Great post about academia

I’ve been reading through the archives of “Oh She Glows,” a great blog by a fellow Canadian, and came across this post about academia and expectations related to grad school/research. It’s definitely worth a read! 


It’s August

I haven’t written for quite awhile – April was insanely busy wrapping up all my coursework and then I took May and June off from all things school related. I went to several conferences and was intending to do some writing in July. And now it’s August.

This week, I spent a few hours making a reading list and went to the library to collect a pile of books I need for my thesis. Next on the list is to revise an article that has been accepted for publication and contact a few professors for advice on my topic and research methods. I am feeling well rested and ready to get back to work. I definitely recommend taking some time off in the summer to recharge your batteries if you can make it work. Thesis writing in the summer just kind of sucks.

Why you should come to UBC – Grad School Version

As another blogger has pointed out, this is the season in which folks are deciding whether or not to accept their offers of admission to UBC. So here is my list of why UBC is a pretty awesome place for your graduate studies:

  • We have ocean, beach and forest surrounding the campus
  • The warmest weather in Canada! Having just been to Toronto, let me tell you this is a huge plus!
  • Yes it rains – buy a rain jacket and umbrella and you are set
  • Vancouver is beautiful and easy to get around by transit
  • UBC is one of the top universities in the world esp. for research
  • There is a vibrant grad community full of diverse students from all over the world
  • There are a ton of great social activities on and near campus
  • Vancouver is one of the most “fit” cities in the world – mountains and ocean at your doorstep
  • There are amazing options for FOOD! in this city, diverse and delicious
  • Vancouver basically runs on coffee and sushi…and wearing Lululemon
  • Lots of job opportunities and if you can’t find what you want – make your own!

The most important part of deciding to go to grad school is realizing that you will get out of it what you put in. Money matters aside, this time is a great privilege afforded to few. Enjoy it and make the most of it!

Imposter Syndrome – Part Two

Today I had an interesting experience.

Back when I first started my PhD and met some resistance from my colleagues and work supervisors (at the time – I now have a different job) I internalized the weird reactions. I thought it was me. But guess what? It isn’t about me at all.

I’ve discovered that most reactions to the news that I am working on a PhD have more to do with the person they are coming from than they have to do with me. Working towards such a lofty goal places a mirror in front of others – and they don’t always like what they see. Living and working in Vancouver, it isn’t uncommon to be surrounded by colleagues who are far more intelligent and educated than I am. I’m comfortable with not being the smartest person in the room. Back when I started this journey, I was a small town country girl who spent my free time playing in dirt with horses. A bachelor’s degree seemed like a lofty goal. The thought of doing a PhD had never even crossed my mind. These days, I am often shocked to realize that I do have thoughts and ideas to contribute that are valuable and these are respected, even though I am still learning and furthering my knowledge every day. For me, this academic journey is about personal growth as much as it is about education and achievement. The end product is just a bonus.

So this is what I learned during a meeting today:

  • Know that you know a lot about some things but you don’t know everything
  • Be humble
  • Be kind
  • Give credit where credit is due
  • Remember that everyone has something to teach you
  • You also have so much to teach those around you
  • Sometimes it will feel like everything is a disaster – and this too shall pass
  • Did I say be humble?

I’m so grateful for this awesome journey. So much of it is about what you learn along the way and how it changes you, not what you get at the end. Although I do want that funny hat…

Conference Season

Conference season is just around the corner.

I have to admit, I am kind of a conference geek. It all started in my undergrad when I was able to attend several national conferences and I was hooked. I love travelling, learning and meeting new people, so what better way to combine all of those interests than a conference?

Academic conferences are excellent for networking, polishing your public speaking skills and getting feedback on your ideas. My first conference this year will be “Out of the Box” the UBC ISGP Student Conference on March 21st:

A student conference is a great way to test the waters in a less intimidating setting. It’s also more cost effective, since you don’t have travel and accommodation costs involved.

I’ve had abstracts accepted at both a national and international conference later this spring. I am currently working on travel funding but am hoping to be able to attend both of these conferences as well. One will be new to me and the other is a conference I attended four years ago, so am hoping to make it back this year. UBC Grad Studies offers travel funding in the amount of $500 once per degree program so take advantage of this if you can: Sometimes your advisor or the director of the school can provide funding for conference travel as well if you do not have travel funding through a grant or fellowship. Most conferences offer a discounted fee for students and some offer scholarships or hardship waivers for poor grad students. Just ask and see what happens!

How doing a PhD messes with your head

So here’s the thing about a PhD.

It seems like an excellent idea. You decide to commit several (or many) years of your life to becoming a researcher. Or maybe your dream is become a professor, just like that amazing prof you had in undergrad. Maybe you love writing and want to make a career out of reading, writing and teaching subjects you are passionate about. You did well in your master’s program and start thinking about going on. Everyone around you tells you how smart you are and that you should do a PhD.

So you apply and against all odds – you get in!

That’s when things get weird. At least they did for me.

To be fair, I work in a profession in which getting a PhD is uncommon. But I was completely unprepared for the variety of rude and intrusive comments I received from various people in my life and even people who didn’t know me at all. Comments like “Doesn’t your husband mind?” and “I guess you don’t want any kids” and “What are you going to do with a PhD? It’s not like you will get a better job”

If I had a dollar for every person who said “Oh, I thought about doing my PhD!” I could have paid my way through school. I had very little support aside from my family and a few close friends so that made me feel isolated. Once I started the program, it became evident that it wasn’t a great fit. Then I dealt with some huge life changes and complicated medical issues, so ended up transferring to a completely different program that fit my needs and goals. I am so much happier and even though the journey has been bumpy, I know I am in the right place now.

Lately there have been a lot of articles floating around about mental health and academia and my advice to anyone who is considering a PhD to really think it through before jumping in. It is essential to have a strong support system both in and away from the university. Have a back up plan. Make sure you maintain some sort of life away from school because it will save you when things get rough. PhD work is far more independent and self-directed than any type of educational program leading up to it. The skills that served you well in undergrad will not usually lead you to success in a PhD program. You have to be motivated, dedicated and able to withstand a boatload of criticism. This may or may not mess with your head and crush your spirit. Being confident enough to pursue your goals is part of the journey but at times, it’s tougher than you can imagine at the start.

The best reason to pursue a PhD is because you can’t imagine doing anything else. But when it works, it is the most wonderful and life changing experience!

The Month of Online Learning

This month has flown by so quickly.

I was fortunate enough to have a nice long vacation out of the country over the Christmas break and it was a bit of a shock getting back to work when the term started. I jumped right into teaching, writing papers and preparing presentations. I also had a wonderful surprise waiting for me when I presented my potential research topic and came up with a clear road map of where to go next from the lovely feedback I received. Today I found out that an abstract I submitted has been accepted. It has been a busy month but it has been good.

This term I am teaching an online course, taking a seminar course that meets every two weeks and also participating in a “distributed learning” course, which is a totally new experience for me. We met for the first time last week and I really enjoyed it. The blend of online and in-class is excellent and I doubt I would appreciate the instructor as much if I had not met him in person. He is very knowledgeable and very funny. This will likely be my last term of coursework, so I hope to enjoy it as much as possible.

It is difficult to believe that we are already nearly one-third of the way through the term! And that means my thesis proposal deadline is looming just around the corner…