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Believe nothing, question everything and never stop!

When I remember my days as an undergrad, I feel the good old nostalgia of those days when my friends and I gathered in the faculty cafeteria to prepare tests, homework or anything else. However, the challenges are quite different now. Back then the answers were almost absolute. If you were able to read the book and manage to improve your ability to solve logical problems, you were on the other side of the river. During a graduate research, who can say if something is correct or not? Of course, your supervisor (an expert in the field) must have a strong opinion about a subject, but if you find evidence rejecting his/her hypothesis, then who else can give a precise answer? In my own field, there are many questions that nobody has really answered, while some researchers publish papers with vague explanations to incredibly complex phenomena. And inside this whole chaos reside the real beauty of science. Many times we simply have no clue of what is happening. And our sole weapon was created a thousand years ago.

Photo by: @lyly.man #gradlifemcgill
“…after a close room, what hurts them most is a dark room, and it is not only light but direct sun-light that they want… People think that the effect is upon the spirits only. That is by no means the case. The sun is not only a painter but a sculptor.” Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing, 1860.


Don’t Talk So Good, Not Dumb.

By N. Zelt

Ever speak with someone and not understand a single word they say to you? Then their incomprehensibility leaves you feeling like an idiot, and the other person treating you like one.  Trouble communicating is a failure of both parties, not just the confused one.

Being a student at McGill gives me countless opportunities to interact with people from a plethora of diverse backgrounds. And while English may be an official language in many countries, only a little more than 5% of the global population actually speaks it. Even fewer than that speak English as their native tongue. The result: there is no small number of people in this world who don’t speak English, or don’t speak English well. That’s not even considering that we live in Quebec, where 80% of the population are Francophones. (more…)

Societies? A brief comment about Student Memberships

During a conference, an individual with pamphlets will approach you talking about the incredible opportunities you can get when acquiring a student membership for the “(insert discipline here) Canadian/American/International Society”. He/she will tell you that for a yearly fee, you can get access to incredible awards and contacts for your future professional life. However, you should be careful when selecting on who are you going to invest your precious stipend. In my case, I was somehow suspicious about spending any money on something without any immediate benefit. But after a year, I found interesting things. It is important to note that my personal experience is limited to Engineering societies, but some points could be shared with other disciplines. Here are the benefits that I know first hand:


Publier son mémoire, c’est possible!

Camille Robert // Academia

L’automne dernier, j’ai fait la connaissance de Camille Robert, historienne et étudiante en pédagogie de l’enseignement supérieur à l’UQAM. Quand j’ai appris qu’elle faisait des démarches pour publier son mémoire – «Toutes les femmes sont d’abord ménagères » : Discours et mobilisations des féministes québécoises autour du travail ménager (1968-1985) – j’ai été vraiment impressionnée! Comment publie-t-on le fruit de ses recherches?

Quel est le sujet de ton mémoire?

Mon mémoire porte sur les discours et les mobilisations des féministes québécoises autour du travail ménager. Par travail ménager, on entend généralement toutes les tâches d’entretien du logis et de soin des personnes formant l’unité familiale.

Dans mes recherches, j’ai voulu expliquer comment les féministes se sont appuyées sur le travail invisible exécuté par les femmes pour formuler de nouvelles revendications. Au début du XXe siècle, le travail des mères et épouses au sein du foyer a servi de levier pour obtenir certains droits, par exemple le droit de vote. Mais c’est surtout à partir des années 1970 que l’enjeu du travail ménager devient central dans le mouvement féministe. Plusieurs féministes y voient la source de l’infériorité des femmes dans plusieurs sphères de la société… Par exemple, le fait que les professions traditionnellement féminines (enseignante, éducatrice, secrétaire, infirmière, etc.), qui sont en quelque sorte des prolongements du travail ménager, soient sous-rémunérées et dévalorisées. Dans mon mémoire, j’examine également les différentes avenues de reconnaissance du travail ménager proposées par les féministes : salaire au travail ménager, socialisation du travail ménager et réformes gouvernementales.


Pourquoi le doctorat? Parce que… j’aime ça.

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @yogipetals

À la sempiternelle question «que vas-tu faire avec un doctorat?», je ne sais jamais vraiment quoi répondre. Parce que j’ai quelques idées, mais que je ne le sais pas. Disons que les offres d’emploi qui stipulent que le candidat doit avoir un diplôme de troisième cycle en histoire sont plutôt rares – pour ne pas dire presque inexistantes – et qu’il faut se créer des occasions.

