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U n i v e r s i t y o f M a n i t o b a’ s G r a d ua t e S t u d e n t M a g a z i n e Jan uary 2010

This issue: Travel, see the world, sleep on some guy’s couch Contest: Have fun with your thesis, win a pipe Sessional instructors talk out about working conditions

A cure for the dull thesis PhD challenge brings fun to academia by Leif Larsen


h the journal article, the crowning achievement of academics for centuries . . . so noble, so proper, so boring. Wait, boring? Well yes, to put it bluntly. If you and I were sitting beside each other at a dinner party, and you proudly announced that you spend time in the library reading journal articles, for fun, I might be inclined to fake an aneurism. It’s not the articles’ fault, they are meant to be records of achievement and learning, not entertainment. And while the occasional person comes along, whose grasp of the English language is so total that they can turn an otherwise dull paper into a work of humour and wit, this is certainly the exception, and not the rule. Luckily for those of us with normal to questionable grasps of English (many past instructors of mine would argue that I fall into the latter category), the “PhD Challenge” has taken on the role of trying to inject some pizzazz into our academic papers. The PhD Challenge was started in 2010, when the organization dared graduate students to include the phrase “I smoke crack rocks” into a published and peerreviewed academic paper. The winner was Gabriel Parent from Carnegie Mellon University, whose paper Toward Better Crowd Sourced Transcription: Transcription of a Year of the Let’s Go Bus Information System Data included the line: “For example, a caller could yell: “I smoke crack rocks,” which isn’t likely to be correctly parsed by the grammar, and for which words are not in the dictionary.” For his trouble Parent was given “a box of chicken-flavored Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup, a pack of leather elbow patches and the official 2010 PhD Challenge winning paper certificate,” according to the website The organization has upped the ante in 2011, by making the challenge more difficult and more obvious to external reviewers. In order to be eligible for the 2011 prize, candidates must include either “dirty old man” or “crazy cat lady” in the byline for “at least one author of a final, camera-ready version of a peer-reviewed academic paper.” John “dirty old man” Smith is given as an acceptable example by According to the website, the nickname must appear on the front page of a paper that is at least three pages long, and published in the journal of an English-speaking academic organization. Sounds too crazy, too risky? Well perhaps the prize package consisting of: The Official 2011 PhD Challenge Winning Paper Award Certificate, one Meerschaum Calabash Professor’s Pipe, a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (4th Edition) and one autographed 8×10 photograph (subject TBA) will be enough to entice you to enter. Despite the name, entrants need not be PhD candidates to participate, and while the contest is geared towards graduate students, the website does claim that an “distinguished” paper published by an undergraduate planning on attending graduate school would be considered. Think you have what it takes to win the 2011 PhD Challenge? The contest is currently open, but you only have until Nov. 30, 2011 to enter. The winner will be announced on Dec. 15, 2011.



University of Manitoba’s Graduate Student Magazine


c/o The Manitoban Newspaper Publications Corporation 105 University Centre University of Manitoba Winnipeg MB, R3T 2N2 General inquiries and advertising Phone: (204) 474.6086 Fax: (204) 474.7651 Email: Editor: Leif Larsen Reporter: Vacant Copy Editor: Laura Blakley Designer: Kevin Doole Contributors to this issue: Morgan Modjeski, Olivier Gagne .

The Gradzette is the official student newspaper of the University of Manitoba’s graduate student community and is published at the end of September, October, November, January February and March by The Manitoban Newspaper Publications Corporation. The Gradzette is a democratic student organization, open to participation from all students. It exists to serve its readers as students and citizens. The newspaper’s primary mandate is to report fairly and objectively on issues and events of importance and interest to the graduate students of the University of Manitoba, to provide an open forum for the free expression and exchange of opinions and ideas and to stimulate meaningful debate on issues that affect or would otherwise be of interest to the student body and/or society in general. The Gradzette serves as a training ground for students interested in any aspect of journalism. Students and other interested parties are invited to contribute. Please contact the Editor for submission guidelines. The Gradzette reserves the right to edit all submissions and will not publish any material deemed by its editorial board to be discriminatory, racist, sexist, homophobic or libelous. Opinions expressed in letters and articles are solely those of the authors. The Gradzette is a member of the Canadian University Press, a national student press cooperative with approximately 65 members from St. John’s to Victoria. All contents are ©2010 and may not be reprinted without the express written permission of the Manitoban Newspaper Publications Corporation. Yearly subscriptions to the Gradzette are available, please contact for more information.

