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Publish or Perish

Publishorperish

Eight months ago I submitted my first journal article for publication. I was given lots of invaluable advice from other students and especially from my advisor. Things such as have friends/colleagues give feedback, read articles published by the journal to determine structural and language norms, and of course get an idea of the conversations occurring in the journal articles. I read at least 40 articles previously published in the journal. Then I just wrote it, my first journal article. My advisor gave feedback, and off the article went. This was at the beginning of my PhD studies.

Then, I waited. Forever.

Finally, six weeks ago I received a reply. The reviewers had wonderful comments that were insightful and remarkably helpful. They asked for changes. I mostly felt – wow – I would never have written this today. What a mess! It was not quite (but almost) embarrassing to read what I thought was good, and then finding it was not so good in light of everything I had learned about writing, and about my field of interest (science education). The thing is, there was no commitment to the article. Were they conditionally accepting the article IF I made changes, or …? Or what? Of course I made the required edits, and basically rewrote the entire thing. Groaning about duh, how could I have written this? And then I sent if off again, and the waiting resumed.

WooHoo! It was accepted today, exactly 8 months after I submitted it. So, there it is. Go for it, wait, edit and hope. Personally, what I felt was the best part of this process (aside from having an article accepted, which is quite simply amazing) was what I learned from the peer reviewers. I just learned so much, and I’m using all of of these newly acquired insights in an article that I am currently working on, and hope to submit before the end of the summer.

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Sciencescape: A New Tool For Accelerated Efficient Research

Image from Sciencescape

Image from Sciencescape

When my father was a young professional working for a German company designing solar panels, they used to have team meetings almost every day to discuss the progression of the research. Every day, the secretary would be the first one to arrive to scour new articles published in engineering journals in order to keep the team fully updated. He would then type up his findings and make several copies for the attendees to discuss during the meeting.

Now imagine how easier this job would have been if, say, there was a Twitter-like platform where he could log onto from the comfort of his home; check his feed on current literature; receive notifications as soon as a paper gets published; organize the literature in a virtual library; and be able to digitally share this library with the team instead of printing copies. He would be able to cash in quite a few more hours of sleep! But sleeping aside, imagine if you could have a Twitter-like platform being updated 24/7 and notifying you of all the breakthroughs in literature the second they come out. Imagine having not to miss out on reading a recent paper that might greatly improve your research or that might discuss the same experiments you are working on, giving you hints on what works or not so you can change your course accordingly without losing time. Suddenly, being scooped doesn’t feel like the approach of the apocalypse, but a minor setback in the course of your graduate studies.

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Women in Science: An Interview with Dr Joan Steitz

Photo taken from ASCB (http://ascb.org/our-people-yale-s-joan-steitz-named-to-royal-society/) "HHMI Dr. Joan Steitz is seen posing for a portrait on the campus of Yale University on Friday, November 16, 2012 in New Haven. (Brian Ach/AP Images for HHMI)"

Photo taken from ASCB (http://ascb.org/our-people-yale-s-joan-steitz-named-to-royal-society/) “HHMI Dr. Joan Steitz is seen posing for a portrait on the campus of Yale University on Friday, November 16, 2012 in New Haven. (Brian Ach/AP Images for HHMI)”

This past July, McGill’s Department of Biochemistry hosted one of the most prominent female figures in the biological sciences: Dr Joan Steitz. Having been invited repeatedly over the past 13 years, the seminar finally took place in room 1034 of the McIntyre Building. The seminar saw a very big turn-out, including most of the biochemistry faculty members and graduate students from various departments in the life sciences.

Dr Joan Steitz walked in with an air of confidence and a general disposition of compassion. She was dressed in an elegant suit of sky blue and gray; hair beautifully coiffed up in a timeless updo and a naturally glowing complexion. The screen flashed with the title of her talk: “Non-coding RNAs with a viral twist”. For the next hour, Steitz discussed her current research and findings on how non-coding RNAs in the genome play an important role in viral infections and proliferation, specifically, the gamma-herpesvirus.

