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“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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First year on campus… But not frosh

Parc La Fontaine. Photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @aleksbud.

Parc La Fontaine. Photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @aleksbud.

Well, September is almost upon us, bringing the start of a new school year. Seeing all of the incoming graduate students arrive in their labs allowed me to reflect upon my own experience of starting grad school one year ago. I came to realize that one aspect I’m happiest about is the fact that I decided to change universities to complete my graduate degree. Starting grad school at McGill was a lot like starting undergrad – except that I was a first year student in a different way. Here are some of the reasons that I’m glad I changed it up by starting grad school at a new university, and what I recommend for new students who are in the same boat this year.

My Advice:

Firstly: Explore Your Surroundings

Moving to a new university for grad school meant I was able to experience a new city. I had already become very familiar with my undergraduate university town, and the change of scenery was refreshing. In a city as large as Montreal, there are endless activities at our disposal; new streets to explore, and new adventures to be embarked upon. One way that I was able to fully take advantage of my new surroundings was to bring my favourite hobbies with me and enjoy them in my new environment. I found new running spots (Mount Royal, Parc Lafontaine, and Lachine Canal are some of my favourites), and different places where I can take interesting photos.

What I recommend to incoming students:  If you’re moving cities to begin grad school, take advantage of every opportunity provided by your new location! Do your best to see how your favourite activities, whatever they may be (reading, art, sports, etc), can be maximized and built upon here, or find a new hobby that is unique to the city (e.g. learning a new language).

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How to be a full time graduate student with a dream job?

Studying hard, getting into graduate school to get a better job – yes! Working part-time on the side to pay for your studies, your rent, food or any activity – yes*2. Finding your dream job while you’re still studying, keeping it for experience and potentially as a first job? Let’s try it.

A STUDENT JOB

Let’s talk about the different types of student jobs. You can work anywhere just for the income, with no particular interest in the field, potentially with a good team, close to your place or your university. Any convenience will be appreciated for this type of job but mostly, it pays your groceries and that’s all you need.

Then, there is the golden nuggets kind of student job. Basically, your dream job but two years too early. That’s what I got. I started working for an art gallery two years ago. It was an “on call” job where I was supervising art pieces during private events at the gallery. After a few events, they asked me if I wanted to get a part time job, two days per week working at the front desk. I had to welcome customers, answer the phone, learn a bit about the art, smile and basically just be there. I could even do my homework while working. The perfect combination.

Photo by Marion M.

That was a year and a half ago. I finished my bachelor degree, took some time off whenever I was in a rush for finals or needed vacations.

September 2015, McGill University. A whole new chapter of my life. I started with absolutely no idea of what being a graduate student meant. I thought it was going to be just like undergrad with longer papers and less exams. At the exact same time, I got an offer from the gallery: to become the new community manager, which meant, back then, maintaining our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts up to date. I said I would try it for a month and see how it would fit with school. It worked pretty well.

MY DREAM JOB

I loved having the balance of work and school. On one side I was learning so much from amazing teachers, meeting new people in my field, discovering a new student life, a new campus. On the other side, I had concrete and instant results. I would write a newsletter, translate it, correct it and send it to 2500 people in one click. After that, those people would come and see our exhibitions, they would take photos, post them, tag us, like us, etc. You know how social media works.

Photo by Marion M.

Although I felt like I had found the perfect balance, I realised this only happened because I had seminars to take and credits to earn, in a nutshell, short term projects to focus on. Writing a 100 pages thesis seems like a completely different rhythm.

BALANCE?

Now the dilemma. I spent 20 hours per week at work versus 6 hours per week at school. Since I work on social media, I also get constant notifications and emails that go with the job. Our Facebook page response rate is 3 minutes… You see my problem? I love it so much and I take so much pride in this concrete result that I can’t disconnect. I want to (or do I?) but I don’t know how. I’m physically and mentally always working. At the same time, my thesis subject is great, I’m passionate about it too, but every time, it takes me a while to get into it. I need a few days to focus on school, not think about work and then I can write.

Summer is passing by, September is staring at me wondering how am I going to balance both my job and my thesis.

So far, the best solution I found is this new retreat concept called “Thèsez-vous“. More about it on my next post.

