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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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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.

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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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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. 

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Paper or Not?

Paper or Not?

We occupy the most rapidly evolving age of human kind to date, technology has started to become obsolete or outdated faster than my wardrobe. Big-shots in the technological field predict a fast approaching singularity  of technological advancement; expect that to happen when computers start to design computers for designing better computers. During the interim though, we’ve got what we’ve got in the present, and it’s expensive, so what’s worth your hard earned money? (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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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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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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A McGillian in Paris

Screenshot 2016-07-26 07.01.54

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMoTHJ3gu3U

So here it is. My first ever video. Actually, that’s only half true. I have made videos before but only the type you keep buried on one of your external hard drives in case the day comes when you want to show your children ‘what life was like when I was a teenager’. So it would be more accurate to say that this is my first ever public video. Fingers crossed it won’t turn out to be one of those that should have remained hidden on my hard drive.

I was lucky enough to go back to Paris this month to see my family and stock up on some good wine, food and company. I wanted to start off with a fun ‘vlog type’ video so decided to film small snippets of Parisian life and show you one of my favourite places to eat: Le Camion Qui Fume. As you’ll see in the video this is one of the most successful burger joints in Paris and you’ll often see a long line of Parisians in front of the food truck on their lunch break hoping to secure an infamous burger. I must admit it’s not the most typical of French cuisine but think of it as a burger American in size and French in style.

I hope you enjoy the video and I’m so excited to share more content with you very soon. Hopefully the video inspired you to give yourself a break from your studying (#McGillianAbroad) or encouraged you to get out and see something new (although you’re probably already out and about chasing Pokemon).

Check out my fellow bloggers and instagrammers for loads more travel inspiration.

Enjoy and see you soon!

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…)

Tightrope walking

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I don’t know if other students feel like this at any point in their PhD journey. For me, this sensation has come during the “home stretch”. In other words – at the worst possible time.

It is not uncommon for graduate students to feel down or discouraged at some points of their degree. Everyone knows the PhD road is long and replete with intellectual challenges, time-stealing setbacks, daunting skills to learn in very little time, and experiences that propel us far outside of our comfort zone. It is not uncommon for PhD students to feel fatigued, overwhelmed or disheartened. Waves of negative emotions may come and go, amplified by the constant pressure of deadlines and high standards. It is the small victories in between that make the waves recede and that keep us going, suddenly reminding us of why we love what we do and why we wish to keep doing it.

But that common feeling is not exactly what I am alluding to. This is something a little more difficult to put into words – a feeling of fragility and transience, uncertainty and instability, not only towards one’s work but also one’s own self. Let me try to explain.

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The Writer’s Toolkit: 14 things that could change how you feel about writing

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Somewhere between now and forever. That sounds about right. Isn’t that the gist of your reply to family members and friends who just don’t get why you’re still a PhD student? So much has changed in the world, and you’re still at it. I mean, how long does it take to write a thesis? Just write it already!

But you know, and I know, and Cecilia knows — it’s not that simple.

Or is it?

Unbeknownst to him, my supervisor gave some stellar advice in one plain sentence, a few weeks ago. Although this advice was not directly meant for me, and was part of a general conversation about papers and publications, it’s something I took to heart and have applied ever since: “Just sit down and write it – tell yourself you are going to work for this amount of hours, and sit there and write it”. Just sit down – best advice ever, because it made me concretely realize that writing is not challenging due to a lack of inspiration, but due to a lack of focus. If you give yourself the time and the space to do nothing else but work on writing, there will be no shortage of ideas, arguments, counterarguments and – eventually – words on the page.

I have been writing my thesis full time for two weeks. Every day. The encouraging thing is that it seems to get easier and easier, as does anything after copious amounts of practice.

I think what one needs is a “writer’s toolkit” – some strategies that work for you, that you can stick to, and that can serve as a comfortingly familiar routine, to help ensure your success on this writing mission.

Here is my toolkit:

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Questions

Evernote Camera Roll 20130805 093011

“Do you have any questions?”

I just came back from a conference last weekend. The Academy of Management is probably the biggest conference in my field, with over 10,000 participants. Going through the 500-page program and deciding which sessions to attend was almost as hard as writing a paper. However, one thing in common among most presentations was their last slide: “Questions?”. Sometimes it was disguised as “Q&A” or even as a more timid “Debate” or “Discussion”, but it was always meant to be an invitation that the presenter is opening up for questions. Isn’t it curious that questions should mark the end of an academic presentation? Aren’t we there to find answers in the first place? (more…)

Reflections. And then some.

Last week I was talking to a fellow graduate student. This particular graduate student and I do not meet very often. Yet we share the bonds and camaraderie of ones going through their PhD programs. During the conversation we both realized that we do not know too many details of one-another’s lives, yet we could safely assume that during the few years we been in our degree programs, we have all been through some of the worst phases of our lives. And we learnt to live through them.

I am close to the end of my program. In a PhD program, the end is not an event. The end is a process. And I am at the beginning of the end. I can share some reflections. (more…)

10 ways to enhance your productivity

Is your thesis deadline fast approaching? Do you have tons of work to do, yet you can’t seem to get enough done in one day? Do you find it difficult to motivate yourself during these springy-summery days, when classes are out, departments are quieter, and your bike and the neighborhood park are calling your name louder than your research project is? If you have answered YES to at least one of these questions, then read on!

The best part about Graduate Studies – but also the most challenging aspect of it – is that, most of the time, you set the goals, the tasks and the pace for your work. How much you tackle in one day is largely up to you. Deciding how you structure your time to meet your objectives and deadlines is what makes you work independently – a skill that is highly valued by supervisors and funding committees, and one that will be crucial when conducting research beyond graduate school. There is a great deal of flexibility in being a PhD student, but the challenge remains that we have to learn how to motivate ourselves, fight procrastination and stay PRODUCTIVE!

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“I’m so tired!”

Photo source: http://gbengaadebayo.com/fighting-fatigue/

If these words have been escaping your mouth much-too-frequently these days, you’re not alone. It’s a tricky time, December — not only the end of the term, but also the end of the year. For those of us taking courses, it’s crunch-time now with final papers, projects and presentations. It’s also a popular period for conference submission deadlines (hence lots of data analyses, writing and then of course spending more time editing than writing in order to meet the impossibly low word-limit). It’s also a time for wrapping up all those things that you expected to be done with by now, things that you don’t want to roll over to the new year. Now begin the perhaps-satisfying, perhaps-stress-provoking “what have I done this year?” reflections, along with the “what are my priorities for the new year?” reflections. In sum: lots of things to do, lots of reflections, not lots of time.

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