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Long Distance Supervisorship

I just finished writing my master’s thesis and I am now waiting for formal signatures before I can submit it. The whole experience is still too fresh in my mind for me to provide an objective assessment, but one aspect of my graduate studies is worth talking about: doing research under a remote supervisor.

We all had this experience: it is the lab’s holiday party and everybody is having a good time. When the night is over your supervisor wishes you luck on your next semester and assures you that he will keep contact next year. Your confused look prompts him to divulge more information. You didn’t know it, but he is going on a sabbatical next year so he will be abroad when you pursue your first year of actual research. Memories from previous unattended research come back to you! You steel yourself. At least, you had the experience before. Good night!

Sarah had a piece on long distance relationship during graduate studies. Let this be the post on long distance supervisorship.

Maybe not the best way to keep in touch with your remote advisor (Credits: science-notebook.com)

Maybe not the best way to keep in touch with your remote advisor
(Credits: science-notebook.com)

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The Writer’s Toolkit: 14 things that could change how you feel about writing

1

Somewhere between now and forever. That sounds about right. Isn’t that the gist of your reply to family members and friends who just don’t get why you’re still a PhD student? So much has changed in the world, and you’re still at it. I mean, how long does it take to write a thesis? Just write it already!

But you know, and I know, and Cecilia knows — it’s not that simple.

Or is it?

Unbeknownst to him, my supervisor gave some stellar advice in one plain sentence, a few weeks ago. Although this advice was not directly meant for me, and was part of a general conversation about papers and publications, it’s something I took to heart and have applied ever since: “Just sit down and write it – tell yourself you are going to work for this amount of hours, and sit there and write it”. Just sit down – best advice ever, because it made me concretely realize that writing is not challenging due to a lack of inspiration, but due to a lack of focus. If you give yourself the time and the space to do nothing else but work on writing, there will be no shortage of ideas, arguments, counterarguments and – eventually – words on the page.

I have been writing my thesis full time for two weeks. Every day. The encouraging thing is that it seems to get easier and easier, as does anything after copious amounts of practice.

I think what one needs is a “writer’s toolkit” – some strategies that work for you, that you can stick to, and that can serve as a comfortingly familiar routine, to help ensure your success on this writing mission.

Here is my toolkit:

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Tropical Tribulations, Final Episode: Small Fieldwork, Grand Finale.

*** I just wrote a lengthy, thought-out post, then accidentally clicked on a link, and when I came back I had lost it all. I have no energy to write it again. Thanks, WordPress, for saying you have an auto-save function that doesn’t actually work. Aaaaaaarg. At least it’s not my thesis. Hm. Below is the part I didn’t loose. Co-Bloggers: please hit “save draft” more often than I did in the past two hours…***

24082014732When I arrived in Brazil, one big question lay over the country: would it be enough for the “Hexa”? The sixth title? Here, at home, with the world watching?

It was not to be. The World Cup – which some considered a flawed enterprise anyway – came and went, at lightning speed, as did the Summer. At the end, as I left the country, footballs still flew high in Brazil – as the picture shows – but new hopes had come to decorate the streets. On the school wall, the talk is of “luz”, “esperanca”, “respeito” and “abracos” (light, hope, respect, and hugs); and although the “Hexa” is still visible, somebody has since sprayed a new dream over the old one: “amor por favor” (love please).

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We are all Philosophers

About two years ago I was attending the going-away party for a member of my lab. He had successfully defended his PhD thesis and landed a job overseas at a very well known internet company. We were ‘shooting the wind’ as the cool kids say and some drinks had been emptied before we ventured into ‘changing the world’ discussions.

At some point he was asked something about ‘ideas’ to which he replied “Well what is an idea, really?”. I quipped “woah, mind…[open my hands around my head]… blown!”. And yet, here I am 2 years later, seriously wondering about it.

Well, what is an idea, really?

