Hello! I hope that everyone took the time to either relax or catch up on their studies/readings during the break. I write the latter part of that sentence with a bit of a smirk because that sentiment is often filled with good intentions at the start of the break for many students (“I will get so much work completed during this reading week!”), but these intentions can often be famous-last-words of students and look different by the end of the break (“What do you mean classes started yesterday?”). Regardless of whether you met your goals for the break or not, simply just having a change of routine is a good thing and it was surely to your benefit no matter what you did.

For part of the winter semester it seemed like all I did was fill out numerous application forms for anything and everything; ranging from doctoral studies applications, to funding scholarships and bursaries. For anyone desiring to continue their studies at the doctoral level, the application process is obviously part of the package deal, and to an extent, so is applying for funding. Typically, the funding target is the Tri-Council Funding Agency.  Indeed, make sure you do apply for support from this agency, but I would also encourage you to look beyond this source as well. One example of an external funding source to consider is the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. I recently applied for this award and was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was selected as a university nominated applicant to be considered in the national pool. Regardless of whether you are successful at receiving financial supports for your studies, there is still inherit value in applying for these awards. It shows that you are interested in and committed to your education. It is also revealing of your engagement in the research process and shows that you have the ability to see and sell the importance of your research. Applying for these awards is also a fantastic way to build and bring some diversity to your CV. Don’t under estimate this! In fact, I recently met with a professor about a research program at their school and during the meeting they made a point to tell me that they were impressed to see that I was actively engaged in applying for research support outside of the normal sources. Take this advice to the bank (pun intended); it is to your advantage to apply for as many of these supports as possible. Of course, the money in and of itself is nice and obviously welcomed, but showing active engagement on your CV can pay dividends in other diverse ways too.

Beyond the piles and piles of applications I have worked on, a lot of other activity has taken place in my academic world. I had the chance to go a bit beyond the typical student experience and broaden my learning avenues, and build a network of colleagues outside of Memorial’s walls. Let me take a moment to catch you up on my recent experiences.

In the recent months, I had a chance to take a leave from my lab at Memorial and visit a research lab at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ontario. In particular, I visited the Applied Law Enforcement Research and Training (ALERT) Laboratory and got the chance to meet and hang out with the lab’s director, Dr. Joseph Eastwood, and his students. All of this came about as part of a connection made last year through my supervisor, Dr. Brent Snook. Last year, I was invited to work on a project that Joe was spearheading in collaboration with Brent. To make a long story short, I decided to become involved with the project, and this decision actually opened up a number of other research-related doors. For example, I was able to present some of these findings at regional and international conferences, and am also an author on the paper (again, all great CV stuff!). Beyond these welcomed by-products, this connection to Joe has also provided me with the opportunity to build connections with his students too. Finding common ground in research interests allows me the chance to work with knowledgeable people in my field and help contribute to their research. Similarly, they bring some valuable insight toward my research and also help me. Truly, when you have an opportunity to connect to others outside of your graduate lab and school, do it! These connections can go a long way and the people you meet – in my experience – want you to genuinely succeed at your work. These newly formed networks not only connect you to other like-minded people but they also open up the prospect of collaborating with others, and they make attending conferences more fun.  Having a cohort of peers beyond your home school who are going through the same graduate school experiences as you is a great network to have.

Outside of connecting with other researchers, also be on the lookout for participating in extra-curricular training that might be relevant to your research interests. I recently had this opportunity fall into my lap over the break. This past week, I participated in an investigative interviewing training session and learned about Advanced Cognitive Interviewing (Tier 3). Our lab hosted Brittany Blaskovits, a PhD student studying in the Police Research Lab at Carlton University, who is interested in learning more about the cognitive interview process as part of her PhD research. Again, my decision to partake in this training allowed me to develop another connection with a fellow forensic psychology researcher. Given that my supervisor is a leader in police and criminal investigation research, he provided this training for Brittany, Weyam (another lab colleague), and myself. I won’t go into great detail as to what the training was about, but I will give a tiny snapshot of what the training involved (speaking of snapshots, the above picture is a still image from a video recording of me practicing my cognitive interviewing skills). Essentially, the Advanced Cognitive Interview is an interview approach that differs greatly to the sort of police interviews you may see on TV (e.g., good cop / bad cop, asking lots of questions). This strategic approach, if used properly, can help an investigative interviewer receive enormous amounts of information from an interviewee without actually asking them a single question! It is also one of the best ways to protect against having the interviewer influence the interviewee’s memory. One of the biggest myths related to memory is that people think it works like a video recorder. That is, the underlying assumption is that people believe that you can replay your memories over and over again and retain all the information accurately (see an episode of a British series called Black Mirror that presents a clever take on this notion). However, according to research, this belief is in fact not true. The world leading expert on memory, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, gave a great TED talk about memory that really illustrates this point well. But I digress…

The main point that I’m trying to make throughout this blog is to say that there are plenty of opportunities at the graduate level that one may not fully consider. Connecting with other peers, researchers, and labs beyond your own, will be of great benefit to you. Networking at this level is key for setting yourself up for success now and in your future career. Additionally, participating in extra-curricular training sessions, like I mentioned above, not only gives you a new perspective and skill set, but also strengthens your CV and sets you apart from others. The take home message I’m trying to articulate is simply that you have a chance to really make your university graduate experience much more than just earning a degree. Capitalize on the options around you, and if they are not readily apparent, ask your supervisor for some direction. Just like the sign on the edge of our campus that says “Where people and ideas become…” you have the chance to fill in the blank with whatever you desire. Take some liberties and have fun making your graduate experience your very own.

Until next time…