Do you also have trouble balancing your job and your studies?

Montreal: Moving Madness

A cautionary tale of busy friends and grumpy families.

What you are about to read is a true story.  I know because I was there.

The date:  June 15 at a family supper.  At the table, a student, a kid brother, mom, and dad:

Student: “Sooo, I was wondering what everyone is doing on Canada day.”

Kid Brother: “NO! NO! NO!  I’m not doing it! I told you last year, and the year before and the year before that I was never going to help you move again.”

Mother: “Well, you know I can’t help because I wrecked my knees.  Sorry.”

Dad: “Look, this is the fourth year in a row. This is getting ridiculous.”

The date: June 25. Out with friends

Student: “Sooo, I thought it would be great if everyone came over to my apartment on Canada Day.  I’ll supply pizza and beer.”

Friends:  Total Silence.

Only in Quebec, they say. In the end Dad is there with the van, kid brother, very pissed off, and one friend. Only in June, in Quebec does the offer of pizza and beer result in lost friends.  What is it with this annual relocation of a city? A 2013 source estimated that about 115,000 of Montreal’s 1.6 million residents relocate every year (Austin, 2013). I know because I was there.

Why does 7% of Canada’s second largest city move on the same day?  Even if you could afford it, the possibility of getting a moving truck or van is zero. Then there are the problems of all those abandoned pets at the SPCA.  And the old furniture on the curb. There has to be a reason.  So what is it?

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Calling all Bloggers, Video Bloggers and Instagrammers! Join the new GradLife team.

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Want to share your story? We are looking for grad students and post-doctoral fellows who are energetic, articulate and passionate about their studies and life outside of academia. 

Apply to be a blogger, video blogger and/or, Instagrammer for our new GradLife McGill social media platform.

Deadline: June 15 – Apply here

Follow @GradLifeMcGill on Facebook and Instagram

Some (Random) Things that Uplift Me: An Anecdote

Random squirrel posing at McGill university. Photo taken by Yours Truly.

Random squirrel posing at McGill university. Photo taken by Yours Truly.

 

The Dilemma

I am the kind of person who gets annoyingly bored by the mundane and so I have developed an eye for those little obscure details in our surroundings. For example, after many months of observation throughout various seasons, I have noticed that there is a small conserved population of black squirrels that live specifically in that courtyard on the Atwater/Sherbrooke intersection, right at the 144 bus stop. That was the first time I had ever seen a black squirrel and probably the only place I have ever seen them in. I know black squirrels exist elsewhere, but please don’t burst my bubble and tell me otherwise. You see, it’s very simple: squirrels make me happy. The way they hop; search for food; naively miss the piece of walnut you just threw right in front of their scrawny paws; the way they stand up on their two hind legs while they’re checking you out (I mean, look at that guy in the picture, really!); the way their bushy tail is, well, bushy; the way they chase each other and interact with each other and the occasional human.

I’m about to pull a Miss Potter here and tell you a tale about black and gray squirrels. The only difference between me and Miss Potter is that I will actually be in the story – just very briefly. But let me do this properly like the good ole scientist that I am.

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Small World: Conference Season Begins

Last week I attended the Genomes to Biomes meeting, held right here in beautiful downtown Montréal. This was the first ever joint meeting of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution-Société canadienne d’écologie et d’écolution (CSEE/SCEE), the Canadian Society of Zoologists-Société candadienne de zoologie (CSZ/SCZ) and the Society of Canadian Limnologists-Société canadienne de limnologie (SCL). A lot of acronyms for one meeting!

So what does one do at a scientific meeting? Well, for the most part, you talk.

G2B_Sucrerie

After the talks comes more talking. The closing banquet of Genomes to Biomes, at the Sucrerie de la Montagne, May 29, 2014.

 

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Go Habs… Go!!! An evening (and not just any) at the Bell Centre.

Tuesday. May 28th. 14:12 minutes into the 2nd period, 21,273 go silent. It is the fifth game in the NHL Eastern Conference Final, and the Montréal Canadiens are up against the New York Rangers. In this 14th minute of the second period of the fifth game, the Rangers have tied the game (again), back from trailing 4-1. The Bell Centre is less than amused. And for a moment, the fear – that fear – is back. The fear that the Habs will not, after all, make it tonight. If the Rangers win, the Habs go home – or rather stay home.

