To the Conference!

Conference! Those glamorous days when we can wear a nice suit and demonstrate what are we made of in front of dozens of researchers. It can go pretty well and be a good chance to meet new people or make new friends! However, the preparation is essential to achieve your most ambitious plans. Why am I saying this? Well, let’s say that you don’t want to end up stranded in Tijuana on your next travel to a conference. Believe me, you don’t. My first huge conference was on a beautiful beach in the Pacific Ocean, but because of my poor organization, the things went pretty bad the whole trip.

Sunset

Photo by Luis Villegas Armenta

What did I learn? Let me give you a hand:

  1. Always arrive one night before your presentation if you are planning to arrive by plane. You never know when the weather will look for some fun.
  2. Investigate more than one way to reach the conference hotel. Sometimes the roads can be blocked by a construction or maybe the sea just decided to swallow them (as in my case).
  3. Make sure you have a way to pay for everything you could need (extra cash, debit). It would be a shame if your credit card gets blocked out of nowhere (again, my case).
  4. Find a way to contact the conference staff in case of any complication.
  5. Upload your presentation to a cloud storage. USB´s gets lost just too often.
  6. Bring extra clothes. Always.
  7. Finally, have some fun! Even if something bad happens. At the end, you will always remember the beautiful sunset you saw while eating cold pizza on the beach.

Good luck with those abstracts!

Graduate studies: A decision between adventure and chaos – Part 2

Imagine yourself about to jump from a bungee platform. You will see the abyss below you and the urgent feeling of retreat. In that moment you have to options: chicken out and live with the shame in your comfortable way of living… or you jump and see the experience by yourself. In my very personal perspective I would not make the jump as I don’t see the point of throwing yourself off a cliff just for the “YOLO”.

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Photo by Luis Villegas

But I guess that I had a similar feeling when I was about to enter the manager’s office to explain to him that I was about to quit to go back to graduate school. Metallurgy and Materials Engineering to be precise (more details in the previous post Graduate studies: A decision between adventure and chaos – Part 1). He was a nice boss, but he was also a strong old-shaped man whose perception of academic life was not very positive. “Are you going there on the afternoons?” he asked, and I had to explain that actually, I was presenting my resignation. I could feel the disappointment when he reclined in his chair and threw a quick glance to me, but there was nothing I could do. I received several bad opinions from some friends and other close people about my decision by then, so I was starting to get used to that particular reaction. The notice was official, my replacement was selected and started to train him. I received good wishes from my colleagues and I remember that the very last day when I step outside the factory, I felt like I was ready to take over the world. Unfortunately, things started to get crazy during my first weeks in grad school. First of all, my paycheck reduced dramatically for obvious reasons. Second, for some strange phenomena, all days were Wednesday. That day of the week where you do not know if you should press harder as in Monday or to take it easier as in Friday, feeling in a procrastination limbo that lasted 2 years. Working on Sundays? Of course! There is no better day to put your thesis drafts together. Going out on Monday? Why not! After a while, a Tuesday is not really different from a Saturday.  I lost the perception of time in a very interesting way. The days were longer now. There was no work cellphone to wake me up at 3 a.m. However, now sending emails and writing abstracts at 4 a.m. was perfectly normal. At least I could justify my nocturnal eating habits.

All of this was really hard at the beginning, and I could feel tired, more stressed and a little bit paranoid sometimes. But I was excited like never before, my research took me to different places in my own country, I met amazing people and I discovered a whole new world of information. And then the best came when I realized that it did not have to end there. What if I could go further and get a bigger challenge? There was an old wish in my vault waiting since I was a teenager. And there was a maple leaf on it.

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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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).

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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!

A Cup of Tea with Jini Reddy

instagram jini

Jini Reddy (Courtesy of Jini Reddy)

A couple of months ago, I was leafing through Psychologies magazine (December 2014 issue) and stumbled upon an article on a new rising economy: the economy of sharing and swapping that has taken bloom in the UK recently. By some mysterious force, I found myself drawn to the article: from the writing style to the engaging content that depicts a rare initiative of reaching out to people who are complete strangers – it inspired me.  I gathered up the courage and got in touch with the author of the article, Jini Reddy, to ask her if she would share some of her writing and life skills with me. An accomplished traveler and a writer/journalist who writes about eco-travel, nature-based experiences, wellbeing and sustainable living (pretty much everything I dreamed of becoming and still dream of becoming), Jini has quickly become a role model for me.

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Tropical Tribulations, Final Episode: Small Fieldwork, Grand Finale.

*** I just wrote a lengthy, thought-out post, then accidentally clicked on a link, and when I came back I had lost it all. I have no energy to write it again. Thanks, WordPress, for saying you have an auto-save function that doesn’t actually work. Aaaaaaarg. At least it’s not my thesis. Hm. Below is the part I didn’t loose. Co-Bloggers: please hit “save draft” more often than I did in the past two hours…***

24082014732When I arrived in Brazil, one big question lay over the country: would it be enough for the “Hexa”? The sixth title? Here, at home, with the world watching?

