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.


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…)

Why I spend so much time on the internet

Internet Forever! (Image from: Allie Brosh at www.hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com) )

Internet Forever! (Image from: A. Brosh www.hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com)

This is a recycled post from my personal blog, The Bug Geek. I’m sharing it here now because it’s rather timely for me: I’m preparing a talk on this subject, with an emphasis on its relevance to grad students, for the Entomological Society of Canada annual meeting in about two weeks; it’s part of a special symposium entitled “From the Lab to the Web”. Also, it’s clear that McGill is one academic institution that is embracing online activities as an important component of learning, teaching, and outreach. These are exciting times, folks….

I’ll update in November with some tips and caveats for grad students. In the meantime, enjoy, and please share your experiences and opinions!


During the course of an average day, when I’m working on any number of academic pursuits from my home office, I visit a bunch of web sites: library data bases, insect identification aids, online scientific journals, statistical software help pages, how-to lab/procedural pages, etc.

I also spend time on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Flickr and a big ol’ pile of blogs.

I’ve been thinking about the title of a talk I’d like to give. It would sound something like, “Why I spend so much time on the internet.” Lately, I’ve had a number of very interesting discussions with other grad students, faculty members, and online sciencey-folks about the roles and effects of social media on the way we think about science, do science, and communicate about science.

Let me be frank: I’m really, really excited by the buzz about the topic (Morgan Jackson provides a great round-up of blog posts at his blog Biodiversity in Focus ), not only in different social media venues, but also in more traditional, academic forums.


Field season report #2: the research

Now that the “oooh, aaaah” part of my field work is out of the way, let’s talk research, shall we?

My PhD work is a component of a research program called the Northern Biodiversity Program. It involves several professors from several universities, about a dozen grad students, a postdoctoral researcher, and a multitude of private and public partners.  The word that must best describe a project of this scope is: “collaborative”.

col·lab·o·rate  (k-lb-rt)intr.v. col·lab·o·rat·ed, col·lab·o·rat·ing, col·lab·o·rates

1. To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
Although we all share the same overarching objective, our personal research goals and areas of specialization are quite different. On this trip to the Yukon, I traveled with: an arachnologist studying spider population genetics; a hymenopterist doing biodiversity inventories of wasps using molecular techniques; another arachnologist interested in the distribution and life history of a species of pseudoscorpion; and another hymenopterist working on parasitic wasps and their caterpillar prey.  Me – I study beetles.
Our sampling methods and research questions essentially had zero overlap, with the exception of the locality: it’s what brought us together for this particular field trip.  In a nutshell, it meant five different types of critters being targeted for sampling/collection using five completely different methods in five different habitat/terrain types.
This is the kind of situation that has serious potential to turn a group of nice, sane, rational adults into cranky, snarly, whiny ass-pains. It’s true. I’ve seen it happen. It’s very easy to get all “ME ME ME” in the field, wanting nothing more than to spend all your time basking in the glow of your own beloved study subjects, and getting royally snarky over any time “wasted” on other people’s work.
Happily, this is not what happened on my trip.  I have proof:

Happy campers, L-R: Barb (wasps), Katie (spiders), me (beetles), Laura (wasps and prey), Chris (pseudoscorpions). Photo by Chris Buddle.

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