a writers’ group formed during a workshop by the QWF ten years ago.

I walk into a loud scene of people chatting animatedly, half-full glasses of drink and there is a foot-by-foot area by the door where a piano stands next to a microphone. A guitar is hung on the wall behind the mic, presumably for people who wish to do improv on open-mic nights (I had previously read that this place is notorious for open-mic nights for musicians). As I take a seat far removed from the crowds on a bench, I wait for someone to approach me and ask if I had come for the event but everyone seems so engaged in conversation. Where were the organizers? It suddenly dawns on me that, for the first time in my life, I am at a social event where I literally know nobody. I pull out my cell-phone and pretend to do something important. Occasionally, I glance up to see if anyone had noticed me.

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