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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…)

Laura’s Adventures in Montreal: Les Grands Ballets

balletshoes

Image by skeeze, Pixabay

One of the best things about doing graduate studies at McGill is the fact that it’s in Montreal. Unfortunately, due to the long hours in the lab, I often don’t take advantage of all the great things this city has to offer. I’m sure many of you can relate. However, in my struggle to achieve a good work-life balance, I do try and get out on occasion. So I thought I would share some of my adventures with you. Perhaps I can inspire some of you to get out and explore this city as well. Plus I’ll let you in on some of the deals you might be able to take advantage of.

My most recent adventure involved a trip to the ballet. I love the performing arts, probably in part because it’s so far removed from my wheel-house. Last week I went to see Les Grands Ballets de Montreal perform Romeo & Juliette. It was an amazing performance. Now I don’t pretend to know much about the technical aspects of ballet but from where I was sitting it was a stunning display of agility, physicality and grace. (more…)

Dieu merci, je suis aux études pendant que mes enfants sont jeunes

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @fanidee

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @fanidee

J’ai parlé ICI des désavantages d’avoir des enfants tout en étant aux études graduées. Ce n’est pas facile tous les jours, mais les avantages sont tout de même nombreux. Oui, oui!

D’abord et avant tout, c’est fantastique d’avoir (en tout cas en histoire) un horaire flexible. Mes heures de TA sont au milieu de la journée, je ne suis donc jamais à la course le matin pour aller porter les enfants à la garderie. Surtout lorsque mon plus vieux entrait dans son «terrible two», ne pas être pressée était une véritable bénédiction lors des crises de bacon matinales. Le soir je vais chercher F-A et M-A à 17h, ce qui me permet d’avoir assez de temps pour préparer le souper et pour jouer avant le dodo.

Pouvoir travailler de la maison est aussi un avantage non négligeable. Surtout après des nuits mouvementées où le sommeil s’est fait rare. Sortir à McGill après un maigre trois heures de sommeil? Non merci, je préfère écrire en pyjama de mon salon et ne montrer mes cernes qu’à mon chat. Si la productivité n’est pas au rendez-vous, une petite sieste permet de me remettre d’aplomb.

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The Dream You Don’t Dream

The Samuel Bronfman building is the house of business studies at McGill University. Each year a batch of students begin their two years journey of dreaming and a batch leaves the building with the satisfaction of having achieved their dreams and the joy that the last two years bought to their lives. But there are some dreams that no one dreams and that dream that you don’t dream is reality that surpasses your expectations. Something that you never imagined or fleetingly hoped for but never expected.

In 2012, five students got together at the third floor of the Bronfman building and decided that they want to tackle the problem of world food scarcity. They did not know what they would achieve but they had the courage to take up this challenge while braving the rigors of an MBA course. The team saw a spectrum of ups and downs but one year later in September 2013, the same five students from McGill University won the Hult Prize with their unique solution of using insect-derived flour to win a bid to address food security, in the process winning USD $1Million as seed funding to further pursue their idea. It has been three years since they won and the Aspire Food Group is still going strong with their mission of providing a sustainable food source to millions of people around the world.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton with McGill’s 2013 winning team (from left to right): Jesse Pearlstein, Shobhita Soor, Zev Thompson, Gabriel Mott and Mohammed Ashour. / Photo: AP Images for the Hult Prize

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton with McGill’s 2013 winning team (from left to right): Jesse Pearlstein, Shobhita Soor, Zev Thompson, Gabriel Mott and Mohammed Ashour. Photo: AP Images for the Hult Prize

The Hult Prize is the world’s largest student competition for social entrepreneurship and this year’s challenge is centered on “the refugee opportunity”, specifically reawakening human potential, and build sustainable, scalable social enterprises that restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022. Students have an opportunity once again to tackle an issue where social enterprises of any kind can help attain the target. The beauty of Hult Prize is that with such a broad topic, it allows students from all backgrounds to view the challenge with a different lens and uniquely use their skills in the quest to find solutions.

