Why not volunteers [sic]?

"Why not volunteers?"
"Why not volunteers?"

As an MA student in bioethics, I am very interested in the advertisements on the Métro for participation in phase I drug studies.

And that’s not just because they were very tempting back when I had no job and no prospects at the end of the school year in April.

I have found the evolution of this particular advertisement to be very notable indeed. A few months ago, when I first noticed it, it went something like this:

“Up to $4000 for healthy men, 18–45 / A clinical trial? Why not!”

It would run in English first, then in French, and in the version that they were running a few months ago, there was no translation problem.

Now, it is the same message, except instead of “A clinical trial? Why not!” it says, “Why not volunteers [sic]?”

English mistranslation aside, the emphasis of the message has changed. At first, the tone was more on the “Why not?”—it was more like the advertisers were saying, “Yeah, we know it’s a clinical trial, but let’s throw caution to the wind! What could go wrong?”

Now, the emphasis has changed. It’s like the advertisers are now trying to go for more of the “It’s for a good cause” feel. “Volunteer. Why wouldn’t you? It’s so that these kind people can develop drugs that will help all of us.”

“Why not volunteers?”

On Thursday, I quit my job

… Effective August 1, 2010.

A lot has changed over these past few months. My original plan, coming in to the summer was to work at my job for a year, and take a year off school, or if I could manage it, work at my job and finish my thesis at the same time. As the summer went on, I quickly discovered how unfeasible that plan really was.

First off, when I went to the philosophy department to see if I could find a supervisor, I discovered that there was a professor who would have been perfect for supervising me, but she took last year off for maternity, and this year she’s on sabbatical, and so I just happened to be doing my MA on the two years that she wouldn’t be here.

So a couple weeks ago, I spoke with a professor regarding my situation, asking if it would be possible to take a year off, since that would give me a chance to recover financially and to figure out what to do for my thesis.

I had a lengthy conversation with that was emotionally cathartic, rational and productive. The prof I spoke to was my Human Research Ethics prof from last semester, who was also the acting head of the Bioethics MA programme at the time. When I told him my plan, his response was basically:

“No! Don’t take a year off! You’ll never come back!”

So we talked about that for a while. And the big thing that was keeping me from continuing in September was the money. I had done some math before the phone call, to see what my situation was, and really, I wouldn’t need that much more to make it through the school year. A second TA-ship in my second semester would do it, but I can’t count on getting one of those, necessarily.

The prof called me back a few days later with an offer of some grant money for a research assistant-ship, and he suggested that I re-arrange my thesis so that it aligns with the RA-ship. I’m going to be researching the ethics of prediction in human research.

(The term “RA” is confusing. At McGill, it means “Research Assistant,” but at UWO, where I did my undergrad, it means “Residence Advisor.”)

This is great. Now, I have a supervisor, a thesis topic, and a bit more money.

I estimate that if I take all the money from my TA-ship, my new-found RA-ship, the money in my bank account, everything I will have set aside by September, and what I expect to receive from OSAP, I will have just enough to make it through the school year, as long as there are no nasty surprises.

But I suppose, even after all that, the question still remains, Why did I quit my job?

I’m going to take the MCAT this September. I’ve been preparing for this for the last few weeks (I’m almost done orgo!), and I want to take the month before the test off, so that I can focus on my studies. I’m able to do this because I got paid for some old freelance web design work that I’ve been doing off-and-on for the last few months.

My plan for the month of August will be to get up like I normally do, at 5h, go to the gym for 6h30, be done there by 8h30 and hit the library by 9h. Then I’ll spend the day there, either working on my research, or prepping for the MCAT. I’m going to study like it’s my job.

I’m glad of the design job that I had this summer, but I’m excited about the beginning of August, too. :)

Figuring things out

So I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to be doing, come this September. I have a few options right now, and it feels like on the even-numbered days, I’ve made one decision, and on odd-numbered days, I’m of completely the opposite opinion.

