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Believe nothing, question everything and never stop!

When I remember my days as an undergrad, I feel the good old nostalgia of those days when my friends and I gathered in the faculty cafeteria to prepare tests, homework or anything else. However, the challenges are quite different now. Back then the answers were almost absolute. If you were able to read the book and manage to improve your ability to solve logical problems, you were on the other side of the river. During a graduate research, who can say if something is correct or not? Of course, your supervisor (an expert in the field) must have a strong opinion about a subject, but if you find evidence rejecting his/her hypothesis, then who else can give a precise answer? In my own field, there are many questions that nobody has really answered, while some researchers publish papers with vague explanations to incredibly complex phenomena. And inside this whole chaos reside the real beauty of science. Many times we simply have no clue of what is happening. And our sole weapon was created a thousand years ago.

Photo by: @lyly.man #gradlifemcgill
“…after a close room, what hurts them most is a dark room, and it is not only light but direct sun-light that they want… People think that the effect is upon the spirits only. That is by no means the case. The sun is not only a painter but a sculptor.” Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing, 1860.

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Don’t Talk So Good, Not Dumb.

By N. Zelt

Ever speak with someone and not understand a single word they say to you? Then their incomprehensibility leaves you feeling like an idiot, and the other person treating you like one.  Trouble communicating is a failure of both parties, not just the confused one.

Being a student at McGill gives me countless opportunities to interact with people from a plethora of diverse backgrounds. And while English may be an official language in many countries, only a little more than 5% of the global population actually speaks it. Even fewer than that speak English as their native tongue. The result: there is no small number of people in this world who don’t speak English, or don’t speak English well. That’s not even considering that we live in Quebec, where 80% of the population are Francophones. (more…)

Societies? A brief comment about Student Memberships

During a conference, an individual with pamphlets will approach you talking about the incredible opportunities you can get when acquiring a student membership for the “(insert discipline here) Canadian/American/International Society”. He/she will tell you that for a yearly fee, you can get access to incredible awards and contacts for your future professional life. However, you should be careful when selecting on who are you going to invest your precious stipend. In my case, I was somehow suspicious about spending any money on something without any immediate benefit. But after a year, I found interesting things. It is important to note that my personal experience is limited to Engineering societies, but some points could be shared with other disciplines. Here are the benefits that I know first hand:

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Publier son mémoire, c’est possible!

Camille Robert // Academia

L’automne dernier, j’ai fait la connaissance de Camille Robert, historienne et étudiante en pédagogie de l’enseignement supérieur à l’UQAM. Quand j’ai appris qu’elle faisait des démarches pour publier son mémoire – «Toutes les femmes sont d’abord ménagères » : Discours et mobilisations des féministes québécoises autour du travail ménager (1968-1985) – j’ai été vraiment impressionnée! Comment publie-t-on le fruit de ses recherches?

Quel est le sujet de ton mémoire?

Mon mémoire porte sur les discours et les mobilisations des féministes québécoises autour du travail ménager. Par travail ménager, on entend généralement toutes les tâches d’entretien du logis et de soin des personnes formant l’unité familiale.

Dans mes recherches, j’ai voulu expliquer comment les féministes se sont appuyées sur le travail invisible exécuté par les femmes pour formuler de nouvelles revendications. Au début du XXe siècle, le travail des mères et épouses au sein du foyer a servi de levier pour obtenir certains droits, par exemple le droit de vote. Mais c’est surtout à partir des années 1970 que l’enjeu du travail ménager devient central dans le mouvement féministe. Plusieurs féministes y voient la source de l’infériorité des femmes dans plusieurs sphères de la société… Par exemple, le fait que les professions traditionnellement féminines (enseignante, éducatrice, secrétaire, infirmière, etc.), qui sont en quelque sorte des prolongements du travail ménager, soient sous-rémunérées et dévalorisées. Dans mon mémoire, j’examine également les différentes avenues de reconnaissance du travail ménager proposées par les féministes : salaire au travail ménager, socialisation du travail ménager et réformes gouvernementales.

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Solidification of a story

Gradlife Instagram photo by @steezsister

McGill Gradlife Instagram photo by @steezsister

 

Literally, the word “solidification” means making or becoming hard or solid, making stronger. I like to think of this word as a phase change, like from water to ice, or from magma to crystals or marble. The story that I have told so far in “The beginning of a story” and “Successes: the story continues…” has a liquid status that this text aims to solidify. A character without name will get one, a spatial location will be drawn around his body, a past will carve out his shape throughout the page. (more…)

Study better, not harder.

By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt

Finally, a graduate student. Bet that means I don’t have to study anymore, right? Bet that means I don’t have to know huge amounts of information by specific deadlines, right?. . .Right? Damn.

Fine, but if I still have to know things then I should at least learn things the right way. I read a lot of journal articles, there must be a literature on the best ways to learn things. Luckily, people study studying! So, let’s learn a little educational psychology. (more…)

Being digital humanists….

McGill GradLife instagram photo by @lyly.man

McGill GradLife instagram photo by @lyly.man

Before coming to McGill, I did not know what the expression Digital Humanities means. Now, one year and a half after, I’m focusing my research on this field. I presented it at the last Digital Humanities Showcase that this year took place at McGill on January 26th. It was not only an occasion to share my work with other scholars, but also an example of how this field has become paramount for the curriculum of any graduate student.

