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…)

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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Goodbye, Technology

Photo by Flickr user Meghan Wilker.

Photo by Flickr user Meghan Wilker.

Recently, I’ve realized how much time I spend looking at screens. I spend all day in the lab typing word documents, running stats, processing data – all on a computer. Then, I come home and watch Netflix, check Facebook and Instagram, and listen to music – all on a computer or phone. By the time I go to bed, I’d estimate that I would have accumulated over 12 hours of screen time on the average day.

That number seems outrageous to me. Over 50% of my life is spent looking at a screen. While you can’t argue the enormous benefits technology provides to our daily lives, especially in grad school, including communication with other people, efficiency in our tasks, and increasing our productivity levels when used wisely, you have to wonder if it’s sometimes necessary to draw the line somewhere.

The shocking part is that screen time is usually directly related to sedentary time, or time during which you are completely motionless. Sedentary time has been found to contribute to chronic health in the exact opposite way than physical activity levels (i.e. excessive sedentary time reduces overall health and well-being). I won’t turn this into a post preaching the benefits of physical activity (although exercise is very important for your mental and physical health!), but I will say that I’ve decided it’s time for me to reduce my screen (and consequently sedentary) time.

Hence, I’m doing a technology cleanse.

I already foresee obstacles in this challenge, but I want to be aware of them and deal with them as they come. I know that I cannot completely eliminate technology from my life, as it is such a vital part of my daily functioning with my thesis work, communicating with my friends, family, and supervisor, and even how I spend my leisure time. However, I want to set some ground rules to work around these barriers and manage how I use technology in the short term.

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How to be a full time graduate student with a dream job?

Studying hard, getting into graduate school to get a better job – yes! Working part-time on the side to pay for your studies, your rent, food or any activity – yes*2. Finding your dream job while you’re still studying, keeping it for experience and potentially as a first job? Let’s try it.

A STUDENT JOB

Let’s talk about the different types of student jobs. You can work anywhere just for the income, with no particular interest in the field, potentially with a good team, close to your place or your university. Any convenience will be appreciated for this type of job but mostly, it pays your groceries and that’s all you need.

Then, there is the golden nuggets kind of student job. Basically, your dream job but two years too early. That’s what I got. I started working for an art gallery two years ago. It was an “on call” job where I was supervising art pieces during private events at the gallery. After a few events, they asked me if I wanted to get a part time job, two days per week working at the front desk. I had to welcome customers, answer the phone, learn a bit about the art, smile and basically just be there. I could even do my homework while working. The perfect combination.

Photo by Marion M.

That was a year and a half ago. I finished my bachelor degree, took some time off whenever I was in a rush for finals or needed vacations.

September 2015, McGill University. A whole new chapter of my life. I started with absolutely no idea of what being a graduate student meant. I thought it was going to be just like undergrad with longer papers and less exams. At the exact same time, I got an offer from the gallery: to become the new community manager, which meant, back then, maintaining our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts up to date. I said I would try it for a month and see how it would fit with school. It worked pretty well.

MY DREAM JOB

I loved having the balance of work and school. On one side I was learning so much from amazing teachers, meeting new people in my field, discovering a new student life, a new campus. On the other side, I had concrete and instant results. I would write a newsletter, translate it, correct it and send it to 2500 people in one click. After that, those people would come and see our exhibitions, they would take photos, post them, tag us, like us, etc. You know how social media works.

Photo by Marion M.

Although I felt like I had found the perfect balance, I realised this only happened because I had seminars to take and credits to earn, in a nutshell, short term projects to focus on. Writing a 100 pages thesis seems like a completely different rhythm.

BALANCE?

Now the dilemma. I spent 20 hours per week at work versus 6 hours per week at school. Since I work on social media, I also get constant notifications and emails that go with the job. Our Facebook page response rate is 3 minutes… You see my problem? I love it so much and I take so much pride in this concrete result that I can’t disconnect. I want to (or do I?) but I don’t know how. I’m physically and mentally always working. At the same time, my thesis subject is great, I’m passionate about it too, but every time, it takes me a while to get into it. I need a few days to focus on school, not think about work and then I can write.

