Category Archives: Grad Student Blogs

Live Gone and Prosper

IMG_2837by Lucas Drerup

Let me give everyone a piece of unsolicited advice. Finish your degree, pack your bag, and go teach English for a year. It doesn’t matter where you go. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a teacher. It doesn’t really how much money you’re going to earn. It doesn’t even matter if you end up hating the whole experience (you won’t). In my eyes, there is no single more valuable, accessible, and amazing experience available to any of us. The majority of my experience is in Taiwan, and most of my comments center around East Asia as that’s what I’m most familiar with. It’s probably best to assume that I don’t know what I’m talking about, so do your own research. I’m just writing this more to encourage people to get out there and try something new and awesome.

Why go teach, you ask?

You are guaranteed a job. Bam! Article finished. But really, a Master’s degree in English will make you one of the most qualified applicants for almost any ESL teaching job out there, especially in Asia. Do you know anybody in Canada with a humanities degree that can say they have a guaranteed job? You’re not going to go make seventy grand a year, but you’re not going to do this for a career either (you think). Don’t do it for the money. It will ruin the experience for you because you’ll pinch pennies. Ball out, yo.

You are going to make some money. Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and China all offer very lucrative local salaries that allow you to pay some loans, live well, and travel a lot if you want. Places like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia also offer Westerners jobs, but the money isn’t nearly as good. You’ll still be the best-paid guy or girl on the block, but when everyone else on the block makes $30 a week, it’s not that hard to do. As I said, don’t do it for the money alone. Make your loan payments, go out for dinner a few times a week, and take three vacations a year.

You are going to travel. Drive a motorcycle on the highest navigable road in the world in northern Kashmir. Take a gander at Deer Cave in Borneo as millions of bats pour out of a giant cave mouth for nearly an hour. Hire a local fisherman to take you to deserted islands in the Philippines. Eat a 5-star French meal for $25 in Laos. Drink beer perched on top of a 1200-year-old temple in Cambodia. Watch people go number two on the biggest street in Shanghai. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve ever had any interest in travelling, teaching English in Asia is the best way to do it.

IMG_0193You’re going to teach. You might even like it. I taught kindergarten, elementary school, and high school. Most of us have some experience teaching here at the university, but teaching here is like, you know, work and stuff. Trying to teach English to a dozen 5-year old Taiwanese kids is a whole different kettle of fish. If you like kids, you’ll never have more fun and get paid at the same time. I made $50 before lunch every day for reading stories, rolling around on the ground, dancing, playing games, and generally acting the goat. It’s super high energy, but it’s awesome. Teaching older students is also pretty fun, but the older they get, the more class begins to resemble work.

Best of all, you’re going to be out of school. You’re going to gain real experience, finish with a real reference, get paid real money for doing a real job, and travel. You’re going to get really good at using chopsticks. You’re going to end up hating rice. You’re going to make friends for life, learn how to swear in a foreign language, and see more temples than you ever wanted to. You’re probably going to miss home a lot. You’re going to feel more alone and alienated than you ever have in your life on some days. On others you’ll feel like you’re a part of something unimaginably cool. You’re going to learn how to drive a scooter and discover that perhaps some stereotypes about some drivers may have a basis in reality. You’re going to put on a swimsuit and run around in a typhoon (watch out for falling power lines and flying branches). You’re going to have hundreds of little kids who scream your name every time they see you, who run to you and hug you and tell you how much they love you five days a week. Some days you will want to throttle each and every one of them, but most of the time you’ll love them back. You’re going to get an opportunity to redefine yourself, to shed as much or as little of the person school has turned you into as you want.

So, be gone. Get lost. School, work, and the real world will all be waiting for you in a year or two. The ease with which we can go teach abroad is an opportunity unique to our generation, and as the generation of kids learning English in other countries grows up and teaches their kids themselves, it may never again be as easy as it is right now.

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10 things I plan on doing after I hand in my final paper

