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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…)

Fit As A Bird?

 

By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt

 

I never thought I’d wish that I were a bird, but by the end of this post you might also.

I exercise quite frequently, and though I’ve never been a big fitness buff (pun intended) I still make time to keep fit and healthy. Interestingly, not all species have to do that. Imagine not ever having to lift a finger, yet staying as lean as an Olympic athlete. (more…)

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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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…)

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…)

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.

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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.

(more…)

Read it and Weep

 

H McPherson

H McPherson

The urban dictionary uses the expression “Read it and Weep” in the context of giving someone bad news, especially if that news is in written form. However, I am using the expression in a purely literary sense.  Although I am perhaps more than two years away from even beginning to write my PhD dissertation, I have been reading award winning alternative dissertations.  What I have read are things of beauty. Articulate, exquisitely crafted, rich with colorful imagery, depth and control of relevant theories. Some extend the boundaries of the genre moving between theory, fiction, autobiography, stream of consciousness fragments, poetry, epistolary forms, and bricolage. Some are hybrids that blend autobiography, ethnography, visual, and performative arts. Once upon a time, I did a MSc in plant breeding and genetics.  Quantitative all the way.  Hard science, pure science. Clean, precise. Predictable. Then my head went BAM and that is now all over. The end of my engagement with quantitative methodology. There is something about the depth and richness of context, of the ability to capture what people have to say in their own words, to describe experiences with emotion and depth. Qualitative methods, language – every word carefully chosen.  Every sentence slowly crafted.  A slow crescendo of language and theory building to a denouement, the outcome of a well-crafted story, where secrets are revealed, leaving no loose ends. There is no going back. I have found a new home.

 

Urban Dictionary, November 24: Folx. (n.d.). Retrieved Novmber 27, 2016, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/

Late Entry: When is the right time to do a PhD?

 

Photo:  H. McPherson

Photo: H. McPherson

I have not counted the number of times that someone has asked: So why are you doing a PhD? The question does not stem from genuine interest in my proposed research, nor does it come from an interest in my possible future career aspirations in academia. Rather, the question arises because I am clearly old(er). Over 50 older.

In our department (DISE), the age of doctoral students is more or less 1/3 under 30, 1/3 between 30 and 45, and yes, 1/3 between the ages of 45 and 60. No one asks the under 30 crowd why they are doing a PhD. It is understood that they wish to challenge themselves, or they feel a driving force to explore and learn new things, to improve their abilities to understand and solve problems, and they all hope to find a career in academia. This is obvious, and to ask this demographic why they are doing a PhD would be superfluous. The trajectories of 30 – 45 group are similar, with the added experience of engaging in the job market for a number of years, and a sense of certainty that research and academia are truly where they want to be. Again, this is not questioned.

And that leaves the last third. Myself and the other late entrants. So here is why we are doing a PhD. We are all in the last 10 years of our career. We all have unanswered structural questions about how things are organized in our respective professions, and so back to school we went. I think the main characteristic we all share is curiosity and a sense that completing a PhD will be personally fulfilling. Our careers are rewarding and we are happy in our careers. We are all working full time or part time, and are pursuing a PhD full time. But there is that intangible something that meant, for all of us, that this journey had to be initiated. This was made possible because all graduate courses in the Faculty of Education are offered at night. Which implies that the nature of education, being an applied discipline, genuinely values/needs PhD students who possess a clear intellectual and academic thread to their portfolio that is combined with previous work experience in the field of education.

Each age group in our program has unique strengths that we bring to our studies. The under 30 group has no responsibilities, no money, and a clear and concise vision of where they are going. Late nights are just late nights. The 30-40 age group bring experience to the table, and a drive that comes from having done something else and knowing precisely why they are pursuing a PhD. Many of the students in this demographic have young children, and are juggling job, family, and school. Hats off to them – their juggling expertise has the respect of all. Finally, the late entrants have adult or almost adult children, which means free time, a fulfilling careers, and a thirst for answers. Just please don’t ask us, “So uh, WHY are you doing a PhD?

When is the right time to do a PhD? Well, when the time is right for you. Anytime is the right time. Enjoy the journey and embrace the roller coaster ride. Just do it!

Smoothing Out The Grind.

PodCast logo

Part of being a graduate student is liberation! Finally, free of from the shackles of introductory undergraduate classes that are accompanied by the colossus that is studying. Regrettably, being a grad student also pins you into the category of very cheap labor. I personally felt an annoyance of three parts the day I found out that my assistant, a summer student, is paid better than I am because he is paid by the hour.

Though I cannot speak for all graduate students, I do know that for most of my fellow laboratory trainees there exists robots capable of easily automating the larger portion of the bench work we do. That being the case, I am old friends with repetition, a slow and torturous soul-killer that is known to many others as well. Of course repetition is our friend in many ways, helping to squeak our n-values towards significance, still it is also the bane of maintaining an interesting existence.

In my valiant attempts to combat the trials of monotony I have spent a good deal of time sampling the various options available to aid me in battle. Of course the go-to for most people is music, which is all well and good for a lot of people but I have grown to find it disappointingly unstimulating in the long-haul. So what was next for me? Technically I first tried listening to TEDtalk videos as well as talk-radio, but we’ll skip straight to the best thing so far, and that is podcasts! (more…)

3 minutes to summarize 2 years

My master’s thesis is about 95 pages long. That’s a lot of information to reduce down to a two-page script that can be read in three minutes. But that’s what I did, along with 11 of the most inspiring young researchers I have ever had the chance to meet at McGill. It all happened on March 31st at McGill’s 3rd annual 3 Minutes to Change the World.

