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Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

In the larger scheme of things, I’m almost done my Ph.D. All that’s left is writing one article, writing my thesis and then defending it. After 6 years (2 years for a Masters, 4 years for this Ph.D.), I can finally see the finish line. What I have a tougher time seeing is beyond the finishing line.

Seven months ago, I applied for postdoctoral funding with the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS). Basically, I submitted a research project with an leading researcher to a funding body and asked them to pay my salary for two years. A few weeks ago, I got news that I was one of the 51 applicants out of 131 to be granted this award. Because this research was to take place in the States, I was awarded approximately $26 000 USD per year, for two years, to do research.

Things change in seven months. For me, that was deciding to move to Toronto with my girlfriend and getting excited at the prospect of having to challenge myself beyond academia and potentially redefining my career direction. After some intense introspection and discussion, I decided this postdoc was not the right direction for me and respectfully declined the offer.

This was a difficult choice but I feel the right one.

Now, I plan on chronicling this new journey I’m about to undertake. The decision of leaving the comfort and familiarity of academia at the end of a Ph.D. is one taken by many, but like most journeys, it’s different for everyone. I’m not exactly sure where I want to go, but I’m sure I’m going exciting somewhere!

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A few of you may remember that I recently entered a competition to win a trip through G Adventures. Great news! Thanks to you, I won! There were many choices to pick from. I was turned off b a few trips because they seemed like things I could do by myself for a fraction of the price. I looked for a trip that did and went places I don’t think I’d be able to reach by myself. Because I’ve never been to South America, I decided to take a 21 day trip to Peru and Bolivia. This will be the first time I travel with a structured group. I’m excited to travel with people, as it always makes things much more enjoyable, but I’m also a bit nervous that my travel style (very mellow, lots of looking at people/things while sitting somewhere) will clash with the organizer’s plan. It should be ok though. We’ll see.

My giving my trishaw driver a break

The winning picture! I actually blogged about this when it happened. Many thanks to the photographer.

There’s not much to say about this for the time being, but I’m super excited to get back on the road and explore a new continent! I booked my flight yesterday and I have confirmation that the trip is reserved under my name. All I need is some gear (new smaller bag, jacket, etc) and I’m ready to go!

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Earlier today, I gave a presentation to 25 6th grade students about the brain. The presentation was centered around the 5 senses and, as a big finale, the kids got to touch a real (calf) brain! This presentation was held for the 2012 international Brain Awareness Week. A week where local student-run organizations go to primary and secondary schools and give presentation to raise awareness about brain-related science. I’ve been involved with Brain Awareness Week or BAM (Brain Awareness Montreal), for two years and this was the first time I gave a presentation. It was really fun to explain the brain, try to explain how my research is related to the presentation and answer questions. One of the kids said she’d like to be a brain scientist when she grew up. Awesome! I can’t wait to do it again next year!

For obvious reasons, this experience reminded me of my students in Korea. I also realized that large classes (I had one class of 41 students, if memory serves) make a huge difference when it comes to teaching and discipline. It’s way easier to manage a 25 student class than a 40 student class. It also seemed like the students weren’t as spread out because the actual room was smaller. Plus you can really focus on answering more questions if you have 15 students less to worry about. Thinking about my old students put me in a very nostalgic mood. I might watch a few kpop music videos and send them emails later.

Speaking of science, my first article came out this week! That’s seriously awesome news. I wasn’t as involved with this article as I would have liked (most of the actual testing was done before I joined the lab), but I’ll be able to make up for that in the next articles. The article is titled Audiovisual segregation in cochlear implant users and I think it’s a pretty neat research, though I’m super biased. The article is published in one of the only peer-reviewed Creative Commons journal, so you don’t need an expensive subscription to the journal! If you want to read something before bed or if you want something to knock you out, I highly recommend you check it out.

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I went to visit my old roommates in Toronto last weekend. Because of my rather limited budget, I looked on Craigslist for a drive from Montreal to Toronto. I figured it would be cheaper and faster, than the bus.

I quickly found a guy going to Toronto at the time I wanted. Perfect. I sent him a text. “Hi, I’m looking for a ride on whatever day at whatever time. Do you still have room?”. He replied that he did have room. I confirmed my spot with him and went on to ask: “What is your name and what kind of car am I looking for?” I didn’t get a reply. At the time, I thought it was odd, but didn’t think much of it. In fact, it made me a bit frustrated at this guys lack of organization, but nothing more.

I went to the pick-up spot at the agreed-upon time. There were no parked vehicles. Terrific, I thought. I texted the guy: “Hi, I’m here, what kind of car am I looking for?”. His reply was “I’m here too.” This guy was too much. Eventually, he found me. Turns out he was parked around the corner (to be fair, I would have easily spotted him if I looked around the corner). I got into this guy’s white van with 9 other people. Clearly this guy’s business is shuttling people from Montreal to Toronto.

