Harry at McGill in Montréal
Christmas came and went and it has been a week shy of a month since term restarted. No one was without a little anxiety for the impending workload however as with the end of any holiday there is also an ounce of excitement lurking within since, after all, we do all enjoy studying a little bit. Otherwise we would not be here.
Everyone, exchanges and full-time students, had stories to share from their break and it was invigorating to hear everyone had got up to. There were a number of us (us collectively referring to exchange students) who had returned home for the holiday. Upon their return there was this slightly surreal moment where they were incessantly questioned about the state of the country as if we were living in some previous epoch without internet where we aren’t fully aware of what is going on in our home country. I was bestowed the generous gift of Marmite from lands afar.
The extravagances that I have mentioned in the previous blog had taken its toll on my finances however and if you are considering exchange in a part of the world where you would like to stay on after your period of study to travel then January and February are the ideal time to start planning said travel arrangements.
Consequently the few first weeks of term for me have been investigating the employment situation on campus at McGill for if you are on exchange (and not from France) then you are not permitted to work off campus. Unfortunately the majority of employment occurs before the start of each semester and so by the 7th of January it was already a bit late to apply for a job. Though such a petty detail would not hinder my efforts.
My first endeavour was to apply for the advertised positions in the Student Society of McGill Undergraduate (SSMU) building which included coat check services, kitchen staff, cashiers and other exciting opportunities. In consideration of the fact that it has been near a month since I applied for these positions and have heard nought in response I suspect my application may have been unsuccessful…
Building upon this failure I concluded that there might be more success found in approaching hiring members of staff directly with a trusty CV and covering letter tucked betwixt my arm and torso. This is actually recommended by the website page that advises students on how to get employed at McGill.
Following a tip-off for one of the squishier jobs with a high employee turnover rate I proceeded to send a couple of emails off to the McGill phonathon initiative. Now, this is one I was actually quite excited to apply for. It involves calling alumni of McGill and asking if they would be so generous as to donate money to the institution they once attended.
Peculiarly perhaps the prospect of calling a number of strangers with the intention of asking for money sounds like a fun sort of challenge. Finances are usually quite an intimate thing to discuss and so one would imagine in these phone conversations there is a bit of benign chatter, idle inquisition and talk of the weather etc. Though with what I presume is a small probability of a random spot check there is ample opportunity to get chatting with some fascinating graduates of McGill.
Envisaging myself having a relaxed back and forth with a biochemistry major who has their own start-up in Silicon Valley or perhaps an economic anthropologist studying the Wall Street types in New York City I keenly sent off the application.
The previous employee who had tipped me off said the conversations more often than not took the form of mild abuse but I remained optimistic. I’ve yet to hear back from McGill phonathon concerning my application.
The searched continued and I found myself in all the University halls of residences cafeterias. The idea to apply here was primarily driven by the fact that free food was one of the perks of the job. If I were to work the dinner shift from 18:00 to 23:00 then I’d not only earn money but save money on tea! It would likely be a better meal than I’d be able to cook as well.
There were enough cafeterias to choose from that I felt statistically speaking there was a good chance of getting work, but long story short I’m on a waiting list until some current employees decides they can no longer hack it. I wish them strife.
With the intention to provide advice for anyone considering on campus work at McGill: get in early. The have a work study program (which if you are a part of gives you higher priority for employment) you may be eligible for if you are on a maximum government bursary however I am unsure whether or not that is available to exchange students. If you google McGill on campus jobs one of the first links is a list of all available opportunities, so it is really just a matter of pursuing them.
My final resolution was to get a research placement in one of the chemistry labs in the months after my period of studying but preceding my period of travel. They actual pay you for doing that here… If you have been working with a professor for the year then they will be much more inclined to keep you on an extra month or two since you’ll be familiar with the environment and the work they are interested in. This applies for sciences or humanities. However it is my understanding there is a little more courting involved with the latter whereas the former is entirely base on whether or not your GPA is good enough.
Most faculties host networking-esque events as well. I write this mere days after attending a What is Hot in Chemistry cheese and wine evening where one was able to appreciate presentations given by members of faculty then watch them get slightly tipsy. It was good fun to see everyone in a more relaxed setting and believe it or not academic staff are human. Shocker. Of course these are perfect scenarios in which you can put your name in front of someone you would want to work with over summer. Especially if your lecture attendance has been less than perfect…
Oh, and on a final note if you are a bit down at the beginning of term at McGill (and don’t have job hunting to keep you occupied) just get in touch with your friends back in the UK because they’ll probably be in the midst of exam seasons still. Silver linings.