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Proof you should be sleeping at work!


By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt

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

Des vacances? Quelles vacances?

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

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

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

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


The next step may be abroad

The picture of Dante holding the Commedia in his left hand is a reproduction of Domenico di Michelino's painting, Florence, 1465.

The picture of Dante holding the Commedia in his left hand is a reproduction of Domenico di Michelino’s painting, Florence, 1465.


What the…What is Dante Alighieri doing on GradLife’s Blog???

Dear Graduate Students, maybe this is going to be your last year at McGill, maybe not. Maybe you are graduating and thinking about what you can do after having gone through the Hell of your thesis and finally got outside of it, on the peaceful and lightened sand of Dante’s Purgatory. If that is the case, then you may find this post interesting. Before writing it, I was thinking about what to publish, then I told myself: “Hey, you are an international student and you took one of the most important decision of your life, let’s talk about how you choose where to go and what to do!”. Here it is then, a few words about people and things that may help you in choosing which path you want to take to climb the mountain of the Purgatory. (more…)

If only I was more organized…

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

One of my favourite (but often failed) New Year’s resolutions is to be more organized and better schedule my time. Now this is obviously not a SMART resolution, and to be honest I’m not the most un-organized person, but every year I wish I was a little more on top of things and procrastinated a little less. This is especially true this year as I’m hoping to submit my thesis and there are mountains of work to be done!

So how I am going to be more organized? Well Aleks wrote a while ago her top tips for productivity and I like a lot of them, but I thought I would add a couple of my own. (more…)

Successes: the story continues…

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @yogipetals

Instagram @gradlifemcgill Photo by @yogipetals

At the end of The beginning of a story, the story was left open on purpose. Hope, possibility, opportunity, chaos, chance were the words that concluded that post, but now it’s time to add chaos to the unfolded life of that character.

The phone was ringing loudly. The noise annoyed him. He answered to just stop it and did not even speak. On the other side of that coded and decoded connection through which a human voice was reaching him, a man was producing sounds with his mouth. The sequence took form and meaning, became denial of purposes and ideas, refusal of something that the guy had sent to the journal whose the man was an editor. You don’t know anything about what you are writing, do you? You should read this and this and this and I will write everything down but your article was so…empty that I preferred to call you to vomit all my disappointment on you. Sounds, meaning and delusion. 


Do you Change the Ideas or the Way of Thinking?

If you are a graduate student and you are reading this, I am almost sure that you know which role you play in this world as a researcher. We are expected to answer the questions that nobody can still answer in order to improve the quality of human life, in the most diverse ways. However, there is another duty we should convey in our lives; one more discrete but not less important work.

Zorro pescao


Photo by Luis Villegas-Armenta

Lately, as I get more involved with scientific work and all my supervisor incentive me to find the ultimate truth behind every statement, I started to do the same with every small thing I find on the internet. This drives me to be more skeptic with many things that were simply unquestionable for me. Unfortunately, if you look at your everyday social media interaction, nowadays some people tend to create all kind of hypothesis and statements about the real world that should worry us all. This could be harmless if we talk about some mean comments in Facebook or YouTube, but if you think about it, in some countries this will be reflected in the population vote, the aversion of people towards vaccines, climate change countermeasures or any other important subject. Even if we are respectful of everyone’s beliefs, we live on the same planet and often country; then their points of view will affect us.

Changing the point of view of people is a very dangerous activity, as sometimes even our own judgment can be deviated from objectivity by our personal experiences. Also, you should not try to make other people think like you. Then, what could be the solution? In my opinion, as graduate students working hard to prove or disprove scientific facts, we can try to make people raise questions about smaller and less important subjects first. If you try to hit the big targets, you will force people to close their minds and see you as another ideological opponent. The idea is to make them question the information whirlwind around them, in a more objective and fact-checked way. For example, is dangerous to use a microwave? The sports drinks are as good as they say?  That post in Facebook is really that reliable? These small things could make people curious about more and more things until at some point, they start to really investigate about important things. The idea is to become a society that takes well-informed decisions and not only goes with some radical website or hate speeches when it comes to big decisions.