On Sunday, December 4th , McGill University is hosting Hult Prize @ McGill — the university-level competition for the prestigious Hult Prize. Winners from the university level event will go on to represent McGill at the regional competitions in March 2017. The winners of the regional event will then participate in a six-week long accelerator to refine their ideas before presenting at the finals at the annual Clinton Global Initiative in September 2017 and get a shot at securing USD $1Million as seed funding.

The Aspire group probably didn’t dream this before it happened, maybe you haven’t dreamed it as yet. But this is your opportunity to live the dream that you may have never dreamt and in the process impact the lives of billions of people.

Those interested in participating can find more information about the McGill competition and the Hult Prize. Follow Hult Prize on Facebook to get updates of events and workshops.

 

A Friend in Fear

It’s that time of year again, when the streets are lined with ghouls and monsters, department stores are filled with plastic skeletons and more candy than they have room for, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s finally Halloween! Even though I’m a sucker for all things pumpkin, I’m most excited about all the new horror that comes with each Halloween season.

pumpkin patch

I’ve always loved anything that’s designed to scare. Ghost stories, zombie hoards, slasher flicks, you name it; I was that kid in junior high that made my friends watch the Blair Witch Project for my birthday party! There’s just something so exciting about the sense of unease that comes with being scared and so, it seemed fitting that my first post with GradLife McGill should be about fear.

Of course I’m not alone in my love of horror, and perhaps it’s not surprising that my grad student tendencies lead to me wondering why so many of us are drawn to fear. A couple PubMed searches later and it turns out that I’m not alone in my curiosity either.

Researchers have looked at the allure of being scared from many angles and in many disciplines. Some psychologists have theorized that people are drawn to horror as a way to “practice” reacting to real-life situations (1). There’s even research on how horror movies help bond couples on dates (2)! After all, according to data scientists at OkCupid, liking horror movies is the number one predictor of long term relationship success (3). But as a meta-analysis in Media Psychology points out, the love of being scared might all come down to the way we interpret our reactions (4). In other words, some of us are drawn towards fright because we also experience excitement that we interpret as pleasurable; this also helps to explain why, although we all get scared, only some of us enjoy it.

I personally identify with the pairing of fear and excitement. I’d even add that fear can also be a powerful source of motivation; it’s just a matter of pointing that motivation in the right direction. Four years ago, the idea of moving across the country and starting a graduate degree and a new life away from everything I knew was absolutely petrifying, but it was also exciting. I used that feeling of terror in the pit of my stomach to push me towards my goals and, although it’s definitely not been easy, it was the right choice.

My grad school life, like many others, is full of situations that scare me. Whether it’s starting a new experiment with my hypothesis on the line, or taking on the mentorship of an eager, impressionable undergraduate, the excitement of what could happen is always accompanied by a vein of fear. So while I sit here surrounded by glowing jack-o-lanterns and with a classic horror movie playing in the background, I’m reminding myself to embrace my fears, and to use them to make the most of opportunities as they come along.

After all, grad school is terrifying. But maybe that’s why I’m here.

IMG_20161028_213938 (2)

 

Works cited:

1Christian Jarrett (2011). The lure of horror. The Psychologist. 24:812-815

2Zillmann et al. (1986). Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(3): 586-594.

3 Rudder, Christian (2014). Dataclysm: who we are when we think no one’s looking. New York, New York: Crown Publishers.

4Hoffner and Levine (2005). Enjoyment of Mediated Fright and Violence: A Meta-Analysis. Media Psychology, 7: 207-237

Late Entry: When is the right time to do a PhD?

 

Photo:  H. McPherson

Photo: H. McPherson

I have not counted the number of times that someone has asked: So why are you doing a PhD? The question does not stem from genuine interest in my proposed research, nor does it come from an interest in my possible future career aspirations in academia. Rather, the question arises because I am clearly old(er). Over 50 older.

In our department (DISE), the age of doctoral students is more or less 1/3 under 30, 1/3 between 30 and 45, and yes, 1/3 between the ages of 45 and 60. No one asks the under 30 crowd why they are doing a PhD. It is understood that they wish to challenge themselves, or they feel a driving force to explore and learn new things, to improve their abilities to understand and solve problems, and they all hope to find a career in academia. This is obvious, and to ask this demographic why they are doing a PhD would be superfluous. The trajectories of 30 – 45 group are similar, with the added experience of engaging in the job market for a number of years, and a sense of certainty that research and academia are truly where they want to be. Again, this is not questioned.

