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Vaccines, or A history of skepticism

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @kipunsam.daily

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @kipunsam.daily

I would like to spend just a few words to recommend you to take part in an event that I will unfortunately be unable to attend. As I mentioned in a previous post, sometimes the Osler Library of the History of Medicine organizes events that are free and open to the general public, and that are of historical and scientific interest.
Whether this winter you followed Nick’s advice and got your flu shot or not, during the next event you will be able to join a vernissage about vaccination and its controversies nowadays and in an historical context. I find this topic extremely interesting, especially in an era in which more and more people seem to become skeptical about common practices like vaccination. Either if you are one of those people or you are strong supporter of this kind of prophylaxis, I am sure there will be a lot to be learnt and a good time to be shared.

If you finally decide to go, let me know how it was, and remember… there will also be wine and cheese!

Laura’s Adventures in Montreal: The Opera

Photo by @MustangJoe / @pixabay

Photo by @MustangJoe / @pixabay

Well it’s been a while since my last adventure, but next week I’m off on my next one. This time I’m heading to the opera! Now I know opera is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it gets a bit of a bad rap. Or maybe it’s just people don’t often have the opportunity to experience it. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s more accessible than you might think.

I attended my first opera during my undergrad. It was an university production at the University of Ottawa and a bunch of us went, mainly because we didn’t have other plans and it felt classy. But I was surprised how much I enjoyed the spectacle of it. The music, the vocals, the drama, it was astounding! And thus began my interest in opera. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of performances both here in Montreal and elsewhere.

So, if you feel like checking out an opera, how do you go about it? Well I have 2 recommendations for you; Opera McGill or Opera de Montreal. I’ve seen several performance by both companies and not only were they spectacular, but they both offer student discounts for the budget-conscious grad student. (more…)

What I Learned Last Year

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @aleksbud

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @aleksbud

As I was setting my goals for 2017, I had some time to reflect on everything I learned in the past year. 2016 was a year full of ups and downs, new friends, new experiences, and large milestones. I want to share some of the things I learned along the way, because these are the main themes that I’m taking with me into this semester and beyond.

  1. Things change: Plans, thoughts and ideas change.
    Change is inevitable, so be aware of it and be flexible when it arises. Never let it stop you from moving forward – if you can adapt to your changing circumstances, it may open up new ideas or paths that you didn’t know existed, and you may well be better off in the end.
  2. “You never know unless you try”
    This motto is true in many cases – you never know if you’ll get the job if you don’t apply. You never know if someone is willing to help you unless you ask. The result will either be exactly what you hoped, or you can take the outcome as a learning experience for next time. Simply putting in an effort is a huge step forward, and many new opportunities can arise if you just try. Put yourself out there, and be open to new experiences, because you never know what may happen! (more…)

Make the Most of Montreal – January

It’s the beginning of the year and we all have to give our best to keep up with work and other commitments, but let’s not forget to take some time every now and then to enjoy ourselves and allow us to get through the winter in a better mood and better physical and mental shape!

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @lissajoy

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @lissajoy

- Go skating somewhere cool
I am so excited about skating! I can’t say I am good at it, but I have enjoyed every single time I had the chance to do it with my friends and family. Now, imagine how much more impressive it would be if you could skate in a wood? Well, it turns out that you can! There are two lovely places fairly close to Montreal that I am eager to try out, one in Lac-des-Loups and one in Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, maybe you want to do the same.

(more…)

Proof you should be sleeping at work!

 

By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt

Do you feel tired? I know I’m tired. Did you get enough sleep last night? I know I didn’t.  So what’s there to do? Well,  do you remember the days when you were a kid and you used to nap? (insert something about how awesome those days were). What ever happened to napping anyways? I’ll tell you, you stopped doing it is what happened. Nowadays most people think napping is just for little kids and the elderly, but that’s simply untrue. (more…)

Des vacances? Quelles vacances?

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Oui, la session est déjà recommencée depuis une semaine. Et je n’écris que maintenant à propos du congé du temps des Fêtes.

Congé, c’est un grand mot. J’ai bel et bien rendu tous les examens corrigés en tant que T.A. avant le 22 décembre. Je n’avais pas de dossiers urgents à terminer à Noël. Mais j’avais mes deux enfants avec moi chaque jour.

