Sunday, 31 July 2016

Post 89: Summer Endings, Beginnings, and TCG at UVic

July is ending! Another month done again. Sometimes I really can just sit back and wonder where the time has gone. For me this July passed with the birthdays of at least six family and friends, a lake-swim, lots and lots of work, and most recently, the conclusion of my Thesis Completion Group (TCG).

The wonderful, stylish Dr. Janet Sheppard (see photo below!) who has been a long-time counsellor at UVic, ran the TCG for years now, and there were always long waitlists for graduate students wanting to get into the two weekly groups, which I think speaks to the value and need for a resource for grad students such as this. The format of the TCGs were face-to-face, discussion-style group sessions, with there being an average of about 3-8 members in the groups. It's been a little quieter over the summer, which I've very much enjoyed.

Janet and I at our last TCG meeting! I was feeling very sentimental about the goodbye.
Students attending the group would report on their thesis work: progress made, barriers encountered, worries, concerns, personal and professional relationship/communication stalls, committee trials and successes—everything. Janet guided the discussions, creating a safe space to talk about all of these things, asking pointed, insightful questions, and reminding students like myself to think about not only work-related goals, but also health related goals. And, we all definitely benefitted from the wisdom of the group, with numerous students chiming in with their own experiences, advice, and resources. We'd leave one week's discussion with those goals in mind, and revisit them the following week, checking in about how they went, how the process of being in graduate school was going. I loved it. It hasn't really sunk in that these weekly meetings are ending.

Participating in the group really turned around my perspectives about my thesis experience. It was immensely valuable to learn that the struggles I was facing are universal among graduate students; that the uncertainties and lingering questions and doubt about my abilities were part of the impostor syndrome; that talking about my fears and worries made me feel loads better, and better able to cope with those concerns; that by discussing concerns about graduate research, I would open myself up to the kindness and generosity and insight of my colleagues in the TCG; and, that by participating in the group, I would be able to get excited with, cheer on, and root for students who actually finished their degrees!! In turn, finishing became an achievable goal for me again, which for a while there, I wasn't able to see, anymore.

Mystery tree down in Beacon Hill Park. So beautiful! :)
If I think about it, a lot of my blog posts were motivated by some of the discussions had during the TCG. Certainly, the discussions, shared insights, advice, and kindness of my fellow students have been indispensable for turning my graduate school experience into a productive one. While I'm sad that the group is ending, I'm happy that Janet is making choices to find ways to continue with her passions in a different capacity now. She is a very special person, who's found a way to apply her leadership, skills, training, and insights in a unique application that fits an important niche in higher education. A major force behind organizing the thesis-writing bootcamps that have taken place in the past year, and running the TCGs, I'll miss Janet and her wisdom, and I'm also now so glad that I've kept every one of her weekly list-serve emails. They were always chockablock full of resources, her enthusiasm and encouragement, and of course, everyone's weekly goals and progress. A one-line acknowledgment in my thesis doesn't seem like it's enough to say, THANK YOU for everything. So, on top of an in-person goodbye, I'm writing this post, so my thank you can live a little bit longer.

Water lily out at Thetis Lake! I scared up a number of green frogs getting to this photo. 
With the ending of one thing, comes the opportunity for another beginning. Right now I'm feeling a lot of uncertainty about how Counselling Services (CS) will adapt and modify the TCGs that have been running for so long. Janet mentioned that CS would likely be contacting students who were involved in these groups to let them know about the upcoming changes, but it's also been made clear that the groups as they've happened so far won't continue. It sounded to me like the format will switch to a more satellite organized thing, where staff from CS will check in with self-motivated groups whose formation they'll help facilitate in the fall semester. I'm crossing my fingers that the transition will be a smooth one, but for now can't do anything other than wait. I'll let you know how this resource changes in September, as soon as I hear. :)

I've kept in touch with two colleagues from my TCG, and if nothing else, will pursue check-ins with the two of them. We're on roughly a similar timeline, with the three of us aiming to wrap up our degrees in the fall. Here's to keeping up the momentum.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Post 88: Science Advocacy in Action! Participate!

I intend to write a longer post putting together some of my thoughts about science (and specifically academic scientific knowledge production) and its relationship to the public soon, but for now I want to highlight an opportunity to contribute to giving the federal government feedback about science funding in Canada. These opportunities don't come along that often, and personally, I'm really excited by the opportunity to participate, and strongly encourage you to do so as well, especially if you think about, appreciate, or reflect on the role of science in Canada.

Evidence for Democracy, an organization that sprung from the momentum gathered by scientists concerned about the regressive policies, funding cuts, and scientific program shut-downs of the Harper government in Canada. In July of 2012, thousands of scientists, citizens, and activists rallied across the country in a series of "Death of Evidence Rallies" to demand "transparent, evidence-based decision-making" (EforD, 2013). Since then, this organization has become one of the leading advocates for evidence-supported policy in Canada.

Wild strawberry patch on campus! What a yummy find! Small, but SO delicious!
They are helping put together a synthesis report of contributions from scientists and others across Canada, that will be presented to the federal government's panel for the review of fundamental science in Canada that's under way right now. On June 13th, 2016, Canada's Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, announced on that the review was underway. Much of the review focuses on how fundamental science is currently funded.