New support for Aboriginal students pursuing advanced degrees Program hopes to increase equity through knowledge by Morgan Modjeski


PhD studies support program for aboriginal scholars will help address an “urgent” need for equality for aboriginal people in Canada. The program will provide aboriginal scholars pursuing a doctoral degree financial support of $20,000 per year in a “significant effort towards creating equity for aboriginal peoples in Canada,” said a report by Deo Poonwassie, professor emeritus at the U of M. Poowassie, who is the coordinator of the support program explained that higher education for aboriginal people is extremely important in terms of Aboriginal equality in Canada. “By training aboriginal scholars at the PhD level we can provide some degree of equality by producing valuable knowledge that will benefit our nation,” said Poonwassie. “In addition we need more Aboriginal leaders who are qualified at the highest levels that our society can afford.” He continued, “Of course there is no guarantee that PhDs would provide better leadership but the chances are better that aboriginal peoples with PhDs would provide a more enlightened world view for the benefit of aboriginal peoples and for the rest of society.” Poonwassie went on to explain that financial support provided to these aboriginal doctoral students through the program addresses some of the challenges these students face. “Simply navigating through the bureaucracy is challenging and very frustrating for people with family responsibilities,” he said. “Getting back into the flow of academia demands additional supports such as research engines and writing academic papers. The challenges of supporting extended families, paying mortgages while pursuing PhD studies become major challenges for several of the [program’s] students.” The support program will be developed in a cohort model consisting of 16 aboriginal doctoral students allowing students, “to focus on common critical issues that deserve in-depth research and investigation,” the website explained. The website further described the program, “The in-

tent is to create a firm foundation that will work for success. With this heightened confidence and awareness, aboriginal students will be able to contribute to the education of other persons in academia as well.” Members of the Aboriginal community say that a support programs aimed directly at supporting Aboriginal and Métis people with PhDs are extremely important in the maintaining of Aboriginal culture. “It’s important to increase the amount of First Nations and Métis people with expertise to further First Nation and Métis knowledge as it’s important to pass this information on to future students at the post-secondary level,” said Shirley Fontaine, the education coordinator at the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs. Fontaine went on to say the program itself is a good way to preserve knowledge of Aboriginal culture, but added that the best way is still to meet with elders within the culture. “It’s one way of increasing knowledge, but the best way of course it to meet with elders and other people who are knowledgeable about traditional practices,” she said. “It has to be a two prong approach done in partnership with First Nation and Métis communities and elders, having both a hands on aspect in addition to the academic content.” “It’s critically important to include First Nation and Métis elders because they’re the one’s who have first hand knowledge in terms of the appropriate cultural content,” she explained. “It’s not just about academics,” she added. According to Poonwassie, The support program currently has 16 full-time students, but because of budgetary restraints the program may not be accepting any students for the fall of 2011. Poonwassie explained, “the advisory council for this program is currently considering ways and means to raise enough funds to recruit students for the fall of 2012.” Adding that the progress of the program is on going, “The future of this program is still positive; under the leadership of Dr. Doering, dean of graduate studies, we have a very devoted and dynamic advisory council.”

