That crisp autumn air and the promise of a fresh year ahead

McGill Campus in the Fall. Photo: Claudio Calligaris

And so, gradually, comes the change in season. Flipflops are slowly — stubbornly almost –relinquishing themselves to boots, red and orange leaves are falling and fluttering about, and the light has changed. There is a definite, unmistakable autumn glow, and the old buildings on campus look like they are showing off a different face now, one that catches our eye in this light, and makes us surprisingly tilt our heads up to the sky on our everyday way home.

With the change in season and change in light comes a noticeable change in rhythm; campus feels livelier now, refreshed and revived with its student population. But there’s also a certain freshness and promise in the air, at least for me — a distinct sense of a Beginning, for new students but also returning ones. It’s a new academic year, a chance to take a great big deep breath and tackle our goals with newfound energy. As fresh as the top page of a notepad (or at least one where you’ve torn off all no-longer-appealing previous pages) or a highlighter that still colors the words on your page in a happy, bright yellow. 

I wish you all the best possible year ahead. I hope you feel this sense of rekindled energy within you and are able to breathe in deeply and continue your studies, your research, and your life in between. I wish that you’ll be able to set wonderful (sometimes realistic and sometimes just slightly over-ambitious) goals for yourself this year, and that you’ll believe in yourself to achieve them. I hope you’ll take some moments to look ahead and plan your year, but also to look back on your accomplishments over the year that’s past. Feel proud of your progress, big or small, and keep that courage to go on, when there are more questions than answers, and more long days and nights than there are days off.

I encourage you to find inspiration where you can, be it a favorite place to study, or a quiet walk on charming Plateau streets on a Sunday morning. It will keep your heart alive and well when your head is working like crazy. Try to keep that “I can do this!” optimistic feeling in you, even if buried in some little corner inside of you, so you can retrieve it when (if) you have doubts, down-days or confused-days throughout the year, and for when you’re so tired that you can’t think straight. That feeling of empowerment that you have now on this crisp autumnal campus with the entire Fall and Winter terms stretched ahead of you — bottle it up and store it in case of need.

Please remember to stay positive and confident in your abilities — you haven’t gotten this far for nothing — and to stay strong, because life tends to throw things at you for fun, without mercy that you’re also doing your PhD at the same time. Surround yourself with the people and the things you love, and give yourself some down time. The hardest expectations are sometimes (often) not our supervisor’s, our family members’ or our peers’, but our own. No matter how busy you may be, try to make some time for others — your colleagues and peers who may need your feedback, your expertise, or just your company. It can be a humbling and rewarding process, as a scientist and a person.

I wish you all this for the coming year, and I not-so-secretly wish that I, too, can keep my own words in mind, through all the ups and downs that a grad student’s life can bring. I think we’re pretty fortunate, in the end, to have the opportunities we do, and the jobs that we do. If we keep that in mind and strive for a healthy balance for our hearts and souls, I think we’ll have an amazing year.

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