In summary, as science emissaries, we must encourage a change in the way of thinking not the beliefs themselves. I hope that in some decades we will reach a point were self-learning and rational thinking, will demonstrate that there is a way to co-exist without boundaries someone else built; boundaries that we accepted just because we were too afraid to learn a little bit more.

Holidays at Home


Photo by jill111 / Pixabay

Like many of my fellow grad students, I travelled home to spend the holidays with my family. I‘m half way though my vacation and things are following the same predictable pattern, more or less. There is the excitement of seeing my parents and siblings, followed quickly by the readjusting to suddenly living with 6 people (I normally live alone). We all open our presents together, play board games and enjoy lots of good food (though this year half of us got food poisoning!). And while I’ve experienced the holiday joy Heather talks about, I also experience the impostor syndrome Angel describes so accurately, especially since everyone knows I’ve been doing cancer research for the last 5+ years. (more…)

The Impostor Phenomenon

As many other friends, I went back home to enjoy the holidays with my family. This should be a time to rest and enjoy the parties, but if you have been out of home for a while and especially out of the country, all kind of questions start coming from everywhere. “Hey! How is Canada?”, “Is it really that cold?” or “How many more years are you going to be away?” Are the preferred ones. However, the more complicated questions usually are “What are you doing in your Ph.D.?” and, “What do you do with a Ph.D.?” Then you can feel proud for a minute explaining the importance of your research and how we contribute to save the world (well, maybe).


Photo by @christinekts #GradLifeMcGill #HappyHolidays #DaysOff #NewbieAtMcGill #christmasisalreadyhere #christmasmodeon #lastdayofexams #cantwait


Photo by @christinekts

Some of us could experience a sense of guilt or even fear at some point. Are we really working in something THAT important? Moreover, if it is, am I really qualified to work on it or am I riding an unstoppable bus to doom? Then you start to feel anxious thinking about all the work piling up in the laboratory. This is by far worse than the disconnection problem I mentioned in my previous article (The vacation boundaries and the “Workshop Blindness”) because this time we are dealing with a self-confidence problem. Naijean S. Bernard et al. [1] defines the Impostor Phenomenon as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness in high achievers who are unable to internalize their successful experiences”. In other words, it means that some capable people are sometimes unable to realize how good they really are, feeling that others will point out them as frauds or cheaters. This seems to be a very common problem in McGill graduate students. I discussed this subject during the Grad Connect Cafes (hosted by Campus Life and Engagement and Career Planning Service) some time ago, and I was just amazed how many students were feeling this way. We talked how we are too hard on ourselves, thinking that only our luck or other advantages brought us all the way long.

If you have this problem, I can tell you only one thing we defined there. Many people achieve great things not only because of their natural talent but mostly because they defied their fear of facing bigger challenges. During this struggle, we could feel overpowered by the task ahead, but it does not mean that we are not good enough to deal with it. The only thing to do is to give your best and be confident about your abilities, as not even all the luck in the world would be enough without the sacrifice and the effort you put in your everyday work. So the next time you feel like this in the middle of your turkey sandwich, try to recognize how really good you are and the achievement that being a graduate student represent. Happy Holidays!

[1]          N. S. Bernard, S. J. Dollinger, and N. V. Ramaniah, “Applying the big five personality factors to the impostor phenomenon,” Journal of personality Assessment, vol. 78, pp. 321-333, 2002.

Home for the Holidays


Photo by H McPherson

Photo by H McPherson

What does it mean to be home for the holidays?  Egg nog?  Way too much amazing food?  Children and Santa?  Champagne and orange juice in front of the fire on Dec 25?  Stockings filled?  There are the pre-Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve parties, more family on New Year’s Day.  Perhaps some well-earned time away from courses and thesis. That sounds great! Bring it on. Two weeks of blank space seems like an eternity, and leaving it blank is something to relish.

On another note, I think I have already experienced the most poignant moment this holiday.  I invited a fellow grad student over to share Christmas supper with my family on Dec 25, not knowing if she had plans.  My friend was going to order out, all alone in Montreal, family on the other side of the world.  The look of total relief and happiness on her face – priceless. I am quite certain that that moment will be the highlight of my holiday. I am so grateful that I could offer my home to a friend for the holiday.

