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I like to do surveys (like this one)

Lucky me, all the people I study for my PhD are dead a couple of centuries ago. I don’t have to ask them any questions, even if that would be a great help sometimes. Well, all the time, but I can’t. I have to find the answers I need in ancient documents. But some grad students really need to interact with other living humans and ask them questions.

When I studied and worked in communications, I came to understand the value of some surveys. From that time, I almost always answer when someone wants to ask questions for a «good» cause.

The same thing is happening now that I am in grad school. I almost always say «yes!» when somebody needs to do study in order to complete their research. I am even on a waiting list for research about baby’s communication.

If you want to help too, there are quite a lot of surveys you can answer, like this one about Doctoral Students’ Work-Life Balance and Well-Being (psss, you can win 250$ or even 500$!).

How do you find answers to your research’s questions?

Ps:.: I made mistakes? Please, help me improve!

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We occupy the most rapidly evolving age of human kind to date, technology has started to become obsolete or outdated faster than my wardrobe.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…)

Goodbye, students from my conferences!

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @kipunsam.daily

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @kipunsam.daily

For the second time in my life, I was a TA. For 10 weeks, I had to read the assign articles and books of a class and prepare questions in order for students to discuss in the conferences.

Last year I wanted to die because I didn’t even know what conferences were supposed to be (I never had that kind of activities at the University of Montreal), and I had to entertain twenty young students in English.

This year, I was more comfortable. Still stressed, but less. Ouf!

I met incredible students, opened to the world, expert-to-be in their own field, nice and funny. Some were really helpful, correcting my English pronunciation or translating for me. Some encouraged me by their smile. It was really, at least I hope, a multidirectional exchange of knowledge.

(more…)

The vacation boundaries and the “Workshop Blindness”

As the holidays get closer the chance to go back home (or just stay) and escape for a few weeks from the laboratory becomes a relief for the mind. In my case returning home for Christmas means hot chocolate, delicious tamales and other gastronomic wonders from my country. It doesn´t matter if you are staying in Montreal or going to the other side of the world, the important thing is to define clear boundaries in your mind about what it means going on vacation. For some of us it is quite normal to be dining with your aunts and at the same time be thinking about those x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy results or your microscope images. It is ok to let your mind go back to the laboratory once in a while, but as long as you do not close that door your research could be severely affected. Why am I saying this? Well, because it´s not only a matter of returning well-rested to the University but also about changing your focus. Sometimes we spend so much time with our results and hypothesis that our vision starts to narrow and we are prone to omit new details. This is something called “workshop blindness” and it is often related to the lack of attention to negative aspects in an industrial process. However, talking about the work of a graduate student, this can be affecting not only ourselves but also our supervisors. Due to the level of specialization of each one of our areas, it would be difficult to find someone to tell us which kind of details we are missing, as this would be the solution in a factory (external consultants). Then, in my humble opinion, the best solution could be to disconnect ourselves completely from our research during vacation time. But not only skip the work, I mean to fill our minds with different information, like reading a new novel, travel to new places or even play video games. After that maybe it would be difficult to reconnect everything, but eventually, the rewiring will let us find new pieces of that puzzle we call thesis.

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.

(more…)

Grad School! But then what? (Part 2)

Photo by @aleksbud / Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @aleksbud / Instagram @gradlifemcgill

A couple weeks ago I expressed some of my anxiety about my future career plans, my decision to explore my options other than a post-doc and a Career Development Day I was organizing. The event was a rousing success! (I might be a bit bias.) Organizing the event was a learning experience in itself and I’ll talk more about my experiences working with BGSS in a future post but here are the 4 top things I learned from the event.

1. Know what is important to you.
This was an exercise from the Individual Career Planning workshop run by CaPS. Basically you make a long list of different values you might look for in a job (ie. work-life balance, high salary, security, flexibility, problem solving etc.) You take these and put them into 3 piles; needs, wants and neutrals. Then you take your “needs” and order them from most to least important. When you really sit down and think about it, you might be surprised by what aspects are the most important to you, I know I was. Once you have your list you can see patterns and maybe associate them with certain careers. Better yet, give it to a friend; they might see things in there that you can’t. This activity really helped put things into focus and is allowing me to look for careers that will fit with who I am.

