What can the Undergrads teach you?

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @kipunsam.daily

Being a teacher’s assistant (TA) can be hard work. As a TA you’re a font of knowledge, the solution to their problems and the keeper of their GPA. You’re also figuring out things as you go, putting out fires as they happen (hopefully figuratively!) and generally trying to keep up the aura of authority. So whether you are lecturing in a seminar, running tutorials or supervising a lab, like me, it’s as much as learning experience as a teaching experience.

So what have my students taught me? Well, I think you learn different things depending on what kind of teaching you are doing. Fannie described her experience leading seminars and I can only speak to my experience as a TA for a lab course, but here are a few lessons I’ve learned. (more…)

What do you do (other than grad school)?

Photo by sasint / Pixabay

Photo by sasint / Pixabay

As a grad student I constantly find myself strapped for time. There is a pile of experiments to be done, lab reports to mark, an apartment to be cleaned and even friends to see. Sometimes it can be hard to juggle all of these things and still keep up with my other interests. However I think that one of the important lessons I’ve learned is that you need something other than grad school to keep you balanced. Maybe it’s a sports team, or a community group, or maybe you volunteer and give back to your community. Healthy McGill is running the Self Care Challenge this week and one of their recurring themes is taking time for yourself. It couldn’t be more important. Personally, I volunteer as a Girl Guide Leader. (more…)

Laura’s Adventures in Montreal: The Opera

Photo by @MustangJoe / @pixabay

Photo by @MustangJoe / @pixabay

Well it’s been a while since my last adventure, but next week I’m off on my next one. This time I’m heading to the opera! Now I know opera is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it gets a bit of a bad rap. Or maybe it’s just people don’t often have the opportunity to experience it. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s more accessible than you might think.

I attended my first opera during my undergrad. It was an university production at the University of Ottawa and a bunch of us went, mainly because we didn’t have other plans and it felt classy. But I was surprised how much I enjoyed the spectacle of it. The music, the vocals, the drama, it was astounding! And thus began my interest in opera. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of performances both here in Montreal and elsewhere.

So, if you feel like checking out an opera, how do you go about it? Well I have 2 recommendations for you; Opera McGill or Opera de Montreal. I’ve seen several performance by both companies and not only were they spectacular, but they both offer student discounts for the budget-conscious grad student. (more…)

If only I was more organized…

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

One of my favourite (but often failed) New Year’s resolutions is to be more organized and better schedule my time. Now this is obviously not a SMART resolution, and to be honest I’m not the most un-organized person, but every year I wish I was a little more on top of things and procrastinated a little less. This is especially true this year as I’m hoping to submit my thesis and there are mountains of work to be done!

So how I am going to be more organized? Well Aleks wrote a while ago her top tips for productivity and I like a lot of them, but I thought I would add a couple of my own. (more…)

Holidays at Home

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Photo by jill111 / Pixabay

Like many of my fellow grad students, I travelled home to spend the holidays with my family. I‘m half way though my vacation and things are following the same predictable pattern, more or less. There is the excitement of seeing my parents and siblings, followed quickly by the readjusting to suddenly living with 6 people (I normally live alone). We all open our presents together, play board games and enjoy lots of good food (though this year half of us got food poisoning!). And while I’ve experienced the holiday joy Heather talks about, I also experience the impostor syndrome Angel describes so accurately, especially since everyone knows I’ve been doing cancer research for the last 5+ years. (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…)

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…)

Laura’s Adventures in Montreal: Les Grands Ballets

balletshoes

Image by skeeze, Pixabay

One of the best things about doing graduate studies at McGill is the fact that it’s in Montreal. Unfortunately, due to the long hours in the lab, I often don’t take advantage of all the great things this city has to offer. I’m sure many of you can relate. However, in my struggle to achieve a good work-life balance, I do try and get out on occasion. So I thought I would share some of my adventures with you. Perhaps I can inspire some of you to get out and explore this city as well. Plus I’ll let you in on some of the deals you might be able to take advantage of.

My most recent adventure involved a trip to the ballet. I love the performing arts, probably in part because it’s so far removed from my wheel-house. Last week I went to see Les Grands Ballets de Montreal perform Romeo & Juliette. It was an amazing performance. Now I don’t pretend to know much about the technical aspects of ballet but from where I was sitting it was a stunning display of agility, physicality and grace. (more…)

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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