Wishing everyone a great holiday, and all the best for the New Year.  Enjoy the break!

December stresses me out!

Photo by @aliisonw // Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @aliisonw // Instagram @gradlifemcgill

It’s officially mid-December and you know what that means. Snow, slush and exams! It’s the time of year where every coffee shop in a 20 minute radius of campus is full of undergrads and graduate students alike studying hard for exams. Personally, I’m in my last years of a project-based degree, so I finished my course work some years ago and I do not miss it one bit. The sleepless nights, the stress eating, and the caffeine-induced eye twitches are mostly issues of the past for me, but I feel for all of you out there currently in the middle of exam season. It is not fun, but hopefully it will be over for you soon.

Now while I don’t exactly have exams to manically cram for, this time of year brings my own special brand of stress, my annual committee meeting. Now I know not all the departments are the same, but as a Biochemistry graduate student you have to assemble a committee of professors (at least 2 plus your supervisor) that you meet with at least once a year to make sure your work is on track. Unfortunately mine has been pushed all the way to the end of this year.  All things considered, I prefer this annual evaluation to any exam I’ve written but it is still incredibly stressful. Basically it’s a presentation where I show all the work I’ve done over the years and I’m questioned on what I know, what I think and what I want to do next. (more…)

I like to do surveys (like this one)

Lucky me, all the people I study for my PhD are dead a couple of centuries ago. I don’t have to ask them any questions, even if that would be a great help sometimes. Well, all the time, but I can’t. I have to find the answers I need in ancient documents. But some grad students really need to interact with other living humans and ask them questions.

When I studied and worked in communications, I came to understand the value of some surveys. From that time, I almost always answer when someone wants to ask questions for a «good» cause.

The same thing is happening now that I am in grad school. I almost always say «yes!» when somebody needs to do study in order to complete their research. I am even on a waiting list for research about baby’s communication.

If you want to help too, there are quite a lot of surveys you can answer, like this one about Doctoral Students’ Work-Life Balance and Well-Being (psss, you can win 250$ or even 500$!).

How do you find answers to your research’s questions?

Ps:.: I made mistakes? Please, help me improve!

Paper or Not?

Paper or Not?

We occupy the most rapidly evolving age of human kind to date, technology has started to become obsolete or outdated faster than my wardrobe. Big-shots in the technological field predict a fast approaching singularity  of technological advancement; expect that to happen when computers start to design computers for designing better computers. During the interim though, we’ve got what we’ve got in the present, and it’s expensive, so what’s worth your hard earned money? (more…)

Goodbye, students from my conferences!

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @kipunsam.daily

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @kipunsam.daily

For the second time in my life, I was a TA. For 10 weeks, I had to read the assign articles and books of a class and prepare questions in order for students to discuss in the conferences.

Last year I wanted to die because I didn’t even know what conferences were supposed to be (I never had that kind of activities at the University of Montreal), and I had to entertain twenty young students in English.

This year, I was more comfortable. Still stressed, but less. Ouf!

I met incredible students, opened to the world, expert-to-be in their own field, nice and funny. Some were really helpful, correcting my English pronunciation or translating for me. Some encouraged me by their smile. It was really, at least I hope, a multidirectional exchange of knowledge.


The vacation boundaries and the “Workshop Blindness”

