This is your brain on drugs: academic performance boosters

Image by Alex Dodd

I have a friend who recently got hired for a tenure-track position at a major American university, after two years of postdocs and sessional lecturing. This friend — who, like me, is under 30 — is an academic rock star: he has a long list of publications, manages to participate in 3-4 conferences a year, has won some of the most prestigious fellowships to be had, and now sits atop the pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow (i.e. a permanent, well-paid, prestigious job). Granted, he never had to work (even when he wasn’t riding out a fat fellowship) because he also had a very handy trust fund, he doesn’t have kids or anyone to look after but himself, and he is a master at the professional art of ass-kissing networking. The only reason he is my friend and not my mortal enemy is because he is always the first to admit that these lucky advantages were major players in helping him build his very successful academic career, with an endearing honesty that makes it very hard to hate him.

My friend also admitted to me the other day that throughout grad school and even today, he occasionally pops a neuroenhancing pill to help sharpen his mind if he’s feeling a bit tired or distracted and needs to push out an article or conference paper. In other words, he’ll readily take drugs like Ritalin or Adderall in order to give him an intellectual boost. A boost that might be considered by some as an unfair advantage akin to cheating.


Things to do if you’re spending summer in the city #2: Lots of Yoga

Image courtesy of

There are a ton of excellent yoga studios in Montreal. My personal favourite is Moksha Yoga (I go to the NDG studio, but there’s also one on St. Laurent). Moksha is a hot studio, and from November to March it’s pretty much the only place I feel like the permafrost on my inner organs actually melts away. In summer, heavy sweating for 90 minutes is a fantastic way to detoxify after too many nights spent having “just one more” glass of wine with your friends out on the terrasse. Also, today (June 15th) is the last day that you can pick up Moksha’s 3 month unlimited summer deal. Check out their website for contact info.

If you’re the kind of person who’d rather escape than chase the heat, however, I’ve had friends recommend Studio Bliss on St. Laurent, which is offering an inexpensive introductory rate (30 days for 40$), available to students until tomorrow (June 16th).

I’ve also heard great things about United Yoga Montreal, which is just a short walk from campus (for us poor souls who are still here) and which offers a 3 month introductory deal. What better time to improve your practice than now, when your supervisors are (thankfully) too busy enjoying the summer months to ask you about your research progress?

Things to do if you’re spending summer in the city #1: Support local farmers

Sometimes I think the only reason I suffer through the abuse of Montreal winters is because of its summers. It’s no secret that there are a ton of great festivals to check out, that the nightlife is great, and that once stripped of parkas and galoshes, Montrealers suddenly seem happier and more attractive.

Beyond the typical stuff on tourist lists of hot spots and urban attractions, however, there are also many things about summer in Montreal that are worth looking into if you’re not on holiday, but simply living your life as usual. A warmer, sunnier version of life, perhaps, but one in which you still have to cook dinner, maybe feed your kids, and get to work on Monday morning, even if you get there in flip-flops.

One excellent thing to do (in my opinion): Sign up to receive seasonal vegetable baskets from local family farmers, which you can pick up weekly at one of the many drop-off points in the city arranged through the Équiterre network. You’ll not only be eating the freshest of the fresh, but you might also discover that you have a new found appreciation for rutabagas, or a hidden talent for making tomato jam. A pantry stocked with tomato jam might not preserve the feeling of a summer night spent on a terrasse surrounded by beautiful people in sundresses and shorts, but at least it’ll help stave off scurvy once January comes back to whup us into submission.

Education, creativity and the “mining of minds”

Tuesday’s Globe and Mail ran an article on Yale law professor Amy Chua, who just published a book entitled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin Press 2011). The article, “Confessions of a Tiger Mom: Why Chinese parenting is best”, focuses mostly on the sometimes extreme parenting style Chua advocates in her book, which is itself influenced by a specific cultural perspective that places great value on obedience and self-discipline, especially in terms of academic and musical achievement. Implicit in this child rearing treatise, however, is also a particular understanding of human creativity, the conditions necessary for it to thrive, and who should, ideally, benefit from its manifestations — the individual, the networks of other people to whom we feel a sense of obligation (e.g. parents, teachers, peers), or “society” more broadly?