(more…)

Make the Most of Montreal – November

This post comes a bit late, since we are at the end of the month, but the following suggestions should still be good for December, otherwise well… I guess next year. They are obviously based on what the current month had to offer for me, and I hope they will give you again some ideas about funny activities for your study breaks.
(more…)

Applying to Grad School: An overview

When I think about how uncertain and nervous I was about applying and beginning grad school this time last year, I always give out a loud laugh, brimming with relief. As an international student, I had to think about how many universities I need to apply to (the application fees are pretty high), whether I was qualified enough for each of those (the level of study/syllabi are completely different), and how I was going to manage my finances (I still convert prices from dollars to rupees and moan about how costly food is in Canada). Taking a loan is a pretty big deal, especially when the loan amount is huge and you’re unsure whether you’ll get a job right after grad school. In my case, since I wanted to get into a biological sciences field with the intention of doing a PhD after, I had to think twice. Do I take a loan of almost 40,000 USD for two years, and do a PhD after? How could I repay it on a PhD salary? More importantly, will I even get into a university? (more…)

#DesautelsFamily

Bronfman Building, Desautels Faculty of Management and snow

Bronfman Building, Desautels Faculty of Management and snow || Photo by Akshay Kohli

It’s been a while now that I stood in front of the Bronfman building’s main entrance at Sherbrooke and admired the history of it all and the legacy that I am a part of. A year, to be precise, since that moment when I ‘looked up’ to realize my existence in front of a building which, in the last few decades, has made many dreams come true. I, like 76 other MBA students, started my MBA at Desautels Faculty of Management in August 2015 and remember when most of us saw the building for the first time, gazing at the red frame shining in the sun, smiling in hope. The construction in front of the gates doesn’t help but we have completely forgotten to stand still, take a breath and look up to the place we are at. The place which has been our home for the last one year.

                The MBA students at Desautels faculty of Management spend most of their time at the third floor. It is not uncommon for students to spend five or maybe six days a week at that floor attending classes, meeting for group projects, completing assignments, planning for club events, chilling, meeting with faculty, tweaking resumes, flirting, writing cover letters, reading cases, searching incessantly for job postings, writing emails in the name of networking and what not. Just as we fail to notice the significance of the Bronfman building in the midst of it all, we forget that these wonderfully passionate people who are at it day in and day out are life stories which are germinating at the moment in the ‘greenhouse of careers’ that Bronfman building is. Typing away amidst all the anxiousness, loneliness, happiness, irritation, joy, disappointments, deprivation, and other spectrum of feelings that an MBA student goes through what keeps them going is the passion that they came here with (and the fact that the debt is real).

                A mother of two toils away to learn to apply business strategy and at the same time hopes that the kids are taken good care of by the husband, a husband, living away from his wife with the hope to change careers and can’t travel home on all weekends due to the piling school work, students from the other side of the world are looking to only go back home to meet their dear ones once they have a job that they want, and some students have been experts in their fields, in their country, but change of location has deemed their skill not as valuable. The struggle is real, but at the end of the day (or semester) these, and many more students, still have a smile on their faces because all of us care. The faculty of management brands us as the #DesautelsFamily but it is not just a branding exercise, it is the root of our existence and success at Bronfman.

I was speaking to a first year MBA student and he said that despite all the challenges that students face at school and in the Canadian market, the reason that we are still going strong is because “They Care”, the faculty cares for each student. No matter what the circumstance, the students of our MBA program should learn one thing- to “Take Care” of their surroundings and the people in them. The students of the #DesautelsFamily, in my opinion, don’t necessarily want to take over the world, but to “make the world a better place” and it’s happening right here at the Bronfman building.

Finally, the construction in front of Bronfman building has stopped and I finally got a chance to stand still, this time in the snow, and admire the house of our big family. Visit us sometime.

———————

For philosophical musings, Twitter @akshayleo25

What is the biggest difference between grad and undergrad?

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Being a graduate student can be tough. A lot of your time is spent working solo in your lab, library, office. You have a lot less classes than in your undergrad so meeting other students can be tricky. Here at GradLife McGill we really try to create a sense of community and hopefully inspire you to get out of your labs and meet all the amazing graduate students at McGill. I really love speaking to new people and learning about their experiences as a grad student. It’s so refreshing to hear other people’s opinions but also so comforting to know you’re not the only one that’s finds it hard to get up in the morning. I tried to capture this in this month’s video by asking fellow graduate students what they thought was the biggest difference between grad and undergrad. Some of the faces may be familiar to you, maybe not, but I am sure their stories will be! Hope you enjoy. Please give any suggestions for future vidoes in the comment section, would love to hear from you. See you next time!

https://youtu.be/6cYGFJvXAJc

Read it and Weep

 