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by Sabrina Marques

  1. Make Real Soup. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I really enjoy soup. People are making the case for Tea to be a hobby and I feel like I could rally behind a soup club. However, the problem is all the soup I seem to be having is instant. Instant and mass produced. I want to cook a real soup, with vegetables and chicken and be warm and and happy.
  2. Watch Television. There was a time in my life when I knew the title every single episode of “Friends” ever made. No matter how stressed I got during the year I never missed my shows they were on while I ate breakfast. My MA has taken Television from me and I fully intend on getting it back the second my last paper is printed out. I might watch something on my phone as I bus to school.
  3. Trim a Tree. Okay, this one is a bit of a stretch, I don’t plan on trimming a tree or getting a real tree for that matter. But I do plan on gathering all the library books I used for my final papers and replicating Lana’s beautiful book tree in the lounge.
  4. See my dogs.
  5. Shop. Finals season seems to correspond with the sale season and, while I haven’t left my apartment in a month, I have gotten fifty emails trying to get me me to spend money on lovely things. So I will set aside a few ours to look at those boots cut into my Queer Theory paper.
  6. Run. I have a strict write X amount of pages before I can go for a run policy and I have not been able to follow through this season. So when I hand in my last paper, I’m signing up for the marathon to make up for my lack of traction.
  7. Skate. I’m new to Ottawa but canal-skating seems to be a thing that people do here. It’s on postcards and I’d like to say that when I lived in Ottawa I spend my Sundays on the canal.
  8. Learn to Skate. I have never skated before in my life, so I need to learn before I venture out onto the water. Maybe I can find a groupon.
  9. Write Greeting Cards. Will I be writing Holiday Cards this Holiday? No. I’m going to write everyone in the MA Program a Birthday Card. I’ll be writing them these dates Feb 17, March 5, May 18, June 4, June 17, August 12, August 25, Sept 12, Oct 10, Nov 2, Nov 17, Dec 29. I left your names off to preserve some semblance of anonymity. And, if I’ve messed up your date, it’s probably because you told me the wrong day.
  10. Let’s face it, the second my final paper finds it’s way into the English Department mail box, I’m sleeping. Maybe, I’ll glance at the list again. Maybe…in February.

Happy Holidays!

The Future Past: The Creative Writing Open House and Showcase

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by Ingrid Reiche

As a graduate student in English I was happily surprised, inspired and somewhat nostalgic after I attended the department’s Creative Writing Open House and Showcase on November 26th. I will admit it has been a while since I found myself in an English department after completing my B.A. in 2008. Upon my return to the field I was admittedly looking forward to two things: the first was pursuing my own research interests; the second was being back among those who appreciate literature and its composition. Unfortunately, due to my first goal, my course work allows me little time in classes where I read creative literature. As a matter of fact I will only read four novels during my year-long Collaborative Masters program in English and the Digital Humanities at Carleton. But I found some reprieve from my life amongst theory and all the end-of-term deadlines that are upon me when I decided to attend this Open House.

There were over two-dozen pieces read and performed and I believe four hybrid installations from three undergraduate classes: intro to fiction, creative non-fiction and literary hybrids here at Carleton. I found myself longing for that past moment in my life where I too counted myself amongst this crowd. To hear so many undergraduates put a voice to the words they penned (or typed) – perhaps in angst, perhaps in haste and perhaps with pleasure – made me look back but also forward.

Once upon a time in my undergraduate degree I found myself reading more books than I thought humanly possible and discussing them with both pleasure and fury. And then there came a time when I decided to start writing (okay, I had been scribbling in notebooks since high-school) but it was time to compose my first ‘novel’. I had not taken any of the classes in creative writing, but somehow I convinced two professors at the University of Guelph to supervise my Honours’ thesis as a creative writing project. Then I turned out about 100 pages of a first draft to my novel in a semester, which still remains an unpublished but complete manuscript that needs some work. I have read once or twice at poetry readings, but I would say all the students from these courses far surpassed my performances. I do not read well, but they did. Every one of them stood in front of that crowd with seeming ease (even if they were scared underneath it all) and for that I applaud them. This is the reason I studied English in the first place, one of the reasons I’m back and it reminded of what it is I really want to do (dare I say it) – WRITE!

Thank you all for reminding me. Aside from the personal introduction this is perhaps a two-part story. The first is a brief review of some of the pieces that caught my attention. The other is an anti-cautionary tale to those students who want to pursue writing and perhaps what I would do different if I could go back in time to 10 years ago.

There were some really great works that caught my attention that night, unfortunately I cannot mention all of them, so here are a few that I really enjoyed. The second of the readings was by Fraser Tripp who performed a great piece about hanging out with a drag queen in a parkade while reporting as a student and tread the path of publicly talking about gender – for which he deserves accolades. Not just for being honest about a personal subject but for presenting an exceptional well written and well read piece that discussed how drag queens are sometimes seen in a negative light by gay male culture and expressing how this impacted his personal story in a positive manner.

