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How to be a full time graduate student with a dream job?

Studying hard, getting into graduate school to get a better job – yes! Working part-time on the side to pay for your studies, your rent, food or any activity – yes*2. Finding your dream job while you’re still studying, keeping it for experience and potentially as a first job? Let’s try it.

A STUDENT JOB

Let’s talk about the different types of student jobs. You can work anywhere just for the income, with no particular interest in the field, potentially with a good team, close to your place or your university. Any convenience will be appreciated for this type of job but mostly, it pays your groceries and that’s all you need.

Then, there is the golden nuggets kind of student job. Basically, your dream job but two years too early. That’s what I got. I started working for an art gallery two years ago. It was an “on call” job where I was supervising art pieces during private events at the gallery. After a few events, they asked me if I wanted to get a part time job, two days per week working at the front desk. I had to welcome customers, answer the phone, learn a bit about the art, smile and basically just be there. I could even do my homework while working. The perfect combination.

Photo by Marion M.

That was a year and a half ago. I finished my bachelor degree, took some time off whenever I was in a rush for finals or needed vacations.

September 2015, McGill University. A whole new chapter of my life. I started with absolutely no idea of what being a graduate student meant. I thought it was going to be just like undergrad with longer papers and less exams. At the exact same time, I got an offer from the gallery: to become the new community manager, which meant, back then, maintaining our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts up to date. I said I would try it for a month and see how it would fit with school. It worked pretty well.

MY DREAM JOB

I loved having the balance of work and school. On one side I was learning so much from amazing teachers, meeting new people in my field, discovering a new student life, a new campus. On the other side, I had concrete and instant results. I would write a newsletter, translate it, correct it and send it to 2500 people in one click. After that, those people would come and see our exhibitions, they would take photos, post them, tag us, like us, etc. You know how social media works.

Photo by Marion M.

Although I felt like I had found the perfect balance, I realised this only happened because I had seminars to take and credits to earn, in a nutshell, short term projects to focus on. Writing a 100 pages thesis seems like a completely different rhythm.

BALANCE?

Now the dilemma. I spent 20 hours per week at work versus 6 hours per week at school. Since I work on social media, I also get constant notifications and emails that go with the job. Our Facebook page response rate is 3 minutes… You see my problem? I love it so much and I take so much pride in this concrete result that I can’t disconnect. I want to (or do I?) but I don’t know how. I’m physically and mentally always working. At the same time, my thesis subject is great, I’m passionate about it too, but every time, it takes me a while to get into it. I need a few days to focus on school, not think about work and then I can write.

Summer is passing by, September is staring at me wondering how am I going to balance both my job and my thesis.

So far, the best solution I found is this new retreat concept called “Thèsez-vous“. More about it on my next post.

Do you also have trouble balancing your job and your studies?

Running Thoughts

A per-kilometer check-in on running the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon for the second time, on May 25, 2014.

Starting Line-      Apparently, there’s a man here running his 728th marathon. He is 88. Amazing.

Kilometer 1-      Yay, crowds of runners! (5min06 sec)

2-      I can’t believe these people woke up to cheer us on. It’s 7AM. Go back to bed. (9:52)

3-      The Rideau Canal is beautifully misty. (14:41)

4-      So I just gotta do this like 10 more times…

5-      Poster reads: “Pain is just a sign of de-feet.” Puns. (23:56)

6-      You know what? I’m not feeling too bad. Surprising given how much sitting I’ve been doing. (28:37)

7-      The sound of so many feet running is spectacular. And a bit frightening. (33:19)

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False Positives, False Hope

Matt and Gabumon stuck in a cave made by Matt's negative thoughts. (From Digimon: Digital Monsters, S01E52) I wish I had a Digimon, too in times like these!"

Matt and Gabumon stuck in a cave made by Matt’s negative thoughts. (From Digimon: Digital Monsters, S01E52) I wish I had a Digimon, too in times like these!”

