« Older Entries | Newer Entries »

Teaching at CEGEPs: How to apply and what to expect

For those who are completing a master’s degree, a PhD, or a Post doc, and are passionate about teaching, working at a CEGEP might be a viable career strategy.

Going to CEGEP is a rite of passage for Quebec students hoping to go to universities in Quebec before the age of 21. Established in 1969, these institutions were designed to make post-secondary education more accessible, and to prepare Quebec students for university.  But as someone who experienced it first hand, I can tell you that completing a DEC at a CEGEP means more than the equivalent of your last year of high school and your first year of university.


Professionalization the CAPS way

images (1)Confession time: I’ve never applied for a job.

Sure, I’ve applied for graduate schools, grants and scholarships, teaching assistantships, and once, a course lectureship. And I’ve had  jobs outside of the academy too, ranging from gymnastics coach to in-China program instructor. Some of these applications required CVs, a cover letter, or interview, but none required all the elements (that I’m told) are part of getting a job. Needless to say, as I near the end of my doctoral degree, it’s time to start wising up about getting a job.

In a bid to professionalize, I registered for McGill’s Career and Planning Services (CAPS) workshop series.


How this Grad Life Blog is useful for Grad Life (but doesn’t solve all problems)

GRAPH 1Some weeks ago, Guillaume wrote a nice post about the challenges and puzzles that grading can bring up. Amongst his many good points, he noted that a grade is a fairly reductive, one-dimensional assessment of the many dimensions along which the quality of an assignment can vary. I absolutely agree, and it’s made me re-think how I grade a little.


Concerns of women in research

How can women foster a work-life balance in their research careers?

Did you know Aretha was awarded an honorary doctorate from Princeton?
She had it right in demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

How do we make tough career decisions?

Why do we sometimes feel we’re not good enough to be here?

These are some of the questions that were tackled at McGill’s 2nd annual In her own words 2: Stories from Distinguished Research Careers. The speakers on this panel were Professor Suzanne Fortier (our current Principal), Professor Grace Fong, and Professor Morag Park.

Their advice was thoughtful, but also sometimes discouraging—in the way the best can make success look so easy. This post is for all you who didn’t make it to the event but are curious as to what these power-houses had to say about pursuing a career in research. (more…)

The world is my oyster.

Oysters at The Saint.

That’s a photo that I recently posted on albumatic after having oysters at The Saint in Toronto. Albumatic is a new social networking app that lets you upload photos into the same album as some friends who are at the same event as you. Instead of the hassle of “emailing” the photos, you can simply all “join” the same album and post them simultaneously while at the event.

This post isn’t about oysters (although The Saint’s oysters tasted great). It’s about graduating. Finally!

The first question people ask when you say you are graduating is: “so what’s next?”

That question seems to echo into a vast and empty space and really yield no answers. Makes me feel like a wayfarer in the middle of a long and arduous journey. Holding only a long stick with a handkerchief attached to it. Somewhat Huckleberry Finnesque. Looking out into the distance, wondering, “where am I going?” (more…)

When lying is LYING


Hi, my name is Brocke and I lie occasionally.

Like this: Did you know elephants have 5 kidneys?

That was a lie. However, if repeated enough (or read) it won’t make a difference. Why? Because your brain doesn’t always care about complex aspects like, validity, truth, logic or degree. Often it just wants a new fun fact for the fact book (Maynard et al 1992). So by saying – Seriously, elephants have 5 kidneys – several times. You very likely will not recall that I am telling you it is a complete lie. This is often why we highlight things in papers and books in an attempt to memorize single phrases or ideas for our fact book. Rote memorization and recall involves considerably less hardware than say, describing why you think the tall brunette next to you is attractive or what the concept of time is. So,



Warning: this post contains angst.

The third year of my PhD work is quickly coming to a close (Omg. Aak. Eeek.) I’ve been thinking a lot about post-docs. About the type of research I want to do and the type of researcher I want to become in the long run. About fellowships and funding applications. About finding a great lab and a great mentor.

There’s one other unknown that seems to consistently overshadow all these other considerations, no matter how much I try to convince myself that it shouldn’t be super-important:

where am I going to work?

That one word – “where” – stirs up a flurry of other stressful, intrusive thoughts: where will my wife and I live? Will we stay in Canada, or will we have to move to the US or even overseas? Will we be able to find a nice place that lets us maintain the quiet country existence we’ve both come to love? Will we have to sell our beloved old schoolhouse – or maybe we could just rent it out for a while? Will we be ABLE to sell our beloved old schoolhouse if we need to (the real estate market isn’t exactly on fire right now)? And then there’s our pets – if we move overseas we’ll almost certainly have to put them in quarantine – would we be able to manage that? What about our families? What about my partner’s career (she also returned to school last year to pursue a new path as a social worker)? Will we be able to live someplace that recognizes our marriage – will we both be able to get health care and feel safe in a new community?