To catch you up, last semester was really disappointing to me in a lot of ways. I was closer than I ever have been to dropping out of school. It got so bad, that in a counselling session with a therapist at McGill, I explored the question of how bad an academic programme would have to be before one would be justified in suing McGill for one’s tuition back.

After I stopped being so bitter about that, I ended up with a job, and a pretty decent one, too. It’s close to where I live, the money is good, and I get to be creative at work. I’m working as a designer at a marketing company. It’s an excellent job, and I’m glad for it. I’m still in a sort of probationary period that will last 3 months, where they’re still deciding whether they want to keep me, and I’m still deciding whether I want to stay there.

I’ve been enjoying living with the privileges of a regular paycheque. I don’t have to worry at the end of the month about whether or not I will have enough money to cover rent. This is a step up from the last semester. They ran out of TA-ships before they got to me, and so money was very tight, and I had a spreadsheet going that calculated, based on my previous expenses, how long I had until my money ran out.

So when I landed this job, my first thought was that I could finally relax a bit. And I have been! Things have been pretty decent of late. I’m enjoying things being stress-free, by comparison to this last year.

One of the options that I am considering is taking a year off school to de-stress, pay off some debt and enjoy not having to worry about money or school. There’s a few reasons I’m considering this:

I don’t think that I’ll get much by way of student loans for this year, and I have no reason to believe that I’ll get a second TA-ship this year either, which means I’ll be in a much worse financial situation than even last year, unless something unexpected and good happens.

To make it through the year, I’d only need a few thousand dollars more. You wouldn’t think that would be so hard to get, but it’s easier to get a full-time job than it is to get a job, even part-time, that is compatible with being a student.

I could probably make it through the year if I knew I was going to get a second TA-ship, or if there was an RA-ship (Research Assistantship) on the horizon somewhere, but things are looking grim.

I’m going to apply for OSAP anyway, even though I am sceptical that I will get anything from them. And I’m going to send out some emails to profs to see if there’s any RA-ships that I can do during the school year. I don’t need a lot of money. I just need enough to get through the second semester.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep my options open as best I can. If I think I can make it through the year financially, I will give notice that I’m quitting my job when the probationary period ends.

Does anyone know any profs at McGill who need research assistants who know philosophy and medical science? I can write, think critically, closely read dense papers, and I know my way around a pipette.

There’s something strangely satisfying about this

It feels pretty good.
It feels pretty good.

Part-way through this semester, my professor handed me a large stack of official-looking papers relating to an ethics consultation with a CLSC here in Montréal. He indicated that the papers should be shredded when I was done with them, since their contents were sensitive.

It felt good to put them through the shredder. I think it might be the finality of the act. There is a satisfying noise that the machine makes as it takes all the meaning out of the paper that you feed into it.

It’s magical really: Pages and pages of meaningful information go in one side, and then strips meaningless paper come out the other end.

By the way, I only have one paper left, and I have a pretty good idea of what I’m writing too.

Big presentation last Wednesday

On last Wednesday, I had my Bioethics Practicum presentation. I was stressing about this particular assignment for a while, but largely thanks to the hard work of my partner, it turned out very well.

In fact, after the our time in front of the class, the prof indicated that he had been to presentations done by professional bioethicists, who were hired for sums of thirty to forty thousand dollars, who did not produce so thorough an examination of the issue at hand as my classmates and I did in our assignments.

I felt flattered of course, and asked him if we could have thirty or forty thousand dollars.

He thought I was joking.

Jewish General Hospital

Which one would you have gone to?
Which one would you have gone to?

Here’s a nifty home experiment that you can do without a grown-up! Try a Google Maps search for “Jewish General Hospital, Montréal.” You’ll get two results. Try to guess which one is the real Jewish General hospital. I’ll give you a hint: It’s not the one labelled “A. Jewish General Hospital.” The real one is clear on the other side of the city, and kind of near my home.