My fellow *amazing* presenters at 3 Minutes to Change the World

My fellow *amazing* presenters at 3 Minutes to Change the World 2014

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Thinking about thinking.

I started teaching again last week, and one of the ice-breaker questions I ask my students is what they want to be when they grow up. It’s a good way to gauge your student’s maturity and interests, and to get to know them a bit better. I also ask them about their preferences in superpowers, so it’s not all serious. Funnily enough, the question of what to do with the rest of my life is something that I have been asking myself lately. As the PhD finish line comes into sight (far on the horizon, but it’s there), I start to wonder if a life in academia is really for me.

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Learning how to write again

Hi, my name is Alexandra, and this is my first-ever post for Grad Life!

I am very excited for the year ahead, but also a little nervous; taking this first plunge was harder than I thought, and for a long time I couldn’t put my finger on why. As I struggled with this inaugural post for Grad Life, I realized something important: (more…)

The conversations we don’t have (but should)

A few people have noticed that I have been entirely silent on this blog for quite some time.  Others have noticed that I’ve been absent from my personal blog as well as Facebook, Twitter – pretty much all of my usual online haunts – since the fall.  Their somewhat apprehensive inquiries – “How are you doing?” – have been appreciated, even if they’ve been met with rather vague replies: “I’m ok”, or, “I’m hanging in there”.  Or sometimes they’ve received no reply at all, because I haven’t known what to say.

I read a blog post recently, forwarded to me by someone who I consider a good, considerate friend as well as a colleague and mentor. That blog post shook me a bit, I think because I recognized myself in its words so prominently.  It prompted me to write a post of my own, because I think it’s important and because I think it might help me, personally.  So … deep breath … here we go.

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Science blogging gets some street cred…

I’ve been unfaithful to the Grad Life blog. You may have noticed that I’ve been absent for the past month. I have been spending time with … *gasp* …another blog.

Yes, it’s true.

Logo of the Entomological Society of Canada

But is was all for a greater good.

Today, a very exciting new online venture was launched, and I was a part of it. University of Guelph co-conspirator (er, I mean, c0-administrator), Morgan Jackson, and I have been working like mad fiends behind the scenes for the past few months so that we could announce that the blog of the Entomological Society of Canada is now officially live!

This is kind of a big deal.

Blogging (generally) and science blogging (more specifically) is slowly gaining recognition for its value as a venue for meaningful information dissemination, discussion, critique, collaboration, networking, and outreach.  However, there is still a lot of resistance to blogging, especially in some academic circles. (more…)

Outreach may not be a useful currency for grad students – but we should do it anyway

The Buddle Lab, with Nalini Nadkarni (centre)

About two weeks ago, an email from my advisor turned up in my inbox that said something to the effect of, “Canopy researcher Nalini Nadkarni is coming to McGill to give a talk and hang out with our lab. This is a great opportunity, so please come.” When I pulled out my Top-Secret Graduate Advisor Decoder Ring and reread the email, it clearly said, “BE THERE OR I WILL THROTTLE YOU”.

I immediately marked the dates on my calendar.

Now, canopies are not my area of expertise. In fact, I mostly work in climatic zones where there are NO trees (or else the trees are small enough that you can reach up and touch the so-called “canopy”), so I really had no idea what the big deal was. I just figured that my advisor’s excitement stemmed from the fact that canopy work is one of the tools he uses to address questions about arthropod ecology. Nevertheless, a few days before Dr. Nadkarni’s talk, I thought it would be prudent to take some time to acquaint myself with our visitor. So I googled, found her web page at Evergreen State College, and read her CV.

Result: MIND BLOWN. TOTAL BRAIN-CRUSH.

Then I watched both of her TED talks. Yes, that TED. You can watch them here and here. My brain-crush amplified exponentially. Not only was she an incredibly prolific and well-respected scientist, she was also an extraordinary advocate of science outreach**. In the final days leading up to the talk, I was all ohboyohboyohboy.

(more…)

Does teaching matter?

I’ve written about teaching already this year, and I find myself writing about it again now, in the hopes of getting some opinions from other grad students.

I’ve been the teaching assistant for a lab the past few years. When the powers that be restructured the lab in a major way last year, I made some fairly significant contributions to its new format, in terms of the material being taught and how it was presented. I am tweaking things even more this term, based on feedback from last year’s students and on some new pedagogical approaches I’ve learned.

I think that the current labs are definitely better but not best, and would really benefit from a thoughtful and thorough revision and updating. So I got this idea that I would approach the chair of our department and offer my (paid) services to do the work, perhaps over the summer since my field component won’t be so heavy this year. Not knowing whether this was even remotely feasible, I went and spoke to my advisor and told him my idea.

I mostly expected him to say: “It’s not really appropriate for a student to take on that kind of role,” and I would have accepted that. If that didn’t happen, the alternative I’d imagined was something like, “Cool. This would be a great course development/teaching experience. Approach the chair and check it out, but make sure you’re still getting your research/publications done in a timely way,” which I would have perceived as both awesome and perfectly reasonable.

But what I heard, and what surprised me, was this: “No one reading your CV is going to care about something like that. It’s not a good use of your time. Write and publish papers. That’s really all that matters.***”

(more…)

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