It was not to be. The World Cup – which some considered a flawed enterprise anyway – came and went, at lightning speed, as did the Summer. At the end, as I left the country, footballs still flew high in Brazil – as the picture shows – but new hopes had come to decorate the streets. On the school wall, the talk is of “luz”, “esperanca”, “respeito” and “abracos” (light, hope, respect, and hugs); and although the “Hexa” is still visible, somebody has since sprayed a new dream over the old one: “amor por favor” (love please).

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 2: Half-Time. Fieldwork, fast and slow.

one-does-not-bbraomAccording to rumours, something of importance came to end around a week ago in Brazil. Apparently. People still talk about it in the streets. It must have been a big deal. And indeed it was: after six weeks in Recife, the first half of my time in Brazil has come and gone! (Also: the World Cup). Six weeks full of encounters, experiences and events, which yielded a pitiful two interviews so far, and the half-time conclusion that fieldwork is fun! – and slow. And, also, that things rarely go according to plan, which, as it turns out, is usually all for the better. Tales, then, of winding paths – and of another kind of couchsurfing.

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Tropical Tribulations, “Pilot Episode”: Airport Ponderings

indexBack in January, I wrote one of my first posts for this blog – titled “Un novo ano, um novo desafio” [a new year, a new challenge] – about how I wanted to start learning Portuguese. Why? Because I was then planning to conduct fieldwork in Brazil, in the Summer of 2014.

Things since then have come a long way. And so have I, since I appear to be sitting in departure Terminal D of Miami Airport, whose walls are plastered with the above banner. For it has come to be! After a Fall semester spent poking in the dark (topic-wise), and a Winter semester full of Portuguese audio-CDs, vocabulary lists (thanks, Anki!), proposal writing, ethics reviews, funding applications, and other shenanigans, I am indeed going to Recife, capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, for three months of fieldwork, on a topic I won’t bore readers with (just yet).

That my fieldwork coincides with the World Cup is, obviiiouslyyyy, sheer coincidence. Bit like a Black Swan. But still: for all those who were worried that this blog would not contain live-reports from “Copa” games, worry no more. I will try to regularly post updates “from the field(work)”, about travel, research, and futebol. But first, boarding calls. Next step, this:

images

ps: for those remaining in (beautiful) Montréal, PGSS will be screening many Copa games at Thompson House.

Roses blooming in the rain

Roses1

Photo by Kristina Kasparian

 This post is a sequel to my previous post “Growing Smaller“.

 ~ April 20th, 2013

I had been in Italy for nearly two months. I had grown accustomed to my Italian life – to my quiet neighborhood on the bank of the Adige river, to the melody of Italian filling my ear, to the resounding church-bells that sliced each of my days up into half-hours, to the kitchen drawers and cupboards and supermarket aisles, to my bicycle Isabella, to the yellow house on the hill that always caught my eye as I’d wait for the bus in the morning, and to all the faces — of strangers, and colleagues, and new friends – I would see on a daily basis in the small town.  Reluctantly, I also grew used the way the weather would go from sun to rain in fifty seconds, the way the mountain-tops were destined to remain snow-capped in this impossible spring, and the sight of the shivering vineyards, desperate to become green and full, and to keep their promise of wine and life. I had even grown accustomed to the towering mountains, standing like an edgeless backdrop to the scene. They had become my anchor, so much so that I noticed my posture had changed, and I walked much straighter, looking ahead rather than down.

 

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Got a Ticket to Ride?

To Infinity and Beyond! Source.

Long, slow-moving lines in China are never a good sign, especially when preceding a lengthy journey in a cramped space. Such was my luck last Saturday night, as I prepared to go back to my research site after a short work-ation during Spring Festival (a.k.a., Chinese New Year). It had been a restful and productive week in a small Bai minority village, surrounded by the Cang Mountain panorama and Erhai Lake, and only a three kilometer walk through emerald fields to the old town tourist area. If there was a better place to start my dissertation writing, I would be hard pressed to name it. I felt the tension return to my shoulders as I waited for the serpentine crowd to move. And then the whispers caught my ear: “Those people have standing tickets.”

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Three weeks of travel, networking and fish & chips (II)

After four days in London, it was suddenly time to switch gears – time to get into an academic frame of mind, time to spend more time reading lengthy articles than sorting through hundreds of pictures, and time to venture out of my comfort zone and network as much as possible, rather than being perfectly content wandering through a city where not a single person knew my name.

I tucked my London ticket into the zippered pocket of my backpack and pulled out the ticket I needed next. I was off to Bangor, Wales – a place I knew nothing about, except that it was a University town, and that some amazing bilingualism and neurolinguistic research is going on over there.

Photo by Kristina Kasparian

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Three weeks of travel, networking and fish & chips (I)

Photo by Kristina Kasparian

You’ve never been to London? How could that be?”