H McPherson

H McPherson

The urban dictionary uses the expression “Read it and Weep” in the context of giving someone bad news, especially if that news is in written form. However, I am using the expression in a purely literary sense.  Although I am perhaps more than two years away from even beginning to write my PhD dissertation, I have been reading award winning alternative dissertations.  What I have read are things of beauty. Articulate, exquisitely crafted, rich with colorful imagery, depth and control of relevant theories. Some extend the boundaries of the genre moving between theory, fiction, autobiography, stream of consciousness fragments, poetry, epistolary forms, and bricolage. Some are hybrids that blend autobiography, ethnography, visual, and performative arts. Once upon a time, I did a MSc in plant breeding and genetics.  Quantitative all the way.  Hard science, pure science. Clean, precise. Predictable. Then my head went BAM and that is now all over. The end of my engagement with quantitative methodology. There is something about the depth and richness of context, of the ability to capture what people have to say in their own words, to describe experiences with emotion and depth. Qualitative methods, language – every word carefully chosen.  Every sentence slowly crafted.  A slow crescendo of language and theory building to a denouement, the outcome of a well-crafted story, where secrets are revealed, leaving no loose ends. There is no going back. I have found a new home.

 

Urban Dictionary, November 24: Folx. (n.d.). Retrieved Novmber 27, 2016, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/

International Endurance – The Call

I have already started what wants to be a series describing some of the activities you can do in Montreal (October post here), and maybe you could not somewhere else. Which brings me to the reasons why I am here.

I have been asked innumerable times “Why Montreal? Why Canada?”, and to be honest my answer has always been an embarrassed mumble hiding the words “I don’t know”… Of course I know in practice why I have come to Montreal: to continue my studies and pursue my PhD. But why HERE? Well, that is the answer I don’t really know. It has happened a bit by chance and a bit by choice. When I decided to apply for graduate studies, I spent days exploring the possible options in different universities and countries. Canada was not even my favorite choice, since I was dreaming the Down Under, Australia or, even better, New Zealand. The funny thing is that, if you ask me why those two, my answer would still be vague. I guess my idea was going… far!
(more…)

Do you have what it takes?

As the end of fall semester gets closer, days become shorter both literally and figuratively. Many of you may know that graduate students have to deal not only with their lectures but also with teaching assistantships, papers, presentations and any other duty to be done. We are the hidden cogs of the academic machinery that keep the academia running, but this noble labor requires an exceptional kind of person.

What makes us suitable for graduate school? Is it only a matter of being smart? Try to think about this for a few minutes on your next trip to the laboratory. Maybe you are an exceptionally smart buddy, but what if you are too shy to speak in public? In this case, you will have to face your fears and confront a set of academics along with a room full of people, which will not hold back just because you are nervous. Maybe you are smart and confident, what about discipline and organization? Do you have the habit of reading by yourself these papers and write your reports? Can you keep track of every experiment and every result without turning your desk into a war zone? Sometimes your supervisor will try his/her best to make time to discuss with you, but most of the time you will have to show that you can be an independent researcher who brings reasonable good results. Ok, so you are smart, confident, disciplined AND organized. Then how do you feel emotionally? Can you deal with failure, lack of motivation and even depression? That without mention that many times you are thousands of miles away from your loved ones and all the things that were familiar to you. In summary, what it takes to be here? A lot. Really a lot. Because even when you lack any of the previously mentioned characteristics you are here doing the job. Because with every one of your weakness and demons you are here doing your best. So for all of my fellow graduate students, fear nothing. You are exceptional human beings and I really hope that this end of the semester you get that paper done, have an amazing thesis defense or that those results finally make sense. Only the best for all of you.

Grad School! But then what? (Part 1)

Photo by @christinekts, Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @christinekts, Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Do you ever think about what you’ll do next after grad school? Does that thought ever scare you? Over the last few months I’ve been thinking more and more about this. I have about a year and a half left and thinking about what comes next has left me with more than a few sleepless nights. It’s a big decision to come to grad school but there are also big decisions to make when you’re about to leave.

It doesn’t help when you’ve heard the stories about how hard it is becoming in academia, especially when you look at the statistics. In 2012, ASCB published a graphical representation of current biology PhD career paths that suggests less than 10% of current graduate students will get a tenure-track academic position. A NIH working group found that while PhDs awarded in biomedical sciences has doubled in the last 20 years faculty positions certainly haven’t and they found over 1/3 of biomedical PhDs are working in non-research related careers.

