Why Montreal is Magnificent for Master’s Students

Photo by Aleks Budarick.

It’s official: Montreal was recently ranked as the best student city in the world.

I’m not surprised. While I’ve only been a post-secondary student in two other cities (one in Ontario and one in Australia), both of which I liked very much, Montreal is the perfect city for my life as a master’s student. Why, you may ask? Well, let me explain some of my reasons.

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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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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…)

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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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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Self-care in Graduate Life

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @na0mirlima.

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @na0mirlima.

As I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed last week, I came across an article titled “Leadership or Self-Care – That is the Question.” This title shocked me. I took a second to think about what the title was saying: You can have either leadership success or appropriate self-care, but not both. After reading the article, I understand that the author was trying to portray the fact that many successful business-people tend to put their careers before their personal needs – a phenomenon not limited to the corporate workplace. However, I do not agree with the sentiment that you have to choose either success in the workplace OR personal well-being. I believe they need to go hand-in-hand to optimize overall success.

As a graduate student, my workplace is the lab. There are leadership components in graduate school, juggling TA positions, meetings with supervisors and committee members, writing theses, and mentoring younger students. We, as grad students, work long hours when we have to, and go out of our way to make sure our work is comprehensive and presentable. These tasks require great co-ordination skills, time-management, and initiative. In order to execute these skills as a graduate student, it is important to take care of yourself first, to make sure you’re both mentally and physically ready to do so. Thankfully, the last line of the article was, “Rejuvenating yourself will strengthen your leadership.” I completely agree with that statement, and I’ve come up with a list of ways to rejuvenate yourself before December comes and the looming deadlines start approaching.

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Top 5 Tips to Increase Productivity

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @steezsister

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @steezsister

Ah, grad school. Aka the years of your life where you’re learning how much you don’t know, pushing your personal and professional boundaries, and managing an outrageously busy schedule. Grad school schedules come with deadlines. Deadlines for abstract submissions, funding applications, and course work, on top of lab meetings, data collection, and social endeavours. Here are my top 5 tips to increase productivity, to maneuver these deadlines and actually get work done:

1. Make a list

This tip is probably the most cliché of all, but couldn’t be left off of this list. The fact is: it works. I find it much easier to prioritize my tasks when they’re all laid out in front of me. I can see what needs to be done, estimate how much time each item will take, and start working from there.

Make your list before you start doing any work. Include even the smallest tasks, because it’s a great feeling to check items off, and any progress is good progress!

2. Set a timeline and stick to it

When I’m working in the lab, I tend to pick a task to work on until lunch time, and then take my lunch break. Then, I pick another task (potentially the same one, if it’s larger), and work until the end of the day. I always have a time when I know I’ll be leaving the lab, and I stick to that timeline. This helps me set aside blocks of time for each task I need to complete in a day, and knowing how long I’m going to be working on something helps me stay focused and be more productive.

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Hello, Technology

Photo by @gradlifemcgill instagrammer @kipunsam.daily

Photo by @gradlifemcgill instagrammer @kipunsam.daily

So, it’s over. I did a two-week technology cleanse, and learned a lot about myself and my surroundings. I was able to achieve most of my goals, or at least move in the right direction toward decreasing my overall screen time.

What I did:

I was able to limit my social media use through the day, and I became much more mindful of when I was checking my phone and how much time I was spending on it. I didn’t watch even one episode of Netflix, which means I did even better than what I had planned for the two weeks. Instead, I found other activities to fill my time. I did Sudoku puzzles, printed and completed crosswords, and spent time filling in my colouring book – great for relaxation! I also increased my physical activity levels, because every morning instead of sitting on my computer or phone before heading into the lab, I was able to do a quick workout or yoga session. That made me much more productive during the day, which was one of my main goals.

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Goodbye, Technology

Photo by Flickr user Meghan Wilker.

Photo by Flickr user Meghan Wilker.

Recently, I’ve realized how much time I spend looking at screens. I spend all day in the lab typing word documents, running stats, processing data – all on a computer. Then, I come home and watch Netflix, check Facebook and Instagram, and listen to music – all on a computer or phone. By the time I go to bed, I’d estimate that I would have accumulated over 12 hours of screen time on the average day.