I’ve had to answer variations of that same question – posed each time with the same sentiment of surprise – on numerous occasions over the last couple of years. As an avid traveler and as someone who spent nearly every weekend of her European Master’s degree jetting off to another capital city, it amazed people (and me) that I had still not been to London, or to any other city in the UK for that matter.

And so, because fate kept London away from me a little while longer – until the right opportunity would present itself for me to be London-bound —the city quickly became a dream for me. It was finally this July, on my way to a summer school in my field of research, when I would finally have a ticket to London in my name.

And let me tell you – I was excited! I read the Lonely Planet London cover to cover (those of you who know me well can attest that I am a very slow reader who rarely makes it to the back cover). I blared London Calling at least once a day (much to the dismay of my husband, who hates hearing the same song over and over again). I even bought myself a Keep Calm and Carry On travel journal in anticipation. By the time I was scheduled to leave, I knew a lot about the city, except about how it would FEEL.

The plan was to spend four days in London, before heading on to Bangor, in Wales, to attend the International Summer School on Bilingualism for two weeks. After a very busy few months of meticulously designing my experiments for my PhD research and having to solve one challenge after another, I was looking forward to taking a break from my routine and life at the department, and hoped to come back refreshed and inspired.

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If science is cake, then this is the icing…

I can honestly say that I love 95% of my work, 95% of the time. Doing Science makes me feel happy and satisfied, and I can’t imagine doing anything else as a career.

That said, if science is my cake, then this is the time of year is the icing on top – it’s field season! Elsewhere, I’ve chronicled some of my Arctic adventures from the past two field seasons, from my first incredible summer living in Kugluktuk (for example, here and here) to my stay in beautiful Yellowknife last year. This summer, my research will take me with a small team to the Dempster Highway, in the Yukon.

Photo by Chris Buddle, used with permission

I’m excited about this for a few reasons, the first of which is that, after this summer, I will have visited every province and territory in Canada. I think this is pretty neat. Second, according to my advisor, the Dempster is the most beautiful place on the entire planet to visit. From his photos, I have to think he’s not exaggerating. (more…)

Conferecing 101

Ok, so you are supposed to go to a conference, and don’t quite know what to expect. I fancy myself to be something of a conference veteran and here are few tips in no particular order:

 

  1. Funds: look for a conference that has student awards. Some organizers will pay you for minor voluntary work. You can look for the McGill Travel awards. Try the usual methods to look for cheap tickets. Work out the costs before going. Typical heads to budget for: tickets, visas, conference fees, local transport, board and lodging, per diems.
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WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO DO THIS SUMMER?

No work
Finally…I have declared a retreat from all activities involving lab work, school work or any associated word relating to “work.” This is indeed a surprise coming from a workaholic like me (if I say so myself…)

The story behind
Winter semester 2010 was particularly a hard one. With writing my thesis, editing and re-editing with a pair of borrowed hawk’s eyes, TAing and working part-time at a CEGEP, I was on a roller coaster of stress and serious time management issues. Simultaneously, I was working on a PhD proposal for my application in Educational Studies (another story in itself).

This semester was worse. Maybe, mostly from recurring fatigues and stress from the previous semester and failure to take a well-deserved break. If it was up to my “Let’s go with the flow” persona, I’d definitely go on vacation with my friends or opt for a lost island with perfectly calm lagoons and refreshing coconut drinks or pinacolada.

However, my scholarship was over and I already had a job at a CEGEP (which I love and intended to keep since I was new), I decreed upon postponing the fun for a while. In addition of my job, I was also working on some publications and additional lab works.

Nowadays
Since the start of this week, I am officially in holiday mode. For one thing, I sleep till late – 10 am and sit on the deck to linger over some tea and muffins. My cat is nowadays my faithful companion (miraculously never leaving my side), since my partner is off to a conference in the States. Then, I catch up on some long awaited readings – books from Wiggs, Griffin, Sparks and Paolini or watch some movies. I prepare a light lunch – mostly tuna sandwiches and indulge upon comforting chocolate desserts. Then, it’s nap time with my faithful cat half-asleep, guarding the bedroom door.

Occasionally, I do think about some pre-reading for my PhD – but I manage to brush off this idea. There’s still gardening to enjoy and new recipes waiting to be discovered…

In a few weeks
When summer will be in full swing, I plan to visit Marine Land and Niagara Falls. I can hardly wait to board the “Maid of the Mist” and feel the rejuvenating powers of the Falls. I look forward to replenish my energy and face next semester with a smile.

Neerusha Gokool Baurhoo

Post-Post-Grad

So – that was that.  My master’s degree.  Was I dreaming?

I have been recently hit with the common post-grad-school realization that I can do ANYTHING I WANT!  I have no familial obligations, no contracts, no school, no… ah wait.  The financial obligations are massive and heavy coming out of this endeavor.   This new stage of life is exciting, terrifying, and very different than anything I have ever experienced.  It is time to find balance – a balance of risk-taking (after all, we are still young!) and responsibility (after all, we are going on our thirties!).  It is time to find a way to work, play, make money and spend it all at once.

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