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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.”

(more…)

This has to stop.

I’ve been pretty sad and broody for the last little while.  A major news story in my local (Ottawa) media this past week was the death of a 15 year old student, Jamie (it’s also been reported here in Montreal, as well as across Canada) .  Jamie had a loving and supportive family, but he struggled with clinical depression.

He was also coming to grips with his sexual orientation.  Every day, kids at his school yelled hurtful obscenities at him. They called him “fag”. He tried to establish a safe space in his school for himself and kids like him, by starting a Rainbow club.  Other kids tore down and defaced the club’s posters.

Last Friday, Jamie committed suicide.

I am so, so heartsick by these stories of young LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) people who take their own lives because it seems like the only way for them to end the suffering inflicted upon them by their tormentors.  A 2010 study published by Zhao et al. of McGill University and the McGill Sexual Identity Centre showed that queer-identified youth are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts than their straight counterparts.  Yet, for some reason, we’re not talking about this problem.

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Teaching: it’s not a paycheck, it’s a responsibility

Me (left), sorting through aquatic arthropod specimens with some ecology students at Lac-Saint-Louis

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be a teaching assistant throughout my graduate career, both as a Master’s student and here at McGill where I have been leading introductory zoology (Organisms II) and ecology (St Lawrence Ecosystems) labs.

Teaching – working with, supporting, and learning from students – is something I love to do.It’s a big part of the reason I decided to quit my old desk job and pursue an academic career. I get a real kick out of seeing students get excited about course content, watching them have “aha!” moments when a new concept finally clicks, or hearing them say, “thanks for your help”. (more…)

The autumn bounty at Mac Campus

Mac resident amidst the campus fall colours

Back in the fall of ’09, I was utterly consumed with a single thought: where would I be attending grad school? I had narrowed my list down to two picks; McGill was at the top of the list.

I was invited to spend an early November day at the Macdonald Campus to meet with my potential supervisor, chat with some of the students in his lab, and get a feel for the campus. I took a day off work, hopped in my car, and ventured out on what would become the first of  many commutes from the small rural Ontario village I call home to the campus that I now consider my second home.

I fell in love with Mac instantly. I’m an outdoorsy-type-person and the oh-so-green Mac campus is gorgeous in autumn. From the highway, the road leading to the main entrance winds its way through the picturesque waterfront town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and along Lac Saint-Louis. Mac has few buildings but boasts 1600 acres of land, including loads of green space and gardens, a fully functional farm, and an arboretum.

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It’s time to pay my dues

Me, catching bugs in Kugluktuk, Nunavut. I'm thinking the whole thing is pretty awesome.

This is my sixth term as an Entomology (that’s the -ology of insects) PhD student at McGill, and I’ve been awfully busy. I’ve given my first departmental seminar, submitted my thesis proposal, survived my comprehensive exam, taught three terms’ worth of labs, and finished writing a book chapter. (I’m tired just looking at that list!)

Somewhere in the middle of all that, I also managed to squeeze in two field seasons in the Canadian Arctic.

I’m the first to admit that doing field work in the far north is pretty sexy stuff. I get to travel to gorgeous remote regions that most people will never get a chance to see. I spend my days driving an ATV over wide-open tundra, setting traps and collecting specimens and keeping an eye out for grizzly bears. I see cool things like muskoxen, the spring thaw on Coronation Bay, and the midnight sun. I get to meet beautiful, friendly people; sometimes I get to go bug-hunting with local kids.

Even when it’s cold and rainy, my ATV gets stuck in the mud and I discover that a reckless caribou has run through my trapline, it’s still full of awesome.

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