This issue of “where” is awfully big. I feel like everything else is manageable, but this one…I don’t know. There are a lot of long-term implications and emotional investments wrapped up in “where”, and frankly it scares the poop out of me if I allow myself to think about it too much

I’m not sure what will ultimately settle the “where” question. We might have to simply follow the available funding. Maybe funding won’t be an issue and I’ll be able to carve out a nice niche for myself in a lab more of my choosing, and someplace where my wife can equally pursue her own dreams. (And maybe pigs will fly?)

I know many of you reading this have either recently made the decision to move to Montreal to attend McGill, or perhaps you are still contemplating it. Others among you may be at a similar point in your grad school careers and are having similarly angst thought. To all of you: what were/are your primary considerations when looking for post-docs/jobs/higher degrees, in terms of the “where” question?


cross-posted at www.thebuggeek.com

To Post Grad or Not?

by Tracey Regimbal

Maybe I’m alone in this, but graduate school sometimes feels like a choice between financial stability now and financial  stability in the future. How did I choose? Obviously my passion for sweater-vests and late night cafes made academia a tangible option.

When I graduated from my first degree I really thought employment opportunities would be kicking down my door. I left McGill with an International Development degree and thought I’d be scooped up by the United Nations, GreenPeace, or something alike. This was obviously not the case, although it did allow me to perfect my bartending skills. (more…)

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


Post-doc testimonials on getting a tenure-track job

When I came to do my PhD at McGill, I had no idea what the job market looked like on the other side. I was doing my PhD because it was fun, a unique opportunity to experience biology and answer questions to things that fascinated me. But as I’ve progressed in my degree, I’ve obviously had to become more serious about prospects of what to do after I finish up. The whisperings I have heard about the job market, as it relates to biologists landing tenure-track positions at research universities, is bleak. I have watched several super-star PhDs struggle and fail to find positions. Frankly, it scares me. So I thought I could help out the future generation of graduate students by giving them some information on how the struggle to find a tenure track position could be, and I have done this by asking for help from five fantastic post-docs, all of whom are currently searching for positions. Below are their testimonials, given from their very personal point of view. Keep in mind that this blog is not meant to scare you! My PhD so far has been a wonderful experience, as it has been for countless others. This post should just enlighten you on the current situation in a few fields. Also keep in mind that these post-docs are presenting their opinions, which are based on their own experiences, and may not reflect the situation in other disciplines.


Outreach may not be a useful currency for grad students – but we should do it anyway

The Buddle Lab, with Nalini Nadkarni (centre)

About two weeks ago, an email from my advisor turned up in my inbox that said something to the effect of, “Canopy researcher Nalini Nadkarni is coming to McGill to give a talk and hang out with our lab. This is a great opportunity, so please come.” When I pulled out my Top-Secret Graduate Advisor Decoder Ring and reread the email, it clearly said, “BE THERE OR I WILL THROTTLE YOU”.

I immediately marked the dates on my calendar.

Now, canopies are not my area of expertise. In fact, I mostly work in climatic zones where there are NO trees (or else the trees are small enough that you can reach up and touch the so-called “canopy”), so I really had no idea what the big deal was. I just figured that my advisor’s excitement stemmed from the fact that canopy work is one of the tools he uses to address questions about arthropod ecology. Nevertheless, a few days before Dr. Nadkarni’s talk, I thought it would be prudent to take some time to acquaint myself with our visitor. So I googled, found her web page at Evergreen State College, and read her CV.


Then I watched both of her TED talks. Yes, that TED. You can watch them here and here. My brain-crush amplified exponentially. Not only was she an incredibly prolific and well-respected scientist, she was also an extraordinary advocate of science outreach**. In the final days leading up to the talk, I was all ohboyohboyohboy.


Does teaching matter?

I’ve written about teaching already this year, and I find myself writing about it again now, in the hopes of getting some opinions from other grad students.

I’ve been the teaching assistant for a lab the past few years. When the powers that be restructured the lab in a major way last year, I made some fairly significant contributions to its new format, in terms of the material being taught and how it was presented. I am tweaking things even more this term, based on feedback from last year’s students and on some new pedagogical approaches I’ve learned.

I think that the current labs are definitely better but not best, and would really benefit from a thoughtful and thorough revision and updating. So I got this idea that I would approach the chair of our department and offer my (paid) services to do the work, perhaps over the summer since my field component won’t be so heavy this year. Not knowing whether this was even remotely feasible, I went and spoke to my advisor and told him my idea.