And that leaves the last third. Myself and the other late entrants. So here is why we are doing a PhD. We are all in the last 10 years of our career. We all have unanswered structural questions about how things are organized in our respective professions, and so back to school we went. I think the main characteristic we all share is curiosity and a sense that completing a PhD will be personally fulfilling. Our careers are rewarding and we are happy in our careers. We are all working full time or part time, and are pursuing a PhD full time. But there is that intangible something that meant, for all of us, that this journey had to be initiated. This was made possible because all graduate courses in the Faculty of Education are offered at night. Which implies that the nature of education, being an applied discipline, genuinely values/needs PhD students who possess a clear intellectual and academic thread to their portfolio that is combined with previous work experience in the field of education.

Each age group in our program has unique strengths that we bring to our studies. The under 30 group has no responsibilities, no money, and a clear and concise vision of where they are going. Late nights are just late nights. The 30-40 age group bring experience to the table, and a drive that comes from having done something else and knowing precisely why they are pursuing a PhD. Many of the students in this demographic have young children, and are juggling job, family, and school. Hats off to them – their juggling expertise has the respect of all. Finally, the late entrants have adult or almost adult children, which means free time, a fulfilling careers, and a thirst for answers. Just please don’t ask us, “So uh, WHY are you doing a PhD?

When is the right time to do a PhD? Well, when the time is right for you. Anytime is the right time. Enjoy the journey and embrace the roller coaster ride. Just do 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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Our experience of a writing group as a PhD student: Growing in our identity and struggling with isolation

In our PhD Education Colloquium on October 17, Sara Doody, Sarah Marshall, Maggie McDonnell, and Erin Reid presented the following to our class. I was so inspired that I asked if I could incorporate their presentation into the GradLife blog, to bring it to a larger audience. I hope you are as inspired reading this as I was during their presentation.