Two other pieces that particularly caught my attention were part of the literary hybrids. The first was the opener at the event Clarissa Fortin, who played the guitar and had part of a podcast in the hydrids section that was about traveling through small towns in Ontario covering various events for a radio station. I would actually like to hear the rest of that podcast or know where to find it. Another piece that performed exceptionally well as a hybrid was by Jenny Greenberg who had jazz music and the background noise of a bar playing as she recited a piece about developing tendonitis while being a jazz musician. Her timing was impeccable and though she forewarned the audience that if she messed up something the whole piece would be thrown off, she kept up with the audio track in every single instance.

The piece that was the most fascinating to me personally was an installation by Noah Lefevre that included objects of a fictional author named Samuel Morgan who died at the age of 27 on his desk, apparently from an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol while working on the third book in a trilogy known as the Afterworld Trilogy. The installation included a desk, numerous papers and notebooks, a typewriter with a page in it and empty bottles of what one would assume to be alcohol. Why is this my favorite? I don’t know, perhaps it sums up something about the “lifestyle” of so many famous artists. There is the story of Jim Carroll, the New York poet and musician from the 1970s who hung around with the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol, who did reportedly die at his desk though at the age of 60. And then there is the infamous 27club (Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, etc.), all artists who died at 27. For some morbid reason it fascinated me.

The cautionary tale (which no one should listen to and I wish I hadn’t) is: writing won’t pay your bills. And it won’t. When I finished my undergrad I was told by both of my supervisors (who are also successful authors), “It is great that you want to write, but how are you going to make money?” I mean despite having success as writers both are professors at a university and assured me writing alone would not pay the bills. So maybe writing won’t pay all your bills. Or will it? It paid some of mine, as a content writer and doing a few other jobs that I cannot mention here. But I did have to work doing other things to make ends meet (movie theatres, factories, landscaping, cleaning, office work) as I attempted to finish and polish my book. But my humble advice is try to make it, be a starving artist, enjoy life and youth, it goes by fast and life only gets harder in my opinion. Other pursuits will get in the way, goals change, etc. etc.

Graduate school might buy you some time, but unless you pursue a MFA you won’t be doing creative writing (I can assure you of that – this Masters #2 for me). But it might let you hang around an English department or help build other interests and a career in a related field –teaching, etc. etc… Don’t get me wrong, academia is really the only place I feel at home and I love learning, reading, writing and yes, theory – mostly because it irks me to the point that I actually say something.

Reflections on Working as a TA

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by Zachary Robinson

I’m not sure about my cohort, but surely the most wholly “new” thing I’ve been faced with in my grad experience thus far is the fabled TA assignment. Of course we’ve always been expected to conduct ourselves with a certain level of professionalism throughout our academic lives. However, concretizing that notion of “profession” was, for me at least, a fairly nerve wracking experience. So, I’ve decided to accumulate the little knowledge I have into a few brief points (I want to look at the most important things to me). I’m taking this theme as my post in order to 1) provide some handy, digestible tips for prospective or struggling TA’s and 2) to process what has been learned as my first semester as an employee of the university comes to a close. God knows, I’m not ready for the New Year.

1. Put your own work first. A running trend you might find as you skim through this list is that some of the things I’ll propose will seem incredibly obvious. Believe me, I know. But they’re also things that are easy to forget. Do not subordinate your work to your marking. The pressure of the pay roll will compel you to finish commenting on your students’ papers before you start that paper you’ve been putting off for ages. Don’t do that. That’s a bad decision. Finish your personal assignments. Seek out avenues of assistance. You’re not alone in this. Which leads me to my second point:

2. Talk to the professor you’re stationed under. In this specific situation, they act as your co-worker. Your feelings about work are important and should be voiced. More often than not, if you feel an undue amount of pressure, something will be able to be worked out. It’s also probably useful to keep up a good rapport with your union. However, this is a slippery idea, and it’s important not to fall into a reciprocal cycle of laziness/stress.

3. Be responsible. This is a job. Again, duh. But I’ve found it’s easy to think of the class you’re TAing for in the same way as the classes you are enrolled in. Constantly remind yourself that what you’re doing is work. And, as such, it must be treated as work. You are responsible for things beyond your own personal success. Your academic world is oscillating, the working world is coming into view.

That’s it! Not much, but I’ve found these considerations helpful throughout the past few months. I wish the best of luck to future TAs!

Happy Holidays!