Ne vous méprenez pas, j’adore passer du temps en famille. Aller faire les courses tranquillement, regarder la Pat’Patrouille (les initiés comprendront!), faire des tours de blocs. C’est amusant, mais reposant, non. Surtout avec les brunchs et soupers en famille où il faut non seulement déplacer la marmaille, mais aussi tout ce qui vient avec (jouets, chaise haute, couches). Et gérer les crises de fatigues. Et ramasser encore et toujours les trop nombreux jouets qui s’accumulent sur le plancher.

(more…)

The next step may be abroad

The picture of Dante holding the Commedia in his left hand is a reproduction of Domenico di Michelino's painting, Florence, 1465.

The picture of Dante holding the Commedia in his left hand is a reproduction of Domenico di Michelino’s painting, Florence, 1465.

 

What the…What is Dante Alighieri doing on GradLife’s Blog???

Dear Graduate Students, maybe this is going to be your last year at McGill, maybe not. Maybe you are graduating and thinking about what you can do after having gone through the Hell of your thesis and finally got outside of it, on the peaceful and lightened sand of Dante’s Purgatory. If that is the case, then you may find this post interesting. Before writing it, I was thinking about what to publish, then I told myself: “Hey, you are an international student and you took one of the most important decision of your life, let’s talk about how you choose where to go and what to do!”. Here it is then, a few words about people and things that may help you in choosing which path you want to take to climb the mountain of the Purgatory. (more…)

If only I was more organized…

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

One of my favourite (but often failed) New Year’s resolutions is to be more organized and better schedule my time. Now this is obviously not a SMART resolution, and to be honest I’m not the most un-organized person, but every year I wish I was a little more on top of things and procrastinated a little less. This is especially true this year as I’m hoping to submit my thesis and there are mountains of work to be done!

So how I am going to be more organized? Well Aleks wrote a while ago her top tips for productivity and I like a lot of them, but I thought I would add a couple of my own. (more…)

Make the Most of Montreal – December

Also December has passed, but I promise next time I will be more timely with some of the ideas and activities that can let you enjoy Montreal every month of the year. Luckily, a couple of suggestions for this past month are valid for pretty much any cold period, so you can take the chance to try them out at some point during the winter, or next year!

Photo by Lidia Della Venezia

Photo by Lidia Della Venezia

(more…)

Successes: the story continues…

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @yogipetals

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @yogipetals

At the end of The beginning of a story, the story was left open on purpose. Hope, possibility, opportunity, chaos, chance were the words that concluded that post, but now it’s time to add chaos to the unfolded life of that character.

The phone was ringing loudly. The noise annoyed him. He answered to just stop it and did not even speak. On the other side of that coded and decoded connection through which a human voice was reaching him, a man was producing sounds with his mouth. The sequence took form and meaning, became denial of purposes and ideas, refusal of something that the guy had sent to the journal whose the man was an editor. You don’t know anything about what you are writing, do you? You should read this and this and this and I will write everything down but your article was so…empty that I preferred to call you to vomit all my disappointment on you. Sounds, meaning and delusion. 

(more…)

International Endurance – Roots

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @d_of_echo3

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @d_of_echo3

Christmas is probably the best occasion to talk about roots. And no, I do not mean beets and parsnips, but those inner roots that characterize all of us, whether you recognize or deny them. I mention Christmas because that day, a few years ago, represented the first occasion I had to go back home from Canada. It also fell right in the middle of the period in which I finally realized how deep rooted are some ideas, values, prejudices, stereotypes too, that is, our cultural background. Without even noticing.
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Do you Change the Ideas or the Way of Thinking?

If you are a graduate student and you are reading this, I am almost sure that you know which role you play in this world as a researcher. We are expected to answer the questions that nobody can still answer in order to improve the quality of human life, in the most diverse ways. However, there is another duty we should convey in our lives; one more discrete but not less important work.

Zorro pescao

 

Photo by Luis Villegas-Armenta

Lately, as I get more involved with scientific work and all my supervisor incentive me to find the ultimate truth behind every statement, I started to do the same with every small thing I find on the internet. This drives me to be more skeptic with many things that were simply unquestionable for me. Unfortunately, if you look at your everyday social media interaction, nowadays some people tend to create all kind of hypothesis and statements about the real world that should worry us all. This could be harmless if we talk about some mean comments in Facebook or YouTube, but if you think about it, in some countries this will be reflected in the population vote, the aversion of people towards vaccines, climate change countermeasures or any other important subject. Even if we are respectful of everyone’s beliefs, we live on the same planet and often country; then their points of view will affect us.