(Credits: Fair use originally from themindfulword.org)

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 3: Time on Fieldwork Flies – but Brazil Flies Higher. [français]

Les choses pourraient être pires au Brésil...

Les choses pourraient être pires au Brésil…

Les dernières semaines n’ont, au niveau planétaire, pas exactement été joyeuses. Entre Gaza, la Syrie, l’Irak, le Soudan du Sud, et l’Ebola, on s’en retrouve à ne pas vouloir allumer les nouvelles. Mais, caché derrière les flash-infos sur avions perdus et terres débattues, il y aussi du bon! Des développements, souvent invisibles de par leur lenteur, mais qui redonnent un peu d’espoir dans un monde dont on entend si souvent qu’il se désintègre. Pour les déprimé(e)s des nouvelles, et autres curieux, donc: un regard vers le Brésil.

Le Brésil – qu’est-il donc? Le pays du football, de la joie, de la fête? De la samba, du manioc, et de l’Amazone? Ou des favelas, de la corruption, et de l’inégalité? Les journaux pendant la Coupe du Monde avaient du mal à se décider, célébrant un moment les stéréotypes festifs de ce pays “accueillant”, “vivant”, et “dynamique”, avant de rappeler au lecteur que “tout n’est pas rose au Brésil” (ah bon?) et qu’il y a “une face cachée”, et même de la violence, de la misère, voyons-même, de l’injustice!

Le Brésil est, sans doute, un peu de tout ça, et bien plus. Mais au-delà des apparences, soient-elles négatives ou positives, ma recherche ici m’a porté à assister à l’émergence d’un nouveau Brésil, dont le changement, aidé par le haut, s’opère par le bas. Vamos lá!

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The trick to writing

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” ~ Red Smith

Writing

Joost Swarte

Today, I discovered the trick to writing. It’s plain and simple. So plain and simple, in fact, it’ll sound downright ridiculous. But here it goes:

The trick to writing is to write.

Doesn’t that sound absurd? Let me (slightly) clarify.

The trick to writing is to write as if you have no other choice.

This epiphany came from first-hand experience today, as I finally admitted to myself that this is the beginning of the end of my PhD journey. My general introduction was written in the winter (by me, don’t worry) and now I am beginning to produce as many journal-style papers as I can until I’ve conveyed everything worth conveying to the scientific community (I’ve collected a lot of data, it’ll be a while!). Today, I started to write my real papers.

Of course, by “started to write” I mean the process of actually typing strings of sentences onto a page. The “other” equally important process of writing (i.e., reading, annotating, outlining, bulleting, writing half-sentences that I reassured myself weren’t final because they did not contain THE perfect choice of words) had begun a while ago. And between that wonderfully productive time and today, something weird happened – I froze. Something about beginning the actual process of writing is inanely “freak-out-and-denial-worthy”, once you’ve grasped the reality that THIS tangible beginning of a collection of words, graphs and figures is going to be your Dissertation (capital “D” also spells “daunting”) and that you’d better be good at this because this is the beginning of your long career (hopefully) of pushing to publish papers upon papers (hopefully)…There’s an invisible line between the time when you’re ahead of the game and writing is easy because it’s early in the process, and when suddenly your task becomes to write and produce and submit and defend and graduate. Gasp. I recently crossed the invisible line and suddenly writing became less easy.

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To tweet or not to tweet: why use social media?

I’ve recently been bitten by the twitter bug.

 

A little birdie told me.

