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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…)

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…)

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…)

December stresses me out!

Photo by @aliisonw // Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @aliisonw // Instagram @gradlifemcgill

It’s officially mid-December and you know what that means. Snow, slush and exams! It’s the time of year where every coffee shop in a 20 minute radius of campus is full of undergrads and graduate students alike studying hard for exams. Personally, I’m in my last years of a project-based degree, so I finished my course work some years ago and I do not miss it one bit. The sleepless nights, the stress eating, and the caffeine-induced eye twitches are mostly issues of the past for me, but I feel for all of you out there currently in the middle of exam season. It is not fun, but hopefully it will be over for you soon.

Now while I don’t exactly have exams to manically cram for, this time of year brings my own special brand of stress, my annual committee meeting. Now I know not all the departments are the same, but as a Biochemistry graduate student you have to assemble a committee of professors (at least 2 plus your supervisor) that you meet with at least once a year to make sure your work is on track. Unfortunately mine has been pushed all the way to the end of this year.  All things considered, I prefer this annual evaluation to any exam I’ve written but it is still incredibly stressful. Basically it’s a presentation where I show all the work I’ve done over the years and I’m questioned on what I know, what I think and what I want to do next. (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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Grad School! But then what? (Part 1)

Photo by @christinekts, Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @christinekts, Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Do you ever think about what you’ll do next after grad school? Does that thought ever scare you? Over the last few months I’ve been thinking more and more about this. I have about a year and a half left and thinking about what comes next has left me with more than a few sleepless nights. It’s a big decision to come to grad school but there are also big decisions to make when you’re about to leave.

It doesn’t help when you’ve heard the stories about how hard it is becoming in academia, especially when you look at the statistics. In 2012, ASCB published a graphical representation of current biology PhD career paths that suggests less than 10% of current graduate students will get a tenure-track academic position. A NIH working group found that while PhDs awarded in biomedical sciences has doubled in the last 20 years faculty positions certainly haven’t and they found over 1/3 of biomedical PhDs are working in non-research related careers.

Now it’s not all doom and gloom, don’t get me wrong. But it is a reality we all need to be aware of and something we need to prepare for while we are doing our degrees. (more…)

Shots Shots Shots

By N. Zelt

By N. Zelt

Well, that time of year has rolled around again. That’s right, we’re getting into flu season. School’s coming into crunch time, working hard to get papers written and experiments finished up before the holidays. What could possibly be worse than getting sick at a time like this? So, don’t forget to get the influenza vaccine.

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Dear Edward Snowden…

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by : @digitalpigeons

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by : @digitalpigeons

“Standing in line to

See the show tonight

And there’s a light on

Heavy glow….”

(Lyrics from The Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way)

Verses, words that many of us know, words that came to my mind that late afternoon when nobody-knows-how many students, professors, people of the McGill community waited for hours before listening to Edward Snowden. I was among them and I strongly believe that GradLife should have a page about this event, about his words.

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The beginning of a story…

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @na0mirlima

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @na0mirlima

 

Definitions of stories are enough to say that they are the way our life runs, works and expresses itself. Every act, every action, every single gesture or word is a component of that story that we tell by living. Then, let’s write a different story, one that would not describe a graduate life as a report, but one that conveys the sensations that graduate students feel in their day-by-day journey. Let’s put a character in the middle of something, a character that shows the way we are, faces reality the way it is, as many of us do. Although generally known as fiction, sometimes narratives can be the only way to clearly describe what we feel, what things are and not what they should be. Enjoy.

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Not so alone in the lab

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @yogipetals

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @yogipetals

The theme last week for the GradLife Instagram was “Colours of Gratitude” and with Thanksgiving just last Monday it has me pondering ‘What about grad school I’m grateful for?’ There are many things that come to mind; intellectual engagement, flexible hours, meaningful work and experiments that work! But what I’ve come to realize over the last several years is that the things I’m most grateful for is the support and friendship of my lab mates. The lab can be a lonely place. As a scientist, you are most often working independently on your individual projects. When you add in the long, erratic hours at the lab this can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation. What helped me when I first arrived was a supportive lab group and co-workers who very quickly become my friends.

It was 5 years ago, but I still remember coming to my current lab to interview. Perhaps I was a bit naïve in how I went about choosing where I wanted to do my PhD, but what really helped me make my decision was talking with the current graduate students of a lab. Looking back I don’t think I truly realized how important this would be for me. Your lab mates are the people you will be working 8-12h a day with for the next 2-7 years. These will be the people who train you, who help decipher your results, who tell you when your ideas make sense or when you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. These are the people that you will see ALL the time.