That number seems outrageous to me. Over 50% of my life is spent looking at a screen. While you can’t argue the enormous benefits technology provides to our daily lives, especially in grad school, including communication with other people, efficiency in our tasks, and increasing our productivity levels when used wisely, you have to wonder if it’s sometimes necessary to draw the line somewhere.

The shocking part is that screen time is usually directly related to sedentary time, or time during which you are completely motionless. Sedentary time has been found to contribute to chronic health in the exact opposite way than physical activity levels (i.e. excessive sedentary time reduces overall health and well-being). I won’t turn this into a post preaching the benefits of physical activity (although exercise is very important for your mental and physical health!), but I will say that I’ve decided it’s time for me to reduce my screen (and consequently sedentary) time.

Hence, I’m doing a technology cleanse.

I already foresee obstacles in this challenge, but I want to be aware of them and deal with them as they come. I know that I cannot completely eliminate technology from my life, as it is such a vital part of my daily functioning with my thesis work, communicating with my friends, family, and supervisor, and even how I spend my leisure time. However, I want to set some ground rules to work around these barriers and manage how I use technology in the short term.

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The roller-coaster that is graduate school

"Graph - Work Output" "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com

“Graph – Work Output”
“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham
www.phdcomics.com

Welcome to grad school, where schedules are made up and plans don’t matter.

(Alright, that’s not entirely true, but you’ll see what I mean soon enough).

Last week, I had a fairly productive week in the lab. To me, a “fairly productive” week means that I met with my supervisor, and crossed most items off my to-do list. I’m making good progress, and I’m on track to submit my thesis on time. I’m lucky to currently be in a spot in my master’s degree where I am typically making constant headway – but that’s not always the case.

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First year on campus… But not frosh

Parc La Fontaine. Photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @aleksbud.

Parc La Fontaine. Photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @aleksbud.

Well, September is almost upon us, bringing the start of a new school year. Seeing all of the incoming graduate students arrive in their labs allowed me to reflect upon my own experience of starting grad school one year ago. I came to realize that one aspect I’m happiest about is the fact that I decided to change universities to complete my graduate degree. Starting grad school at McGill was a lot like starting undergrad – except that I was a first year student in a different way. Here are some of the reasons that I’m glad I changed it up by starting grad school at a new university, and what I recommend for new students who are in the same boat this year.

My Advice:

Firstly: Explore Your Surroundings

Moving to a new university for grad school meant I was able to experience a new city. I had already become very familiar with my undergraduate university town, and the change of scenery was refreshing. In a city as large as Montreal, there are endless activities at our disposal; new streets to explore, and new adventures to be embarked upon. One way that I was able to fully take advantage of my new surroundings was to bring my favourite hobbies with me and enjoy them in my new environment. I found new running spots (Mount Royal, Parc Lafontaine, and Lachine Canal are some of my favourites), and different places where I can take interesting photos.

What I recommend to incoming students:  If you’re moving cities to begin grad school, take advantage of every opportunity provided by your new location! Do your best to see how your favourite activities, whatever they may be (reading, art, sports, etc), can be maximized and built upon here, or find a new hobby that is unique to the city (e.g. learning a new language).

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Rolling with the Punches: Coping with Change in Grad School

Photo by Flickr user Frederico Cintra.

Photo by Flickr user Frederico Cintra.

Entering the second semester of my master’s, I was following my proposed schedule perfectly. I had completed all of my required course work, applied for funding, and helped with data collection for our second year master’s student. I learned how to use relevant processing programs for my lab work, read what felt like one million articles, and put it all together to develop my thesis topic. From there, I wrote my literature review (after reading more articles), worked tirelessly to process pilot data, and even found an undergraduate student who was willing to help me. Finally, my formal thesis proposal presentation was one month away. I went into my weekly lab meeting feeling very accomplished, ready to informally present my progress and finalize what was going into my presentation.

During that meeting, my thesis topic changed.

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