Changing the point of view of people is a very dangerous activity, as sometimes even our own judgment can be deviated from objectivity by our personal experiences. Also, you should not try to make other people think like you. Then, what could be the solution? In my opinion, as graduate students working hard to prove or disprove scientific facts, we can try to make people raise questions about smaller and less important subjects first. If you try to hit the big targets, you will force people to close their minds and see you as another ideological opponent. The idea is to make them question the information whirlwind around them, in a more objective and fact-checked way. For example, is dangerous to use a microwave? The sports drinks are as good as they say?  That post in Facebook is really that reliable? These small things could make people curious about more and more things until at some point, they start to really investigate about important things. The idea is to become a society that takes well-informed decisions and not only goes with some radical website or hate speeches when it comes to big decisions.

In summary, as science emissaries, we must encourage a change in the way of thinking not the beliefs themselves. I hope that in some decades we will reach a point were self-learning and rational thinking, will demonstrate that there is a way to co-exist without boundaries someone else built; boundaries that we accepted just because we were too afraid to learn a little bit more.

Holidays at Home

snow-1918794-2

Photo by jill111 / Pixabay

Like many of my fellow grad students, I travelled home to spend the holidays with my family. I‘m half way though my vacation and things are following the same predictable pattern, more or less. There is the excitement of seeing my parents and siblings, followed quickly by the readjusting to suddenly living with 6 people (I normally live alone). We all open our presents together, play board games and enjoy lots of good food (though this year half of us got food poisoning!). And while I’ve experienced the holiday joy Heather talks about, I also experience the impostor syndrome Angel describes so accurately, especially since everyone knows I’ve been doing cancer research for the last 5+ years. (more…)

Grad School Goal-Setting

Photo by @gradlifemcgill instagrammer @aleksbud

Photo by @gradlifemcgill instagrammer @aleksbud

The new year is almost upon us, and that means it’s almost time to create new year’s resolutions to bring with us into the beginning of January and the following 12 months. Many of us create these goals – exercise more, eat healthier, be happier, submit your thesis – but what is the difference between goals which are achieved and those which are not?

When setting goals, it’s important to set SMART goals. That not only means that the goals should be “intelligent” in the classic sense, but should also follow the acronym: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Following these guidelines will help you formulate and follow a specific plan, and get you on track to making lifestyle or other necessary changes to accomplish your new year’s resolutions.

(more…)

The Impostor Phenomenon

As many other friends, I went back home to enjoy the holidays with my family. This should be a time to rest and enjoy the parties, but if you have been out of home for a while and especially out of the country, all kind of questions start coming from everywhere. “Hey! How is Canada?”, “Is it really that cold?” or “How many more years are you going to be away?” Are the preferred ones. However, the more complicated questions usually are “What are you doing in your Ph.D.?” and, “What do you do with a Ph.D.?” Then you can feel proud for a minute explaining the importance of your research and how we contribute to save the world (well, maybe).

Untitled

Photo by @christinekts #GradLifeMcGill #HappyHolidays #DaysOff #NewbieAtMcGill #christmasisalreadyhere #christmasmodeon #lastdayofexams #cantwait

 

Photo by @christinekts

Some of us could experience a sense of guilt or even fear at some point. Are we really working in something THAT important? Moreover, if it is, am I really qualified to work on it or am I riding an unstoppable bus to doom? Then you start to feel anxious thinking about all the work piling up in the laboratory. This is by far worse than the disconnection problem I mentioned in my previous article (The vacation boundaries and the “Workshop Blindness”) because this time we are dealing with a self-confidence problem. Naijean S. Bernard et al. [1] defines the Impostor Phenomenon as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness in high achievers who are unable to internalize their successful experiences”. In other words, it means that some capable people are sometimes unable to realize how good they really are, feeling that others will point out them as frauds or cheaters. This seems to be a very common problem in McGill graduate students. I discussed this subject during the Grad Connect Cafes (hosted by Campus Life and Engagement and Career Planning Service) some time ago, and I was just amazed how many students were feeling this way. We talked how we are too hard on ourselves, thinking that only our luck or other advantages brought us all the way long.

If you have this problem, I can tell you only one thing we defined there. Many people achieve great things not only because of their natural talent but mostly because they defied their fear of facing bigger challenges. During this struggle, we could feel overpowered by the task ahead, but it does not mean that we are not good enough to deal with it. The only thing to do is to give your best and be confident about your abilities, as not even all the luck in the world would be enough without the sacrifice and the effort you put in your everyday work. So the next time you feel like this in the middle of your turkey sandwich, try to recognize how really good you are and the achievement that being a graduate student represent. Happy Holidays!

