Although I’m well aware that I’m supposed to write a blog entry for “My Master Plan” about every six weeks, the due dates always seem to sneak up on me. When your head is down and focused on readings, projects, and assignments, it’s easy to lose track of time. Once you come up for some air, it’s a bit of shock to notice that the calendar already says March, and then you realize how much closer you are to completing your first year of graduate school.

It was about this time last year that I found out I was accepted into the Master of Science program at MUN. Of course, when I accepted my offer, I didn’t expect that I would be writing a blog about my journey through my first year in the program. When I reflect back upon hearing the news that I was coming to St. John’s to commence graduate school, my first feeling was pure excitement – I was so happy that I had what the admission’s committee felt was necessary to do well in the science program. Shortly after being accepted, the excitement was immediately followed by nervousness. This was simply because I had no idea what to expect from graduate school. If I had read a graduate school’s online blog like My Master Plan last year, I think my initial anxieties would have been alleviated quite quickly. So, all of that was to say that I really hope that the entries from the other bloggers and myself are insightful to you as you navigate your journey toward (or in) graduate school. Who knows, maybe you’ll be one of the bloggers next year, and your stories might encourage others contemplating a graduate program!

I’m looking forward to the next couple of months at school because March and April are the times of the year that graduate students generally receive news about funding support they have applied for, and conferences they have applied to present research at. I had originally applied for funding through SSHRC, part of the Tri-Council Funding Agencies, to have support on a research project that I’m working on in my team’s lab. I’m now eagerly waiting to see if I will be successful with securing funding for the project. The program of research piece of the funding application was limited to one page, and it was quite challenging to take a full project idea and try to convey its purpose in a small space. I definitely learned a lot through that writing process about how to refine ideas and communicate a new research idea effectively to people who may not be as familiar with the topic as I am. My supervisor and another student lab member always had helpful tips and suggestions for me during that process, and I’m constantly grateful for their guidance in this and many other academically related endeavours. In fact, I’ve come to learn that being able to efficiently communicate research ideas in a small writing space is a key skill to develop, and constantly practice. Outside of funding applications, there are many other opportunities that this skill will come in handy. For example, various academic competitions such as the SSHRC Storytellers contest or the Three Minute Thesis competition both require applicants to prepare a presentation that challenges the student to explain their research in limited space. Thus, perfecting the skill of effective communication can open up many opportunities to you, and the Storytellers or Three Minute Thesis are just two examples. In fact, MUN is hosting the Eastern Regionals Three Minute Thesis competition in April. Be sure to go over and support our own students in the competition. Details regarding the event will be posted online soon.

As for conferences, I’ve applied to present at two different conferences; one is a regional conference within the Atlantic Region, and the other is an International Conference in England. I’ve presented at conferences before and have always enjoyed the experience, but when I think about going to talk at a conference, I get those same feelings I had when I first heard I was going to be studying at Memorial – both excited and nervous. I’m excited because, if accepted, I would talk in front of my peers and other experts in the field. But I’m also nervous because I would have to talk in front of my peers and other experts in the field! Despite nerves, I know that conference presentations are just another way to hone verbal presentation and communication skills that are applicable not only in school (as exemplified above), but in all areas of life.

If accepted, I’ll be presenting data from a research project that I’ve been working on with some other lab members and colleagues. I am investigating aspects of alibis and their impact of the believability of alibis. Simply defined, an alibi is a claim as to why the alibi provider is not responsible for the alleged crime in question. Specifically, we looked at whether certain factors of an alibi’s content affected an evaluator’s assessment of the alibi’s believability. Moreover, we then explored which of these factors had the greatest impact on the evaluator’s decision. One of the five factors we considered was changes in alibi detail. For example, if a suspect stated that they did not commit the crime because they were at home playing a computer game (during the time that the crime was said to have taken place), and then moments later changed their story to say they weren’t playing a computer game but rather they were lifting weights in the basement, would this change in detail make their alibi more or less believable to an evaluator? We also considered other content factors such as the type of activity that the alibi provider claimed to be engaged in (e.g., whether it was legal/illegal or salacious in nature), the specificity of the alibi’s detail, and whether adding necessary (vs. unnecessary) details to the alibi impacted the overall believability. What do you think we found? Well, you’ll have to keep an eye on the PAL lab’s publication page to find out.

Keep pushing through the last few weeks of class! The end of the semester is so close. Good luck with your papers, assignments, and research endeavours!

Until next time…