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Advice for those considering and those in a PhD

Readers of the blog will know that I successfully defended my PhD in March. Today, I want to share some thoughts I have on the process for those considering a PhD and for those in the PhD.

Deciding if you want to do PhD is an important decision, and not one that should be taken lightly. I get a lot of people asking me whether they should do a PhD, and whether my thoughts have changed since I started. After four and a bit years, I have lots of thoughts. However, if I was to group them, they’d fall into two major categories: those considering a PhD, and those in the PhD.

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Level up! Mr Epid is now Dr Epid!

My old lab got me a cake to celebrate!

My old lab got me a cake to celebrate!

I’m back! I took an extended hiatus from the blog while I finished up my PhD, but, at the end of March, I successfully defended my PhD, and after making the changes suggested by the examining committee I submitted in the middle of April and started working. Those of you following along on Twitter will recognize the change in my Twitter handle from @MrEpid to @DrEpid; those of you who know me in real life will have heard me go on about it for the last few months as I prepare. For those wondering, I will eventually change the URL of my blog as well so they all match :)

For those unaware of the process, the PhD defence is an oral exam. At Queen’s (the process may differ at other universities), you submit your thesis, and then have to wait (a minimum) of 25 business days for the exam. The exam consists of 4 examiners; an examiner external to your university, one external to your department, one from your department, and the final examiner is your department head (or a department head delegate). You also have a chair from another department from your institution, as well as your supervisors there. After you give a 15-20 minute presentation, the examiners ask their questions. Typically, there are two rounds of questions, after which you leave, and the examiners deliberate. You’re then called back in, and they let you know their decision, and any changes you have to make before submitting your final thesis. My examiners were amazing, and while the questions were tough, they were fair. I actually really enjoyed the discussion I had with my examiners during my defence, and they ranged from the details of my analysis, to the concept of “ethnic identity” and what it actually means in terms of my research.

I want to thank everyone for their support over the past 4 and a bit years. As per prior precedents (Janiszewski, 2010; Saunders, 2013), I will be copy-pasting the acknowledgements section from my thesis below. I’d also like to thank the PLOS Blogs network, especially Victoria Costello for giving me the opportunity to join the network, and Travis and Peter for their support and encouragement when I started blogging. In addition, thank you to my co-authors Beth and Lindsay here who picked up the slack when I took a hiatus this year to focus on finishing up.

Finally, a special thank you to all the readers of the blog. It’s been a privilege to write for you, and it means a lot when you tell me how much you enjoy my work. Thank you, and I’m looking forward to getting back into writing more regularly.

Acknowledgements

I would like to start by thanking my supervisors, Dr. Will Pickett and Dr. Ian Janssen. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from you both, and appreciate your support through my PhD journey. Your honesty, integrity, and willingness to always provide me feedback and support was always appreciated. Will, I look forward to our teams meeting in the playoffs again (hopefully with better results for me this time!)

I would also like to thank those in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology/Public Health Sciences and the Clinical Research Centre for their support, with a special thank you to Lee Watkins and Deb Emerton for their help. Thank you also to the Clinical Research Centre Student Group. Your antics, customized t-shirts, snack breaks, and random dance parties always kept me entertained, and it’s been a pleasure working with all of you. The Thought Tub is richer for having you.

This work would not have been possible without the financial support of Queen’s University, the Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarships Doctoral Award.

I would also like to thank my friends and colleagues, especially Anne, Kim, Raymond, Sarah, Alison, Hidé and Marion who have been unwavering in their support over the years. I also owe a special debt of gratitude to Rim, Lydia, Liam, Hoefel, Brian and the Gong Show/Danger Zone family for ensuring that I always get some physical activity, and that yes, I do even lift.

Finally, thank you to my family. Your love, support, guidance, and willingness to listen to me at all times of the day have allowed me to complete this project. Thank you.

“Oh no! What happened?” “W220.2XD: Walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter.”

Last week, I ran across this very entertaining piece over in Healthcare Dive about the new ICD-10 codes. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is an incredibly useful tool in public health that basically can reduce an injury to a series of numbers. As you can imagine, this is very powerful when it comes to determining if something is on the rise. Researchers can easily count the number of times something occurs, and if it’s up from previous years, there might be something there.

Part of the beauty of the ICD-10 codes is how specific they are. The previous system, ICD-9 (creative, I know) wasn’t nearly as specific as they only had 13,000 codes compared to the 68,000 in ICD10. With the advent of ICD-10, The Powers That Be have gone into painstaking detail breaking down injuries, diseases and other maladies into incredible precise codes that can be used by researchers and public health professionals.

