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…)

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…)

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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Shots Shots Shots

By N. Zelt

By N. Zelt

Well, that time of year has rolled around again. That’s right, we’re getting into flu season. School’s coming into crunch time, working hard to get papers written and experiments finished up before the holidays. What could possibly be worse than getting sick at a time like this? So, don’t forget to get the influenza vaccine.

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Top 5 Tips to Increase Productivity

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @steezsister

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @steezsister

Ah, grad school. Aka the years of your life where you’re learning how much you don’t know, pushing your personal and professional boundaries, and managing an outrageously busy schedule. Grad school schedules come with deadlines. Deadlines for abstract submissions, funding applications, and course work, on top of lab meetings, data collection, and social endeavours. Here are my top 5 tips to increase productivity, to maneuver these deadlines and actually get work done:

1. Make a list

This tip is probably the most cliché of all, but couldn’t be left off of this list. The fact is: it works. I find it much easier to prioritize my tasks when they’re all laid out in front of me. I can see what needs to be done, estimate how much time each item will take, and start working from there.

Make your list before you start doing any work. Include even the smallest tasks, because it’s a great feeling to check items off, and any progress is good progress!

2. Set a timeline and stick to it

When I’m working in the lab, I tend to pick a task to work on until lunch time, and then take my lunch break. Then, I pick another task (potentially the same one, if it’s larger), and work until the end of the day. I always have a time when I know I’ll be leaving the lab, and I stick to that timeline. This helps me set aside blocks of time for each task I need to complete in a day, and knowing how long I’m going to be working on something helps me stay focused and be more productive.

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Thinking days ≠ procrastination

What I call “thinking days” are the days you take for yourself. It can be to sleep in, to organize non-school related appointments, to meet a friend for lunch, or even to watch Netflix. Whatever you need to do! Whatever you want to do!

In the meantime, while you feel like you’re procrastinating on your thesis work, you allow your brain to breathe in order to think better.

It took me a while to realize and accept the fact that: in order to be productive on my “writing days” I needed “thinking days”. My first reflex was to feel guilty about not reading or not writing for an entire day when I had a day off work. I forced myself to study on any available day but the result was just a disaster. Any fly or dirty dish within a mile seemed way more appealing than the blank page staring at me.

Instragram @gradlifemcgill photo by @na0mirlima

After that was my “couch potato phase”. I picked one day, let’s say Wednesday, and I turned all my Wednesdays into home-bound days. I stayed in my pyjamas, didn’t see anyone and consumed way too much junk food and Netflix. Not my finest moments. I was basically forcing myself to procrastinate, as if this would help me to be more productive later on.

Finally, I realized that consciously taking some time for myself was the healthier option. No matter what you feel like doing, it’s a day just for that: do exactly what you want to do. In the meantime, your brain is still being stimulated. You might even surprise yourself by finding something interesting related to your research along the way.

The next day, when I got back to my desk, I was full of ideas and excitement. I also felt that the ground breaking thought I had two days before got processed without much effort, just by staying there, on the side of my brain during my “thinking day”. What a relief! What a great sensation to have!

Have you ever gone through similar phases as I did? What is your secret weapon to fight procrastination?

Cornerstones of Academic Writing

Cornerstones of Academic Writing

My journey with academic writing began when I was a senior undergraduate applying for a fellowship. I had never written a research proposal before and so the result of my futile efforts came in the form of a very literary and romantic piece of writing about a faulty protein in Crohn’s disease – certainly not what you would present to a grant committee. The moment I laid eyes on the edits made to my proposal by my supervisor and saw the generous red markings, I almost fell over in my chair. That was a low moment in my writing career. But after I sat down with my supervisor and discussed the edits, things become remarkably clear, making perfect sense. The most valuable lesson I took from him that day was one simple word: Flow, which is the very first cornerstone I will talk about in this article.

Shortly after this incident, I enrolled in a course offered by Graphos and the McGill writing centre called “Cornerstones of Academic Writing”. It was truly a very fun and interactive course that I recommend to graduate students who are struggling with their writing, wish to improve it or simply want to try out an elective in an unrelated field. I’ll be sharing with you a few pointers I picked up from the course.