I mostly expected him to say: “It’s not really appropriate for a student to take on that kind of role,” and I would have accepted that. If that didn’t happen, the alternative I’d imagined was something like, “Cool. This would be a great course development/teaching experience. Approach the chair and check it out, but make sure you’re still getting your research/publications done in a timely way,” which I would have perceived as both awesome and perfectly reasonable.

But what I heard, and what surprised me, was this: “No one reading your CV is going to care about something like that. It’s not a good use of your time. Write and publish papers. That’s really all that matters.***”


Shooting the movie «Saudade »

This post will describe how the shooting of my movie Saudade took place, with all its challenges, misadventures and surprises.

Step 1: Writing

I started writing the script during summer 2010. It took me about 1 year to take the film from ink on paper to concretize it to reality. Writing was a challenging process, because I had to show each draft version I wrote to about 10-15 persons at least, who are all experts in their field, and who would each give me a constructive feedback or guideline that i would follow, and eventually the mold was formed. Now the beauty about this whole writing process is that it is very inquisitive, and it enables you to dig deep into yourself and your past in order to find something that has left an impact or a scar in your heart. Because I can assure you that evry scriptwriter writes something about himself in his scenario, and there is always a hint of autobiography in it.

Step 2: Team Building

Now that I had a script in hand with a plot, a climax-driven story and an evolution of characters, I had to cast the actual actors that were going to play those characters. And this was not a difficult task: i knew already Mounia Akl and Cyril Aris, 2 professional actors/writers/directors, and Yasmina Hatem, a childhood friend. When she was 16-years old, Yasmina had been affected by the death of her mother who was fighting cancer, and cancer happened to be the main theme of my movie. So I decided immediately to cast her as the lead actress, as this would not only serve as a catharsis for her, but also reflect very realistically on her acting on screen. The main actor was a whole other story, because i cast 4 different persons before coming up with someone sufficiently credible for the role (age-wise).  I built the whole cast & crew from afar, prior my arrival to Lebanon. And this was the most challenging part, because when you are doing logistics from abroad, it is hard to make people commit to your project, especially professionals in that field, because they could have other projects coming up for them at the last minute.

Step 3: Pre-production- Meetings, meetings, and… meetings

Pre-production was a real hassle, because as soon as I arrived to Lebanon, we had to arrange meetings with the whole crew, both individually or as a group. Tasks were delegated to each team, be it sound, production, cinematography, art direction, etc… And they included: establishing a detailed budget, reaching out for sponsors, choosing the camera movements, defining the cinematographic language of the movie, its mood / atmosphere, color palette. Then the next step was to sit down with the AD (Assistant Director) to make the decoupage, which is like a written storyboard, detailing all the aspects of the scenes shot by shot, with the sounds, camera movements, and so on. The next step in the process included establishing a work plan, i.e. doing a schedule including when / where each scene was going to be shot. The call sheet was detailing all the contact info of people from the crew, especially the actors, so that the AD could call them while we are on set to tell them to come prior to a scene.

Step4: Production

The shooting itself was a lot of fun. And very magical. I felt many times that it was a bit surreal, that I was floating on a cloud. Everything happened so fast, it was just 4 days of shooting, from 6 am till sometimes midnight. We worked intensive hours, but it was very productive, and eventually we were all very satisfied of the result. I loved so many things during this shoot: I loved the teamwork, the fact that we were all together to accomplish a project and follow our dreams. I loved the fact that there were so many improvs in my movie. I was very lucky because i had such amazing actors, and they were all so natural and brilliant in their acting and improvisation that it added a lot of humor, simplicity and realism to the picture. I loved the rush of having to choose the accessories in art direction and putting them in place quickly, before te DOP and his team starts the lighting. I loved how the words Action and Cut could have such a strong impact and draw the line between reality and fiction. I loved the fact that after 4 days of continuous shooting, we were all so exhausted and dead, but yet so happy, satisfied and proud of our new accomplishment. I loved saying the sentence Its a wrap, on the last day of shooting at midnight, even though there was a pinch in my heart because i never wanted this to end. I wanted it to last forever… But unfortunately, every good thing has an end.

You can watch and share the trailer on Youtube at the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7G34Zzc-Xe.

Like the page on Facebook called « Saudade » in order to follow the news for festivals, screenings, pictures of the shooting, plot description and so on, by clicking on the following link: http://www.facebook.com/saudademovie






« Saudade » is the title of my new movie. As I had mentionned in my previous post, I have written, directed and produced a short film last summer in Lebanon, and the trailer has just been released last week-end. It features Cyril Aris & Mounia Akl, Yasmina Hatem & Malek Rizkallah, Nabil Ghorayeb, Mona Fakhry and Thomas Chelhot. Assistant Director: Nicolas Cardahi, DOP: Marc Abiad, Sound: Melissa Karam, Music: Barnabas Folk, Ivan Folk and Milan Kuli, Art Direction: Mirella Salameh and Mounia Akl.

