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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…)

Just one of THOSE days

Photo by H. McPherson

A Reflection of being a Masters degree student teacher with attention/behavioral and learning difficulties.

Have you ever thought about how grad students with learning difficulties manage to successfully navigate grad school?  Have you ever wondered how many grad students have attention/behavioral and learning difficulties?  It is a topic that never crossed my mind, until I had the opportunity to work with a Masters student with attention/behavioral and learning difficulties.  I was the cooperating teacher, RB was my student teacher.  The following is RB’s story:

It was a Monday morning; I had not slept more than three hours, I was tired! I was sure of one thing as I waited for the bus, I was ready but not as ready as I could have been. My lesson plans where set out, my power points made, with the revision questions for the chemistry test clear. I also had my prairie-de-resistances a really “cool” demonstration that would end up with shaving foam being shoot across the classroom.

Before I get into this I guess I should explain a little about who and what I am. I have desied to become a teacher after having a carrier as an engineer. After school I had NO attention of being one for a number of reasons. The first being I had no love for an education system I felt like I had battled against and smashed my head repeatedly against until I had finally graduated with a civil engineering degree. I was at that point in my life whole heartedly uninterested in a system that in my opinion had failed me, I was angry to the point of tears and furious at the injustice of those running the system. Little did I know that my true battle with dyslexia was only just about to being.

Now on this particular day I had woken up late and had to rush out of the house of course I did return to the house after having closed the door to grab the essentials for my very cool shaving form experiment. I was exited and mine experiment as the we before I had show the Chem class a experiment that made a tea bag fly. Which had worked really well as a starting point that lead into class room discussion about the gas laws. As the chemistry class trouped into the classroom I was not ready for them my question paper I clearfull written out with worked answers to go along with my notes had been put down somewhere. I wish I could say bye someone else but that would be a lie its was by me. I actually found the at the end of the day. There appeared that little goblin on my shoulder “you don’t know what your doing and there all going to know.”

It was the trip home. I sat in the car, furious, not only with myself but with the students also, how dare they act like that even if it was my fault. There I was sitting in the car and for the first time I can see/tell my CT is really disappointed with me it was just one little mistake but many big mistakes. I spoke about how angry I was and we talked about the day and those calamity of event that had made the day into what it was. In my mind there were three key points in this conversation, the first question was early and was along the lines of what are you going to do about today because you have 4 or 5 weeks left? I hope answer as someone would expect, “well I am not going to let it happen again because I am furious, I not sure if my reassured her, but she excepted my answer for what it was. The next day I set the rules down once again to the classes and explain that I felt that my classroom which I freely admit is on the edge of caose was never going to enter caoso again that I think I did actually regain her trust. Then there was the question of is it to do with your dyslexia. My answer as always to this question was I am not sure I didn’t think so but, I then told the story about the student Doe Jane and her offering me her tablets [the student offered RB concerta, meds for ADHD– she recognized a need and was trying to help!]. Then my CT laught I knew at that point everything was going to be ok, it was after this she told me I should write this paper so I have. What I have not told her or really told anyone, that I actually new everything would be ok because they the student and my CT had not found out the true. That the goblin that sits on my sholder whispering into my ear, you’re an idoit, you can’t do that, you are going to fail, fail, fail. No your not right You cant be right”. Had not been found, that fact that even me a person how has achieved academically more than many people could even hope for, still thinks of myself as the child at the end of elementary school unable to read a sentence as simple as “Leaves grow on trees.” That the walls I have carefully built around me to hide the “studip” that is at my core. It is this goblin, this stupid core that has driven me to be a teacher for many reasons. The first being that I know that the goblin is lying, I mean it I know he is wrong, but he well at least I think it is sometime he looks remarkable like the face of those teachers I have had over the year who pretend to understand and have those eyes that scream I don’t believe you. 

I will also point out at I don’t make mistakes very often will often writing out everything I plan to say in a lesson and when I do this effectively my lesson run much smoother. I don’t know how dyslexia effects me as a teacher. Was it dyslexia and a little ADHD that made this day leaving me angry and frustrated? Or was it over-confidence, my fixation on my “cool” activity, lack of preparation and my panick when the bell went and I was not ready. Is this something anyone could have happened to or was it my learning difficulties that cause the problem? The most important thing is that I want to prove myself to the students, I what them to believe that I am there to help them, that I am there to help them learn that I am trying to give them the best classroom experience where learning takes place as I can. For me this desire comes from dyslexia. Well what about that goblin, well I can never let you see the goblin the voice of studipidy at my core placed there by a school system them cares nothing for the emotional effects of learning difficulties. Well that little goblin is why I well never think I a good enough why I will always be looking to improve regardless of …. well anything because just like all those with learning difficulties I will never believe I am good enough. I hope this sort of explains that the thing people worry about when they here a student is dyslexic is the wrong.

So that is RB’s story of a day.  Not the best day, but a day of growth, anger, frustration, and ultimately humor and success. I have worked with numerous student teachers over the years.  None were more talented in the classroom than RB.  I found this story heartbreaking – how many young people with disabilities don’t make it?  RB’s story is one of success, founded on grit, determination, and the gift of teaching.  My students will all tell you that they were phenomenally lucky to have had RB as a student teacher.  RB helped students complete high level science fair projects, work on a robotics competitions, prepare them for December exams, inspite of his  less than empathetic experience in grade school. And RB can now add a Master’s degree to an impressive list of credentials.  Bravo!

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:


What can the Undergrads teach you?

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @kipunsam.daily

Being a teacher’s assistant (TA) can be hard work. As a TA you’re a font of knowledge, the solution to their problems and the keeper of their GPA. You’re also figuring out things as you go, putting out fires as they happen (hopefully figuratively!) and generally trying to keep up the aura of authority. So whether you are lecturing in a seminar, running tutorials or supervising a lab, like me, it’s as much as learning experience as a teaching experience.

So what have my students taught me? Well, I think you learn different things depending on what kind of teaching you are doing. Fannie described her experience leading seminars and I can only speak to my experience as a TA for a lab course, but here are a few lessons I’ve learned. (more…)

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…)

Study better, not harder.

By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt

Finally, a graduate student. Bet that means I don’t have to study anymore, right? Bet that means I don’t have to know huge amounts of information by specific deadlines, right?. . .Right? Damn.

Fine, but if I still have to know things then I should at least learn things the right way. I read a lot of journal articles, there must be a literature on the best ways to learn things. Luckily, people study studying! So, let’s learn a little educational psychology. (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…)

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