Today, we’re going to go through my favourite ones.

Do you know what code it is if you get hit by a Macaw? Because one exists. | Photo via National Geographic

Do you know what code it is if you get hit by a Macaw? Because one exists. | Photo via National Geographic

W55.89XA: Other contact with other mammals
There are many codes for contact with mammals. Raccoons, cows, pigs and cats are all represented. However, the mighty seal is not covered, which made Buster Bluth very sad. He would have suffered from W55.89XA.

 

W61.12XA: Struck by macaw, initial encounter. ​

Look like our patient
*puts on sunglasses*
Is a little Macaw-struck
YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

(The other option here was for an AC/DC reference…)

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Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Commander Chris Hadfield captured the world’s imagination last year, when, from 13 March to 13 May 2013, he was the first Canadian Commander of the International Space Station. While aboard the ISS, Commander Hadfield did a series of “experiments,” both for scientists, but, perhaps most importantly, for youth. This included genuinely interesting questions like “How do you cry in space? (video above)” and “How do you cut your nails?” and the always important “How do you go to the bathroom?” His amicable nature and genuinely infectious enthusiasm brought science to the masses, and helped inspire thousands of youth.

Commander Hadfield performed at the 2013 Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa, ON | Picture courtesy David Johnson, click for more info

Commander Hadfield performed at the 2013 Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa, ON | Picture courtesy David Johnson, click for more info

Recently, Chris Hadfield released his book – “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.” My sister waited in line for 3 hours at our local Costco to get me a signed copy for my birthday, and I finally got around to reading it for this review. The book follows the life of Chris Hadfield as he becomes the commander of Expedition 35, detailing his attitude and the path he took to become the first Canadian Commander of the ISS. The book is split into three broad sections leading up to Expedition 35 titled “Pre-Launch,” “Liftoff” and “Coming Down to Earth,” with several chapters within each section.

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Bullet Points: This article has no waiting period

In December of 2012, I was asked my thoughts on the Sandy Hook shooting on Twitter, and if I was going to write about it through a public health lens. I said no – I didn’t want to weigh in so soon, and I didn’t really know where to start. Sandy Hook capped off a year where 130,437 people were shot by firearms. Of these, 31,672 people died, with almost 60% listed as suicides. Since that exchange, there have been several more mass shootings (defined as 4 or more fatalities in one instance – not including the shooter), and I kept surfing the internet to explore the arguments on both sides of the gun control debate. As pointed out by Kathleen Bachynski over on The 2×2 Project’s series on gun violence, aptly titled “Fully Loaded“, if “measles or mumps killed 31,672 people a year, we would undoubtedly consider the situation to be a public health emergency.”

Smith_&_Wesson_Model_29_retouched

The Smith & Wesson Model 29 became a classic after the Dirty Harry movies starring Clint Eastwood were released

The issue is, I’m not inherently against owning firearms. Sure, I don’t understand it, and it makes little to no sense to me how owning a gun makes you feel safer given how every other country in the Western world doesn’t and they seem to be getting along just fine, but that’s not the point. Many gun owners own firearms for self-defence, but use them mainly for fun and recreation – shooting targets and hunting are two of the major uses. More importantly though, Americans don’t want to give up their firearms, and that attitude isn’t going away any time soon: Anyone who thinks advocating for a universal ban on firearms in the US is wasting their time.

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What to do in Kingston this summer…. Part 4

I’m now in the midst of my sixth Kingston summer. Between the Masters and PhD, I’ve been here for a few years, and every year I find myself looking forward to the same things every time the campus clears out and the summer starts up (I’m a creature of habit, what can I say). But Kingston still surprises every year, and new things show up every year that keep things interesting. Amanda, Sharday and Rachel have all weighed in, and now it’s my turn! :)

 

The chocolate raspberry smoothie from Sipps is crazy delicious.

The chocolate raspberry smoothie from Sipps is crazy delicious.

1) Best summer eats

This is a toughie. Rule 1: Everything is better on a patio. Woodenheads, Atomica, The Toucan, their food is just better when you’re sitting outside enjoying it. I’m a big fan of the Pomegranate Italian Soda at Atomica, but this year I “discovered” the raspberry chocolate smoothie at Sipps. It was delicious, and I highly recommend it.

