Hello wonderful readers,

It seems like only yesterday I was writing my previous blog post for the Graduate Student Blog, where I spoke about getting more comfortable in the lab environment. Since then, I’ve ran some more reactions and now I’m trying to optimize the time for my fish oil reaction. I spent a lot of time characterizing my products by different methods and teaching myself how to interpret all the data, but I still wanted to do some different lab work. One great way to learn new lab techniques and instruments is to watch people do it.  My friend Juliana (who also writes lovely posts for this blog and posed with me in the picture above) is working on some reactions using a pressure vessel. It’s something that I will be using in the future, so I watched her set up a few reactions and learned how to clean everything. Now, when I use it in the future, I already know the basics and am much more confident with using it.

Since exam season is in full swing, I figured I should mention some good study techniques. By the time this blog post is released, I’ll already be done my final exam and hopefully have survived it. Exams always seem to sneak up on you, and next thing you know, your exam is next week and you have so much to study. I know everyone has their own method to help them study, but I’ll let you in on the method that has helped me survive the last five years in university. First, never leave it to the last minute. There’s nothing worse than having to cram an entire course worth of information into your head in one or two days. Throughout the semester, I always write nice study notes that include all the main points, and in my case of studying chemistry, nice colour coded mechanisms for the reactions. This way, once the final exam comes along, you already have a good set of study notes. To prepare for the final, I then read over my study notes a few times to refresh my memory, read through my actual class notes once to make sure I covered everything in my study notes, then always read the textbook if there is one. Now I know what most of you are thinking, “but textbooks are so big and cover way too much.” It doesn’t matter, read the relevant parts. Hopefully you have a decent professor who will tell you specifically what sections are relevant, or your textbook is very good, and nicely divided to make studying sections easier. The textbook always helps with the final understanding of things, especially in science. It usually explains things slightly more in depth, or words things differently so if you didn’t understand something the first time, it might click when explained differently. With science, it’s always important to understand things instead of just memorizing everything, so read the textbook and try to understand the concepts. Yes, there is a good deal of memorization that you need in order to understand larger concepts, but those larger concepts can’t just be memorized, or else you’ll get stumped on the final when the general concept is tested, and not in the same way as you memorized. My final tip for final exams: SLEEP!!! I can’t emphasize enough how important sleep is. I don’t care what I have the next day, I’m going to bed at a decent time and getting well rested. Pulling an all-nighter to study doesn’t accomplish more than it does harm. Just sleep. I promise your brain will thank you.

Now, with the summer coming up quickly, it’s also conference season for many graduate students. In total, I’m up to about three or four events this summer that I’m applying for or have already applied for. It’s great to get as much interaction with others in your field, and conferences are the best way to do this. Whether you present a poster or do an oral presentation, it’s great exposure, especially when you’re nearing the end of your program. While I’m still in the first year of my Masters degree, I’m attending as many conferences as I can in order to learn as much as possible, as well as improve my public speaking skills. Just like most people, my knees start to shake and my face gets incredibly red from being so nervous to talk in front of a crowd. Hopefully with practice, I can become more confident and not become so nervous to speak to a large crowd. Today, I even heard back on a summer school in Colorado that I applied for. It’s a week-long summer school in green chemistry where I’ll be able to meet other people in my field, learn about green chemistry and sustainable energy, as well as present a poster. I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted, but I still applied, and now here I am, excited and planning my trip there.

Applying for all these conferences can seem like a full-time job in and of itself, but there are many ways to make this process easier on yourself. First, there are so many resources online that can give you a good outline to follow. You can even find specific ones for each discipline, whether it is science or the arts. Most things you apply for will have a maximum word count for your abstract. While it may seem like a lot before you start writing, it’s so easy to go over that word count. Summing up my current research, which only accounts for about 7 months of my Masters, is still hard to cut down to 250 or 300 words. Secondly, start off with the most important parts. I write abstracts by first writing several bullet points which I absolutely must include in my abstract. These main points can then act as a very basic template for you to add in other information and make everything flow together. If you have too many words, go through and look at each sentence and ask, “Does it makes sense without this sentence?” If so, you probably don’t need to include it. To make sure everything flows nicely, again, look at an online template. Follow the basic structure that they give and you can’t really go wrong. Finally, always get a friend or someone to read over it. A fresh pair of eyes always helps and they might catch those small spelling mistakes that you gloss over when proof-reading it. A final send-off to your supervisor is always good. They know what they’re doing, so having them take a final look at it will ensure you have your best possible abstract to submit.

And then comes the waiting. Just remember that you did your best and that not everyone gets accepted to everything all the time. Rejection is okay. Don’t let it stop you from applying to other things in the future, because you will never know what might come your way if you don’t apply for it.

Thank you to everyone who reads these blog posts every week. I hope you all enjoyed it and hopefully everyone survives their exams. Come back next week for another blog post by one of our other lovely writers and the next time I write a post, hopefully we’ll have some nice summer weather.