Friday, 31 March 2017


We were learning about stress the other day in class. To put it simply, "stress" is when our coping mechanisms are maladaptive or have failed altogether.

I seem to have hit a perfect storm when it comes to stress these last few weeks.

I have a final exam, a mock grant for a topic I have never worked on due, another assignment due, a presentation related to my dissertation, a revision for a paper we submitted a few months ago, a revision for a chapter that has come back from the editors, a student-friend who is visiting for a few days, and just about everything seems to need my attention yesterday.

But the thing that really stresses me out is not really that I have all this work to do. The hardest thing is that every time I think I can finally sleep, the kids who live upstairs are either playing very loudly (running circuits, rolling the cars and trucks, banging, screaming, pounding on the wooden floor above me that vibrates) or having a meltdown. I startle out of my sleep virtually every morning, especially on the weekends. I work late as those are my most productive hours, but sleeping late just doesn't happen because I will be startled awake when morning comes. 

"They will grow up," I tell myself.

"The parents must have it worse," I tell myself.

"Turn on the TV and let the white noise drown them out," I tell myself.

And then, I come to work, and hug the lab dog, and thank the stars that when I have a massive deadline, I have a couch in the lab I can crash on so I don't have to deal with the noise.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Non-traditional Students in Graduate School...

I co-presented a seminar with a professor on preparing for graduate school yesterday at Langara College, and about 25 people showed up. These were mostly made up of non-traditional students: mature students, first generation students attending college, students raising families, students who have gone out into the working world and then returned to school, students working while studying, and also first- and second- year students.
We chatted about what graduate admissions was like, scholarships available to students pursuing a masters/PhD, the kind of experiences needed to apply for graduate programs, and the typical components of a graduate application (e.g., reference letters, GRE).

I really enjoyed the conversations. I think I especially enjoyed that people were thinking how their life experiences were informing the choices they were making inside the classroom and within higher education. It reminded me again why I especially enjoy working with non-traditional students: there are such a myriad of experiences that they bring into the mixing bowl that make us just the better for having learned from them. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

Academia in a World of Scarcity...

Academia is an increasingly stressful world to be in. The pressure to publish and to win grants often begins in the undergraduate days now, which is quite ridiculous. Students are expected to have great grades, a publication record, scholarships, presentations, leadership, and still maintain a work - life balance. 

When I look at the CVs of my (tenured) mentors and professor's, some of them didn't even start publishing until they were more senior doctorate students. So, why the shift in expectations? I feel, in part, this is due to the increasing number of people enrolled in PhDs and the very perilous job market my generation of peers are in. (Seriously, stop over-admitting so many PhD students just to boost enrollment, and offer better support to the ones you do take in)

But, it is a stupid way to maintain science and academia.

There has been so much research showing that when people live below the poverty line, something happens with their ability to make decisions involving their lives, especially in terms of long-term planning. Take the example many people who don’t live below the poverty line take for granted: going to the grocery store. If you are not poor, you probably waltz into the grocery store and buy things for the week or more. Things like milk, and eggs, and flour, and oil, and toilet paper. You probably also might buy yourself a treat, something you don't need but want anyway, like chocolate or cake or ice cream or organic fruit instead of "normal" fruit. You might buy something you don't need right away but it is on sale, like laundry detergent or your favourite brand of tea or an extra box of tampons.

But if you are poor, whatever money you have you think VERY carefully and you then go into survival mode: what can you buy to keep yourself full with the least amount of money for the longest length of time. Basically, you are so focused on the immediate future (i.e., survival), you really have no opportunity to do any strategic long-term planning (Oxford University report with the Rowntree Foundation, 2015).

I want to be clear this is *not* a post blaming the poor.  

I wonder why nobody can see that academics who live in that same position (i.e., constantly looking for funds for the immediately upcoming term) cannot possibly do any good science for the long-run. The body is tired, the mind is tired, the soul is tired; if everything is tired, the science, the arts, the humanities, the knowledge-translation, and discoveries…well, they cannot happen. 

How do we plan for the future in a sustainable way when we are so focused on the present?