Melissa Lenker
As Canadian winter recedes, Melissa tries beaver tail pastry and learns to shape her fisheries research paper like a wine glass.

Montreal’s winter has been characteristically cold. I am currently defining a “warm” day as any day with a forecasted high above 0ºF. Above freezing outside? You might as well slap on a bathing suit.

If you are thinking that this weather is mighty cold for a girl from southern California, you are correct. To be completely honest, I have been avoiding most travel outside unless it is completely necessary. I even ate scrambled eggs for dinner several nights in a row because I didn’t want to walk to the grocery store in sub-zero temperatures. Sarah, my fellow Californian compatriot, seems to have similarly shunned the outdoors on her temporary island home of Texel due to the dreary winter weather.

Despite the cold, there are some perks to the frosty winter, such as this beautiful sunset over the
Saint Lawrence River 
in my adopted Quebec town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.

I don’t recommend shutting yourself in during winter months; my gym record has been appalling and you can’t live off of peanut butter forever (but I can try). However, the upside of being a winter-time recluse is that my work productivity has increased because I have nothing to do but work. Aside from some minor bumps like a fried laptop motherboard and a three day fever, I have been chugging away on the Follensby Pond manuscript.

Another winter perk? Cross country skiing in McGill’s Morgan Arboretum.

There is a saying in academia: “publish or perish”. It refers to the necessity of publishing in order to receive grants and other funding, without which, academics cannot continue their research. As a general rule of thumb, graduate level research should be both publishable and published. I spoke about publishing briefly in my blog post from last January, but it is not a subject to be glossed over.

My undergraduate research adviser gave me some great advice while I was writing my first manuscript: structure the paper like a wine glass. The lip of the glass is the introduction, which starts dialogue broadly and gradually tapers towards the subject of the paper. The stem is the methods and the results, which are narrowly focused on the research topic at hand. The base is the discussion, which begins tightly focused on a discussion of the paper’s results, and widens again to discuss the broader applications of the research. (Despite the analogy, drinking wine while writing isn’t particularly helpful, sorry).

Remember, the structure of a paper is like a wine glass.

Last to arrive are the acknowledgements, references, tables, figures and appendices. The acknowledgements contain a short paragraph thanking funding sources and anyone who particularly helped with the project. This oft-glossed over section can be quite funny, and is occasionally worth the read.

When not working and locked within my heated apartment, I have been traveling. There are many perks to being a graduate student, such as spending years of your life researching a topic simply because you love it, or frequently being on the receiving end of free food (so much pizza). However, having a flexible schedule is by far the best perk of all. I managed a day trip to Ottawa and finally toured the picturesque, stone-covered Parliament building, in addition to eating my first Canadian Beaver tail pastry. Beaver tails are a bit like warm, extra buttery American elephant ear cookies, often topped with cinnamon sugar or Nutella.

Standing in front of Canada’s Central Government based on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Beaver tail shops line Ottawa’s Rideau Canal and serve as the perfect snack for cold, hungry ice skaters

I also spent a week in Boston working, visiting my boyfriend, and exploring potential internship opportunities for my thesis review semester. Unfortunately, that particular trip to Boston also included a midnight trip to the emergency room and vomiting on an 8 hour Greyhound bus ride from Boston to Montreal. It’s a long story.

Two days after returning from Boston, I headed south in the ever-stylish McGill minivan for an Adirondack research conference. The conference was held in a classic, Adirondack lodge complete with log woodwork and blazing fireplaces. I had a fantastic trip, but my time there was short. Less than 12 hours after returning to my beloved apartment in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, I was en route to an aquatic limnology conference in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal.

Presenting my research at the annual Group for Interuniversity Research in Limnology and
Aquatic Environments
symposium in the Laurentian Mountains. I made the Twitter feed!

Between both conferences, I networked, listened, and ate for four days straight. I learned about the effects of increasing dissolved organic carbon on aquatic food chains, and the benefits of building your own small scale PIT tag (used to uniquely identify fish) readers. And thanks to the all you can eat buffets, I also learned how to make the Quebec specialty pouding chômeur (unemployment pudding), which is more or less cake baked with maple syrup. It tastes amazing.

The last month and a half has been a whirlwind of traveling, working, and avoiding time outdoors. However, spring is on its way and the workload will only increase from here until I submit my thesis in mid-August. As the end grows nearer, I find myself looking increasingly towards the future. Is there a PhD in my future, or perhaps law school? Or finally joining the workforce like many of my peers? The uncertainty is driving me a little crazy, but I am constantly trying to remind myself that life is about the journey, not the destination.


Recommended Posts