You can watch and share the trailer on Youtube at the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7G34Zzc-Xe.

You can also visit the page on Facebook called « Saudade » in order to follow the news for festivals, screenings, pictures of the shooting, plot description and so on, by clicking on the following link: www.facebook.com/saudademovie

Hope you enjoy it ! Comments and feedback are welcome.

Synopsis of the movie:

The story unfolds in Beirut in 2003. Two couples, two divergent destinies: one spiraling upwards, the other downwards. Leila and Nabil have been together for two years, and the stars seem to be aligned for them. They are both rising actors full of dreams and aspirations, and they have all life lying in front of them to accomplish them. Their friends, Hala and Kamal, are experiencing the ups and downs of married life. Deeply in love, they each have their own passion: the former is a writer, the latter a photographer attracted to the sea since his childhood. A couple whose love cannot be spared by the tricks of fate manipulating them. Caught in a dilemma, the woman finds herself trapped in a whirlwind of guilt, apprehension, and eventually undertakes a decision that she is not close of forgetting.

The Baby and The Fat Belt


I just lost my entire post. What kind of website doesn’t automatically save drafts?! WordPress, you are on thin ice.

I am forced to paraphrase what I had written before about being a TA and wrestling students if they challenged my authority- but I suppose I’ve lost the zeal to do so and will talk of other matters.

I also made fun of how cluttered my lab was.


Question marks

Around the fall of the last year of his or her degree, a graduate student’s mind begins to wander. The effect is barely noticeable: a fleeting thought about potential jobs here, a procrastination-driven web browse through a career site there. But as the fall progresses, and the dreaded Thesis approaches with alarming speed, reality begins to set in, and we are forced to face the obvious: our imminent entry into the Real World. 

For so many of us, the Real World is a mythical place, like Atlantis but decidedly less cool.  To the timid grad student, it seems as though the Real World is a place where naïveté and scholarly innocence go to die. Sure, we are locked in the lab, sometimes for 12 hours a day, weekdays and weekends, but we still have flexibility, a flexibility that work world cannot afford us. I am not saying that there is nothing to look forward to when we exit the grad school bubble – being paid a real salary is certainly high on that list! – but there are real worries that set in as well. Many grad students, myself included, have been in school since they were 5 years old. We have become accustomed to the comfort of knowing that we still have time to figure our lives out and that we are on a set path for X more years. As monotonous and frustrating graduate school can be, it is still something that most of us are doing by choice. Our successes, however far between they may be, are always worth the toil and will eventually lead to the coveted degree. The work world, on the other hand, is an unknown, and this question mark scares us. (more…)

Merci, Québec!

I arrived in Montreal close to three years ago, and I am still here. What is it about this place that attracts me so much? Is it the people I have encountered, the experiences I have had, or the beautiful and vast nature of this land that makes me feel so much at home here? I do not know. I do know, for one reason or another, I belong here. (more…)

Ironies of Blogging in Academia

A story in the online Chronicle of Higher of Education (July 3, 2011) got me thinking because the story echoed some of my own experiences with absurdity in academia.  The following quote about a woman whose husband was denied tenure struck me:

“After all, most people in most jobs don’t get fired without really having messed up. Most people don’t have their employment decisions made by a group that consists of the majority of their colleagues, so that everyone knows exactly what went down except for themselves and a few other people. And, of course, most people don’t have employment decisions that come down to the two extremes of “Well, we’re either going to can you or give you employment for life.” Even lawyers going through the partnership process think tenure is nuts.” (more…)

A Decade of Education, A Decade of War

This story begins in a kitchen in Prince George, BC, where I stood in my bathrobe, jaw-dropped, already shell shocked, at the images conjured by radio commentators describing the twin towers coming down.  Far away from northern BC, we had visited NYC three years ealier and were lucky enough to have seen the twin towers that, unbeknownst to us, would vaporize an instant later in historical time. (more…)

On Fighting For Your Life

The other day I used a disease metaphor to describe what it is like to be unemployed.  You go through four stages: denial, anger, grief and acceptance.   Right now I am in the latter two stages.  At first (a year ago) I had a naive insistence about the job search I do not have now.  After that a little bit of anger pushed me through the summer (2010), made me apply for more jobs.  And I even got a few interviews (four I think). (more…)

« Older Entries | Newer Entries »
Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.