I haven’t written in a long time because I’ve been swimming in what I’d like to call “Grad School Limbo” or the grey area where you don’t really know where you are and it’s getting difficult to navigate. My primary source of unhappiness has been stemming from the fact that my projects are just not working out. But maybe not exactly…

I’ve always been a perfectionist and found it very difficult to accept failure. I’ve almost always blamed myself, scrutinized my abilities and concluded my own incompetency when things didn’t work out. The simple truth about science is that, well, things hardly ever do work out and it’s nobody’s fault. Despite having been told this before and even reading about it in the context of biographies of all the great scientists in history, it somehow didn’t sit with me. I still believed that anything I can touch will magically be set to work by some mysterious force of hope and light. If you think that’s naive, you are definitely right. So for the past few months, I’ve been in grey limbo of low self-esteem, hopelessness and lots of anger against the fates that set me up with my project!

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#SSMUSki

Snowy day atop Bromont

Snowy day atop Bromont

Winter is hard. Cold weather breeds antisocial behavior. The lack of daylight drives down energy levels. And the snow and ice further hamper any activity that requires even a minimal effort. This year, with its record-breaking lows, has been particularly difficult, even in a Winter-friendly city like Montreal.

In an attempt t to stave off the S.A.D.s (ie., seasonal affective disorder), this year I decided to join the SSMU Ski and Snowboard Club.

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Until the Fat Lady Sings

The Archetypal Opera Singer, as rendered by the author

The Archetypal Opera Singer, as rendered by the author

Many people regard opera as elitist, boring, and on the wane. A relic of past grandiosity that is out of touch with present aesthetics and popular culture. Something that soon will go the way of the dodo or Hostess snack cake

As the saying goes, however, the future of opera is not so easily prophesized. The “fat lady” might in fact be singing, but it most certainly is not over. (more…)

Breaking the Shackles of Freedom

shackles There is a widely-shared perception that life as a graduate student is relaxed, romantic, and carefree. Sure, we might face the occasional stress-inducing deadline, committee meeting, or funding application, but what else do we really have to do? Of course, not all graduate programs are created equal, leading to a valued stress gradient, ranging from those in the Sciences, with their rigid laboratory schedules and tedious calculations, to those in the Arts, who may choose to go to a cafe to work, if they work at all. Life as a grad student (in the Arts), it would appear, is easy-breezy beautiful.

Why then do grad students seem to be so stressed out?

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It’s like running a marathon…

Sitting Pretty Post Marathon

Sitting Pretty Post Marathon, 26 May 2013.

More than a month on, I can barely remember any of the nearly three hours and fifteen minutes it took me to complete the Ottawa Marathon this past May. I do remember: the moment of silence for the Boston Marathon victims at the race start; the feeling of my left pinky toe swelling-up beginning at kilometer 22; feeling jealous as I passed on-lookers drinking mimosas; the folk band’s rendition of “Everybody Dance Now” at kilometer 38; the crowd’s cheering during the last three kilometers when I really just wanted to give up.

What I recall the most was not the race itself, but rather the state of utter joy-exhaustion-emotion upon its completion, and the great group of friends that waited patiently at the finish line to (literally) scoop me up and begin the celebrations. (more…)

Event: McGill Gets Inspired by TED-Talks

Three Minutes to Change the World

“Fast paced” is practically the antithese of “Grad School.” When you think about explaining your research, doing it quickly is rarely part of the experience. Most of us are prone to panic attacks when our presentations are limited to 45 minutes, discounting the question period as optional.  So what do you think about someone trying in less than 5?

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Got a Ticket to Ride?

To Infinity and Beyond! Source.

Long, slow-moving lines in China are never a good sign, especially when preceding a lengthy journey in a cramped space. Such was my luck last Saturday night, as I prepared to go back to my research site after a short work-ation during Spring Festival (a.k.a., Chinese New Year). It had been a restful and productive week in a small Bai minority village, surrounded by the Cang Mountain panorama and Erhai Lake, and only a three kilometer walk through emerald fields to the old town tourist area. If there was a better place to start my dissertation writing, I would be hard pressed to name it. I felt the tension return to my shoulders as I waited for the serpentine crowd to move. And then the whispers caught my ear: “Those people have standing tickets.”

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Lost in Limbo

Do you want to be a baker/rockstar/writer?  I’m pretty sure most of you have at least thought of some crazy job alternative at some point in your academic career.  I know I have…more than once.  For a lot of us, grad school is a sort of limbo. We’re no longer undergrads but we aren’t exactly in the workforce either. It’s somewhere between school and the rest of our lives.

