Something that one of my students drew for me
Something that one of my students drew for me

Being a TA is one of the best parts of grad school. In the class that I’m a TA for, the first essay of the year was due last Monday. I guess I must have done a good job emphasising good “signposting” in essay-writing in my conferences, because this week, one of my students came up to me and handed me this hand-drawn cartoon that she made while writing her essay.

Some of the other grad students say I should put it up somewhere in the philosophy grad student office.

By the way, I do realise that it’s been over a month since I posted last. Sorry guys! My life is pretty complicated right now, and I don’t want to blog about it yet, because there are people who I need to talk to in person, before I start letting the whole world know what’s up with me. I expect that sometime this week, I will resume regular posting again.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Library

A staircase in the Arts and Social Sciences library
A staircase in the Humanities and Social Sciences library

I went to the Humanities and Social Sciences library to try to get a book on Merleau-Ponty. I still don’t get Phenomenology. I found one of the books, but I didn’t find the Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty.

The library is pretty fun, though. What’s most fun, I think, is the rare books collection. It’s climate-controlled and the doors are locked, so you have to be buzzed in by a librarian.


The Phenomenology of Perception
The Phenomenology of Perception

Maurice Merleau-Ponty is my worst enemy. This is the cover of the newest edition of his book, The Phenomenology of Perception. It is terrible.

I tried to read the Preface, first and fourth chapters for class last week. I read them, read them again, downloaded some articles on them from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, and even checked out Wikipedia. I still don’t get it.

I went to class, and on the way there, the instructor for my first class, Bioethics Theory, was talking to me, trying to explain what’s going on. I went to the seminar, which was a class discussion, in which the professors didn’t participate. I felt a little better, because at the end, one of the other students asked what the motivation behind Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological project was. That’s philosopher-speak for, “Why on earth did he write this terrible book?”

If the Preface were submitted to me as an essay by one of my third-year students in the class for which I am a TA, I would fail him. He does not define his terms. He does not give a clear thesis. He rambles. I do not like phenomenology.

I spoke to the prof afterward, asking for some help, and she indicated that it’s normal to feel totally confused. That didn’t make me feel much better. I’ll have another go this week. I don’t have a choice. Maybe it won’t be as bad.

The Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill

This is the building for the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill
This is the building for the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill

Here is the building for the Biomedical Ethics Unit. It is an extremely impressive structure. Just look at it! On the first floor, there are seminar rooms, and a fancy-looking foyer, and there are offices all through the other floors.

After my meeting with the philosophy department, it was recommended to me that I speak with the Biomedical Ethics Unit, to discuss my course choices, and to see what courses they could offer me for the autumn term.

When I arrived, I was greeted by the unit’s administrative coordinator, asking if I was their long-lost bioethicist.

“I might be …” I answered, not entirely sure. Apparently they were wondering when I was going to drop by or contact them. I had been doing most of my communication with the Department of Philosophy, but my programme is very much inter-disciplinary, and so I had neglected to communicate much with the Bioethics side.

We figured everything out and chose the remaining course that I will take this term, and I wandered off and took some pictures of the interior of the building, which is beautiful.

This is the interior of the Biomedical Ethics Unit Building
This is the interior of the Biomedical Ethics Unit Building

Here is a photograph of the sitting area that you’ll see when you first enter the building. Doesn’t it just look warm and inviting? Of course it does.

When I was talking to the director of the Bioethics programme, I finally got to ask about how big my class is. Ready for this? It turns out that there’s four new students in Bioethics this year. Four. Usually it’s a two-year degree, but of course there’s always a few hangers-on, and so there’s about 16 people in the programme, in total.

That’s a small class!

I remember back at Western, in second year, my professor proudly announced that at the time, my Orgo class was the single largest chemistry course ever taught at the undergraduate level, at 1600 students.

Mind you, I’m sure that there will be more than four people in my classes, but still: Four.

Here is a photograph of the door to the Unit, which is also beautiful. I’m going to enjoy studying here. :)

This is the front door to the Biomedical Ethics Unit Building
This is the front door to the Biomedical Ethics Unit Building

The Leacock Building

Here is the Leacock Building. The Department of Philosophy is on the 9th floor.
Here is the Leacock Building. The Department of Philosophy is on the 9th floor.

The Leacock Building is not very beautiful to look at, admittedly, but that is where I had my advising appointment with three faculty members in the philosophy department, which is on the 9th floor. Finally, I got some concrete answers with regard to what my courses would be, how to choose them and what to expect for the next two years.

I was given a sheet at this meeting that outlined the requirements for graduation. It was the first time I had ever seen it. When I brought it to the Bioethics Unit office, it was the first time they had seen it, too.

There, I met the prof for whom I will be a TA this year. I also met another Bioethics student, who will be the other TA. Also, the view of the city from the 9th floor was pretty good, but I was busy having a meeting, so I didn’t take any photographs. I’ll try to do that later.

Skill-testing question: In what short work of Stephen Leacock’s is the punch line, “It was a toothpick” ? If you can answer, I will give you 3 points, plus an extra 4 points because it is mine and my mother’s birthday today, and because it’s a pretty hard question, too. Unless you’ve read much Leacock, in which case you’ll probably love that short story as much as I do, and possibly have it memorised.

Thomson house

This is Thomson House, the grad students' building
This is Thomson House, the grad students' building

As a graduate student at McGill, I have access to Thomson House, a building set aside for the use of grad students. You can go there and get relatively cheap meals. Also there is a pub, a ballroom and offices for the Graduate Students society at McGill. It’s pretty nifty. I went there for lunch with a professor yesterday, to talk about details regarding my TA-ship.

I’m really looking forward to being TA this year. The prof has given me a lot of freedom in the way that I run my “conferences,” which is what they call “tutorials” here at McGill. It looks like I’ll have two sections and I won’t be required to go to the class, except for the days on which the essays are assigned.

The prof said that he has had uniformly good experiences with bioethics students as TA’s in the past, which is good – it just means that I have to live up to his expectations, now! :|

McGill O-Week

O-Week at McGill
O-Week at McGill

It’s O-Week here at McGill, and I’m reminded of that every time I pass through campus. There are a few tell-tale signs:

  • Students are wearing matching t-shirts, and the girls have cut their shirts up so that you can see more of their skin.
  • Students are drunk in the middle of the day.
  • Students are walking around in groups based on their faculties and yelling at each other.

Student fees

My student fees have been calculated. :| Fortunately, I don’t have to pay until I receive my OSAP.

There are a few interesting charges on my bill:

  • QPIRG – McGill: This apparently is the Quebec Public Interest Research Group. I’m paying $3 to fund their research this year.
  • Transcript and Diploma Charge: I’m paying $19.20 for this. I wonder what this pays for. I’m pretty sure I have to pay the school whenever I order a transcript. I guess it pays for the printing of my degree when I graduate. But then I won’t graduate this year, so what does it pay for?
  • Athletics and Recreation Fee: $114 – not a bad deal, really. I haven’t found any other gyms for $114 a year. Well for 8 months, really.
  • PGSS Dental Plan: I should really make use of this, considering I’m paying $189.75 for it.

Those were the most interesting ones.