We set off in the van and were immediately instructed to put on our seat-belts. Safety first. We started driving and I quickly noticed that we’re going in somewhat of a circle. We were obviously not heading for the highway towards Toronto. Out driver looked back. “Sorry guys, you see that white van following us? That’s an undercover cop.” Awesome. We continued to drive around downtown Montreal for a few minutes until our man at the wheel turned around once more to give us a bit more information. “That police unit will follow me until I get on the highway and then he’ll call the Ontario police and they’ll stop us. I’m going to try to lose him.” We drove around some more. He gave out more advice. “If he stops us, we’re going on a tour of downtown Montreal. Is anyone here not a Canadian citizen?” One girl timidly raised her hand. That can’t be a good thing. We did a bit more driving until finally getting right back to where we started. “Ok guys, I’m going to drop you off here. Go meet me at another metro station. If the cops stop you, they might try to scare you and say they can search your stuff. This isn’t true. If anything happens, just don’t say anything. When I stop the van, file out as quickly as possible and meet me at the other station. I’ll try my best to get you to Toronto.” We filed out and rushed into the metro. We quickly made our way to the other metro and waited for our driver. We wait about 20 minutes. Eventually, our wheelman showed up. He had a sad face, like he had let us down. “Sorry guys, I can’t leave this morning. They kept on following me and I couldn’t rent another vehicle. You’re on your own for now, but I’ll be heading out tonight, if you’re interested…”

Well, that complicated things.

Since we were at the bus station, I noticed there was a bus leaving for Toronto in 30 minutes. Great. Just enough time to buy a ticket and grab a seat! I went to the ticket counter. The tickets were 60$. This is for a ticket on Megabus, the allegedly discount bus line. The ticketlady told me they were cheaper online, so, being as I am, I quickly thought of way for me to buy it online. Then… Brilliant idea! The school library. I knew it was just a block away, tucked away somewhere between the buildings of downtown. Exactly where, I wasn’t sure. I ran to where I thought might be a good spot to look for it and wandered aimlessly for a few minutes. My bus was leaving in 20 minutes. Eventually, a student walked by, and I asked if she knew where the library was. By chance, she was on her way there too. I awkwardly followed her. Turns out the directions to the library are very clearly indicated. They started just around the corner from where I asked the girl for directions. I finally got to the library, loaded up my account with some money (I didn’t need an error message saying I had insufficient funds as I tried printing the tickets!) and rushed to the computer lab. 15 minutes left. I tippity-tapped my way on to the Megabus website and tried to find my ticket. Apparently Megabus doesn’t sell tickets for trips leaving in 15 minutes. Nuts! Buying an online ticket was impossible. I was cursed! I logged off the computer and ran back to the bus station. 10 minutes. I went back to the ticketlady and asked for a ticket. I cringed as I accepted the 60$ price tag for a seat, but at least I was on my way.

I sat in the bus for an hour before it actually left. Apparently they had engine problems, so we left late. I wasn’t impressed, but at least I was on my way to Toronto. 7 hours later (8 hours after the posted departure time), I rolled into the Toronto bus station and started having an awesome weekend.

On my way back to Montreal, I used the same rideshare guy. I got home safe and sound almost exactly 6 hours after we left (and it only cost me 30$!).

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Ride back from Ottawa

Last weekend, I went to Ottawa for a quick overnight visit to my good friend Jer’s. Because I save a buck everywhere I can, I used rideshares to get to and fro. The typical rideshare fare for Montreal-Ottawa is 15$, while a student bus ticket costs about 23$ before taxes. Easy choice.

My ride up to Ottawa was uneventful. The guys I rode with were interesting and the car was clean. We ended up listening to Amy Winehouse’s Back in Back cd for most of the ride.

My ride back to Montreal was insane. My ride showed up about an hour late. They had apparently slept in. When my ride finally came, I discovered it was a small european car with a mountain of garbage in the back (and front seat, and probably trunk). I snuck in the backseat (the driver had a friend in the passenger seat) and sat in the area with the least debris. This isn’t too bad, I told myself, with my knees to my chin, I can deal with two hours of this. About 5 minutes after leaving Ottawa, as we were getting on the highway, we heard a loud noise from the passenger side window. What was that!? All of a sudden, there was no passenger side front window. Seriously. The window slid into the door. So there we were, setting off on a two hour drive in a dump truck -4 weather with no side window. We stopped at the first gas station to fill up and try to rig some sort of a bag window contraption. I managed to figure something out, but as I discovered, garbage bags tend to disintegrate when they are subjected to high speed winds for the window of a car. The first 5 minutes of the ride with the bag window as fine, but slowly, the bag came undone from the door frame. Eventually only the front part was still attached to the door causing the entire bag to whip around and make the loudest noise ever (and disintegrating). This must have gone on for 30 minutes. Keep in mind I’m in the back seat with the wind, and the whipping bag, right in my face (my knees were also in my face). As we were 40 minutes from Montreal, we gave up on the bag thing and drove with no window. For that last 40 minutes, we were all suited up in our toques and mittens and scarves. For that last 40 minutes, my knees, which were jutting out from around the front passenger seat, were freezing. I have never had frozen knees. It’s a weird feeling. After that long 40 minutes, we finally got to my area. When were got near my place, I jumped out of the car at the first nearing corner with so much delight. My knees, still frozen, almost buckled. If the ride would have been 5 minutes longer, it’s likely that I would have fallen in the slush puddle on the side of the road. I wobbled home and warmed up for a good 10 minutes.