Sara, Maggie, Erin and Sarah

Sara, Maggie, Erin and Sarah

We’re in our second year together as doctoral students, and we’re spending a lot of time reflecting on our development as doctoral students, researchers, and writers. We have been meeting as a writing group for about a year now, and plan to continue together at least as long as the PhD journey keeps us writing, if not beyond. We’ve all contributed to this text, so it is heteroglossic, although it’s worth noting that we have all nodded vigorously along as we each discussed our personal experience, as we planned the text.
Social Isolation (Sarah M) – next year we will have finished all our course work, so we will have no reason to actually see and be with anyone else in our DISE cohort. Here’s a nice quote from The Guardian Higher Education blog:
All PhDs are solitary affairs. When you carry out doctoral research you are, by definition, the only person working on the precise topic of your thesis. There will be others whose research is closely related to yours, but nobody else is doing quite what you are doing. In this sense, all PhDs are solitary affairs. (July 2014)
All of us are writing in isolation it would seem, but to use a metaphor, I see it as we’re like bees in a beehive. Each worker bee has their own hexagonal cell to look after, but in a beehive each bee, while working on their own cell, is also a part of the whole hive, as it is with us PhD students: we are a part of a bigger group. By participating in the writing group we are able to break the illusion of being alone – we are not alone. Not only are we writing with others in academe, but with our classmates we are at approximately the same phase of the process. Sure some are a bit ahead (preparing CPs) and others are not there yet (working towards preparing CPP), but we are all PhD3 in DISE.
One could argue that the construction of the author as an isolated producer of texts is only sensible if one takes a very limited, object centred, view of writing practice. The understanding of writing as process, as communication, and as therapy, cannot be supported by the concept of the isolated writer (Pheby 2010).
Society uses a convention that often shows writers, alone in their office or den, slaving away over an unfinished manuscript until – ta-da – it is finished; completely perfect and whole like the Virgin Birth. In my experience it couldn’t be further from the truth – writing is as collaborative as it is generative.
Renegotiating Identity (Erin) – Being a writing group member has allowed me to renegotiate my relationship to not only to writing, but also to my identity as a writer. Throughout my education, I was encouraged, largely implicitly, to view writing as a solitary activity…something that was best done in isolation, with the focus entirely on the finished product. Although writing was something to which I always felt drawn, it was often a site of intense personal stress for me. I struggled to see myself as a legitimate writer/scholar…I was constantly wracked with what I eventually named my CSD (crippling self-doubt). This struggle intensified dramatically when I found myself in graduate school as an MA student in Religious Studies where the long-standing meme of the solitary, struggling, silent and hopefully brilliant writer was in full force. Though the graduate students may have enjoyed some camaraderie in sharing an office and at times writing in the same space, work was never shared, only our anxiety. There seemed to me to be a direct correlation between the most stressed out student and the most brilliant – writing the bulk of my MA in 3 horrible weeks was a badge of honour for me as it was proof that the frustrated, procrastinating, blocked-yet-brilliant artist model was alive and well. But that process was so painful that it literally led to me being unable to move my head due to compressed vertebrae in my cervical spine. It took me at least a year to heal from writing my MA.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand why developing a new, healthier relationship to writing was one of the main reasons I decided to return to academia. I needed to find a better way to write, and a way to allow myself to identify as a writer; in short, I needed desperately to develop “new habits of the mind” (Spigelman, 1999). Writing groups have been transformational for me as the process of working with, responding to, and eventually collaborating with my peers has allowed me to identify myself increasingly as a practitioner, rather than simply a learner. As we began to share our work, we developed our skills in critical reading, editing, and giving feedback, which in turn have led to a growing sense of confidence in academic selves, something that Kamler and Thomson (2007) have referred to as ‘discursive social practice.’ Finally, writing groups allow us to identify ourselves as a member of a writing group facilitates our identifying ourselves of a larger peer community (Maher, 2008).
Assumptions – What’s Out There? (Sara D) I have always found writing groups incredibly rewarding. I’ve spent a lot of time in them, and have experienced the “Shut Up and Write”, the peer review, and the roundtable (where you read a paper at home and come prepared to give feedback). You could say that I am a serial “Writing Groopie”.
There is a common assumption of writers as isolated. Writing is often pushed into the margins and talked about as something you do “after” all of the hard work has been done. It is something you share only after it has been “perfected”, so it can be scary just talking about writing. The dominant assumption of writing seems to be that we have to work alone to craft the perfect text before we even think about sharing with others.
Writing groups are really useful vehicles for subverting these popular assumptions about writing. Scholars exploring doctoral writing groups assume that writing is a social practice. Whenever we write, we write to someone, and writing groups make this sociality visible. This is especially true of writing in academe, where we are trying to figure out how to write to a larger community of scholars and peers. As Anthony Paré (2014) writes, writing groups provide a space for us to learn how to participate in these conversations. Writing groups provide us with opportunities to explore how to give feedback and experiment with thinking and arguing like a scholar. He also believes “opening one’s mouth to speak in the doctorate…[is] fraught with danger” (p. 25). What we write and how we write it affects the ways in which we are viewed by our communities. While we learn how to speak from supervisors, writing groups provide a safer environment to test out ideas, ways of talking, and ways of writing (Guerin, 2014; Paré, 2014; Starke-Meyerring, 2014).
Reflexive Strategies (Maggie) We want to wrap things up with some ideas for how to get the most out of a writing group, based partly on what we’ve experienced, and partly on the ideas of those who have come before us.
Our group meets once a week – many groups meet less frequently, but we’re using the weekly appointment as a way of keeping ourselves connected to the habit of public writing. Typically, we use the Pomodoro method, so in our two-hour session, we write in 25-minute sessions, taking a short break to chat, or share bits of our writing. More recently, especially as we worked on grant applications and candidacy papers, we decided to dedicate one session each month to a share-and-respond session, wherein we exchange computers and comment in writing on each other’s work. We discuss our comments before we end the session, but we each leave with at least two other people’s feedback recorded in our text, for reflection and reference.
Of course, there are many different writing group formats, and as you might expect, there are a ton of resources for writing groups online, which if nothing else speaks to their effectiveness. Most academic writing groups recommend a few basic tips, which we’ve included below, along with some links to other writing group resources.
One of the tips is to find a common goal. Although we’re all researching different things – Sarah M. is looking at teacher education in physical therapy, Sara D. is writing about doctoral writing, Erin is exploring how religious education can be beneficial in adult language learning, and Maggie is looking at development of teacher identity in higher education – we’ve been writing together for almost a year now. About a month ago, Sara D. had a brilliant idea – we should present on writing groups as part of the colloquium! And then she added the most enticing part: if that works out, we should write a paper.
So now, as well as meeting regularly to work on our own writing, we’re starting to gather our collective thoughts and experiences, in order to write about our group and its impact on our personal doctoral journeys. When Sara began looking into writing groups, she found a great deal written from the perspective of those who encourage us to form groups, but only one written from the perspective of an actual group member (Maher, Seaton, McMullen, Fitzgerald, Otsuji, & Lee, 2008). So we thought that we should write and share, so others can benefit from this strategy. Since we still have some time before we get to the end of this particular journey, we’re not rushing to write this paper, but we’re gathering thoughts and reflections in preparation.
One of the methodologies we’ve begun using, then, is a form of reflexive memo. At the beginning of each session, we take five minutes to write about what we’re hoping to work on, our personal goals, and our feeling about the session. Then at the end of the session, we take another five to ten minutes to reflect back on the session. Over time, we will collect these, and collectively reflect on the reflections, so we can see how the group is working for us collectively and individually.
You can also use memoing with a writing group as another way of recording reactions to and reflection on each other’s work (Qualley & Chiseri-Strater, 1994), not to mention record and reflect on your own progress. Whether you use memos specifically or not, finding a way to engage in collective reflexivity can help improve your writing and your morale (Barry et al, 1999).