"So how do they etch the symbols into the ice?" ...

“So how do they etch the symbols into the ice?” …

 But they didn’t.

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Indecision Québec 2014

PLQ Corrumpu

Anti PLQ election graffiti in MontréalParti BourguoisAnti PQ election graffiti in Montréal.

In case you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks (or under a thesis), you should know that today, Monday April 7, 2014 is election day in Québec. Across the province, people are making their voices heard in what has been an interesting (to say the least) election campaign.

This year, it was easier than ever for students to vote, as we could vote on campus over a period of four days. As a resident of a riding outside of Montreal, this made life easier for me, as I’m sure it did for many other students. I actually cast my ballot last week, without trouble. Then again, I have been resident here for more nearly 7 years; I pay taxes here, I have a Québec driver’s licence, a RAMQ card, and I own a house in Trois-Rivières. I’m already on the list of registered voters. I walked up to the polling station, presented my identification, and was handed a list of candidates for my riding, marked my ballot, placed it in a sealed envelope and went on my merry way.

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A silent witness

[Disclaimer: Aspects of this post may cause emotional discomfort]

Monday began like an ordinary day. My alarm clock forced me to greet the morning at five-thirty. I responded to e-mails and penciled a to-do list over three cups of coffee. I squeezed myself onto the ridiculously crammed metro, caught the bus, and unlocked the door to my lab about thirty minutes later. It was an ordinary day of collecting and analyzing neuroscientific data, of meeting my supervisor, and of writing bits of my dissertation. I was busy, focused and pretty reserved all day long. The afternoon was also quite ordinary; I waited for rush-hour to subside a little and left work around six-thirty, in order to have a less stressful time with overcrowded transportation. I recognized the bus driver, got a seat towards the back like I usually do, and was at Sherbrooke metro in fifteen minutes – just like any ordinary day.

When I pushed the heavy door to enter the metro station, I noticed two police-offers were shooing a man toward the exit. “Outside!” one officer yelled in English (which, I remember, surprised me more than the fact that an itinerant was being asked not to loiter). The man began to retaliate, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying, as I was listening to my iPod. “Outside!” the officer yelled again, and added something that sounded like a threat to intervene if the man didn’t comply. I passed the busker who was singing joyously with her guitar, passed the turnstile as my STM pass emitted its routine “beep” to let me through, and walked slowly down the stairs to the platform. As I walked down, I could hear a man shouting something below. A different man than the one they had just ushered out of the station, obviously, but someone who sounded equally distraught. I removed my iPod and continued down the steps. He was loud and sounded upset, like he was venting about something. He did not sound like he was well. Before I even got to the bottom of the stairs, I could tell roughly where he was standing, due to the converging glances of passengers waiting on the track. Everyone was silent – listening, watching, pretending not to listen, pretending not to watch.

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White Night

(credits: photo - Yunpeng Li, 'giffing' - me

(credits: photo – Yunpeng Li, ‘giffing’ – me)

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Future McGill Graduate Student?

Photo by Maryna Lesoway.

In the last several weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with prospective students who are interested in joining our lab here at McGill. When considering starting graduate studies, particularly when starting a doctorate, it is important not just to check out the website of your potential supervisor and future lab to see that your research interests line up. It’s just as important to meet your potential supervisor, to check in with the students who are currently members of the research group, and to be sure that your personal styles are a good fit. Starting graduate studies is a decision that will make a big change in your life, and it is important to be aware of issues that could arise during the course of your studies.  After all, you will be working together for the next few years! (more…)

Études Internationales Près de Chez Vous

Joyeux nouvel an Chinois!  (source: www.auston.edu.sg)

Joyeux nouvel an Chinois!
(source: www.auston.edu.sg)

Tout d’abord: n’ajustez pas votre écran. Ce que vous lisez est bien en Français.

Après toutes ces années ‘French is back on the blog’!

Aujourd’hui, je veux parler de la richesse culturelle que l’on trouve à McGill. Pourquoi étudier à l’étranger quand le monde peut venir à vous?