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Metaphors of Grad School

DSC02476

Have you ever been asked to bring an object that represents a metaphor of your current researcher identity to class? The second year PhD students in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE) were asked to do so. What transpired what a rich and interesting discussion of what grad school is, and how we positioned ourselves as researchers. Our objects included:
• Three watches or “timekeepers” preoccupations of time management and planning
• Edgar Degas’s painting of The Ballet Master the master shares the fundamentals of his craft
• A house plant Growing in unexpected ways, flourishing with a bit of light and care.
• An unfinished hand knit scarf the researcher identity, not fully developed, and multifaceted
• A fuzzy pencil case practical, familiar, along for the journey
• A hat A researcher is part explorer, part reporter. Hats giver the wearer other identities.
• A Loopy Tangle A fidget stopper, helping a distracted researcher focus
• A shovel Allowing for deep, below the surface digging and research
• Two notebooks As social science researchers, there is writing, writing, writing

A wonderful activity, promoting reflection and introspection. What object represents a metaphor of your researcher identity?

That blind-spot in our Graduate Life…

At a first sight, the word surroundings sounds like something similar to shiny rounded rings enclosing something important in its center. However, these surroundings have often an importance in themselves and can be as relevant as the center on which we are too obsessively, crazily, stressfully focused. If my first post was about the relationship between graduate life and Time, the second one will investigate (wow, I’m so academic here) how the former relates to Space. Obviously, the two are strictly correlated and we will see that the idea of discovering our surroundings depends also on the choice to give time to this process of discovering and exploring. Yet, I do not want to be boringsophical here, just tell something that any graduate student may feel on his or her own skin.

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Taking Down Time: Tiny Escapes

Being a grad student, being any student for that matter, or just being alive usually means there’s a lot going on and a lot on your mind. There are a myriad of ways to take your mind off things for a little while, but personally I love to read. To me reading takes me away to be someone else who’s somewhere else, for as long as I want to be there. Then at any time you may return there just by getting lost in a thought. I would like to do my part to help you get there. (more…)

“To be or not to be?”: Time and Graduate Life

The two sides of our time...photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @falisha.k

The two sides of our time…photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @falisha.k

Full name: Graduate Student. When your name is Graduate and your surname Student, you come to realize how the word time gets more and more often into your conversations. It’s always a matter of time: the time you are supposed to spend sleeping, the time for eating and feeding yourself up (yes, it does exist!), the time you would like to invest in hobbies or working out, the time to wake up, the time to love, the time to submit a paper, to get out from the library, to study, to read, to teach, to cheer, to…what?  Although you may find as many ways to talk about your graduate time as David Foster Wallace would do (and have a look at Infinite Jest’s footnotes to have an idea), there is one time that would never disappear, that is the time that we lack, the time that we may need to do all the things that we want to do.

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Happy Un-New Year!

Humpty_Dumpty_Tenniel

If you know your Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, you would be familiar with an un-Birthday. As explained by Humpty Dumpty: “There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents… and only one for birthday presents, you know.” (Carroll, 2009). So, an extension of the concept is that any significant day could be celebrated any time – 364 days of the year (minus one of course, because that is the actual day).

Personally, I think September is a better time to celebrate New Year’s Day. Specifically, the day following Labour Day. This year, September 6th. Why? Because everything is ahead, untouched. New classes, new deadlines, new friends to discover. All is possible, ready to be revealed, and free to the imagination. As well, it is really the only time that I find myself setting goals and resolutions. I am back planning now so I can be where I need to be by the end of May 2017. Summer is over, and the time has come to face new challenges. For students, the day following Labour Day is the real fresh start of a new year. The dog days of summer (a summer period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence) are in the past, the seasons are changing, as are daily routines and schedules. So let’s get on with it! What goals and resolutions are you setting as we transition through the Un-New Year?

HAPPY UN-NEW YEAR to all new and returning graduate students. Hope your summer was restful and invigorating. Now is the time to set some goals, and go for it. All the best in the new year. Cheers and good luck.

Carroll, L., Haughton, H., & Carroll, L. (2009). Alice’s adventures in Wonderland ; and, Through the looking-glass and What Alice found there. New York: Penguin Classics.
Photo: Creative Commons Through the Looking-Glass, illustration by John Tenniel. Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Humpty_Dumpty_Tenniel.jpg

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…)

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