References and Resources:

Barry, C. A., Britten, N., Barber, N., Bradley, C., & Stevenson, F. (1999). Using Reflexivity to Optimize Teamwork in Qualitative Research. Qualitative Health Research, 9(1), 26-44.
Golde, C. M. (n.d.). Tips for Successful Writing Groups. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from http://chris.golde.org/filecabinet/writegroups.html
Guerin, C. (2014). The gift of writing groups: Critique, community and confidence. In C. Aitchison, & C. Guerin (Eds.), Writing groups for doctoral education and beyond (pp. 128-141). New York, NY: Routledge.
Haas, S. (2014). Pick-n-mix. A typology of writers’ groups in use. In C. Aitchison, & C. Guerin (Eds.), Writing groups for doctoral education and beyond (pp. 30-47). New York, NY: Routledge.
Kamler, B., and P. Thomson. 2007. The failure of dissertation advice books: Towards alternative pedagogies for doctoral writing, Paper presented at annual meeting of AERA, Chicago, April.
Lee, S., & Golde, C. M. (n.d.). Starting an Effective Writing Group. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from https://unmgrc.unm.edu/writing-groups/documents/starting-an-effective-group.pdf
Maher, D., Seaton, L., McMullen, C., Fitzgerald, T., Otsuji, E., & Lee, A. (2008). ‘Becoming and being writers’: The experiences of doctoral students in writing groups. Studies in Continuing Education, 30(3), 263-275.
Paré, A. (2014). Writing together for many reasons: Theoretical and historical perspectives. In C. Aitchison, & C. Guerin (Eds.), Writing groups for doctoral education and beyond (pp. 18-29). New York, NY: Routledge.
Pheby, A. (2010). The myth of isolation: Its effect on literary culture and creative writing as a discipline. Creative Writing: Teaching Theory & Practice, 2(1), 51-58.
Qualley, D. J., & Chiseri-Strater, E. (1994, Winter). Collaboration as Reflexive Dialogue: A Knowing “Deeper Than Reason” Journal of Advanced Composition, 14(1), 111-130.
Spigelman, C. 1999. Habits of mind: Historical configurations of textual ownership in peer writing groups. College Composition and Communication 49, no. 2: 23455
Starke-Meyerring, D. (2014). Writing groups as critical spaces for engaging normalized institutional cultures of writing in doctoral education. In C. Aitchison, & C. Guerin (Eds.), Writing groups for doctoral education and beyond (pp. 65-81). New York, NY: Routledge.
Studying for a humanities PhD can make you feel cut off from humanity. (2014). Retrieved October 19, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/jul/08/humanities-phd-students-isolation

