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:


Being digital humanists….

McGill GradLife instagram photo by

McGill GradLife instagram photo by

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!

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.


Dear Edward Snowden…

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by : @digitalpigeons

Instagram @gradlifemcgill // photo by : @digitalpigeons

“Standing in line to

See the show tonight

And there’s a light on

Heavy glow….”

(Lyrics from The Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way)

Verses, words that many of us know, words that came to my mind that late afternoon when nobody-knows-how many students, professors, people of the McGill community waited for hours before listening to Edward Snowden. I was among them and I strongly believe that GradLife should have a page about this event, about his words.


Big Ideas, Small Talks


Kristina Johnson, CEO of Enduring Hydro and former undersecretary of Energy
(source: Public Domain)

Small talks are the bread and butter of graduate life. You know, those little pamphlets pinned to billboards across campus? Well, some of them don’t advertise an n’th tutoring service. They don’t advertise a social club, a new search engine or even a “Four year-old computer CHEAP!!!”. No, some of  these pamphlets advertise small talks, in rooms you didn’t even know existed, by people which the unassuming presentation belies their extraordinary background.

On Wednesday May 28th, the McGill Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design held one these conference talks on “Renewable Energy and the role of Engineers”. The talk was given by Kristina Johnson who was on campus to receive an honorary doctorate. She is an incredibly distinguished woman who held many prestigious positions, but who donned her engineering hat for the occasion. Well, that hat and the one of former undersecretary of Energy under Steven Chu during Barack Obama’s first term. Her role boiled down to this: she had to manage a 10.5 billion dollar portfolio of investments in renewable energy with the goal to reduce the United-States’ carbon emission by 83% based on 2005 emission levels by 2050. This is not a small feat.


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


Preparing a conference presentation: Part 2


Photo by AdamR, Freedigitalphotos

About a month ago, I wrote the first post of a two-part guide on how to prepare a good conference presentation. I had asked my colleagues to give me their best advice, as I had never presented in a panel session before.

Well, now that the presentation date has come and gone, I thought I would share some follow-up thoughts.

Here’s how it went:


How to prepare a great conference presentation:Part 1

Part 1:  The Dos and Don’ts

In approximately 21 days I will be presenting my first ever oral presentation at a conference as a graduate student. I have presented posters before but this is new, exciting territory.  Instead of 3-5 minutes of floor time, I have 15-20! Instead of a single poster, I’m generously allowed to present at least 15 electrifying slides!

The possibilities are endless, and apparently so are the jitters. Luckily, I work with a laboratory full of truly brilliant researchers, each of whom have had more experience than me in presenting at conferences all over the world. Looking for their guidance on preparing the best conference presentation possible, I asked them three questions:

  1. What was the best advice anyone has ever given you concerning presentations?
  2. What are some mistakes you have made in the past?
  3. Is there something you do every time you present?

I’ve summarized their golden nuggets of wisdom for your benefit and mine: (more…)

Three weeks of travel, networking and fish & chips (II)

After four days in London, it was suddenly time to switch gears – time to get into an academic frame of mind, time to spend more time reading lengthy articles than sorting through hundreds of pictures, and time to venture out of my comfort zone and network as much as possible, rather than being perfectly content wandering through a city where not a single person knew my name.

I tucked my London ticket into the zippered pocket of my backpack and pulled out the ticket I needed next. I was off to Bangor, Wales – a place I knew nothing about, except that it was a University town, and that some amazing bilingualism and neurolinguistic research is going on over there.

Photo by Kristina Kasparian


Another kind of fieldwork…

Inside these buildings you can do interesting fieldwork as well!

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote in this blog. Probably because my to-do list was full, but then by looking at recent posts from my fellow Grad Life bloggers, I can see my summer was not that original: Erik and Crystal also gave us their insights about doing fieldwork and attending academic conferences. While I’ll keep my stories about the conferences I attended for another post, here is a little about my experience with fieldwork, which was a little bit different than Erik’s. After all, when talking about fieldwork – and especially from Erik’s picture – one can imagine collecting data from an actual field… Well, being in management, the definition of going to the field can vary a little. (more…)

Friendly support or expert advice?

My mother always says that if you have a problem, you should voice your opinion and let yourself be heard, because you are rarely the only one facing that situation. However, I have found this to be a little tricky in grad school.