So this morning I had an appointment with the ethicist at the Jewish General Hospital. I looked up the location of the hospital, and when I got the Google Maps result, I thought that there were maybe two “Jewish General Hospitals”—one that was the Jewish General simpliciter, and one that was the Sir Mortimer Jewish General. Since no one had ever mentioned to me that I was going to Sir Mortimer Hospital, I figured that I should go to the other one.

A 35-minute Métro ride and a 5-minute bus ride later, I was at the hospital right on time, at 9 o’clock sharp. I was at the Notre-Dame hospital. It turns out that the first address that’s given as a result in that Google Maps search is actually a completely different hospital that doesn’t have “Jewish” in its name at all. Quelle surprise.

I called everyone that I could think of who was in Montréal, but no one was picking up at 9h on a lundi. I thought about hailing a taxi, but then I remembered that I didn’t have any money. I walked back to the Sherbrooke Métro and called Info Santé. For those of you in Ontario, it’s the Québec equivalent of TeleHealth. She was able to tell me where the Jewish General Hospital was. I found a map of the city in the Métro and looked for a hospital on Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catharine, and the nearest Métro stop.

Turns out there are two hospitals on that street, Sainte-Justine and Jewish General. I went to the wrong one first. Fortunately, they weren’t too far apart.

I arrived a bit over an hour late, and missed the appointment. I was still able to talk to the ethicist afterward, explain what happened, and attend another meeting, but it was a less-than-promising start to today.

Class photo

Bioethics Theory Class 2009
Bioethics Theory Class 2009

Here is a photo of me and my classmates and the prof from Bioethics Theory this year. I’ve blocked out faces just in case they didn’t want to be put on my site. I didn’t ask them or anything. Heh.

This is just after our last class, when we watched The Sea Inside, a movie about a quadriplegic man’s 30-year struggle to be allowed to commit suicide. So if we look a little bit melancholy, that’s probably why. It’s a good movie though, if you’re interested in the topics of euthanasia, assisted suicide, end of life care, etc.

This gives you an idea of what a typical class size is for me now. This is a far cry from the second year of my undergrad, when the prof proudly announced at the beginning of my organic chemistry class that we were students in the single largest undergraduate chemistry course to be taught, ever. There were 1600 students in that class.

Now, in my whole programme, there are four of us. There are a couple people who are not in the bioethics programme who are taking the course for other reasons, though, which is why the class is more than four students.

Quality of life

Quality of lifeThere is a girl in one of the sections of the class that I’m a TA for, who every once in a while, gives me cartoons that she draws while she works on her essays.

I think this one was inspired by discussions that we had in conference regarding quality of life, and the permissibility of euthanasia.

If you missed the cartoon about Signposting, check it out, too. It’s little things like this that made my job as a TA just that much better.

Only one essay left now!

There were some distractions
There were some distractions

I just finished another essay. This is the paper for my Bioethics Theory course. Check out the graph of my progress! Along the x-axis is minutes after 10h this morning. Along the y-axis is word count.

My essay is done, but I could probably go through it and put a bit more work into it tomorrow. My brain is fried now, though.

You can see there were some distractions. Part-way through the day, I got caught chatting when I should have been working. You know who you are!

After this, I have two sets of papers to mark, and only one essay left, but that one’s going to be painful because it’s for the Merleau-Ponty class.

I just remembered

District 9
District 9

I just remembered why it is that I posted my review of District 9 under bioethics.

[There is a medium-grade spoiler in this post, so if you want to know nothing about the film before you see it, stop reading.]

I realised while watching the movie that my bioethical training has been having an effect on me. There is a scene toward the beginning of the film, where the main character is about to be cut up and his organs harvested for scientific experiments, against his will, while he is still conscious. When I saw that, I was struck with the horror of the idea of that happening to someone, but in my mind, all my objections were couched in the language of academic bioethics:

“He has not given informed consent for this research!”

“They are breaking the Dead Donor Rule!”

“That action is contrary to all four of Beauchamp and Childress’s principles of medical ethics!”

If you can name all four of Beauchamp and Childress’s principles, then you get 8 points. Two for each one.