Please take 10 minutes to participate in the review!

You can do so by either by contributing comments to Evidence for Democracy:
I couldn't find their deadline to submit comments on their website, but I encourage you to do it right away, before you a) get to busy, b) forget, or c) miss their deadline. (In my mind, I had a deadline of July 31st, which seems appropriate if they are going to compile a synthesis report.)

Or, contribute directly to the government's open invitation here:
Their deadline to contribute comments is September 30th, 2016.

Or, if you're feeling really motivated, do both!

Summer hydrangeas after a rain. :) 
And, after you participate, share this opportunity with others!! The more participation the better. To me, this is one of many ways of participating and contributing to a healthy democracy that goes far above and beyond voting once every four years in a federal election. :)

If you want a kick-starter for your reflections about science in Canada, I suggest going back to the article I mentioned in my previous post here: "The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists." I think there are several relevant points they bring up, and they may lead you to think of others.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Post 87: Summer Reading

As grad students, the work doesn't stop for us during the summer when classes have ended. Labs keep running, some TA for summer classes, but there's always another journal article or book to read, more data to analyze, or another paper to mark.

It's for this reason that I advocate for some lighter summer reading, not only because I've been reading broadly to keep myself sane, but because it's good to give yourself a bit of a mental break here and there (arguably, this kind of lighter reading should happen during the year, too, but I think the pressure from September - April can be more intensely felt).

The first Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) are already ripe!!! 
Some of this summer's reading so far has brought me to a more serious, well-considered post like Vox's "The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists," which delivers findings from a survey undertaken with graduate students, researchers, and scientists across the globe. The seven major problems with science that the survey identifies are:

1. Issues to do with funding
2. Poorly designed studies being the norm
3. Not enough studies are being replicated, because scientists aren't incentivized to do so
4. Peer review doesn't work they way it's supposed to
5. Scientific knowledge is stuck behind paywalls and is generally inaccessible
6. Academic science isn't well communicated
7. Early career scientists have a rough go of it

It's an article with substantive depth and broad in its coverage, which I also find quite relevant for the current conversation in Canada where the federal government is currently reviewing funding for science. Evidence for Democracy has been inviting comments, and I was composing my thoughts to contribute earlier this morning, when I came across the article. (By the way, they're still accepting comments, so follow the link above to get to their main page for the link.)

Very cute Starwars themed balloons for a birthday party in the neighbourhood.
Following up on some of the links in the Vox article, I came across these two really fun Twitter tags that I thought some readers might enjoy, and want to participate in:

The first is #sixwordpeerreview which, as the tag describes, has scientists making comments about being reviewers or receiving reviews in six words. Some of my favs:

"I would have written it differently." (Adam Swallow: @perspectives45)
"Didn't cite me. Revise and resubmit." (Noah J. Toly: @noahtoly)
"No paragraph explaining paper structure. Reject." (Isabelle Augenstein: @IAugenstein)

And that also led me to find a few other fun Twitter hashtags like #PrincessBrideScience and #PeerReviewHaiku, though it looks like that one hasn't been used in quite some time. But, super fun to read through. :)

The most amazing balloon unicorn during the Victoria Pride Parade (July 10th), giving out hugs!
I also learned about eLife, a relatively new open-access journal that takes a collaborating peer-review editing process, whereby editors and reviewers work together to generate feedback from a full-review of an article, so authors know exactly what they are responding to. Their process of a quick turn-around assessment from a cover letter and pdf of the article BEFORE it goes to full review is a good idea, and I like the collaborative aspects of their reviewing. This seems quite different from the usual peer-review process that can have reviewers making contradictory comments for an author to respond to, is generally more time consuming, and can hold up the print for an article. (Acknowledgement of heresay: I have yet to publish an academic journal article, but this is what I've heard can stump authors.) Their short introductory video about their process was pretty great, and now I'm wondering if there is any social science journal doing the equivalent. Anything out there? Let me know in the comments below!

Alongside this fun reading, I've also immensely been enjoying a second read through of Italian writer Elena Ferrante's contemporary feminist book series, the Neopolitan Novels, which have amazed me as much the second time going through them as when I read them the first time. They are timely, relevant, detailing the ups and downs of a turbulent friendship between two girls from Naples, Lila and Lenu, the former marrying young, having a baby young, and diving head on into the working class relationships of their neighbourhood, and the latter pursuing education as a path to leading her out of that small neighbourhood, with its gossip and petty politics. After finishing her bachelor's degree, Lenu becomes a writer.

This short detailing of superficial plot doesn't tell you anything about the depth, clarity of insight, and experiences of these two women, and of Lenu's telling of the story, which is masterfully done. I highly recommend these novels, with their violence, the force of their honesty, and the two different stories of women growing older in Italy.

Some kind of rose down in the James Bay area. Gorgeous!
Do you have any recommendations for fellow students? Books you think have been wonderful, remarkable, eye-opening? You're welcome to leave a comment below. :)

Happy summer reading!