10 Things to Do in Ottawa Besides Schoolwork

by Chelsea Ghrohs

As a graduate student, most of your time is spent between attending classes and reading. Add in marking assignments for your TA position and working on research papers, it seems that graduate students don’t really have much free time. However, on the rare occasion that you have free time, there are a lot of fun activities to do in Ottawa. The key, I’ve found, is to do things that are at least mildly intellectually stimulating to trick yourself into thinking that you are somehow contributing to your graduate schoolwork; this prevents any guilt you may feel from taking a break. Admittedly, not all items on this list meet this “pretending to do work” requirement. The following are a few fun things to do in Ottawa when you just need a break from graduate school:

  1. The National Art Gallery of Canada

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The National Gallery has a wide variety of artwork, including Indigenous art and art from The Group of Seven. My favourite thing to do here is walk through the Contemporary Art section and pretend to understand the art when I really have no idea what is going on. Plus, it’s free admission on Thursday evenings, 5-8pm. There’s also a really great bookstore here, which is great if you love shopping as much as I do.

  1. Canadian War Museum

Warning: The Canadian War Museum took me all day, so don’t go here if you have a lot of homework that actually needs to get done. The War Museum takes you chronologically through various wars Canada has been part of with the main focus being on World War I and World War II. The museum has a lot of really impressive pieces of history including a piece of the Berlin Wall. Plus, you will be learning about Canadian history, so you can pretend that this is somehow related to schoolwork. There is also free admission on Thursdays, from 4 to 8pm.

  1. Used Book Stores

This is my favourite “pretending I’m being productive” activity. I convince myself that I definitely need more books to aid in my studies (I don’t), and I’m saving money by buying used books (I’m not). My favourite stores so far have been both Black Squirrel Books locations, which are both located on Bank Street. Book Bazaar on Bank Street is also good, particularly for rare books, although it is a bit pricier.

  1. ByWard MarketFood

There’s a lot of food in the ByWard Market, and who doesn’t enjoy eating their feelings? I know I sure do. Apparently there are over 100 restaurants here, although according to my dad during his visit to Ottawa, “there is nowhere to eat.” There’s also an actual market where you can buy vegetables and fruit – just kidding, grad students don’t eat fruit & veggies. ByWard is also home to BeaverTails, which is the greatest food item ever invented, aside from poutine. I also found this great selling point from the ByWard website: “The Market is a great place to people-watch. During warm days, pull up a chair at an outdoor café and watch the world walk by.” What a place!

  1. Gatineau Park

Gatineau

Okay, this technically isn’t in Ottawa. But sometimes it’s nice to get outside of the city and enjoy some nature! And by “enjoy some nature” I mean take selfies with maybe some trees in the background to send as Snapchats to your friends. This will show how outdoorsy and superior you are to them. There are also trails to hike and exercise and whatever, but who cares about that? Downside: There is no WiFi here.

  1. Mayfair Theatre

Watching movies is kind of related to English, right? Films, books, same difference. Not only does the Mayfair play a lot of independent films, it also has participation nights every Saturday. Regular participation movies include The Rocky Horror Picture Show and, the best worst movie ever, The Room. I haven’t actually gone yet because I have yet to convince anyone to go see The Room with me. This is my very obvious hint that I want someone to go with me.

  1. Mike’s Place

Mike’s Place is the graduate student pub on campus. When drinking, just be sure to talk about things mildly related to whatever research you’re doing at the time, that way you can say you are “collaborating” when you are actually just getting drunk with friends. Just don’t get on the employees’ bad side or else they will forget your food orders and refuse to give you the WiFi password…

  1. Shop your stress away

Retail therapy is a real thing, trust me. TAs get paid twice a month, so that’s an excuse to shop, right? Rideau Centre is a great location for shopping; it’s close to the ByWard Market and Parliament and there’s a lot of stores. There’s also Bayshore Shopping Centre, which has some stores not found in Rideau (why is there only one H&M in this city?). Plus, it’s right near an Ikea, and who doesn’t love a trip to Ikea? $1 breakfast, anyone?

  1. Stroll around your neighborhood looking for new cat friendsCat

This one may actually only apply to me. Whenever I’m tired of doing homework (which is often), I go for a walk around my neighbourhood and see if any of the neighbourhood cats want to hang out with me. I have, on many occasions, had the unfortunate experience of meeting a standoffish black and white cat that would rather go stand in the middle of the street than be pet by me. Don’t play with this cat; it’s rude and doesn’t deserve your affection. Other than that, cats are a good substitute for when all your friends are busy actually doing their work.

  1. Stay in your apartment and send Snapchats

This activity works best if you send pictures of stacks of books you need to read. Crop out your face so your friends don’t see the tears streaming down your face as you think of all the homework you have to do. Kidding! You don’t need to crop out your face to hide your sadness; just draw over it!