Not so alone in the lab

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @yogipetals

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @yogipetals

The theme last week for the GradLife Instagram was “Colours of Gratitude” and with Thanksgiving just last Monday it has me pondering ‘What about grad school I’m grateful for?’ There are many things that come to mind; intellectual engagement, flexible hours, meaningful work and experiments that work! But what I’ve come to realize over the last several years is that the things I’m most grateful for is the support and friendship of my lab mates. The lab can be a lonely place. As a scientist, you are most often working independently on your individual projects. When you add in the long, erratic hours at the lab this can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation. What helped me when I first arrived was a supportive lab group and co-workers who very quickly become my friends.

It was 5 years ago, but I still remember coming to my current lab to interview. Perhaps I was a bit naïve in how I went about choosing where I wanted to do my PhD, but what really helped me make my decision was talking with the current graduate students of a lab. Looking back I don’t think I truly realized how important this would be for me. Your lab mates are the people you will be working 8-12h a day with for the next 2-7 years. These will be the people who train you, who help decipher your results, who tell you when your ideas make sense or when you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. These are the people that you will see ALL the time.

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Graduate student + mom : the disadvantage

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @fanidee

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @fanidee

 

While I love being a mother-graduate-student (and I will later write a whole post about the advantages), sometimes, it is quite difficult. Here some of the reasons:

  • I am very lucky because I got a couple of months of paid maternity leave for each of my child. But not all graduate students can say the same.
  • I hate pumping my milk every day (and I don’t want to give baby formula milk). I am lucky to have an office, because Thompson House is kind of far.
  • You know this crazy lecture with a superstar scholar? If it’s in the evening and my partner is not at home this day… I will miss it.
  • Since most of the academic activities (GradLife meetings, parties, going out with friends) are in the evening, even if my partner is at home, I will be absent. Taking care of two young boys and putting them to bed alone is quite a challenge, so their father and I try to be together with them most of the time. I am going out sometimes with my old friends, but the problem is I don’t really have the time or the opportunity to make new ones at McGill. It is not because I don’t want to know you, guys!

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Thinking days ≠ procrastination

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

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

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

Instragram @gradlifemcgill photo by @na0mirlima

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

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

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

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

Metaphors of Grad School

DSC02476

Have you ever been asked to bring an object that represents a metaphor of your current researcher identity to class? The second year PhD students in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE) were asked to do so. What transpired what a rich and interesting discussion of what grad school is, and how we positioned ourselves as researchers. Our objects included:
• Three watches or “timekeepers” preoccupations of time management and planning
• Edgar Degas’s painting of The Ballet Master the master shares the fundamentals of his craft
• A house plant Growing in unexpected ways, flourishing with a bit of light and care.
• An unfinished hand knit scarf the researcher identity, not fully developed, and multifaceted
• A fuzzy pencil case practical, familiar, along for the journey
• A hat A researcher is part explorer, part reporter. Hats giver the wearer other identities.
• A Loopy Tangle A fidget stopper, helping a distracted researcher focus
• A shovel Allowing for deep, below the surface digging and research
• Two notebooks As social science researchers, there is writing, writing, writing

A wonderful activity, promoting reflection and introspection. What object represents a metaphor of your researcher identity?

5 Things To Do Before the Winter Comes

Screenshot 2016-09-28 16.04.10

Don’t get me wrong, I love winter. Winter means snowmen, ice-skating, layers and Christmas! But it also means snow, ice and freezing temperatures. I just know that once the winter comes along I’ll be cooped up inside eating a lot of food and watching TV (and hopefully getting some work done). That’s why I want to make the most of the remaining warmish, non-snowy days where I can still wear my favourite sneakers without falling over or getting frostbite.  Here are 5 things you can do to get outside and enjoy the weather while it lasts. Leave a comment down below telling me what you’ve been up to and what you want to do before Montreal is invaded by snow.