[1]          N. S. Bernard, S. J. Dollinger, and N. V. Ramaniah, “Applying the big five personality factors to the impostor phenomenon,” Journal of personality Assessment, vol. 78, pp. 321-333, 2002.

Home for the Holidays

 

Photo by H McPherson

Photo by H McPherson

What does it mean to be home for the holidays?  Egg nog?  Way too much amazing food?  Children and Santa?  Champagne and orange juice in front of the fire on Dec 25?  Stockings filled?  There are the pre-Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve parties, more family on New Year’s Day.  Perhaps some well-earned time away from courses and thesis. That sounds great! Bring it on. Two weeks of blank space seems like an eternity, and leaving it blank is something to relish.

On another note, I think I have already experienced the most poignant moment this holiday.  I invited a fellow grad student over to share Christmas supper with my family on Dec 25, not knowing if she had plans.  My friend was going to order out, all alone in Montreal, family on the other side of the world.  The look of total relief and happiness on her face – priceless. I am quite certain that that moment will be the highlight of my holiday. I am so grateful that I could offer my home to a friend for the holiday.

Wishing everyone a great holiday, and all the best for the New Year.  Enjoy the break!

So you submitted your thesis… What’s next?

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @aleksbud

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @aleksbud

On December 7, I submitted my master’s thesis. All of my blood, sweat, and tears that went into this project – the entire reason I’m in Montreal and at McGill – all finished with the simple click of the “send” button on an email.

The lead up to this moment was quite substantial. Up late the night before (and many nights before that) I was completing revision after revision, formatting change after formatting change, and figure sizing after figure sizing. The day of submission, I had compiled feedback from all of the necessary parties, read it over a few more times, and then all of a sudden – it was a PDF document. It was official, I was ready to submit my thesis.

Creating the email, I had to make sure all of the necessary forms were attached (“are you SURE this is the right version?!”), and ensure I included everyone on the email that needed to receive the submission. I stared at my computer screen for a while. Then, I clicked send.

(more…)

December stresses me out!

Photo by @aliisonw // Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @aliisonw // Instagram @gradlifemcgill

It’s officially mid-December and you know what that means. Snow, slush and exams! It’s the time of year where every coffee shop in a 20 minute radius of campus is full of undergrads and graduate students alike studying hard for exams. Personally, I’m in my last years of a project-based degree, so I finished my course work some years ago and I do not miss it one bit. The sleepless nights, the stress eating, and the caffeine-induced eye twitches are mostly issues of the past for me, but I feel for all of you out there currently in the middle of exam season. It is not fun, but hopefully it will be over for you soon.

Now while I don’t exactly have exams to manically cram for, this time of year brings my own special brand of stress, my annual committee meeting. Now I know not all the departments are the same, but as a Biochemistry graduate student you have to assemble a committee of professors (at least 2 plus your supervisor) that you meet with at least once a year to make sure your work is on track. Unfortunately mine has been pushed all the way to the end of this year.  All things considered, I prefer this annual evaluation to any exam I’ve written but it is still incredibly stressful. Basically it’s a presentation where I show all the work I’ve done over the years and I’m questioned on what I know, what I think and what I want to do next. (more…)

I like to do surveys (like this one)

Lucky me, all the people I study for my PhD are dead a couple of centuries ago. I don’t have to ask them any questions, even if that would be a great help sometimes. Well, all the time, but I can’t. I have to find the answers I need in ancient documents. But some grad students really need to interact with other living humans and ask them questions.

When I studied and worked in communications, I came to understand the value of some surveys. From that time, I almost always answer when someone wants to ask questions for a «good» cause.

The same thing is happening now that I am in grad school. I almost always say «yes!» when somebody needs to do study in order to complete their research. I am even on a waiting list for research about baby’s communication.

If you want to help too, there are quite a lot of surveys you can answer, like this one about Doctoral Students’ Work-Life Balance and Well-Being (psss, you can win 250$ or even 500$!).

How do you find answers to your research’s questions?

Ps:.: I made mistakes? Please, help me improve!

Paper or Not?

Paper or Not?

We occupy the most rapidly evolving age of human kind to date, technology has started to become obsolete or outdated faster than my wardrobe. Big-shots in the technological field predict a fast approaching singularity  of technological advancement; expect that to happen when computers start to design computers for designing better computers. During the interim though, we’ve got what we’ve got in the present, and it’s expensive, so what’s worth your hard earned money? (more…)

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