Alors, pourquoi me suis-je embarquée dans plusieurs années d’études, surtout sachant que j’allais avoir une toute jeune famille en même temps? Et que j’avais un travail bien rémunéré?

La réponse, toute simple, est que j’aime cela. J’aime étudier. J’aime lire. J’aime faire de la recherche. J’aime apprendre.


Fit As A Bird?


By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt


I never thought I’d wish that I were a bird, but by the end of this post you might also.

I exercise quite frequently, and though I’ve never been a big fitness buff (pun intended) I still make time to keep fit and healthy. Interestingly, not all species have to do that. Imagine not ever having to lift a finger, yet staying as lean as an Olympic athlete. (more…)

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…)

Let’s talk about mental health

Photo from the Berkeley Science Review

Photo from the Berkeley Science Review

If you listen to the radio or watch local TV with any regularity, then you know that last month (Jan 25) was Bell’s Let’s Talk day; a fundraising and awareness campaign that uses social media to raise money for mental health research. And if you’re like most of us, you’ve let the ads come and go, and you may not have thought about mental health since.  But the reality is mental illness is still here, especially in grad school, and it’s an issue we need to talk about.

The University of California Berkley conducted a survey of their graduate students and found that mental wellness issues are alarmingly pervasive in academia.  On their campus, more than half of graduate students reported issues with depression and anxiety!  That’s close to 10 times higher than the national average for the US, and things don’t look much different here in Canada.

Why are grad students at risk? (more…)

What do you do (other than grad school)?

Photo by sasint / Pixabay

Photo by sasint / Pixabay

As a grad student I constantly find myself strapped for time. There is a pile of experiments to be done, lab reports to mark, an apartment to be cleaned and even friends to see. Sometimes it can be hard to juggle all of these things and still keep up with my other interests. However I think that one of the important lessons I’ve learned is that you need something other than grad school to keep you balanced. Maybe it’s a sports team, or a community group, or maybe you volunteer and give back to your community. Healthy McGill is running the Self Care Challenge this week and one of their recurring themes is taking time for yourself. It couldn’t be more important. Personally, I volunteer as a Girl Guide Leader. (more…)

La cervoise Alésia: entre histoire et dégustation

Cervoise Alésia

Cervoise Alésia

L’automne dernier, en attendant de payer mon café au Permis de Bière, je regardais les bières autour de moi. L’une d’entre elles sortait du lot avec sa bouteille en forme d’amphore: la cervoise Alésia. Curieuse, je lis l’étiquette. Ça alors! Cette cervoise est le fruit d’un minutieux travail de reconstitution historique! J’ai voulu en savoir plus.

L’homme derrière la cervoise, Stéphane Morin, est littéralement un puits de science sur plusieurs sujets, dont l’histoire brassicole. J’ai eu droit à une entrevue de deux heures où j’ai pu m’initier à cette partie de l’histoire que je connaissais assez peu, pour ne pas dire pas du tout.
Ayant entre autres en poche un baccalauréat ès arts et une maîtrise en histoire (Brasseurs, brasseries et activités brassicoles dans la plaine de Montréal, 1788-1852 – UQAM), Stéphane, qui fête cette année ses 30 ans de métier, a été en 1997 le premier à enseigner la dégustation de bière à l’École Hôtelière des Laurentides, ce qu’il fait encore à l’École Hôtelière de Montréal. Il a été l’instigateur du festival de bière de Chambly et du Mondial de la bière, a fondé le regretté magasine Effervescence, est l’auteur de plusieurs livres et chroniques et il donne des conférences. Il a également recréé en 2007 la seule cervoise commercialisée dans le monde. Qui a dit que des études supérieures en histoire ne menaient à rien?

Where we make our last stand

Where we make our last stand

Today is the last day of January. The first month of 2017 comes to an end with a dark outcome that left me sorrowful. I will not talk about any political moves or news here, as this post is not intended to recap what we are seeing in the media.

The only thing I want to remind you, is what I mentioned in some other post lately (Do you Change the Ideas or the Way of Thinking?). Our role as Graduate Students is quite important, as we help to drive the mankind development from each one of our areas. It doesn’t matter if you are developing a new alloy, creating a new vaccine or studying an ancient text. Every single one of these works matters, as they are focused on improving our living conditions and/or our understanding of the past, present and future.