I’ve had an account for years (Twitter says since 2011), but I’ve only started using the social media platform in the last couple of months. A recent conference here in Montreal had a big social media push, and several of my friends and colleagues are tweeters, so I tried my hand at it. I have since been posting fairly regularly. Not only have I learned that live tweeting is a lot harder than it looks, but I’ve also learned that twitter is a pretty awesome tool. Here are some of the things I think are the most useful about it:

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 2: Half-Time. Fieldwork, fast and slow.

one-does-not-bbraomAccording to rumours, something of importance came to end around a week ago in Brazil. Apparently. People still talk about it in the streets. It must have been a big deal. And indeed it was: after six weeks in Recife, the first half of my time in Brazil has come and gone! (Also: the World Cup). Six weeks full of encounters, experiences and events, which yielded a pitiful two interviews so far, and the half-time conclusion that fieldwork is fun! – and slow. And, also, that things rarely go according to plan, which, as it turns out, is usually all for the better. Tales, then, of winding paths – and of another kind of couchsurfing.

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The Summer is Heating up

With temperatures as high as 32°C and humidity levels above 50%, Montreal sweltering summer heat has finally arrived. When your colleague, back from China, says the weather in Beijing was cool compared to Montreal, you know it’s hot.

What is also heating up is work on the Thesis. The August deadline is looming on the horizon like a heat shimmer. Is it hot outside or is this bead of sweat here for another reason? Let’s just say I haven’t been writing blog posts lately for good reasons.

What is hard about academia is determining where to draw the line in the proverbial hot sand of research. It is clear to me at this point that there is no endpoint. No finishing tape to cross. It is all about the next questions that can be asked and the new spaces that can be explored. The results obtained are never completely different from what has passed before. What is next will not be too far from the present either.

excavating-fossil

Brush away but hopefully not in bad lands
(Source: Jurassic Park – The Lost World)

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 1: “First Steps”. Qui a dit que le Brésil était chaud, cher, et carnivore?

Recife! (État du Pernambuco, Nord-Est du Brésil)

Recife!
(Pernambuco, Brésil)

Comment ne pas commencer un voyage: arriver à l’aéroport avec exactement 4 dollars canadiens dans les poches, pour se rendre compte que les cartes bancaires ne marchent pas au distributeur. Peut-on payer par carte de crédit au bureau de change? Non plus. De toute façon, celles-ci ne marcheraient peut-être même pas, faute d’avoir prévenu la banque du voyage… et je ne sais pas exactement où je dors ce soir. Excellent début.

Les premiers moments en nouveau territoire présentent toujours leur difficultés, qu’une bonne organisation ne peut pas toujours prévenir (sauf – voir ci-dessus). Comment fonctionnent les bus, les banques, la vie? Où vivre, avec qui, à quel prix? Quand jouer le touriste, en prenant son temps pour découvrir les lieux, quand jouer le troubadour, en prenant sa bière pour découvrir les gens, et quand se retirer pour travailler, afin de démarrer la recherche sur les chapeaux de roues? Tant de choix, d’opportunités, et de dilemmes dans ces premiers jours – jours au cours desquels, jonglant entre rêves et réalités, trêves et activités, et fèves [le feijão!] et festivités, j’ai découvert que le Brésil n’était ni si cher, ni si chaud, ni encore si carnivore qu’on ne le raconte. Récit d’un début de voyage.

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Tropical Tribulations, “Pilot Episode”: Airport Ponderings

indexBack in January, I wrote one of my first posts for this blog – titled “Un novo ano, um novo desafio” [a new year, a new challenge] – about how I wanted to start learning Portuguese. Why? Because I was then planning to conduct fieldwork in Brazil, in the Summer of 2014.

Things since then have come a long way. And so have I, since I appear to be sitting in departure Terminal D of Miami Airport, whose walls are plastered with the above banner. For it has come to be! After a Fall semester spent poking in the dark (topic-wise), and a Winter semester full of Portuguese audio-CDs, vocabulary lists (thanks, Anki!), proposal writing, ethics reviews, funding applications, and other shenanigans, I am indeed going to Recife, capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, for three months of fieldwork, on a topic I won’t bore readers with (just yet).

That my fieldwork coincides with the World Cup is, obviiiouslyyyy, sheer coincidence. Bit like a Black Swan. But still: for all those who were worried that this blog would not contain live-reports from “Copa” games, worry no more. I will try to regularly post updates “from the field(work)”, about travel, research, and futebol. But first, boarding calls. Next step, this:

images

ps: for those remaining in (beautiful) Montréal, PGSS will be screening many Copa games at Thompson House.