“To be or not to be?”: An intern

It’s September. It’s potentially the beginning of my last year as a graduate student. Except if I decide to do a PhD at some point. So far so good though, I should be finishing grad school some time next Spring/Summer.

My first article was about my dream job which I finally decided to quit. This was a hard decision, but I did it to solve my rhythm problem. No more long-term academic projects combined with short-term rushes on social media.

The question being, what should I do next? I know myself. There is no way I will feel fulfilled with “just” writing a 100 page dissertation. No matter how passionate I am about my project, I need another challenge. Something new, something exciting, something that fits well with research and writing.

@GradLifeMcGill

How about an internship?

The main advantage – and disadvantage – of an internship is not being paid. You all get how this is a disadvantage. However, on the plus side, it also means more freedom to try things. As a volunteer, there is a good chance that your schedule will be flexible enough to allow you to take the time you need for your studies. It also means that you can try everything you’ve always dreamt of doing. It would be for a semester, for two days per week.

I’m not saying that everyone can afford an unpaid job, but I really think that it is a great option to try something new and to challenge yourself. You can always combine it with a part-time job. This way you will get all the advantages and can learn twice as much.

Last but not least, a two-day internship will not only fit well into my writing schedule, but it will help me balance it. If I have to use my morning alarm twice a week to go to work, I’ll probably end up waking up more easily the rest of the week to write. I decided to structure my week in two parts, two days at my new internship and two days of full writing. Leaving out: well, weekends because I would love to maintain some kind of social life, and my one day a week to think.

In my next article, I will discuss the importance of what I call “Thinking days”, not just writing.

Taking Down Time: Tiny Escapes

Being a grad student, being any student for that matter, or just being alive usually means there’s a lot going on and a lot on your mind. There are a myriad of ways to take your mind off things for a little while, but personally I love to read. To me reading takes me away to be someone else who’s somewhere else, for as long as I want to be there. Then at any time you may return there just by getting lost in a thought. I would like to do my part to help you get there. (more…)

“To be or not to be?”: Time and Graduate Life

The two sides of our time...photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @falisha.k

The two sides of our time…photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @falisha.k

Full name: Graduate Student. When your name is Graduate and your surname Student, you come to realize how the word time gets more and more often into your conversations. It’s always a matter of time: the time you are supposed to spend sleeping, the time for eating and feeding yourself up (yes, it does exist!), the time you would like to invest in hobbies or working out, the time to wake up, the time to love, the time to submit a paper, to get out from the library, to study, to read, to teach, to cheer, to…what?  Although you may find as many ways to talk about your graduate time as David Foster Wallace would do (and have a look at Infinite Jest’s footnotes to have an idea), there is one time that would never disappear, that is the time that we lack, the time that we may need to do all the things that we want to do.

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Happy Un-New Year!

Humpty_Dumpty_Tenniel

If you know your Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, you would be familiar with an un-Birthday. As explained by Humpty Dumpty: “There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents… and only one for birthday presents, you know.” (Carroll, 2009). So, an extension of the concept is that any significant day could be celebrated any time – 364 days of the year (minus one of course, because that is the actual day).

Personally, I think September is a better time to celebrate New Year’s Day. Specifically, the day following Labour Day. This year, September 6th. Why? Because everything is ahead, untouched. New classes, new deadlines, new friends to discover. All is possible, ready to be revealed, and free to the imagination. As well, it is really the only time that I find myself setting goals and resolutions. I am back planning now so I can be where I need to be by the end of May 2017. Summer is over, and the time has come to face new challenges. For students, the day following Labour Day is the real fresh start of a new year. The dog days of summer (a summer period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence) are in the past, the seasons are changing, as are daily routines and schedules. So let’s get on with it! What goals and resolutions are you setting as we transition through the Un-New Year?

HAPPY UN-NEW YEAR to all new and returning graduate students. Hope your summer was restful and invigorating. Now is the time to set some goals, and go for it. All the best in the new year. Cheers and good luck.