And that’s how I saved 10 bucks. Totally worth it.

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Halifax Highlights

I hadn’t seen my friend Mike in about 2 years. He’s my oldest male friend and probably one of the people with whom I’ve spent the most time over the years. We spent about an hour practically every morning and lunch during high school. In fact, most people who meet us think we’re brothers even if we look nothing alike. We’re both about the same height, but he’s way darker and muscular, but just because we have the same mannerisms (even after years apart) people figure we’re related.

I was looking forward to heading to Halifax and meeting up with him again. I got lucky and a friend of mine was heading to Halifax for work, so I was able to hitch a ride with her. I saved like $60. Awesome! I tried calling Mike before leaving the house, but he didn’t answer. No problem. I figured, I’d just call him once I got to Halifax. He knew I was coming over. Oh! I was also banking on being able to call him to get his address, but because I couldn’t get a hold of him, well, let’s just say I was hopping my memory of directions to his place was good. When we got to Halifax, I tried calling him again. Nothing. Wonderful. I somehow managed to give directions to my friend and we got to his place easily. I tried buzzing his room, but there was no answer. I wasn’t surprised by this. His buzzer is rigged to his cellphone.

Someone let me into his building, and I managed to remember where his room was. Amazing. No one was there though. Faced with a difficult situation, I decided to grab all my bags and party in the lobby until Mike inevitably showed up. By party, I mean read a book. “read”‘s a weird word eh? It can be both present tense and past tense, depending on context. So when you just read the previous sentence (or the word three words before this paragraph), your brain probably picked the right pronunciation automatically. I find that incredibly wild.

After about an hour of partying in the lobby, Mike eventually showed up. “Hey man, what’s up?” “Not much, how was the workout?” Bam. Just like that it was like if I never left. I love that about close friends. You don’t really need to catch up or anything. Things are just back to normal instantly.

The week went by very quickly. I basically just sat on his couch and played video games. I also helped him move, which was nice since I helped him move into his old place. But seriously, it was the most sloth week I’ve had in ages.

I also got to meet up with my friend Jessica. That was nice too. She’s my oldest friend  and it must have been like 3 years since I last saw her. Friendship rule!

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Yesterday, I went to a meditation session held at the local holistic medicine center (which seems to be a pretty cool place).

The actual act of meditation, or what I was doing when we were supposed to be meditating was pretty chill. I enjoy introversion and all that stuff. But here’s the thing. I’m sitting there for like 20 minutes with my legs crossed on a little block pillow and progressively, my back start hurting because we’re not moving and I must be in a bad posture and I did a trick on my back a few years ago. All those factors add up to “not a good time for the old back”. Anyway, I’m sitting there, zoning out and my back’s sore. Then. My leg falls asleep. Terrific. My foot’s numb and I know that in like 5 minutes we’re going to need to do get up and do some walking meditation (that’s when you walk around and concentrate on the sensation of the floor on your feet, or so I think). When my foot goes numb, I tend to lose the ability to put pressure on my leg as the blood rushes back. So I’m sitting there, with a sore back and a numb foot facing the possibility of falling straight on my face in the middle of some meditation walk thing. I can tell you that sure helped me get the old nerves under control. So our meditation master rings this bell meaning we need to start walking in circles and meditate. I figure, here we go. I stand up and by some miracle, I don’t collapse. I figure I’ve come into contact with some ethereal force that made me get circulation without the pain. Wrong. About 20 seconds later, blood rushes back in and my left leg is in pain. I really couldn’t go, “Oh, meditation master, I think I’ll sit this one out. Sitting down for 20 minutes and then walking in circles is just too hard on the old ticker, you know?” So I manned up and walked slowly with a bit of a limp. It was a bit like in Usual Suspect. I started with this weird limp and I progressively lost it. If it would have been at a film convention, I’m sure it would have been well received as a great impression and I could have passed it off as something sorta cool. Instead, I felt super incompetent because my body isn’t physically able to sit down for long periods of time and right up walk a bit. Anyway, after about an hour of pain, I went back home and lied down on the floor because my back was aching.

That’s how meditation went. I mean, I dug it. I like the idea, but I don’t think it really worked for me. Though it might have been a bit too advanced for me.

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