My Grad School Playlist

 by Emily Howe

beats-headphone-780x520With the end of term looming around the corner, I thought I’d give everyone some insight into my favourite songs to listen to in order to combat every different mood that grad school has presented me with. I hope that everyone can use at least one of these in order to keep afloat during the rough part of the semester. So here we go:

  1. Backseat Freestyle – Kendrick Lamar: This one is my top choice and my go to when Impostor Syndrome has me down. Martin had a dream, Kendrick has a dream, and I too have a dream: to make it through this year with as few meltdowns as possible. This song will boost your mood no matter what, Taylor Swift swears by it, need i say more? (Just kidding, I do not endorse any advice given by Taylor Swift for obvious reasons).
  2. (Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding: I find there’s nothing more cathartic than listening to Otis sing about wasting time in Frisco when you are putting off writing the many pages you need to complete before you can enjoy Christmas break.
  3. Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen: This song accomplishes two things: it encourages me to keep working away when I really just want to have a nap and pretend responsibilities do not exist, and it also reminds me how much fun my life will be when I am actually finished my assignments for the term. While I may not be able to comfortably say that I’m “having a good time” while I’m writing, I can still take pleasure in Mr. Mercury’s dulcet tones while I work.
  4. ***Flawless (Ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche) – Beyoncé: For when you inevitably hit the wall in the middle of the night, you think that you’ll never complete the paper, you should probably just give up, and call it a day. BUT NO! Beyoncé is here to remind you that you are a fierce diva and you should follow your ambitions and passions. She is also there to remind you that even though you will not have slept tomorrow, you will walk into school looking ***flawless.
  5. Weight of Living, Pt. II – Bastille: This song comes on at the moment when you are deeply questioning the choices that have led you into academia. Not only does is soothe your fears by reminding you that you are going to make it through, but it’s also just a lovely serenade from a British man, and let’s be real that’s never a bad thing.
  6. Sweatpants – Childish Gambino: This one is for when you feel like you are actually slaying at this whole grad school thing. You aced your seminar, wrote the single best thesis of your whole academic career, or just succeeded by waking up in time for your 8:30 class. It’s the ultimate self-confidence boosting song and as Childish reminds you, “don’t be mad ’cause I’m doing me better than you doing you.”
  7. The Diamond Church Street Choir – The Gaslight Anthem: Aside from being one of my favourite feel good songs, this song takes a minute to remind you that you took chances by going into grad school but you are trying your hardest out here, and that is an accomplishment in itself.
  8. Dirty Paws – Of Monsters and Men: Whenever I start feeling lonely from within my fortress of books, I play this song because it reminds me of my best friend. Also it’s some weird metaphor about animals coming together to take down an evil queen. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, but I like to think that my cohort and I have bonded over our #gradschoolproblems and so that’s the evil queen we’re defeating, or whatever.
  9. Bulls In Brooklyn – The Academy Is…: This one is for when I need to block out the haters. It’s a really good reminder that we’re all here for a reason and we need to get through this as a cohort or we might not make it out with our sanity.
  10. I Am A God – Kanye West: This last choice might be a bit controversial, but I promise I have good reasons for including Yeezus on my playlist. First and foremost because I think we should all aspire to one day be “chillin, tryna stack these millions” (a girl can dream right?). Most importantly though, at this time of year, when it’s easy to get down on ourselves, I think it’s extremely important to remember to love ourselves as much as Kanye loves Kanye.

Chasing Rabbit Holes

by Eric Longman

Saturday night, 11:30 pm. A soft thud, absent presence in my lap—stir, pick up a splayed copy of The End of Books from the bus floor, and watch the bleary yellow flicker of passing light posts along the highway outside of Ottawa. I haven’t written the presentation yet; I don’t really think I intended to write the presentation today, anyway, despite the ten uninterrupted hours suddenly made available to do so. Reach into my jacket, hit the button for light on the ceiling (a muffled groan from the jacket beside me), and look at the day’s spoils: an orange cardboard bookmark, a single TTC token, a receipt from Big Fat Burrito, and a notebook with the cover missing, first page reading “Freshest Prose: F**k Everything.” $120 dollar souvenirs from a free one-day event, 4am to midnight round-trip. Why the hell did I go to Toronto again? But I knew why, as I began to flip through the pages of the notebook—I went because I had to know more.

Some of you who are reading this, I suspect, have at one time or another found yourself so engrossed in a topic that you abandon all considerations of time, responsibility and propriety. A short break to read an article in the afternoon ends with a browser crashing multitude of open Wikipedia tabs and a setting sun. All of your conversations become extended monologues about the average weight and unit price of Bluefin tuna, or Canada’s role in LSD’s military history, or the length of Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt’s sideburns.

Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt (1805-1875), Archeologist, Discoverer of the Ottawa Ossuary. Image taken from: http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/archeo/ossuary/ossuary-figure1e.shtml

Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt (1805-1875), Archeologist, Discoverer of the Ottawa Ossuary. Image taken from: http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/archeo/ossuary/ossuary-figure1e.shtml

You clear out library shelves without remorse, and seethe when you get an e-mail recalling even one item from your temporary collection. Your partner watches you with grim forbearance as you ignore them from a fort of opened books lit by the glow of a laptop screen, occasionally puncturing the silence with an unbidden “Want to know something interesting?”

You, my friend, have traversed the rabbit hole. And it was glorious, wasn’t it?

Graduate studies, if nothing else, affords students the opportunity to dive deep into an area of interest, rewarding them not necessarily for the dive itself, but for cogently presenting the artefacts they’ve gathered along the way. Some of the best concepts and ideas never make this final cut, and much of the information gathered in the course of research remains filed away for some other project to which it is better suited. But the very act of pursuing hunches, digging deeper into a topic, chasing after rabbit holes—if I were to ascribe an essence to the scholarly enterprise, which I have been warned numerous times against, then this experience would be it. Immersing yourself in an environment that spurs on this kind of inquiry, with people who will (by and large) understand and appreciate the endeavour, is as rare and rewarding an opportunity as you could imagine. You never quite know what you’ll find out, or where it will take you.

A sample case: I was preparing a seminar on interactive fiction. After a prolonged period of playing with several iterations of the genre and reading several articles on the topic, I found myself scouring the internet for a short, straightforward text which the class could get easily complete to get some idea of what IF is all about. It was at this point that I found Jim Munroe’s Gilded Youth, a text adventure about an early online forum, a group of teenagers and their explorations of an abandoned house in Toronto. This is perfect, I thought. As I played through it, I began wondering: What is it like to write for something like this? Why would someone choose to write something like this rather than, say, a novel or short story? What counts in this genre? Does anyone actually play these things aside from grad students looking for something to talk about? I finished the game and went back to the creator’s website, and was about to send a link to my classmates when the following message in the page’s sidebar caught my eye:

This Saturday’s WordPlay Speakers and Schedule.

WordPlay, as it turned out, is an annual IF showcase in Toronto, replete with curated pieces from the genre, speakers demonstrating their newest work, and workshops on how to use the tools which power these texts. I looked at the clock in the corner of my computer: Thursday, 10pm. My partner’s birthday was on Sunday. I had to work on Friday, my presentation (prepared for, but as of yet unwritten) was due on Wednesday, and there were still a number of texts I needed to read for the next week’s classes. Moreover, I had $200 dollars until the end of the following week, and a Greyhound ticket bought this close to departure would be a serious blow. I can’t go, I thought, lingering over the event details and pictures of the venue, I’ve got too much stuff to do. Time passes. I haven’t closed the page yet.

But damned if I’m not curious.

Fast-forward to Saturday morning. Alarm at 4, bus station by 5, en route by 6. I’ve brought a number of books to read, but I am mostly interested in a text I originally only skimmed for immediately relevant material: Jane Yellowlees Douglas’ The End of Books—or Books Without End?: Reading Interactive Narratives. Hours pass. I arrive in Toronto around noon, cautiously find my way to the subway station at Dundas, wait for three stops, and disembark. I eventually find the Toronto Reference Library, and I’m in love: red carpet lining the floors of an enormous atrium, wood panelling at the far wall, and a medium-sized stage with a screen bearing the words WordPlay 2014. I sit through descriptions of a new cross-platform work called Hadean Lands, hailed as a major step in bringing IF to iPhones; participate in an interactive play called Coffee: A Misunderstanding, setting off a feigned assault with coffee in front of a bemused audience; play a number of games that stretched my conceptions of what IF could be; learn a little bit about making these games myself; and watch as the top picks from the event were given awards. Near the end of the event, I pick out the fellow whose site had brought me there that day, and said “Hey, I played your game the other day, and that’s why I’m here!” He looks suitably confused, but was very friendly anyway. Stepping back out onto the street, I reverse my course, grab a burrito for sustenance, and get back on the bus. As it starts moving, I open The End of Books, promising myself that I’ll read another chapter and then get started on the presentation—then promptly fall asleep.

I can’t say if the trip provided any information which strengthened my presentation—arguably, its content was exactly the same as if I had not gone in the first place. But that drive to learn more about the topic, to fulfill my curiosity, and to have such a convenient alibi as “It was related to my project” all underscore the opportunity that study at this level provides. As it stands, this was just one of the rabbit holes I have explored in the program thus far, and the experience has made me eager to keep seeking them out.