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Surf your way to cultural enlig By sleeping on people’s couches


eaningful hugs are exchanged as they leave my place, and my life is changed once again. This happens almost every week. Unique experiences are lived and friendships are formed. I will miss them. This time they brought a piece of home to me, I hope our paths will cross again. The bond we created is special, one that will brave the passage of time. Two years ago I came across this wonderful organisation on a trip to Western Europe, called CouchSurfing. org, which describes itself as a “mutual aid organisation for travelers.” The organization introduces “hosts” (travelers “on standby”) willing to share their home and “surfers” (travelers away from home). Like everyone else, the first time I tried CouchSurfing was to save money. I was hosted in England and Germany. I was young and immature, and never really got to know who my hosts were, how they lived, their customs, or the underground jewels that only locals know. Inevitably, I ended up checking out places and sights I could’ve just as easily seen for free over the Internet. That’s why my trip was a failure. What a waste of time and money. Two years later, I came across another opportunity to go to Europe. This time, to the East. But before I left for Europe again, I thought it would be worth a shot to reactivate my long forgotten CouchSurfing account. I had realised my previous mistakes and had a theory on how to have “once in a lifetime” experiences, on a daily basis. Tourist attractions ain’t my thing anymore, if I want to see the Eiffel tower, I’ll Google it. The first thing that comes to mind when being hosted by strangers (even in a well-established community) is: “How do I know that this person is real and has good intentions — it’s for free right?” Well, horror stories belong in horror movies. Television might have programmed us to feel fear constantly but the thing is, the world is a beautiful place, and there are a lot of good-hearted human beings out there. CouchSurfing is a great channel for that. The community is web-established, and every member of the community has a profile on the website where you describe yourself, your interests, philosophies, etc., so that you know you will get along with your host, and will have things to talk about.



Don’t be intimidated; the website is user-friendly. Here’s how it works: Every time you host or get hosted, you leave a reference for that person — positive or negative — with a few sentences explaining your experience. That’s how you know who is for real, who’s experienced and who you will have a blast with. Easy as one-two-three! You see a profile with no references; you go to the next one. You see a profile with a ton of lengthy references left from people around the world, and you have things in common? Bingo! Predators, if they do exist, won’t have those. There is also a vouching system for highly trusted members. So if you are a bit worried about travelling abroad to begin with, and you’re not too confident about this, contact the people with the most references you can find (five references begins to be trustable, 15 is great, 75+ is someone you want to talk to), and see if you can find The first thing that comes some that has been to mind when being vouched for. hosted by strangers: ‘How Getting back to my story. do I know that this person I landed in has good intentions?’ Warsaw, Poland but I unfortunately could not find a CouchSurfing host. So I thought I’d find my way to the Hard Rock Cafe and see if I could force some locals into talking to me by buying them a round. Good thinking, because good things happened. I met a backpacker from Calgary on the way there (thanks to the little Canadian flag on his bag). We went together and spent four hours chatting with the bartenders. When the place closed, we barhopped with the bartenders and their friends until six in the morning. Great memories — don’t ask me about Warsaw castle. I remember it was made out of rocks or something. Later on my trip I was hosted in Vienna by a CouchSurfer user for three days. I wish I could describe in words what this experience was. Fabian, a German student in Vienna, hosted me at his flat with his flatmates. It was an eye-opening, heart-beating, insightful experience of the city that you don’t get that staying at a hotel or hostel. Hanging out with locals is an ultimate experience that CouchSurfing greatly facilitates. It left me thinking on the train ride

nlightenment by Olivier Gagne

to Bratislava: “One day, I will live in Vienna.” I still feel the exact same way; I could never forget those feelings. A week later I was at my destination in Hungary for a conference. I had a hotel booked. What a shame I thought, “how am I supposed to have a good time now?” I still contacted a few CouchSurfers to hang out with during the evenings. Don’t forget, hosting is also a major part of the community; half of it to be exact. Hosting people from around the world is like traveling from your own home. You experience their culture in exchange for yours. The people that hosted me in Europe are also surfers. In fact, I stayed at my friend Kristina’s place in Bratislava, and not a month before I was giving her the Winnipeg tour. How special is that! My surfers Virginie and Audrey left this morning for Regina,