Not just a river in Egypt

This past week I received a link to an article in The Economist, entitled: “The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time.” Maybe it was because I still felt indestructibly jolly, full of rum and eggnog and baked goods, but I ignored the foreboding feeling I had to stay away, and decided to read this article. In the spirit of sharing, here are a just a few of the fun facts I came across:


On seeing camels.

Mid-year (school year, that is), I always get discouraged. The fall semester is never as productive as I plan for, and the winter semester looms as a mountain of catch-up work and progress reports and general worry. Which is why I brought my work home with me over the holidays, and why I also can’t seem to get anything done. It just seems too big.

Tonight, whilst staring at my flicking cursor, I tried to think of things I like about my work. It wasn’t easy, partly because what I like about my work doesn’t fit into a nice little numbered list. But here’s my attempt to explain at least one. (more…)

Campus event October 21st: An evening of classic experimental film

Thursday, October 21st, 7pm, The McGill Anthropology and Sociology Film Initiative will be presenting two classic experimental films:

The Man with the Movie Camera, directed by Dziga Vertov (black and white, silent, 68 min, 1929)

Go! Go! Go!, directed by Marie Menken (color, silent, 12 min, 1962-64)

The screenings will be held in the Cultural Studies Screening Room (3475 Peel Street), and will be presented by McGill Anthropology Prof. Lisa Stevenson, followed by what promises to be an exciting discussion. The event is totally free and open to everyone.

Check out the Initiative’s full fall schedule for more upcoming screenings.

10 Things to do instead of writing your thesis proposal

1. Calculate your student loan payments. Think about emigrating. Feel suddenly ill.

2. Google diseases that match your symptoms.

3. Stumble upon an article on Graduate School Neuroses at The Chronicle of Higher Learning. Realize that hypochondria is rather prevalent among people like you. Feel less special.

4. Go to the movies before noon. The AMC Forum 22 offers $6 showings before noon on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. (It only counts as official procrastination if you go on Friday). Since popcorn and candy in the morning are unhealthy, grab baked goods and a latte at the pâtisserie beside the theatre. While you debate whether to buy the $2 coffee or $5 latte, remind yourself that you don’t smoke anymore, except when you’re stressed, bored or drinking.


On Apples and Academics

This past Sunday I joined some of my fellow anthropology grad students (and one token archaeologist) for an afternoon of apple picking at Vergers Petit et Fils, near Mont St. Hilaire.  Having been at McGill for five years now, a trip to an orchard each fall seems like a quintessential part of experiencing Montreal in all its seasonal glory (as is the annual visit to its springtime counterpart, the cabane à sucre).

A day spent outside under apple trees, eating apples, picking apples, putting apple ketchup on an apple and pork sausage, tasting all the many kinds of apple cider (Léger, Tranquille, Cidre de Glace, “Champomme”) got me thinking about…


On liminality… and what feels like the longest rite of passage. Ever.

Illustration by Aline Fouard

There is something contagious about the frenzy that is “back to school.” And when I say contagious, I mean it in a germy, plague-like, I-don’t-know-where-I-caught-it kind of way. It’s frantic and stressful and every year it manages to derail the carefully planned timeline I have for progressing through my program.

I should clarify that for me, the September frenzy has less to do with surviving the various froshy going-ons on campus, and more to do with organizing my eight year-old son’s entrance into grade three. Thus, for the past two weeks I seem to have done nothing but fill out forms, buy ridiculous amounts of HB pencils and glue sticks, and cope with the after-effects (exhaustion and crankiness) of adjusting to classroom rules after two months of freedom outside at the pool. (more…)

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