The top ten things I’ve learned about surviving graduate school

by Zoe Costanzo

  1. There is a lot of reading. Seriously. Lots. Schedule time each week at the beginning of your term to get through the week’s readings, and commit to not spending more or less time on these readings.
  2. Do not be afraid to go to your professors and ask for help with theories you do not understand, or questions about your papers or seminars. Often I felt like I didn’t know enough, or that the areas I felt I needed help/clarification with were areas that – as a graduate student – I should already know; realistically, everyone is struggling with some concept or question and often people are worried about similar/the same thing. Do not be afraid to speak up—chances are your question will answer five other peoples’ questions.
  3. Always go to doughnut day. There are doughnuts and coffee, as well as healthy fruit and cheese. It is sometimes the only time I actually eat breakfast, and certainly the only time I eat fruit at breakfast time.
  4. If you are a Teaching Assistant (TA), make sure that you communicate with your supervising professor about your schedule and course commitments, so that they can then keep that in mind when they are assigning your duties. There are times of the year that you are going to be busier than others, and if the professor (for example) wants you to give a lecture, you can work together to organize it for a part of the term you are not as busy. Keep in communication throughout the term with your supervisor about your duties as well; if you find you are struggling with a specific task (such as marking) they can probably help you figure out why and how you can improve/feel more confident.
  5. Participating in seminar classes can be intimidating at first; I found it especially difficult in September when there were PhD students in the class who seemed to know so much more about the topic than I did. I found it helpful to write a few key points I found interesting about the class readings, so that when they came up it was easier to join in. If you have questions about the reading(s) or topic, this is a good place to vocalize these, and get your questions answered while simultaneously participating in the class.
  6. Try not to pull all-nighters too often. Sometimes there is no other way to get an assignment done than to suck it up, stay up, and write. But too many all-nighters can lead to anxiety, illness, and difficulty thinking straight in class. I found a really good alternative to staying up was to go to bed by 10PM, and then get up at 4AM or 5AM and work then instead. It can be difficult at first, but I found it got easier after a couple times and my thinking was much clearer after a few hours of sleep.
  7. The Junction Café, in the Tunnels by the library, has excellent coffee that is significantly cheaper than Starbucks or Second Cup, and I have never seen a line of more than two places. They also carry soup.
  8. On that note, soup is a cheap and delicious option at the University Food Centre, as well as Junction Café, Loeb building, and Roosters Café.
  9. Keep realistic expectations regarding what you can accomplish in a specific amount of time, and don’t beat yourself up if you cannot achieve everything you want to in every reading response and every class. Do not try to write a 25 page research paper in one day, and then feel terrible if the paper is not written as well as you would have liked; don’t feel bad if one day you find it more difficult to participate than other days. You will not perform at 100% all the time, and it’s ok to prioritize certain assignments or readings over others, as long as you make sure there is a balance over the term that you are happy with.
  10. There is no such thing as time management. No matter how many times it gets brought up in ENGL5005, you will still struggle to balance readings, papers, response assignments, readings, TA duties, marking, office hours, readings, showering, sleeping, and seeing your family. Just keep swimming. You’ll make it through.

T’was a month before Christmas, and all through the MA

by Michelle Murphy

T’was a month before Christmas , and all through the MA

The students were worried: Oh please let’s delay!

With papers and books all lined up in row

We cringe at the sight, want to play in the snow.

We students hide out, we run to our beds

While visions of finals just loom over our heads.

Only three hours of sleep! Boy could we use a nap,

Instead we must settle for another night cap.

Then at 3am, boom there’s our idea!

Zoom to the library for the encyclopedia!

Oh no! Where’s our book? Is it on reserve?

So much anger and panic! This we do not deserve!

Thank God for computers, we can find what we need,

Though this paper is due soon, so we must search with speed.

When what to our groggy old eyes should appear

But a brand new idea! Our thesis is clear!

With pen in our hands, we scurry to name

All the theorists who will lead our paper to fame!

Thank you Eve Sedgwick! Foucault and Ms. Butler!

My paper is brilliant; my heart is a flutter!

We type and we type till we can type no more

Can’t make it to bed, we’ll pass out on the floor.

A few hours later we head for the coffee

A shot of espresso, a flavour of toffee

Then back to our essay, the end finally in sight

Wait, what is our argument? Who cares, it is right!

We continue to type till the deed’s finally done

Yes! Thank God we have finished! Now we can have fun!