Last stand

Photo by Luis Villegas. Bayfront park Hamilton, Ontario. 


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.


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.


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!

Go to the Library

Photo by H McPherson

Photo by H McPherson

Have you ever been stuck in your research, cannot find the article (any article) that will help you move forward?  So you sit in front of your computer, gears spinning, groaning.  Frustration mounting, grains of sand moving through the hour glass?

Go to the library.  Ask a librarian.  All your dreams will come true.  Two or three focused questions, a bit of magic, and then papers, articles – everything you were looking for is there.

Are you familiar with Boolean logic?  How to use AND, NOT, “ “, or *. Which data base to use? What key words will give you results?  Or how do you adjust your search when you have too many hits? How to use filters? The glitches in a data base? If not, you need to talk to a librarian.  What about setting up alerts to notify you when new articles come out from previous searches you used in a data base?

And what about endnote – if no one has told you about endnote – go ask a librarian.  You want, no, you need endnote.  I waited six months to figure out endnote, and then spent the better part of two days entering articles.  Time well spent, but I should have figured endnote out day one.  If you have not used endnote – well, let’s just say grad life is better with endnote. If you haven’t discovered endnote, don’t know where to start – go ask a librarian. There are 1.5 hr workshops. The librarian I spoke to described endnote as miraculously good software.

There are even ways to use Google scholar effectively.  Did you know you can set up Google Scholar to link directly to McGill AND to endnote?  (Go to the setting menu in Google Scholar) That blew me away!  Cited by? Use it.

Any questions?  – Well, you know what to do.

I have two versions of my Master’s thesis

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @na0mirlima

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @na0mirlima

Once upon a time, I was doing my Master’s degree about a Latin text found in a big volume written by a Jesuit in 1710. I did a translation from Latin to French and wrote about the author and how his text was presenting the Native Americans. After two years of work, I finally submitted my thesis and started to work in communication, waiting for the result.

One day, I received an email from one of the members of the committee. I was wrong. The text’s author was not an 18th-century Jesuit, it was a 17th-century unknown layman. Please make again half of your thesis.



Laura’s Adventures in Montreal: The Opera

Photo by @MustangJoe / @pixabay

Photo by @MustangJoe / @pixabay

Well it’s been a while since my last adventure, but next week I’m off on my next one. This time I’m heading to the opera! Now I know opera is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it gets a bit of a bad rap. Or maybe it’s just people don’t often have the opportunity to experience it. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s more accessible than you might think.

I attended my first opera during my undergrad. It was an university production at the University of Ottawa and a bunch of us went, mainly because we didn’t have other plans and it felt classy. But I was surprised how much I enjoyed the spectacle of it. The music, the vocals, the drama, it was astounding! And thus began my interest in opera. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of performances both here in Montreal and elsewhere.

So, if you feel like checking out an opera, how do you go about it? Well I have 2 recommendations for you; Opera McGill or Opera de Montreal. I’ve seen several performance by both companies and not only were they spectacular, but they both offer student discounts for the budget-conscious grad student. (more…)

Proof you should be sleeping at work!


By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt

Do you feel tired? I know I’m tired. Did you get enough sleep last night? I know I didn’t.  So what’s there to do? Well,  do you remember the days when you were a kid and you used to nap? (insert something about how awesome those days were). What ever happened to napping anyways? I’ll tell you, you stopped doing it is what happened. Nowadays most people think napping is just for little kids and the elderly, but that’s simply untrue. (more…)

Des vacances? Quelles vacances?

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Oui, la session est déjà recommencée depuis une semaine. Et je n’écris que maintenant à propos du congé du temps des Fêtes.

Congé, c’est un grand mot. J’ai bel et bien rendu tous les examens corrigés en tant que T.A. avant le 22 décembre. Je n’avais pas de dossiers urgents à terminer à Noël. Mais j’avais mes deux enfants avec moi chaque jour.

Ne vous méprenez pas, j’adore passer du temps en famille. Aller faire les courses tranquillement, regarder la Pat’Patrouille (les initiés comprendront!), faire des tours de blocs. C’est amusant, mais reposant, non. Surtout avec les brunchs et soupers en famille où il faut non seulement déplacer la marmaille, mais aussi tout ce qui vient avec (jouets, chaise haute, couches). Et gérer les crises de fatigues. Et ramasser encore et toujours les trop nombreux jouets qui s’accumulent sur le plancher.


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…)

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