I’ll also add in the Kingston Olive Oil Company. It’s got lots of gourmet olive oils and vinaigrettes available, and is a great way to spice up a meal with some fancy olive oils accompanied by fresh bread from Pan Chancho. I recommend the fig vinaigrette and garlic olive oil, but you can try them all out in the store and see if one strikes your fancy!

2) Best ice cream place

Ice cream!! Is there a more summery meal? I think not. My favourite place by a mile is White Mountain – mainly because you can get ice cream, then wander down to Confederation Basin and watch the boats come in. It’s a great way to spend an evening. As Rachel pointed out though, they only accept cash, so come prepared!

3) Best spot for drinks

I’m a big fan of the patio at the Brew Pub – it’s got a nice, secret garden-esque vibe going on. Plus the food there is delicious! Try the salted pretzels with a beverage of your choice. It’s a great post-work-pre-dinner snack (thanks to Kim for showing me the light on that!)

4) Best summer locations

I love Confederation Basin. Sitting out, watching the water and the boats, and chatting with friends is one of my favourite ways to spend lazy summer days. People are milling around, some have blankets out, there are families walking their dogs and children playing. It’s just a really nice atmosphere. And it’s super close to the aforementioned ice cream.

5) Best summer festivals

Two of my favourite events are Movies In the Square and the Kingston Buskers Festival (July 10 – 13). The former is a great outdoor experience (bring your own chair though!) and they show the classics. This year, they’re showing Jurassic Park, Princess Bride and Space Jam (among others)!

The Buskers Festival is another fun one to watch – especially the fire show. The Buskers are incredibly skilled and really entertaining for the whole family, and they really bring the city to life. It culminates with a final show at Confederation Basin with the best Buskers pulling out all the stops to really blow you away. I highly recommend it!

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This marks my final post on Gradifying, and so I’d like to thank all my co-authors – Sharday, Megan, Rachel, Amanda – for their input and support, as well as Colette Steer for her guidance with this position. I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys do next!

This lab went on a coffee run. What they did next will surprise you…

THEY VOTED.

THEY ALL WENT TO AN ADVANCE POLLING STATION NEAR THEIR WORKPLACE AND VOTED.

We’re going to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to talk about the 2014 Ontario Provincial Election. The election is currently scheduled for June 12, and stations will be open around the country at many different locations.

But why wait?

 

You can go and vote here. Over lunch. It’s that simple.

 

Right now, you can go to the JDUC and vote. Easy as that. Show up with a photo ID with your current address in Kingston. Or, if you’re like me and don’t have your current address on your drivers licence, show up with your existing ID (such as a drivers licence), and something else that proves that you live in Kingston. I used my Telus phone bill, but I’m sure you can use other things. You’ll have to fill out some paperwork, but that’s straightforward and the clerks are more than happy to help you. It’ll take you the same time you’d spend waiting in line at Tim’s during exam season.

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY – ALMA MATER SOCIETY
Location: LOWER CEILIDH LOUNGE
Address: 99 UNIVERSITY AVE, KINGSTON, ON K7L 3N6.
Access for people with disabilities: Please contact the Returning Office below for information on the accessibility of this location.
Days and Hours of Operation: 1/6, 2/6, 3/6, 4/6, 5/6, 6/6/2014. 10 AM to 8 PM.

 

Here’s my beef. None of the political parties care about our demographic. And why should they – we don’t show up, we don’t vote, and thus, we don’t matter. The programs and policies they develop are aimed at the boomers because THE BOOMERS VOTE. We don’t. But if we start showing up, even if we’re not 100% sold on a party, we’ll start being noticed as an important voice. And once that happens, they will have to start tailoring messaging and programming to us. I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you are informed and pick the person who best represents you and your interests and hopes for Ontario.

So show up. Bring your lab. Bring your friends. Encourage everyone you know to vote and exercise their civic responsibility and make their voice heard. Make a field trip out of it. Because if we don’t vote, nothing is going to change.

“Voting is not a horse race, you’re not going there thinking “Gee, I gotta pick the winner so I can brag to my friends ‘Oh, I picked so-and-so and he or she won'”. Voting is voting your heart and voting your conscience and when you’ve done that, don’t ever, EVER let a Democrat or Republican tell you that you’ve wasted your vote because the fact is, if you DON’T vote your heart and conscience then you HAVE wasted your vote.”

― Jesse Ventura

For more information, go to:
www.wemakevotingeasy.ca
http://www.elections.on.ca/en-ca
http://www.cbc.ca/elections/ontariovotes2014/
http://www.cbc.ca/elections/ontariovotes2014/votecompass

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