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…)

Pourquoi le doctorat? Parce que… j’aime ça.

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @yogipetals

À la sempiternelle question «que vas-tu faire avec un doctorat?», je ne sais jamais vraiment quoi répondre. Parce que j’ai quelques idées, mais que je ne le sais pas. Disons que les offres d’emploi qui stipulent que le candidat doit avoir un diplôme de troisième cycle en histoire sont plutôt rares – pour ne pas dire presque inexistantes – et qu’il faut se créer des occasions.

Alors, pourquoi me suis-je embarquée dans plusieurs années d’études, surtout sachant que j’allais avoir une toute jeune famille en même temps? Et que j’avais un travail bien rémunéré?

La réponse, toute simple, est que j’aime cela. J’aime étudier. J’aime lire. J’aime faire de la recherche. J’aime apprendre.


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.


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…)

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. 


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.


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).


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…)

All I really need to know, I learned from other graduate students

I’m an R hero now!

Yesterday, I participated in an R workshop hosted by the Québec Centre for Biodiversity Science (better known to members as QCBS, CSBQ pour les membres francophones). For those who aren’t familiar, R is a free, open-source computer language that allows you to manipulate data, perform statistical analyses, and make pretty plots and graphs for publications, all under the same umbrella. I’ve been hearing about the wonders of R for years from other graduate students, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to actually learn it. And now that I have some data that I’m trying to produce pretty graphics of for publications, it seemed like a good opportunity to learn something new! The workshop itself, Zero to R Hero,  was led by members of the R Montreal user group, who have taken it upon themselves to spread the good news of R to those of us (myself included) who are just starting out. Like any new computer language, there is a steep learning curve, and getting going can be intimidating. The idea of the workshop was to help you to get over the first hurdles and to be able to use R for your own research.


Yes or no?

One professional philosophy that I’ve tried very hard to embrace is, “be open to the possibility of doing new things or taking on new responsibilities”: a new collaboration, a new side-project, a new outreach activity, a new workshop.  In other words, to say, “yes” whenever possible.

I’ve observed a trend towards grad students saying, “I don’t have time”. They spend most of their waking hours working on their research, their papers and their theses: in other words, being good, conscientious students.

I do get why so many grad students balk at doing something new:  “new things” almost invariably translate into “more work added to an already stupidly busy student workload”. And while I have no doubt that these students will be great successes academically, I do worry that some of them are letting important professional opportunities slip away.


Getting the most out of academic conferences

In my field, the first few months of the fall term represent “conference season”. Last year I went to my first entomology conference as a PhD student. This year I’m upping the ante considerably: I’m giving a total of 4 talks at three conferences (one is provincial, one national and one international). Larger conferences are pretty darned fun and full of awesome brain-candy. In addition to the beer and free food and hotel rooms and t-shirts and field trips and bookslighter, more social aspects, they also provide excellent opportunities to interact with people in your field and to learn about exciting new research.

A plenary talk at the 2010 ESC conference (Photo by Rick West)

I’m now at what I consider to be a fairly crucial stage of my PhD, in terms of completing projects I’ve started and developing quick additional projects to round out my thesis. As such, I’m considering this conference tour to be (potentially) very important.

I’ve read some blog posts in the last year or so that provided students some sound advice for maximizing the conference experience. One idea that I’ve come across has stuck with me: have a focus. I think this can apply to any number of things the conference-goer might wish to accomplish. (more…)

Learn a language, teach the world

Homepage for wikipedia.org

Did you know that there’s a way to learn a new language while simultaneously benefiting the world by increasing global access to knowledge? Well there is, dear reader, and you need only read on to join the revolution.

About a year ago I came to a very interesting conclusion: those speaking the English language have easy access to more knowledge than any other group in the world. Why is this? Because of Wikipedia.

I am a hi-tech reader!

A few months ago I wrote about two distinct ways of reading your pile of papers for your seminars: using an e-reader or printing everything out. After starting as a hi-tech reader, I experimented with the paper solution last semester and in this post I will explain some of my feelings about this experience and the reasons why I moved back to PDFs this year.


Are you a high-tech or a low-tech reader?

iPad (credit: apple.com)

Reading is one of the main activities performed by a grad student and academics in general. In my PhD program in management, i have to read between 12 and 15 papers a week for my courses this semester, let alone all other readings such as book chapters, leisure books, blogs, e-mails, tweets, facebook news feed, so forth and so on. Yes, I probably spend half of my awake time reading.

But let me focus on these 12-15 papers. Some are as small as ten pages, but some are fifty pages long; thus, let’s consider an average of twenty pages per article. That makes 300 pages of articles to read per week, about 3,500 per semester. So how should we “consume” all this information? (more…)

Macro Learning

When I look back over this year of blogging for Grad Life, I am struck by the incredible challenges and changes that you, my readership, have witnessed.  Perhaps some of my journey over the past year has rang true for you on your journey, and perhaps you have been inspired by some of my experiences.  I hope that is the case.

When I was caught in the flow of the past year, I must say that I was mainly frustrated, discouraged, and impatient.  I did not recognize the experiences that I was having – the travel, the missed flights, the rejections, the hopeful time between the audition and the results, the learning of new repertoire and the learning of a matured voice – as learning experiences.  As much as I tried, I could not always see the value of these experiences immediately.  What I have realized this summer is that, even though my experiences surely did have immediate educational value, the greater value is in these experiences as a whole and their effect on me as a human being.  What I have learned is how I respond to difficulty, and how to recognize signs of stress or of grief in myself.  What I have learned is how I can bounce back from some difficult emotional experiences with joy and renewed passion.


Learning to Learn

Lake Orford

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m off to Orford Arts Centre Academy.  I will be a student of Denise Massé, who is one of the French diction coaches at the Met, and I’ll be studying one of my favorite opera roles with her – Marie from La fille du régiment.  These are the kinds of experiences that are just as valuable as a degree program, because they provide the opportunity to make connections with professionals in the field without the time commitment of a degree or training program.

I have, however, run into a little problem which exists in my mind and in the way I learn.  I have blogged about it before, but in a different form.  At the beginning of the summer it was manifesting itself as a resistance to getting a real job as a recent Masters graduate.  Now, I can feel a resistance to artistic suggestions.  What I mean to say is, I have become a bad student.


Where did summer go?

Where did all the time go?  This summer seemed so immense only a month ago, and all of a sudden we only really have a few weeks left until it is time to start thinking about fall again.

What have I accomplished so far this summer?

  • I have profited from Montreal.  I attended the Jazz Fest, the Francofolies festival, random street festivals that I didn’t know existed before, gone to a free tango class, biked all over the island at all times of day and night, had poutine, did yoga on the Lachine canal, got bagels from St. Viateur so often that I am now friends with the employees and get my bagels for free, went to house parties, climbed the mountain, tried the flying trapeze, attended Tam-tams and Piknic Elektronik…. and Much more.
  • I have gained amazing exposure through singing in the metro.  The amount of social and musical confidence I have gained through this experience is unmatched.  I have never in my life performed so often in such a short amount of time.  I have been featured by a small TV station, met agents, recording engineers, other musicians, circus performers, and music lovers.
  • I have built a very healthy lifestyle.  I have found a way to eat mostly local, organic food, exercise consistently, and know when I need sleep.  Hopefully I’ll bring this skill into the following year.
  • I have rekindled my desire to make music, learn, and work hard in this amazing life.  After a hard year of papers and study, sometimes the last thing you want to do is continue to study.  But there is so much to learn in this world.  And, most of the learning is experiential – all you need to do is step outside your comfort zone, and make ‘Yes’ be your magic word.
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