Concept Mapping with the McGill Library

Concept mapping is a way to link ideas and concepts in a visual and easy to follow way. Yesterday, I participated in a workshop held at the McGill Library that was all about using this method to organize and visualize ideas. So why would a graduate student want to spend part of their day learning about concept mapping? Aside from adding another bit of non-standard software to my computer, concept mapping seems to be a useful way of connecting ideas; be that as part of a research project, a course curriculum, or even a way of collaborating with others.

At the most basic level, concept maps consist of two ideas linked by an arrow labeled with words or phrases that connect the two ideas in a meaningful way. The example given in the session was (pie) –is–> (good). Voilà, a concept map! Yes, this is really a technique that can be used for just about anything. Several ideas can be linked using linking phrases, and gradually built into a map of concepts, which can help to to clarify concepts, and more interestingly, highlight areas where connections could be made.

A concept map about concept maps. From the IHMC Cmap Tool Website, http://cmap.ihmc.us/

 

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Keeping it trivial

Some of his woodcuts are titled Puddle, Dolphins, and Metamorphosis. Though he did not have a significant mathematical background, he was fascinated by figures such as Necker Cubes that are contradictory. This artist usually made lithographs, including Still Life with Spherical Mirror, Relativity, and Drawing Hands. For ten points, name this 20th Century Dutch graphic artist whose pictures contained logical contradictions.

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3 minutes to summarize 2 years

My master’s thesis is about 95 pages long. That’s a lot of information to reduce down to a two-page script that can be read in three minutes. But that’s what I did, along with 11 of the most inspiring young researchers I have ever had the chance to meet at McGill. It all happened on March 31st at McGill’s 3rd annual 3 Minutes to Change the World.

My fellow *amazing* presenters at 3 Minutes to Change the World

My fellow *amazing* presenters at 3 Minutes to Change the World 2014

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3 Minutes to Change the World – Bilingual Audience Member Edition

3min-logos-web

 

This Monday, March 31st, McGill’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Office of Sustainability, and the Post-Graduate Students Society, hosted the third annual Three Minutes to Change the World event. It was a self-dubbed Ted-like event and it certainly delivered on that aspect. The students presenting (mostly Master’s students) gave dazzling performances both in English and in French.

Let me walk you through the presentations while peppering my summaries with some of my thoughts as an audience member. To keep in theme with the fact that this was the first time both English and French talks were given, I will summarize the English talks en Français et les présentations francophones in English!

Here are the cast of presenters – and a cast it is since this was quite the show:

Jay Olson a commencé l’évènement avec un tour de magie: “Choisissez une carte, n’importe laquelle et gardez la en tête” (Je traduis et je ne suis pas magicien donc ne vous attendez pas à beaucoup de magie de ma part!). La structure de la phrase et la façon dont elle est posée influence notre choix explique Olson; en fait la majorité des gens choisiraient l’as de pique ou une carte de coeur à visage. Utiliser cette forme de suggestion dans le contexte de thérapie de réhabilitation est un objectif de la recherche d’Olson. J’avais choisi le Joker noir en passant! (more…)

Unconformity: the Sixth McGill Anthropology Graduate Student Conference

POSTER-Final[Resize]What is the role of the ‘what-is-no-longer-there’ in shaping the present?  How do anthropologists, and other academics, engage with residuals, traces, and artifacts? How do intrusions, differences, ruptures, and discontinuities speak to investigative areas of inquiry?

Such questions will be addressed next Friday (March 21st) at the McGill Anthropology Graduate Student Association’s (AGSA) sixth annual Anthropology Graduate Student Conference: “Anthropologies of Unconformity: Erosions, depositions, and transformations.” The conference will be held in the Thomson House Ballroom, from 9AM to 4PM.

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