Summer is passing by, September is staring at me wondering how am I going to balance both my job and my thesis.

So far, the best solution I found is this new retreat concept called “Thèsez-vous“. More about it on my next post.

Do you also have trouble balancing your job and your studies?

Guy writes article, what he did next will amaze you. . .

So how much did you hate that title just now? That, my friend, is what they call click-bait, pure and simple. As unwitting participants and harbingers of the modern world, we have created an endemic distraction environment that is both disappointing and infuriating. When scrolling through Facebook, even I disappoint myself by way of where my cursor wanders. The sad truth is that click-bait works, no matter how aware of it we become. How much do you honestly care about the “What happens next…” of 99.999% of articles out there? After clicking on one of those links to an ad-ridden article have you ever later reflected that the experience bettered you in any way? I doubt anyone has, or at least a very small (trending to zero) percentage of the time.

Why does click-bait work so well? I’ll leave out most of the talk about dopamine release, but what it really comes down to is that humans like to gamble. We get pleasure from rewards, like an interesting video or article, and when you only get that reward an unpredictable fraction of the time your brain goes bat-shit-crazy for more of that stimulus; standard addiction phenomenon. The next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed clicking at every “Oo shiny!” moment, just remember that the only thing separating you from that old lady playing 24-hour slots at the local bar is that you don’t stand to make any money.

Now let’s go on a bit of a tangent so that I may indulge my own theories.  What are the things we click on most? That’s easy, cute animals and lists! But why? Things like this are hard to measure so let us do what all megalomaniacs do; take personal speculation for truth. Humans love both babies and cute animals by natural evolutionary instinct. This was likely a driving force for our ancestors when domesticating animals. This trait was quickly selected for and made ubiquitous in the surviving populations due to the massive advantages of domestic animals in early human life. Liking cute animals is no fault of our own, it’s just genetics so don’t feel bad about clicking on cute hedgehog pictures. The other titan of internet drivel is lists! We are innately lazy creatures so the concept of a list is an excellent shortcut to avoid exerting too much mental effort. Much less reading is required and, more importantly, much less cognitive processing because we need not do any meaningful analysis of content. All the information presented to us is already placed in order of importance or relevance by some arbitrary source and grading scheme.

As a whole, distraction is hardly our fault. If you need a scapegoat then biology is always right there, waiting to take the fall. It’s constantly inappropriately distributing awards and predisposing us towards interests that mass media companies can take advantage of in order to bolster their ad revenues.

To tweet or not to tweet: why use social media?

I’ve recently been bitten by the twitter bug.

 

A little birdie told me.

I’ve had an account for years (Twitter says since 2011), but I’ve only started using the social media platform in the last couple of months. A recent conference here in Montreal had a big social media push, and several of my friends and colleagues are tweeters, so I tried my hand at it. I have since been posting fairly regularly. Not only have I learned that live tweeting is a lot harder than it looks, but I’ve also learned that twitter is a pretty awesome tool. Here are some of the things I think are the most useful about it:

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Event: McGill Gets Inspired by TED-Talks

Three Minutes to Change the World

“Fast paced” is practically the antithese of “Grad School.” When you think about explaining your research, doing it quickly is rarely part of the experience. Most of us are prone to panic attacks when our presentations are limited to 45 minutes, discounting the question period as optional.  So what do you think about someone trying in less than 5?

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On sirens and safe-rooms: A letter to all those affected

History always felt to me like something of the remote past, something significant that others have lived and that we learn about years and decades later. Growing up, I always saw myself as living in a time where nothing “historical” happened – no World Wars, no “walls” being built, no worldwide economic crash. Learning about history in school, I perceived life – mine, my family’s and my country’s – as calm and historically uneventful. History was, to me, very distinct from the present. I think it was when 9/11 occurred, during my early teenage years, when I first fully grasped that history and the present are very much intertwined. Since then, I would often ask myself, “Will my kids one day read about this in their history textbooks?“, and would try to imagine events of my timeline as “history” for people to come.