As the holidays get closer the chance to go back home (or just stay) and escape for a few weeks from the laboratory becomes a relief for the mind. In my case returning home for Christmas means hot chocolate, delicious tamales and other gastronomic wonders from my country. It doesn´t matter if you are staying in Montreal or going to the other side of the world, the important thing is to define clear boundaries in your mind about what it means going on vacation. For some of us it is quite normal to be dining with your aunts and at the same time be thinking about those x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy results or your microscope images. It is ok to let your mind go back to the laboratory once in a while, but as long as you do not close that door your research could be severely affected. Why am I saying this? Well, because it´s not only a matter of returning well-rested to the University but also about changing your focus. Sometimes we spend so much time with our results and hypothesis that our vision starts to narrow and we are prone to omit new details. This is something called “workshop blindness” and it is often related to the lack of attention to negative aspects in an industrial process. However, talking about the work of a graduate student, this can be affecting not only ourselves but also our supervisors. Due to the level of specialization of each one of our areas, it would be difficult to find someone to tell us which kind of details we are missing, as this would be the solution in a factory (external consultants). Then, in my humble opinion, the best solution could be to disconnect ourselves completely from our research during vacation time. But not only skip the work, I mean to fill our minds with different information, like reading a new novel, travel to new places or even play video games. After that maybe it would be difficult to reconnect everything, but eventually, the rewiring will let us find new pieces of that puzzle we call thesis.

Conferences & Conferences…


Photo by a tiny conference organizer (Paolo Saporito)

Photo by a tiny conference organizer (Paolo Saporito)

In any language of this world, Graduate Life’s translation could easily be “Conferences”. Conferences here, conferences there, doesn’t matter who you fero cum or you want to confer (for those of you who understand Latin)…this is a word whose echo stressed, stresses and will stress most of our readers. Then, if you are one of those who have ever wondered “confer…hence?”, you may want to have a look at this post, where I’m going to share with you the amazing experience of being not a speaker, not a presenter, not a panel spectator who struggles to get more free-food than the others, but a conference organizer, the most grey, banal, yet amazing figure in this world of weird translations.


Grad School! But then what? (Part 2)

Photo by @aleksbud / Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @aleksbud / Instagram @gradlifemcgill

A couple weeks ago I expressed some of my anxiety about my future career plans, my decision to explore my options other than a post-doc and a Career Development Day I was organizing. The event was a rousing success! (I might be a bit bias.) Organizing the event was a learning experience in itself and I’ll talk more about my experiences working with BGSS in a future post but here are the 4 top things I learned from the event.

1. Know what is important to you.
This was an exercise from the Individual Career Planning workshop run by CaPS. Basically you make a long list of different values you might look for in a job (ie. work-life balance, high salary, security, flexibility, problem solving etc.) You take these and put them into 3 piles; needs, wants and neutrals. Then you take your “needs” and order them from most to least important. When you really sit down and think about it, you might be surprised by what aspects are the most important to you, I know I was. Once you have your list you can see patterns and maybe associate them with certain careers. Better yet, give it to a friend; they might see things in there that you can’t. This activity really helped put things into focus and is allowing me to look for careers that will fit with who I am.


Applying to Grad School: An overview

When I think about how uncertain and nervous I was about applying and beginning grad school this time last year, I always give out a loud laugh, brimming with relief. As an international student, I had to think about how many universities I need to apply to (the application fees are pretty high), whether I was qualified enough for each of those (the level of study/syllabi are completely different), and how I was going to manage my finances (I still convert prices from dollars to rupees and moan about how costly food is in Canada). Taking a loan is a pretty big deal, especially when the loan amount is huge and you’re unsure whether you’ll get a job right after grad school. In my case, since I wanted to get into a biological sciences field with the intention of doing a PhD after, I had to think twice. Do I take a loan of almost 40,000 USD for two years, and do a PhD after? How could I repay it on a PhD salary? More importantly, will I even get into a university? (more…)


Bronfman Building, Desautels Faculty of Management and snow

Bronfman Building, Desautels Faculty of Management and snow || Photo by Akshay Kohli

It’s been a while now that I stood in front of the Bronfman building’s main entrance at Sherbrooke and admired the history of it all and the legacy that I am a part of. A year, to be precise, since that moment when I ‘looked up’ to realize my existence in front of a building which, in the last few decades, has made many dreams come true. I, like 76 other MBA students, started my MBA at Desautels Faculty of Management in August 2015 and remember when most of us saw the building for the first time, gazing at the red frame shining in the sun, smiling in hope. The construction in front of the gates doesn’t help but we have completely forgotten to stand still, take a breath and look up to the place we are at. The place which has been our home for the last one year.