Grad school is a time when a lot of us aren’t too sure if what we’re doing is something we want to pursue for the rest of our lives. Personally, though I am enjoying almost every moment of it, I often ask myself:  “Is this what I want to do for the next x number of years?  Do I really want a career in academia?  What else is out there?” I’m sure these are questions other grad students are familiar with. It’s interesting to hear why people decided on grad school, because answers range anywhere from: “I love what I’m studying” to “couldn’t think of anything else to do”.  Regardless of why we’re here, the one commonality is the uncertainty when it comes to life after grad school. What will I do? Get a ‘real’ job? Travel?  Keep doing the research thing?

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The wonders that humans are capable of

The human potential is simply remarkable. When human go against each other they can create things like war. They can create the terrible circumstances that were the subjects of a few posts last week. But when humans work together, they can create wonders.

At the Macdonald Campus, we created something of a small wonder this semester. It was quite magical. It was a flash mob.

Flash mob at the Mac campus. Photo credit: Sushant K Jha

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At McGill but not in Montreal

A spring sunset on Macdonald Campus. Credit: Mohsin Bin Latheef

I go to McGill, but I do not live in Montreal!

In fact, I never have lived in Montreal. That is because I go to the ‘other’ campus, the Macdonald Campus. Yes, I will get annoyed if you are from McGill and you spell it as MacDonald. 🙂 And no, it is not on a different planet, we are very happy at Macdonald Campus, thank you! Most people at McGill will tell you the wonderful things about Montreal, of which I only know a few.

I will use this post to tell you what I know: the favorite five things about Mac Campus and Sainte Anne de Bellevue, my lovely little village for the last three years:

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Why Do I Write This Blog?

Why would you voluntarily commit to a project in which you have to make yourself sit with the computer for longer than you anyway do? Why would you write for the blog, as if you don’t do enough writing while trying to churn out a doctoral dissertation. And you don’t even get paid (when did graduate students ever stop complaining about that!).

What is in it for me?

Simplistically: nothing.

But really, my sanity!

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Convocation ceremony at Macdonald Campus

It was 13:30 when I entered Centennial Centre and rushed to pick up my gown and academic cap. I was supposed to be there at 13:00 and couldn’t believe that I was so late on the most important day of my life. When I saw a long line of students waiting for their turn and a very well-organized staff guiding the whole process, I was relieved.

But, then, nervousness gripped me with an irrepressible force and I couldn’t help thinking that, I might fall on stage –only, because I was wearing shoes with heels. Heels and I are usually the worst of enemies and avoid each other like plagues. This golden rule was set when falling became a custom, each time I slipped into my unwanted heels. However, heels were mandatory on such an important occasion – at least, according to my friends and colleagues.

We then lined up two by two and made our way toward the ceremony hall. As we climbed the stairs, enthusiastic applause followed. Proud parents and family members were clicking and clicking and clicking trying to immortalize this once-in-a-lifetime event. I smiled when my walking partner commented that she feels like a movie star. I felt the same too as if we have achieved the impossible and now the world is at our feet. However, this feeling will always remain inadequately described, meant only to be felt.

I presume that I clapped the loudest when Professor Julian Davies was conferred the honorary degree (Doctor of Science, honoris causa). In addition of being an excellent orator, he is humorous and gave an advice which is of primary importance – to wash our hands with soap and warm water as frequently as we can. It sounded like a funny statement, but on the other hand, washing our hands can decrease a consequent load of bacterial infections. I have started washing my hands more frequently.

Thinking about it, grad life was a roller coaster of bittersweet memories that shaped my life, personality, mind, attitudes and if need to be repeated, I’ll embrace it again. I did flashback on long hours, working relentlessly in the lab where techniques were failing and I had to repeat procedures several times. But then, surges of happiness when I was awarded a long sought scholarship and my paper finally got accepted in the journal of my choice, with the strong editing skills of my better half, Bushansingh Shyam Baurhoo, also a McGill graduand.

In the end, wearing my convocation gown and academic cap, I was deliriously happy and proud to have graduated from an elite university alike McGill. Being a McGillian did contribute hugely in securing my job.