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

1

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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How to prepare a great conference presentation:Part 1

Part 1:  The Dos and Don’ts

In approximately 21 days I will be presenting my first ever oral presentation at a conference as a graduate student. I have presented posters before but this is new, exciting territory.  Instead of 3-5 minutes of floor time, I have 15-20! Instead of a single poster, I’m generously allowed to present at least 15 electrifying slides!

The possibilities are endless, and apparently so are the jitters. Luckily, I work with a laboratory full of truly brilliant researchers, each of whom have had more experience than me in presenting at conferences all over the world. Looking for their guidance on preparing the best conference presentation possible, I asked them three questions:

  1. What was the best advice anyone has ever given you concerning presentations?
  2. What are some mistakes you have made in the past?
  3. Is there something you do every time you present?

I’ve summarized their golden nuggets of wisdom for your benefit and mine: (more…)

Tomorrow is NOT another day: Tips to overcome procrastination


After the holidays – those crazy, lazy, sugar-hazy vacation days that we will all miss terribly – it could be hard to get back into the swing of things. Getting up with an alarm, for one, could be the day’s first and greatest challenge. It might be tempting, now more than ever, to hit snooze, to be slow and sluggish, to want to eat and nap at random points during the day, and to procrastinate.

Procrastination is a word I actually became familiar with during my grad studies. It seemed to be a common problem for many, and that is why the term made it to my ears so frequently. But it’s not only an issue that a certain unlucky few are faced with, nor is it just a problem reserved just for grad students; we all do it, at least to some extent, even if we don’t all admit to it!

When you think about it, it’s completely natural for us clever human beings to try to avoid what causes us stress, what puts us in a state of disequilibrium or anxiety, or what feels mentally difficult for us.

Putting things off to another day is not always a bad thing, if you think about it in terms of prioritizing or being realistic about what you can accomplish in one day, or even in terms of needing to call it a day and just relax. But it is when we start putting off things which are in fact a priority and when we start wasting time with things that are absolutely not urgent that procrastination officially becomes a nasty habit that we must try to chase away. ASAP.

After reading fellow blogger Valerie’s recent post about procrastination (or much needed relaxation?!) during the holiday season, I tried to think of some personal tips that have worked for me or for colleagues and friends to help overcome those strong urges of putting things off. Please feel free to share your own advice and strategies, as sharing this kind of information always helps others more than you might think!

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Go play outside!!!

A photo I took today, of a beetle, while I was playing outside. GO PLAY OUTSIDE!!!

Although it’s usually a good idea to make sure you’ve got a handle on your work load (i.e., have a schedule figured out, know when things are due, get started on assignments well in advance of their due date), I think it’s an ESPECIALLY good idea to be on top of things when spring rolls around. Why? Because sometimes, you need to be able to give yourself permission to take a serious brain-break and go play outside.

I know, I know, mid-March in Quebec isn’t really “spring” by most conventions, but it’s close. And, um, have you been outside lately? If not, you should. BECAUSE IT IS SO NICE OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW IT’S RIDICULOUS.

I have been staying on top of my work pretty well lately (impressive for a person who suffers from last-minute-itis and something-shiny syndrome), so for the past 2 days, in addition to getting a bit of school stuff done,  I’ve been outside. A lot. I’ve been doing yard work and cycling and hanging laundry on the line and walking the dogs and taking pictures and sitting on my back porch watching the birds flirt and make nests.

I have a sunburn. And freckles. And a big, silly grin on my face.

Tomorrow will look a lot more like a “normal” work day for me, with more time spent at my desk than anywhere else. but this kind of weather is so good for my mental well-being that I just had to take advantage of it. I feel like I’ve been on a mini-vacation of sorts, and I’m ready to forge ahead with “real” work.

So, grad school survival tip of the day: try to stay a little step ahead of your work so you can take advantage of unexpected opportunities to do something nice for yourself. Like play outside.

(Seriously, go play outside.)

Conference woes and PowerPoint crimes

The beetles almost killed me...but at least they're pretty.

My life for the past couple of months has been pretty much ridonculous. Here’s how it started:

Supervisor: “You should give a talk at the ESC meeting this fall.”

Me (panicking, but appearing outwardly calm): “Cool. But, um, I have no data yet.”

Supervisor: “Well, it’s two months away.”

Me (hopefully): “How about a poster?”

Supervisor: “Nah, give a talk instead. Oh, and sign up to compete for the President’s Prize. It’ll be awesome.”

Me (now really panicking): “Erm, no problem.”

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