                The MBA students at Desautels faculty of Management spend most of their time at the third floor. It is not uncommon for students to spend five or maybe six days a week at that floor attending classes, meeting for group projects, completing assignments, planning for club events, chilling, meeting with faculty, tweaking resumes, flirting, writing cover letters, reading cases, searching incessantly for job postings, writing emails in the name of networking and what not. Just as we fail to notice the significance of the Bronfman building in the midst of it all, we forget that these wonderfully passionate people who are at it day in and day out are life stories which are germinating at the moment in the ‘greenhouse of careers’ that Bronfman building is. Typing away amidst all the anxiousness, loneliness, happiness, irritation, joy, disappointments, deprivation, and other spectrum of feelings that an MBA student goes through what keeps them going is the passion that they came here with (and the fact that the debt is real).

                A mother of two toils away to learn to apply business strategy and at the same time hopes that the kids are taken good care of by the husband, a husband, living away from his wife with the hope to change careers and can’t travel home on all weekends due to the piling school work, students from the other side of the world are looking to only go back home to meet their dear ones once they have a job that they want, and some students have been experts in their fields, in their country, but change of location has deemed their skill not as valuable. The struggle is real, but at the end of the day (or semester) these, and many more students, still have a smile on their faces because all of us care. The faculty of management brands us as the #DesautelsFamily but it is not just a branding exercise, it is the root of our existence and success at Bronfman.

I was speaking to a first year MBA student and he said that despite all the challenges that students face at school and in the Canadian market, the reason that we are still going strong is because “They Care”, the faculty cares for each student. No matter what the circumstance, the students of our MBA program should learn one thing- to “Take Care” of their surroundings and the people in them. The students of the #DesautelsFamily, in my opinion, don’t necessarily want to take over the world, but to “make the world a better place” and it’s happening right here at the Bronfman building.

Finally, the construction in front of Bronfman building has stopped and I finally got a chance to stand still, this time in the snow, and admire the house of our big family. Visit us sometime.


For philosophical musings, Twitter @akshayleo25

What is the biggest difference between grad and undergrad?

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by @fanidee

Being a graduate student can be tough. A lot of your time is spent working solo in your lab, library, office. You have a lot less classes than in your undergrad so meeting other students can be tricky. Here at GradLife McGill we really try to create a sense of community and hopefully inspire you to get out of your labs and meet all the amazing graduate students at McGill. I really love speaking to new people and learning about their experiences as a grad student. It’s so refreshing to hear other people’s opinions but also so comforting to know you’re not the only one that’s finds it hard to get up in the morning. I tried to capture this in this month’s video by asking fellow graduate students what they thought was the biggest difference between grad and undergrad. Some of the faces may be familiar to you, maybe not, but I am sure their stories will be! Hope you enjoy. Please give any suggestions for future vidoes in the comment section, would love to hear from you. See you next time!


Read it and Weep


H McPherson

H McPherson

The urban dictionary uses the expression “Read it and Weep” in the context of giving someone bad news, especially if that news is in written form. However, I am using the expression in a purely literary sense.  Although I am perhaps more than two years away from even beginning to write my PhD dissertation, I have been reading award winning alternative dissertations.  What I have read are things of beauty. Articulate, exquisitely crafted, rich with colorful imagery, depth and control of relevant theories. Some extend the boundaries of the genre moving between theory, fiction, autobiography, stream of consciousness fragments, poetry, epistolary forms, and bricolage. Some are hybrids that blend autobiography, ethnography, visual, and performative arts. Once upon a time, I did a MSc in plant breeding and genetics.  Quantitative all the way.  Hard science, pure science. Clean, precise. Predictable. Then my head went BAM and that is now all over. The end of my engagement with quantitative methodology. There is something about the depth and richness of context, of the ability to capture what people have to say in their own words, to describe experiences with emotion and depth. Qualitative methods, language – every word carefully chosen.  Every sentence slowly crafted.  A slow crescendo of language and theory building to a denouement, the outcome of a well-crafted story, where secrets are revealed, leaving no loose ends. There is no going back. I have found a new home.


Urban Dictionary, November 24: Folx. (n.d.). Retrieved Novmber 27, 2016, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/

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