where they are being hosted tonight. They left their whole life behind a week ago, just like that, on a quest to discover who they are and have a profound human experience. To that, I say “Bravo.” I feel privileged to be part of it, and as they head to the Great West I’ll see if I can join them during the Holidays in Banff or Vancouver for a little snowboarding. As a lump in my throat grows with the remembrance of all these once in a lifetime experiences I’ve had since being an active member of the CouchSurfing community, I cannot rightfully explain the human experience you get from these exchanges. So I say, try it. Live it. That’s what I did. CouchSurf, stay with locals and make the experience real. If I want to see Eastern Europe again, I’ll fly there again — plain and simple.

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How much is

Sessional instructors se

GSA Upcoming Events: GSA Executive Meeting

Venue: GSA Office Starting: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 (5:00 pm) A meeting of the GSA Executive.

GSA Council Meeting

Venue: UMSU Council Chambers, 176 Helen Glass Starting: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 (4:00 pm) A meeting of the GSA Council.

GSA Executive Meeting

Venue: GSA Office Starting: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 (5:00 pm) A meeting of the GSA Executive. These are really the only events.

For more info, visit or visit the GSA offices: Fort Garry campus - 221 University Centre Health Sciences campus - 114 Brodie Centre


Gradzette relies on paid freelance submissions from graduate students. To find out more email:




ow much is a good teacher worth?” This is a question that appeared on fliers handed out at the University of Manitoba at the end of October, highlighting the working conditions of sessional

instructors. “Along with student employees, sessional instructors on campus are, generally speaking, an unfairly employed sector of academic workers,” according to Ana Vialard, a sessional instructor and one of the union activists behind CUPE’s Fair Employment Week. A sessional instructor is a person who is hired on a contract basis to teach a single course. They are often people with advanced degrees and plenty of experience, however they lack the pay and job security of a member of the U of M’s faculty. Vialard also says they are rarely provided with the resources they need to teach effectively. John Danakas, the director of public affairs for the university says that one of the reasons the university chooses to use sessional instructors is because they provide students “an opportunity to learn from practitioners with professional expertise. This is a matter of exposing students directly to professional expertise.” Danakas went on to say that sessionals are also used to fill in temporarily for faculty on leave. “There are courses that would not be taught, and departments [and/or] faculties try to ensure that core curriculum is covered during the period of time when some faculty members are on leave.” Danakas also said that by employing sessional instructors, the university can offer a wider variety of courses. Vialard highlights working conditions as one example of how sessionals are treated unfairly. “As far as working conditions are concerned, many sessionals do not have office space, or [they] share a small office with more than one other employee. Sessionals are compelled to bring laptops to work even though we receive no expense account. And confidential meetings with students are very difficult.” Matt McLean, the president of CUPE 3909, the union which represents sessional instructors, says that many have been teaching at the U of M for “10, 15 or 20 years” without a long-term contract. On the bright side, McLean stated that in the last round of bargaining, CUPE 3909 won a “first right of refusal” policy for sessional instructors who have taught the same course five different times, however, Vialard says that “there are far too many ways to disqualify a [sessional

is a good teacher rs seek fair employment worth? by Leif Larsen

instructor] from any sort of job security.” Furthermore, until they have taught a course five times, a sessional instructor still has to reapply for their job every term. Vialard adds, “many sessionals only work during one term, so even if they do get hired, there is a good chance that they will be laid off at some point during the year.” According to Vialard and McLean, there is also an issue with how sessional instructors are paid. “The university really underestimates the number of hours a sessional instructor works,” says McLean, who went on to explain that a sessional instructor is paid for 12 hours of work a week; three for instructing and nine for preparation. This may sound like a lot to a student, but McLean says that those nine hours for preparation include “all your marking, all your office hours, responding to emails, responding to phone calls [ . . . ] basically everything.” This often results in unpaid overtime. Furthermore, since “contracts start in September or January [ . . . ] ultimately [student instructors] are not paid for course planning prior to the start [of term],” says Vialard. Vialard adds that in addition to the hours and unpaid overtime, there is also the matter of wages. A sessional instructor makes less than $27 per hour. While this may seem like a lot to a student making minimum wage, the maximum a sessional instructor can make in a year — if they are lucky enough to work a full course load and take no breaks — is less than $45,000. Vialard says that by comparison, a high school teacher with a comparable degree begins with a higher wage than a sessional instructor at the U of M. When asked about the pay received by sessionals and their job security, Danakas said “[t]here are job security provisions in the collective agreement for sessionals; and the university’s position is that their rates of pay are competitive.” With contract negotiations fast approaching, it would seem that while the university and CUPE 3909 are in agreement about the value of sessional instructors, they may not see eye to eye in regards to wages and job security.