And no, I did not fall…

However, my academic cap did kiss the stage. A generous soul retrieved my cap and I continued my walk down stage, unflawed, with a smile on my face.

neerusha gokool baurhoo

Reading Susan Wiggs’s books – No Bookmark required


The art of reading has always been my grand passion and varies from magazines, scientific papers, encyclopaedia and blogs to books (mystery, adventure, romance…). Over the years, I’ve developed a distinctive taste for a few authors, whose work I read religiously.

After a hard fruitful day in the lab, or during insurmountable difficulties with lab techniques failing, or unwanted tiffs with lab members or close relations; the one author who made me forget my worrisome and stressful world is Susan Wiggs.

Susan Wiggs has a unique way of capturing the heart of the reader and plunging the latter in a completely different world. Her characters portray genuine emotions and I couldn’t help but being swept by their stories.

It all happened, two years ago at Chapters. I was roaming the gigantic place inhaling the fragrance of newly published books when my eyes caught sight of “The horsemaster’s Daughter”. Out of reflex, I read the back cover and pondered on whether I should purchase the book (due to my meagre budget as a student, I had to be careful with my choices).

Never did I ever regret my decision of buying “The horsemaster’s daughter.” After reading the book for three hours (non-stop), I was sad to say goodbye to one of the most fascinating and brilliant character portrayed by Eliza Flyte as a horse whisperer.

What I love most about Susan Wiggs’s books is that she skillfully touches diverse aspects such as family, children, love, divorce, animals and integrate many of these themes in a single book, thus her writing is complete and profound. Today, I proudly own around twenty of her books in my collection, each as unique and different as the other.

Though all her books are highly recommended as perfect reads, “Just Breathe” and “Table of five” remain in my top three…or maybe the “Lakeshore Chronicles” and “Summer by the sea” should also be included. Though, it seems I am unable to decreed upon my top three selections :), I am certainly grateful that Susan Wiggs’s books form part of my Gradlife which required occasional and well-deserved escapes.

With much anticipation, I will be reading her latest book “The Goodbye Quilt” in the coming weeks.

If you want to forget about your world for a while and embrace a world of laughter, tears, passion which will leave you with smiles, go for Susan Wiggs.

Note: No bookmark is required as putting her books down after the first chapter is not even an imaginable possibility…

Neerusha Gokool Baurhoo

Gradlife: Being a Teaching Assistant (TA) at McGill

Georges Choundohas helping two students

Being a TA forms an integrated part of my life as a grad student and has been one among my best and most cherished memories at Macdonald Campus. Though some considered doing the same course repeatedly over semesters boring, every semester felt like a completely new and enriching experience for me for a number of reasons:
1. New minds to shape with group of students exhibiting different pre-cognitive perceptions
2. It is stimulating to observe how new students familiarize themselves with laboratory settings and enhance their skills as the labs grow progressively more challenging.
3. Most of the times, this experience is rewarding with students saying or giving Thank You cards at the end stating how happy they’ve been to experience the Biochemistry Labs.

The twins


Interestingly, this semester, a new lab was designed and incorporated in the biochemistry lab manual – DNA Extraction. Simple in the process, part of the lab involved crushing strawberries and using kitchen chemicals such as liquid soap, water and sea salt as extraction buffer to coax DNA from its confinements.

Though sceptical at first that DNA can be extracted from strawberries with simple kitchen chemicals, at the end of the lab, the students were beaming as the thin, thread-like DNA aggregated in the ethanol layer. Excited comments resounded in the usually quiet lab:

“Oh My God, there’s DNA…?”

“I guess it’s the soap which has maybe weakened the phospholipid bilayer of the cell membrane…what could be the role of salt?”

“I can’t believe this is DNA…”

“It’s so gel-like …”

For me, it has been equally exciting to observe students standing at the realms of their own “discovery” with eyes glittering in awe, and brains actively trying to locate the how and why of biochemical processes.

As far as I can remember, while I walked down the lab answering questions, instructing good laboratory techniques and verifying results, boring has never been my sentiments. Though it is with great sadness I’m saying adieu to my cherished biochemistry labs and warm animal science department, these labs will always hold a special place in my heart as because of my TA experiences, I discovered my passion to shape young minds in science and I am looking forward to carry research in making science education more accessible for all students…

I hope being a TA has transformed your life too.

Neerusha Gokool Baurhoo

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