Now it’s not all doom and gloom, don’t get me wrong. But it is a reality we all need to be aware of and something we need to prepare for while we are doing our degrees. (more…)

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.

(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.

(more…)

Enfer et demande de subvention

Photo par: Fannie

Photo par: Fannie

Étudier aux cycles supérieurs c’est bien.

Être payé pour le faire c’est mieux.

C’est pourquoi j’écume les Internets pour trouver des subventions à la recherche. Mais écrire des demandes de bourses peut toutefois être long, pénible, vraiment stressant et frustrant.

Long, parce qu’il faut trouver lesdites bourses, d’abord. Ensuite, chacune d’elles demande des informations, lettres, projets différents. Il faut réécrire chaque fois son projet en fonction de l’angle souhaité par l’organisme subventionnaire. Parfois, il faut remplir une simple petite lettre, dans d’autres cas c’est plutôt un formulaire de 10 pages.

Pénible, certes, ça l’est. Non seulement postuler pour des bourses demande beaucoup de temps qui serait mieux investi dans la recherche (!), mais s’assurer de collecter tous les documents, en certains cas de la part de chercheurs d’universités à l’étranger, c’est épuisant.

(more…)

How to be creative in an academic environment?

This question has been haunting me for the past six months. I may have already told you this, but I am a graduate student in French literature at McGill. I am doing my dissertation in both research (30 pages) and creative writing (70 pages).

For the past six months, I have been struggling with – what I call – an « administrative paper ». A seven-page paper describing and explaining my dissertation to convince my thesis a committee that it is interesting enough for the university and that they should allow me to start the writing process.

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @na0mirlima

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // Photo by @na0mirlima

I had an interesting conversation with one of my fellow GradLife McGill team members. She was taking a class in which she had to be creative and write about her thoughts on a subject. Since she works in science, she is more used to experiments and results, not necessarily giving her opinion on her work. In my mind, I had the exact opposite dilemma. I was faced with an assignment asking me to prove – based on sources and research – the interest in my field, while I’m used to giving my opinion.

I discussed this with different people in various disciplines and encountered a contemporary artist from London. He told me about his experience at Oxford University, saying: « We were the only ones creating in an environment where everyone else was analyzing. »

Here it is: I need to analyze things as a first necessary step towards creating.

My conclusion is that: in order to be creative in an academic environment, you need to follow the steps. You can’t rush things and create without a well thought out and well proven process. Don’t forget, you are writing a dissertation that might inspire others after you and that needs to add something to your field of study. You are contributing to research! Isn’t that what grad school is all about? Contributing.

What about you? Are you more of a creative or a research type of student? Do you sometime doubt how your work can « fit » within the academia standards?

Self-care in Graduate Life

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @na0mirlima.

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @na0mirlima.

As I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed last week, I came across an article titled “Leadership or Self-Care – That is the Question.” This title shocked me. I took a second to think about what the title was saying: You can have either leadership success or appropriate self-care, but not both. After reading the article, I understand that the author was trying to portray the fact that many successful business-people tend to put their careers before their personal needs – a phenomenon not limited to the corporate workplace. However, I do not agree with the sentiment that you have to choose either success in the workplace OR personal well-being. I believe they need to go hand-in-hand to optimize overall success.

As a graduate student, my workplace is the lab. There are leadership components in graduate school, juggling TA positions, meetings with supervisors and committee members, writing theses, and mentoring younger students. We, as grad students, work long hours when we have to, and go out of our way to make sure our work is comprehensive and presentable. These tasks require great co-ordination skills, time-management, and initiative. In order to execute these skills as a graduate student, it is important to take care of yourself first, to make sure you’re both mentally and physically ready to do so. Thankfully, the last line of the article was, “Rejuvenating yourself will strengthen your leadership.” I completely agree with that statement, and I’ve come up with a list of ways to rejuvenate yourself before December comes and the looming deadlines start approaching.

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Survival 101 (The first time away from home)

As a 20-something student who’s never really been away from home for long periods of time, it sure is tough to move to a whole other country to pursue higher studies. Especially if that other country is around twenty thousand kilometres away, and looking at the air ticket prices makes you want to close your eyes and use your imagination instead. I had decided that I wanted to pursue higher studies way back when I began my undergrad. I wanted to experience how it felt being away from home and having to manage everything by yourself. And so I decided to go to university… on a different continent. A completely different place. Alone (well, alone-ish). Yay! Fun. (more…)

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