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U of M releases time to completion report Report says U of M grad students are taking too long to complete their degrees, students wonder ‘is this a problem?’ by Leif Larsen


n August of this year, the faculty of graduate studies released a report on the amount of time University of Manitoba graduate students were taking to complete their degrees. The report indicated that a significant number of graduate students were taking too long to complete their programs. According to the Time to Completion Report (TtCR), as of 2009, 32 per cent of full-time masters students had been in their program for more than two years, with 17 per cent in the program for four or more years. Similarly, 34 per cent of full-time doctoral students had been in their program for more than four years with 21 per cent in the program for six or more years. These numbers are above the national median values, according to the report. The TtCR task force, which generated the report, identified several potential contributing factors to the long completion times, they include: graduate student funding, inadequate supervision of students, coursework, research and demographics. Among other measures, the report recommended lowering the maximum time to complete a graduate degree to 36 months for a master’s and 72 months for a doctorate. This, according to John Danakas, the director of Public Affairs for the U of M, would bring the university in line with the maxima for other medical-doctoral universities. Currently, according to the TtCR, the maximum time allotted to complete a master’s or doctorial degree is 60 and 84 months, respectively. The current maxima would continue to apply for parttime graduate students. According to Meaghan Labine, the president of the U of M’s Graduate Students Association (GSA), the GSA has mixed feelings about the report. “The components which help a graduate student [ . . . ] complete in a timely manner include: strong mentors, departmental support, funding, clarity of program expectations and a proper training environment.” Labine went on to say that if any of these pillars fail, a student could experience difficulty, leading to them needing more time to complete a degree.



In regards to the recommendation, that the maximum time allotted to complete a degree be lowered, Labine felt that this would fail to address the problem at hand. “To assume that students want to remain within the program indefinitely, or are purposely delaying their graduation, is inaccurate.” She added that lowering the maximum time a student has to complete a degree fails to address the root cause of the problem. “If the core impediments [to shorter completion times] are addressed and rectified, then [reducing] the maximum time on completion may become a non issue.” Andrew Miller, a recent graduate from the U of M’s doctoral program, sees several problems with the report, chief among them that the report specifically identifies a lack of funds as an impediment to graduating on time, but recommends adding financial disincentives to people taking longer than the prescribed amount of time to finish. Miller also would have liked for the report to address why finishing within the prescribed amount of time so important: “What is the big deal? [ . . . ] I just don’t see the connection between the numbers they present and ‘something must be done to change this state of affairs.’” In line with Labine’s comments, the report also identified the relationship between students and faculties as something that strongly affects time-to-completion. “Graduate students need to be — in general — more closely and more consistently monitored by their advisor and — in particular — by their respective unit.” The report also noted that faculty who supervise a significant number of graduate students, in addition to their regular research and teaching duties, should be more closely monitored, to ensure that they are providing adequate support to all their students. According to Danakas, the university welcomes the TtCR, and is “committed to ensuring that all (graduate) students receive the highest possible educational experience while completing their studies in a timely manner.” The report will now be presented to the faculty for feedback, a process Danakas says should be completed later in 2011.

January 2011 Gradzette  
January 2011 Gradzette  

This is the January 2011 edition of the Gradzette