The wonders that humans are capable of

The human potential is simply remarkable. When human go against each other they can create things like war. They can create the terrible circumstances that were the subjects of a few posts last week. But when humans work together, they can create wonders.

At the Macdonald Campus, we created something of a small wonder this semester. It was quite magical. It was a flash mob.

Flash mob at the Mac campus. Photo credit: Sushant K Jha

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At McGill but not in Montreal

A spring sunset on Macdonald Campus. Credit: Mohsin Bin Latheef

I go to McGill, but I do not live in Montreal!

In fact, I never have lived in Montreal. That is because I go to the ‘other’ campus, the Macdonald Campus. Yes, I will get annoyed if you are from McGill and you spell it as MacDonald. 🙂 And no, it is not on a different planet, we are very happy at Macdonald Campus, thank you! Most people at McGill will tell you the wonderful things about Montreal, of which I only know a few.

I will use this post to tell you what I know: the favorite five things about Mac Campus and Sainte Anne de Bellevue, my lovely little village for the last three years:

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The autumn bounty at Mac Campus

Mac resident amidst the campus fall colours

Back in the fall of ’09, I was utterly consumed with a single thought: where would I be attending grad school? I had narrowed my list down to two picks; McGill was at the top of the list.

I was invited to spend an early November day at the Macdonald Campus to meet with my potential supervisor, chat with some of the students in his lab, and get a feel for the campus. I took a day off work, hopped in my car, and ventured out on what would become the first of  many commutes from the small rural Ontario village I call home to the campus that I now consider my second home.

I fell in love with Mac instantly. I’m an outdoorsy-type-person and the oh-so-green Mac campus is gorgeous in autumn. From the highway, the road leading to the main entrance winds its way through the picturesque waterfront town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and along Lac Saint-Louis. Mac has few buildings but boasts 1600 acres of land, including loads of green space and gardens, a fully functional farm, and an arboretum.

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Convocation ceremony at Macdonald Campus

It was 13:30 when I entered Centennial Centre and rushed to pick up my gown and academic cap. I was supposed to be there at 13:00 and couldn’t believe that I was so late on the most important day of my life. When I saw a long line of students waiting for their turn and a very well-organized staff guiding the whole process, I was relieved.

But, then, nervousness gripped me with an irrepressible force and I couldn’t help thinking that, I might fall on stage –only, because I was wearing shoes with heels. Heels and I are usually the worst of enemies and avoid each other like plagues. This golden rule was set when falling became a custom, each time I slipped into my unwanted heels. However, heels were mandatory on such an important occasion – at least, according to my friends and colleagues.

We then lined up two by two and made our way toward the ceremony hall. As we climbed the stairs, enthusiastic applause followed. Proud parents and family members were clicking and clicking and clicking trying to immortalize this once-in-a-lifetime event. I smiled when my walking partner commented that she feels like a movie star. I felt the same too as if we have achieved the impossible and now the world is at our feet. However, this feeling will always remain inadequately described, meant only to be felt.

I presume that I clapped the loudest when Professor Julian Davies was conferred the honorary degree (Doctor of Science, honoris causa). In addition of being an excellent orator, he is humorous and gave an advice which is of primary importance – to wash our hands with soap and warm water as frequently as we can. It sounded like a funny statement, but on the other hand, washing our hands can decrease a consequent load of bacterial infections. I have started washing my hands more frequently.

Thinking about it, grad life was a roller coaster of bittersweet memories that shaped my life, personality, mind, attitudes and if need to be repeated, I’ll embrace it again. I did flashback on long hours, working relentlessly in the lab where techniques were failing and I had to repeat procedures several times. But then, surges of happiness when I was awarded a long sought scholarship and my paper finally got accepted in the journal of my choice, with the strong editing skills of my better half, Bushansingh Shyam Baurhoo, also a McGill graduand.

In the end, wearing my convocation gown and academic cap, I was deliriously happy and proud to have graduated from an elite university alike McGill. Being a McGillian did contribute hugely in securing my job.

And no, I did not fall…

However, my academic cap did kiss the stage. A generous soul retrieved my cap and I continued my walk down stage, unflawed, with a smile on my face.

neerusha gokool baurhoo

Gradlife: Being a Teaching Assistant (TA) at McGill

Georges Choundohas helping two students

Being a TA forms an integrated part of my life as a grad student and has been one among my best and most cherished memories at Macdonald Campus. Though some considered doing the same course repeatedly over semesters boring, every semester felt like a completely new and enriching experience for me for a number of reasons:
1. New minds to shape with group of students exhibiting different pre-cognitive perceptions
2. It is stimulating to observe how new students familiarize themselves with laboratory settings and enhance their skills as the labs grow progressively more challenging.
3. Most of the times, this experience is rewarding with students saying or giving Thank You cards at the end stating how happy they’ve been to experience the Biochemistry Labs.

The twins


Interestingly, this semester, a new lab was designed and incorporated in the biochemistry lab manual – DNA Extraction. Simple in the process, part of the lab involved crushing strawberries and using kitchen chemicals such as liquid soap, water and sea salt as extraction buffer to coax DNA from its confinements.

Though sceptical at first that DNA can be extracted from strawberries with simple kitchen chemicals, at the end of the lab, the students were beaming as the thin, thread-like DNA aggregated in the ethanol layer. Excited comments resounded in the usually quiet lab:

“Oh My God, there’s DNA…?”

“I guess it’s the soap which has maybe weakened the phospholipid bilayer of the cell membrane…what could be the role of salt?”

“I can’t believe this is DNA…”

“It’s so gel-like …”

For me, it has been equally exciting to observe students standing at the realms of their own “discovery” with eyes glittering in awe, and brains actively trying to locate the how and why of biochemical processes.

As far as I can remember, while I walked down the lab answering questions, instructing good laboratory techniques and verifying results, boring has never been my sentiments. Though it is with great sadness I’m saying adieu to my cherished biochemistry labs and warm animal science department, these labs will always hold a special place in my heart as because of my TA experiences, I discovered my passion to shape young minds in science and I am looking forward to carry research in making science education more accessible for all students…

I hope being a TA has transformed your life too.

Neerusha Gokool Baurhoo

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