Les débats culturels contemporains sonnent toujours étranges à mes oreilles; à chaque fois que je rencontre des personnes de pays lointains j’en sors plus riche. Leurs différences débutent des conversations passionantes.

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Until the Fat Lady Sings

The Archetypal Opera Singer, as rendered by the author

The Archetypal Opera Singer, as rendered by the author

Many people regard opera as elitist, boring, and on the wane. A relic of past grandiosity that is out of touch with present aesthetics and popular culture. Something that soon will go the way of the dodo or Hostess snack cake

As the saying goes, however, the future of opera is not so easily prophesized. The “fat lady” might in fact be singing, but it most certainly is not over. (more…)

Um novo ano, um novo desafio! Or: how to learn languages for cheap in Montreal.

Which language will it be?
Image from rgbstock.com

Two days ago, Kristina wrote a great post, reviewing both her year just past, and the one to come, all in an upbeat and confident mood. And, Kristina, you wished us all that the year “be filled with dreams come true” – thank you for the good wishes, and may your year turn out as you intend to, too!

Speaking of dreams, though, here’s a personal one for 2014: if all works out well, this will be the year I learn Brazilian Portuguese, for the sake of my thesis (on Brazil), for related travel plans, and for the general fun of it. But how does one get started with such a project? The paths and possibilities towards new linguistic skills can be bewildering, and they took me some time to sort through before I even said my first word in Portuguese. I’ve since found my way, however, and thus proudly present the clumsily titled “2014 starter’s kit to learning languages for cheap in Montreal” – with my very own special recommendation at the end.

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All I really need to know, I learned from other graduate students

I’m an R hero now!

Yesterday, I participated in an R workshop hosted by the Québec Centre for Biodiversity Science (better known to members as QCBS, CSBQ pour les membres francophones). For those who aren’t familiar, R is a free, open-source computer language that allows you to manipulate data, perform statistical analyses, and make pretty plots and graphs for publications, all under the same umbrella. I’ve been hearing about the wonders of R for years from other graduate students, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to actually learn it. And now that I have some data that I’m trying to produce pretty graphics of for publications, it seemed like a good opportunity to learn something new! The workshop itself, Zero to R Hero,  was led by members of the R Montreal user group, who have taken it upon themselves to spread the good news of R to those of us (myself included) who are just starting out. Like any new computer language, there is a steep learning curve, and getting going can be intimidating. The idea of the workshop was to help you to get over the first hurdles and to be able to use R for your own research.

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Writing about (not) writing

 

IMG_0005There have been a number of discussions in this blog about writing theses, papers, essays, proposals, and other documents within academia. To switch gears a little, I will be writing about NOT writing. (In the same moment of writing that last sentence, I just realized how haphazardly it reads and decide to use it as title for this (written) blog entry.)

You will probably agree if I say that most of us are writing all the time. Apart from the classical documents I mentioned, there are other occasions for writing: emails, texts, Facebook posts, tweets, and many more.

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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.

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Removing the Dust of Daily Life

Frida_Kahlo_(self_portrait)

Ermahgerd: The author as Frida Kahlo

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

– Pablo Picasso

Over the years I’ve found that I increasingly spend more and more time on my computer, and have less and less time to devote to art projects. I used to paint, sketch, and visit art museums constantly. Now, my schedule is too full given my academic workload, and extracurricular physical and social activities. Further, the high cost of art material and difficulty in transporting such material has meant that I have regrettably not done anything for a very, very long time.

Thus, much of my creative urges have found a home in the corners of my academic work. Graphs and tables can be beautiful. Fieldwork photos demand editing to maximize their aesthetic poignancy. Even spending hours composing PowerPoints was refreshing. Still, my soul seemed to be getting lost in the dust piled on by daily life.

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Three Hidden Gems Near Campus

McGill is home to a great number of international students. 38% of graduate students at McGill are non-Canadian citizens. It can be hard for newcomers (or old timers!) to discover and experience those great activities that are sometimes only known to the locals. Add to that research and classes, and sometimes one can completely miss the various cultural events on or around campus.

Lucky for you, I am a native. so let me share with you three little gems that are typical of McGill and Montreal this time of year.

The Salon du Livre de Montréal Édition 2013

The Salon du Livre de Montréal Édition 2013
(Credits: Yunpeng Li)

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