Your peers are usually your best support group, and this couldn’t be truer than in grad school. Everyone works late hours, goes through frustrating periods, has career crises. They can all relate to what you’re going through, because they’re living it themselves, so you can instantly connect with them.

I recently hit that point in my project where I’m not really sure which direction to move forward in. I have tried lots of different angles that haven’t really panned out. A PhD, by definition, is a novel piece of work, which means you are often the expert you seek to find. No one else can necessarily answer your questions. No shortcuts exist. It’s a process of trial and error, which can sometimes be frustrating and lonely, even though you are not alone. Talking to peers and friends inevitably gets you some of the same suggestions – have you tried A, how about B. Of late, after having tried all options, the answers have become “oh well, that’s too bad,” “good luck,” or “you’ll figure it out.” That’s the kind of stuff my mom and dad tell me. It’s more encouragement than sound advice.

So what do you do when your friends’ and family’s advice seems fruitless?
Back in December 2010, I hit a similar rough patch and decided to head to a conference. I was so frustrated, and I figured that if I went to a conference and bounced ideas off people, it would get me somewhere. My supervisor didn’t think it was a good idea, but he didn’t stop me from going. I decided to pay for it out of my own pocket. It wasn’t far (Philadelphia), and since I knew people who were going, I could crash on their hotel room floor.

Disaster ensued. Well, not quite, but it was definitely overwhelming. I went to ASCB, which is one of the largest conferences in my field. Five days, with over 1,000 posters a day. I met lots of people, but not necessarily the experts I was hoping to find. I came back knowing that I’m not alone and that many others are in the same boat, but without any concrete new experiments to try. My supervisor, politely, didn’t say I told you so, and actually did pay for my registration fees when he found out I had gone to the conference on my vacation.

So this time, being faced with a similar situation, I decided to attend a much smaller conference. My supervisor was on board and even registered to come as well. Two days, 36 posters, and basically every expert in my field. With everyone I met, I could skip the introduction and background, and dive directly into the nitty-gritty details, which made for excellent exchanges and feedback.

I have now returned, feeling rejuvenated and with concrete theories to test out and new experiments to try. They may not work, but at least I know I’ll be testing the right theories. I learned that it’s good to discuss your problems, but it’s even better when you do it with the right people.

Conferecing 101

Ok, so you are supposed to go to a conference, and don’t quite know what to expect. I fancy myself to be something of a conference veteran and here are few tips in no particular order:


  1. Funds: look for a conference that has student awards. Some organizers will pay you for minor voluntary work. You can look for the McGill Travel awards. Try the usual methods to look for cheap tickets. Work out the costs before going. Typical heads to budget for: tickets, visas, conference fees, local transport, board and lodging, per diems.
  2. (more…)

Conference woes and PowerPoint crimes

The beetles almost killed me...but at least they're pretty.

My life for the past couple of months has been pretty much ridonculous. Here’s how it started:

Supervisor: “You should give a talk at the ESC meeting this fall.”

Me (panicking, but appearing outwardly calm): “Cool. But, um, I have no data yet.”

Supervisor: “Well, it’s two months away.”

Me (hopefully): “How about a poster?”

Supervisor: “Nah, give a talk instead. Oh, and sign up to compete for the President’s Prize. It’ll be awesome.”

Me (now really panicking): “Erm, no problem.”


Honey, no one is going to read your thesis! – ah bon…

‘Honey, no one is going to read your thesis!’ C’est la phrase que m’a lancé une sympathique chercheure australienne à la conférence à laquelle j’assistais dernièrement à Berkeley (voir ma chronique précédente). Elle devait avoir environ vingt ans d’expérience derrière elle.

 À ce moment-là, nous étions cinq à la table pour le dîner et nous parlions de nos doctorats respectifs, en cours ou complétés. J’ai mentionné que je rédigeais ma thèse en français à McGill, expliquant à leur étonnement que c’était possible, puisque McGill est une université bilingue. (more…)

And I have no compass, and I have no map. And I have no reasons, no reasons to get back.

 On a cloudy, rainy …late October day such as today…I find it hard to find focus to do work.  Part of me wants to nap all day, but part of me wants to reconnect with something inspirational and start writing.  Because this isn’t my personal blog, there are certain opinions and ideas that I will have to leave out.  However, I was reflecting on certain things today about my “grad life” experience.



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