We review, then we print, then we hop on the bus

So happy it’s over, now there’s no more fuss.

Our prof will be happy! We know what he likes…

Congratulations to all; I will see you at Mike’s!

Graduate Studies: What to Expect and What to Do

by Erin Skitch

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During my very short time in the Graduate program thus far I have learned a lot. Instead of focussing, however, on what I have learned about my discipline, I think it would be far more beneficial to delve into what I have learned about life from this experience. Perhaps in this way my experiences in and outside of this program will help others help themselves on this journey they have chosen to embark upon.

Graduate Studies (GS), in general, is a supremely stressful time in one’s life. The expectations are surreal at points; read this 400 page book by tomorrow…and then lead a seminar discussion on it….don’t forget that 10-pager that goes with the seminar…and then attend this lecture and this function and then write up a response and work and then eat, sleep, and breathe in between. It can be overwhelming and, at times, it seems like it is all just too much for one person to handle.

Having said this, though, there are three things that I have learned to do this year that have quelled the urge to pull out my hair or huddle in the corner, rocking back and forth to the wailing “why me?”: embracing the word “no”, finding equilibrium or, in other words, that oft-sought balance, and the dismissing of the fear of university afterlife, aka the future. All three feed together, but I will try to separate them as much as possible and turn to myself and my experiences for some examples.

Firstly, saying “no”. That was the best thing I did for myself this year: said “no” and put myself, not school, first, especially in terms of my health. For the longest time, being a teacher, it was meals when I could grab them in between classes and letting social life and active lifestyle lapse due to marking, or constant lesson plans that were never perfect enough (and most of those lessons never actually happened anyways). Unhappiness and stress abounded living off of soju and jinbao and smoggy air. Coming to the GS program, I decided I could not do that to myself anymore and stopped. Full stop. This is not to say that I do not “freak out” alongside the people that populate the GS program. I do. I do get stressed. I do have anxiety over my research papers as they come due and I find myself getting a late start. I worry that things won’t go well or that I am underprepared for what I am supposed to be an expert on. But I let it go. I put health first. Yes, I still have fifty pages to read for tomorrow’s class, but it is gym time and I have that marathon I am training for and that is important to me, too. Yes, I still have to edit this seminar presentation, but it is 3 am and I need sleep to function. Yes, I’m running late, and grabbing a coffee as my meal for the day is quicker…but, since I’m late already, I might as well slow down and make myself something decent to eat and save the $3.62 from Starbucks (It’s an evil yet yummy franchise anyways).

Obviously, this flows right into balance. The people that are floating around the GS program seem to have one passion: school and doing well in school. Their friends are other GS students who share the same passion and the same classrooms and, unfortunately the same stresses. What I have found to work well is keeping ALL of my hobbies and passions OUTSIDE of the classroom alive and well. And I mean keeping them like a date with a 6’2 olympic swimmer from Argentina; you just don’t miss it for the world. Luckily, my hobbies are active: running, some creative writing, hiking and kayaking, and randomly exploring new places and new things (like cage fighting 😛 random, I know, but you never know when you’ll find a new something to love). I also found that cultivating friends from other disciplines and/or other schools helps hugely. When people are not involved in the same stresses you are, they become an outlet for that stress as opposed to someone that will heighten it. You vent to someone that is calm about the situation because they are uninvolved and then you move on.

And move on, everyone shall. And that seems to be a huge issue, and the last issue I will deal with. THE NEXT STEP. Dun dun duuuhhhhhh. People are already, even though they are not even halfway through the degree, worried about what will happen after GS is all over. All I can say is don’t bother. There is no point. I have worried for the better part of the last five years of my life. Where will I go? What will I do? How will it work? Who will I be? What does it mean? And guess what. They are still questions in my mind; the worrying has done nothing to stop those thoughts from forming and the worrying has certainly not made anything about life crystalline. In the end, there will be no end to that worry unless you stop it and just let it be what it is, trusting that life will move forward as it should and change as it should. It’s one big ride that you simultaneously control and lose control over along the way. Life is not as soul-sucking as it appears outside of academia. There are things wrong with the world, but there are things wrong with the university system as well; problems wherever you go. Those that stay in studies out of fear or lack of decision-making skills, need to be shaken awake and set off in any random direction so that they can survive and arrive alive and happy. There is so much out there to do and experience. Climb Everest. I did. Run marathons on the Great Wall. I did. Do a pilgrimage. I did. Teach. Laugh. Love who you are and who you’re with. Just do it. There is so much more. Trust in the process and go forth.