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White Night

(credits: photo - Yunpeng Li, 'giffing' - me

(credits: photo – Yunpeng Li, ‘giffing’ – me)


Sarah uses this

Read on to find out how you get a picture of a brain cell that looks like fireworks...

Read on to find out how you get a picture of a brain cell that looks like fireworks… Brain cell pic by Sarah Konefal. Fireworks pic from commons.wikimedia.org)

In January, Guillaume posted about what he uses to get stuff done.  I’m following that up with my own post about what I use, which will highlight some of the research I am doing right now. This will  include lots of pretty pictures like the one shown here!


Wouldn’t it be great to work and not be paid for it? The dilemma with unpaid internships.


Does that mean you should or should not take the position?
Image credit: Jeff Howard

McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development recently organised the “Young Professionals in Development Forum“, which invited speakers to talk about how they got to where they are in their careers. One thing that inevitably came up were internships. After the event, I heard a student approach one of the speakers to enquire about whether they felt one should take a “good” internship even if it was unpaid. The answer went something roughly like this:

Aaah… this is a tough one. Ideally, you’d want a paid internship, right? But there aren’t that many out there. So yeah, taking an unpaid internship – it’s sort of inevitable. I know it’s not great, but if you can do it, I would not forego the opportunity.”

A fair answer, perhaps, but not one everybody would agree with: in Why You Should Never Have Taken That Prestigious Internship, Al-Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior vehemently criticises unpaid internships:

“In one generation, working for free for people who can pay you went from something laughable, to something wealthy people were doing in a few fields, to something everyone was recommended to do, to something almost everyone has to do.”

Unpaid internships are a salient issue for many students, and any number of my graduate friends have done one of them, including, well, myself. Should we “never have taken that prestigious internship”?


Future McGill Graduate Student?

Photo by Maryna Lesoway.

In the last several weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with prospective students who are interested in joining our lab here at McGill. When considering starting graduate studies, particularly when starting a doctorate, it is important not just to check out the website of your potential supervisor and future lab to see that your research interests line up. It’s just as important to meet your potential supervisor, to check in with the students who are currently members of the research group, and to be sure that your personal styles are a good fit. Starting graduate studies is a decision that will make a big change in your life, and it is important to be aware of issues that could arise during the course of your studies.  After all, you will be working together for the next few years! (more…)

Another day on the slopes! This time in the sun.

Out of all the animals on earth, I’d say humans have come up with the most elaborate and bizarre methods to accomplish the verb “play.” I’d also say skiing and snowboarding are such examples. Fancy equipment on your feet and mechanical chairs galore!

Emilio just shared his skiing adventures. So I also decided to write a report of my day at the slopes yesterday, my first sunny one all year! This post is much less informative, but if you’ve never gone skiing or snowboarding, it might help convince you to try! Minus the part where I talk about the things I lost…



Snowy day atop Bromont

Snowy day atop Bromont

Winter is hard. Cold weather breeds antisocial behavior. The lack of daylight drives down energy levels. And the snow and ice further hamper any activity that requires even a minimal effort. This year, with its record-breaking lows, has been particularly difficult, even in a Winter-friendly city like Montreal.

In an attempt t to stave off the S.A.D.s (ie., seasonal affective disorder), this year I decided to join the SSMU Ski and Snowboard Club.


Problematic Problem Statement

One of the biggest challenges for someone starting to do research for the first time is finding a good problem to work on and the subsequent challenge is to define it clearly. Obviously, the next step is then to execute on it, but let’s not worry about this today!

I had a hard time coming up with a problem statement or even problem area in my own research. In fact, I am in my second year as a master’s student and only in the recent weeks have I really latched on to the kind of problem I want to tackle for my thesis. There is still some work on the defining side of things, but at least the core nugget is there.

There are various reasons for this difficulty especially at the master’s level: limited time, limited ability, shallow knowledge of the field, youthful inexperience… For me one of the challenges was and is the fact that problems I can think of have already been solved in a more general and probably more accurate way than I could have hoped to produce. One then needs to go beyond that.

Trials and errors are part of the process. I am very much a visual thinker and so I imagine this process as finding the weak spot or concavity among a three dimensional web of works in one’s area of interest. This is where contributions can be made. It is then a matter of seeing if you can tie links around that spot to strengthen it. I see PhD thesis as adding a new node and a master’s one as maybe modifying an existing node or reconfiguring some links.

A web of ideas : an early snapshot of the internet (Under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License)

A web of ideas : an early snapshot of the internet
(Under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License)


“No Mountain Too High, No River too Wide”

From www.lastlemon.com, TrueLoveIs Doodles

From www.lastlemon.com, TrueLoveIs Doodles

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all you graduate students! Whether you’re in a relationship or single, this is a nice opportunity to do some crafts or bake some cookies for all your loved ones, especially your family, friends and lab mates. In this day and age where courting and long poetic serenades are no longer the norm, it is still worth it to break up with your phone/laptop/tablet for the day (just for a few hours!) and meet up with your loved ones to do some winter activities or simply watch the Winter Olympics together.

However, this might be the perfect time to lavish your phone/laptop/tablet with extra attention if your significant other is miles away from you. The unfortunate reality of being a graduate student is that we often have to travel to get good opportunities, which depend on a variety of reasons such as the field we want to pursue, the funding, the living conditions; maybe some of us decide to go back home to pursue their higher studies leaving behind their loved ones.

Long distance relationships are a special kind of romantic relationships. They often hardly ever show up in the spotlight and women’s magazines don’t usually bring them up. The downside of this is that it makes LDR’s seem less “real” or substantial. In other words, many people have come to refer to them as “promises of a relationship rather than an actual relationship”.


Getting discouraged

Feeling discouraged? Me too! The hauler of a boat, by Honoré Daumier.  Image from wikigallery.org

Feeling discouraged? Me too! And this guy…
The hauler of a boat, by Honoré Daumier.
Image from wikigallery.org

I’m sure it’s bound to happen to most graduate students during their thesis-writing days. It’s a feeling of deep discouragement. One that gets you to your bones, and makes you feel tired in a way that sleep cannot suppress.  (more…)

Qu’en est-il du français à McGill? Un aperçu.

Le drapeau français avant qu’il soit remplacé par la Tricolore après la Révolution. D’éventuelles ressemblances au drapeau du Québec sont entièrement fortuites.
Source: rgbstock.com

Je m’étais, alors que je commençai à écrire pour ce blog, promis d’écrire un “post” sur deux en français. Cette ambition se fondait sur une double motivation: d’abord, celle de faire justice à une audience forcément diverse, souvent bilingue, et en partie francophone. Ensuite, je souhaitais renouer avec la rédaction du français, qui s’est faite rare au cours d’années passées à poursuivre des études en anglais.

Malheureusement, la deuxième motivation a rapidement eu raison de la première, et pas dans le sens désiré: dur de se forcer à écrire en français alors que l’on passe ses journées à lire et à rédiger en anglais. Mon ambition s’est donc bien vite estompée, et mes “posts” ont, jusqu’à ce jour, tous été en anglais. Mais il n’est jamais trop tard! – d’autant plus que Guillaume vient de publier son premier post en français, ce qui m’a encouragé à renouer avec mon ancienne promesse. Mais le français – parlons-en, justement. Qu’en est-il du français à McGill? Est-il pratiqué? Quelle est sa place, de droit et d’usage? Questions linguistiques, questions culturelles, questions politiques même (ou surtout!?) – ci-dessous, un aperçu, forcément personnel.


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