The life of a lab rat: my RMP experience

Now that I’m across the ocean, I’m meeting a lot of new people and there is always the obligatory “Where are you from/what are you studying/what do you want to do with your life?” conversations.

And then of course, when I tell people I go to a small liberal arts college (where the large lecture halls here in Belgium could probably accommodate all of our first year students), they usually can’t relate – and often question why I chose to go there.

When I graduated high school, I was lucky enough to have good grades and enough community involvement and leadership experience to get into all of the programs I applied to. I could have chosen to go anywhere! All of my choices seemed viable, and were really great options for me – each school and program had it’s own perks that made deciding on ONE very confusing and difficult.

While I chose Glendon for many reasons, there was a really cool opportunity that really stood out for me and helped to define my first few years of my undergrad.

It’s called the Research Mentorship Program, and I set my sights on being a candidate pretty early in the game.

See, RMP is very unique and an AMAZING way to apply classroom learning to hands-on research in academia. It creates a forum for:

  • certain professors to hire students as research assistants to aide in the execution of many different tasks
  • students as early as 1st year to be a part of the research process and discover more about the everyday investigative work that shapes what they will learn about their chosen field of study WHILE being paid fairly for their contributions.

Once my application was reviewed and approved, I eagerly awaited to find out more about who my mentoring professor would be. I was incredibly grateful to be paired with political science professor Francis Garon.

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I took this photo from the York website, I swear

I’m an Anglophone, and Garon is a native French-speaker from Québec, so right away our research relationship was intensely bilingual. I was really grateful to have a mentor who encouraged me to speak French, and helped me get comfortable with my fluency. Of course, we also mastered the art of Franglais and that of word-inventing.

When it came to the research job, I had a lot of different tasks. I catalogued a lot (and somehow managed to teach myself how to use a spreadsheet), ran literature reviews, analyzed interviews, and colour-coordinated so many things. I was also surprised and humbled to be a part of the brainstorming process when deciding where to go next with the research.

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I also usually brought candy to our morning meetings…that’s brain food, right?

We used qualitative and quantitative methods to study the management of the settlement of immigrants in Western cultures. We questioned EVERYTHING; What kinds of administrative and cultural aid does one receive from organizations, charities, and the government? How are immigrants perceived when they arrive, and during their integration into a community? How are communities changed?

One of the most frustrating parts of our research also turned out to be one of my favourites. We spent months brainstorming up a matrix system to link one’s privilege (race, language, gender, age, class) and one’s ability to participate in deliberative democracy. During this period, we threw all caution to the wind and wrote on nearly any paper we could find (including receipts, napkins, and paper bags) with hot pink highlighter. I still have this smorgasbord in a folder somewhere…

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How I look during brainstorming sessions

Looking back on it, I am so grateful to have had the chance to connect with this program – it shaped my academic and life goals a lot. I learned that I require a lot of patience when it comes spreadsheets and paper work. I can write a comprehensive literature review, which has been super helpful in my upper years.

Being a part of Professor Garon’s work and the inspiring mentorship I received were invaluable for me as an undergraduate student. He is an incredible mind who cares a ton about both his students and his work, like many other Glendon professors I know.

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I have since realized that while I like learning about the academic side of organization and community management, I would much rather be on the ground and in the thick of it. I hope to take the theory I learned from him and invest it in my future goal of working with immigrants in changing communities.

Much lab rat love and DFTBA,

  • K
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