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How to make networking work for you

Photo by Flazingo Photos (https://www.flazingo.com/) via Flickr

Photo by Flazingo Photos (https://www.flazingo.com/) via Flickr

All good things come to an end. By that I mean, one day, when school is over, we must enter the real world. For me, this day may be sooner than I’d like to admit. The job search has begun, and resume building has taken over much of my time. One question that I’ve been asking myself for some time now is: What is the best way to find the right job for ME? Well, one option is through networking.

Ah, networking. Many people say to do it, but HOW do you do it? How do you actually make it work for you? Here are a few things I’ve learned about networking along the way, and some tips I’m using to (hopefully) become successful in this job searching process!

Firstly, attend events, and introduce yourself. Some people are bad with names, and some people are bad with faces – but giving them the chance to meet you in person will increase the likelihood that they remember either your name or your face, and ultimately actually remember who you are. After every networking session, no matter how informal, send a follow-up email to thank them for their time. If you specifically spoke about employment opportunities, you can include a cover letter in this email as well. You need to give them something by which they will remember you, something that makes you stand out. By increasing your chances to be in contact with them, you’re doing yourself a favour by staying in the front of their minds.

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To the Conference!

Conference! Those glamorous days when we can wear a nice suit and demonstrate what are we made of in front of dozens of researchers. It can go pretty well and be a good chance to meet new people or make new friends! However, the preparation is essential to achieve your most ambitious plans. Why am I saying this? Well, let’s say that you don’t want to end up stranded in Tijuana on your next travel to a conference. Believe me, you don’t. My first huge conference was on a beautiful beach in the Pacific Ocean, but because of my poor organization, the things went pretty bad the whole trip.

Sunset

Photo by Luis Villegas Armenta

What did I learn? Let me give you a hand:

  1. Always arrive one night before your presentation if you are planning to arrive by plane. You never know when the weather will look for some fun.
  2. Investigate more than one way to reach the conference hotel. Sometimes the roads can be blocked by a construction or maybe the sea just decided to swallow them (as in my case).
  3. Make sure you have a way to pay for everything you could need (extra cash, debit). It would be a shame if your credit card gets blocked out of nowhere (again, my case).
  4. Find a way to contact the conference staff in case of any complication.
  5. Upload your presentation to a cloud storage. USB´s gets lost just too often.
  6. Bring extra clothes. Always.
  7. Finally, have some fun! Even if something bad happens. At the end, you will always remember the beautiful sunset you saw while eating cold pizza on the beach.

Good luck with those abstracts!

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…)

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…)

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. 

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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.

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.

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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.

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…)

Conferences & Conferences…

 

Photo by a tiny conference organizer (Paolo Saporito)

Photo by a tiny conference organizer (Paolo Saporito)

In any language of this world, Graduate Life’s translation could easily be “Conferences”. Conferences here, conferences there, doesn’t matter who you fero cum or you want to confer (for those of you who understand Latin)…this is a word whose echo stressed, stresses and will stress most of our readers. Then, if you are one of those who have ever wondered “confer…hence?”, you may want to have a look at this post, where I’m going to share with you the amazing experience of being not a speaker, not a presenter, not a panel spectator who struggles to get more free-food than the others, but a conference organizer, the most grey, banal, yet amazing figure in this world of weird translations.

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Grad School! But then what? (Part 2)

Photo by @aleksbud / Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @aleksbud / Instagram @gradlifemcgill

A couple weeks ago I expressed some of my anxiety about my future career plans, my decision to explore my options other than a post-doc and a Career Development Day I was organizing. The event was a rousing success! (I might be a bit bias.) Organizing the event was a learning experience in itself and I’ll talk more about my experiences working with BGSS in a future post but here are the 4 top things I learned from the event.

1. Know what is important to you.
This was an exercise from the Individual Career Planning workshop run by CaPS. Basically you make a long list of different values you might look for in a job (ie. work-life balance, high salary, security, flexibility, problem solving etc.) You take these and put them into 3 piles; needs, wants and neutrals. Then you take your “needs” and order them from most to least important. When you really sit down and think about it, you might be surprised by what aspects are the most important to you, I know I was. Once you have your list you can see patterns and maybe associate them with certain careers. Better yet, give it to a friend; they might see things in there that you can’t. This activity really helped put things into focus and is allowing me to look for careers that will fit with who I am.

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Applying to Grad School: An overview

When I think about how uncertain and nervous I was about applying and beginning grad school this time last year, I always give out a loud laugh, brimming with relief. As an international student, I had to think about how many universities I need to apply to (the application fees are pretty high), whether I was qualified enough for each of those (the level of study/syllabi are completely different), and how I was going to manage my finances (I still convert prices from dollars to rupees and moan about how costly food is in Canada). Taking a loan is a pretty big deal, especially when the loan amount is huge and you’re unsure whether you’ll get a job right after grad school. In my case, since I wanted to get into a biological sciences field with the intention of doing a PhD after, I had to think twice. Do I take a loan of almost 40,000 USD for two years, and do a PhD after? How could I repay it on a PhD salary? More importantly, will I even get into a university? (more…)

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