Carroll, L., Haughton, H., & Carroll, L. (2009). Alice’s adventures in Wonderland ; and, Through the looking-glass and What Alice found there. New York: Penguin Classics.
Photo: Creative Commons Through the Looking-Glass, illustration by John Tenniel. Source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Humpty_Dumpty_Tenniel.jpg

What Made You Go To Grad School ?

What made you go to grad school

September is just around the corner and that can only mean one thing: the start of a new school year. So welcome back to the ‘ever-so rested’ returning grads and a huge warm welcome to new McGill graduate students!

To celebrate, or not, depending on how you feel about the dreaded ‘rentrée des classes’, here is a video asking a couple of graduate students why they decided to go to grad school. I think most of you will relate but feel free to leave a comment down below saying what made YOU go to grad school. Would love to hear from you!

I wish everyone a smooth start and check out Alek’sMarion’s, Fannie’s previous posts for tips and tricks on how to overcome some of the challenges faced during grad school. You’re in for a treat.

Good luck and I hope you get sorted into your dream house ( I’m praying for Gryffindor!).

Ps: If you want to meet us in person ( how cool!!) come and see us at the PGSS BBQ Bash on September 7th- you don’t want to miss it.

Insomnia

Photo:  H McPherson

Photo: H McPherson

Insomnia defined: a sleep disorder that is characterized by difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Hmmm, well, here we go again. Another beautiful Montreal night. Hot, crickets chirping, streetlights on, and so quiet. Beautifully quiet. 4:00 and Montreal is another world. Likely you have experienced this as well. So what is the problem? I am not stressed out; I’ve relaxed all summer. No assignments, no readings. I have spent the better part of the summer reading and puttering, as planned. But I go to bed and BAM, this theory or that lens pops into my head and there it stays.

Psychology Today (2012) noted that grad school “for many students it is the most energetically demanding time of their lives, not just for the hours put in, but the cognitive resources required to think critically and absorb complex material”. And yes, that’s right. The end result of all this complex and critical thinking is insomnia. How annoying. Sleep is required to carry on with all this complex thinking, but this complex thinking is killing sleep. So, I looked it up to see what can be done. Here is the advice:

Good sleep habits, also called sleep hygiene, can help you get a good night’s sleep and beat insomnia. Here are some tips:

¥ Go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Don’t take naps because naps may make you less sleepy at night.
¥ Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can keep you from falling asleep. Alcohol can cause waking in the night and interferes with sleep quality.
¥ Get regular exercise, but not 3-4 hours before bedtime, because it may stimulate you and make it hard to fall asleep.
¥ Don’t eat a heavy meal late in the day. A light snack before bedtime, however, may help you sleep.
¥ Make your bedroom comfortable: dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cold.
¥ Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep. Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath.
¥ If you can’t fall asleep and don’t feel drowsy, get up and read or do something that is not overly stimulating until you feel sleepy, but avoid screens. (Webmb.com)

A final note: personally, none of the above advice works!!! But all of your grad student insomniacs – enjoy your studies. 4:00 really is a glorious time to be awake.

Work cited:
Searles, R. (2012). Sleep and grad school: how important is it for students? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-stone-age-mind/201209/sleep-and-grad-school-how-important-is-it-students
http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/insomnia-symptoms-and-causes?utm_source=health.mazavr.tk&utm_medium=link&utm_compaign=article#1

Time out! A year outside gradlife

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @na0mirlima

Instagram / @gradlifemcgill by @na0mirlima

The second year of my master, I didn’t really know what to do next. Job? PhD? Travelling in the vast world? Sleeping a whole year? I was clearly tired of studying day and night but afraid to go outside in the real world.

I wrote to a teacher I had in cegep and asked for his advice. He told me to take a break from university. So I didn’t apply to become a PhD.

At the end of my master in French Literature, I became an intern in communication and then I apply to work in Paris with LOJIQ in a small startup where I ended to do marketing/social media/communications. After a lot of work and some good bottles of wine, I came back to the first company I worked for as an employee.

In the meantime, I search for a supervisor in an English university to maybe, maybe start a PhD. I did the paperwork, try to get a scholarship, but without full commitment.

That year of break was the best thing.

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