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Why I spend so much time on the internet, part II (tips for grad students)

I’m finally back from an incredible whirlwind tour of entomology conferences. I’ve travelled from Ottawa, Ontario (ESO) to Edmonton, Alberta (ESC) to Knoxville, Tennessee (ESA). I am pooped and my brain is saturated with awesome science.

I was invited to give a talk as part of a special symposium, “From the Lab to the Web”. It featured other awesome people like Morgan Jackson, Dave Walters, Adrian Thysse, Greg Courtney and fellow McGillian Chris Buddle. In my (not-so-) humble opinion, I think it was a highlight of the conference proceedings. My talk was called “A grad student’s guide to using social media as a tool for Doing Science”.

You can check out some voiced-over slides here, but if you don’t feel like sitting through the entire 30 minutes, here’s a quick round-up of the main points:

1. Social media doesn’t need to be scary or overwhelming. Try to think of it as “hallway talk” – the informal socializing, networking, collaborating and community-building that we do as grad students every day, already.

Our peers are using social media at work. You should too. Image from: syracuse.com

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Why I spend so much time on the internet

Internet Forever! (Image from: Allie Brosh at www.hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com) )

Internet Forever! (Image from: A. Brosh www.hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com)

This is a recycled post from my personal blog, The Bug Geek. I’m sharing it here now because it’s rather timely for me: I’m preparing a talk on this subject, with an emphasis on its relevance to grad students, for the Entomological Society of Canada annual meeting in about two weeks; it’s part of a special symposium entitled “From the Lab to the Web”. Also, it’s clear that McGill is one academic institution that is embracing online activities as an important component of learning, teaching, and outreach. These are exciting times, folks….


I’ll update in November with some tips and caveats for grad students. In the meantime, enjoy, and please share your experiences and opinions!

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During the course of an average day, when I’m working on any number of academic pursuits from my home office, I visit a bunch of web sites: library data bases, insect identification aids, online scientific journals, statistical software help pages, how-to lab/procedural pages, etc.

I also spend time on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Flickr and a big ol’ pile of blogs.

I’ve been thinking about the title of a talk I’d like to give. It would sound something like, “Why I spend so much time on the internet.” Lately, I’ve had a number of very interesting discussions with other grad students, faculty members, and online sciencey-folks about the roles and effects of social media on the way we think about science, do science, and communicate about science.

Let me be frank: I’m really, really excited by the buzz about the topic (Morgan Jackson provides a great round-up of blog posts at his blog Biodiversity in Focus ), not only in different social media venues, but also in more traditional, academic forums.

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Science blogging gets some street cred…

I’ve been unfaithful to the Grad Life blog. You may have noticed that I’ve been absent for the past month. I have been spending time with … *gasp* …another blog.

Yes, it’s true.

Logo of the Entomological Society of Canada

But is was all for a greater good.

Today, a very exciting new online venture was launched, and I was a part of it. University of Guelph co-conspirator (er, I mean, c0-administrator), Morgan Jackson, and I have been working like mad fiends behind the scenes for the past few months so that we could announce that the blog of the Entomological Society of Canada is now officially live!

This is kind of a big deal.

Blogging (generally) and science blogging (more specifically) is slowly gaining recognition for its value as a venue for meaningful information dissemination, discussion, critique, collaboration, networking, and outreach.  However, there is still a lot of resistance to blogging, especially in some academic circles. (more…)

Generation Us and Them.

Us and Them.  The digital divide.  The generation gap.  The age gap.  A sign of our times.  The Net Generation.  Generation Y.  It has always been that way – different generations have gotten different labels.  Now with the widespread use of social media (although, in reality the statistic is that only 23 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet) there is a lot of talk about this notion of “Generation Me” – a narcissistic, self-centered generation.  We used to talk about the Hippies and then the Yuppies (both baby boomers), Generation X and Generation Y and now I think we’ve reverted to talking about the “net” generation.   (more…)

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