This week we talked to two GradProSkills team members, Gabriela Macleod and Alex Albury, to learn about their experiences working in a challenging academic year leading and hosting workshops that happened exclusively online. They also share their paths and challenges as researchers and graduate students at Concordia University.
Gabriela is a master's student working on a research-creation project in Film Production at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University. Alex is a PhD student in the Psychology department and a member of the research team at the Penhune Lab for Motor Learning and Neural Plasticity.
What did you do before joining Concordia as a graduate student? And why did you join Concordia?
Gabriela: I have a Bachelor in Industrial Design from the Université de Montréal. Over the past years, I made movies and worked part-time. I decided to pursue a Master's degree because I needed a new intellectual challenge. I met with the program director at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema to understand how they structure their course. I was very excited to learn that the Master's in Film Production sits under a Fine Arts umbrella because the artistic approach allows me to continue making a film genre that is between fiction and experimental cinema.
Alex: I am an international doctoral student from the Bahamas with an undergraduate degree in Psychology in my home country. I also completed a master's in social sciences at the University of Chicago. I joined Concordia because my research interests fit well with my supervisor, Dr. Virginia Penhune. Moreover, Montreal hosts well-renowned research centres on the study of language, music cognition and neuroplasticity. I am part of the Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM) and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT).
What is your research topic about?
Gabriela: I work with moving collage that brings together moving liquid shapes and parts of the body in movement. I like working with the layering of textures and adding natural elements. My filmmaking style plays with moving images, so it fits somewhere between animation and traditional cinema. I expect to film and edit my work when access to Concordia studio is available to complete my degree.
Alex: I research how complexity, expectation, and enjoyment in music interact to affect how we learn an instrument. My research currently uses behavioural methods to study how people learn to play short melodies on the piano. In the future, I expect to use neuroimaging methods to investigate the neuroscience behind enjoyment and motor learning in music.
What is your current job position in GradProSkills?
Gabriela: I am a workshop host, and I assist workshop leaders in running online sessions smoothly. I help instructors to create a classroom environment that is engaging for students to learn more effectively. It is essential to welcome students at the beginning of the workshop to acknowledge their presence and make them feel like they are in the classroom to offset the lack of in-person interaction.
Alex: I am the workshop leader for Beginner's Guide to the R Programming Language (GPDI515), and Reproducible Scientific Analysis with R (GPDI515). I’m passionate about data science, and I enjoy sharing what I know with other grad students. I also co-host the Code Together drop-in sessions with Ivan Ruby, a new initiative launched by GradProSkills to support students to reserve time on their calendars to complete coding projects. Coding is a skill like writing, and you can only get better with practice.
Working With GradProSkills
Why did you decide to apply for a position with GradProSkills?
Gabriela: I have been interested in teaching and had some experience as a teaching assistant (TA), but I wanted to have more hands-on involvement with educational processes.
Alex: I had a few opportunities as a TA but I wanted to have more teaching experience. I always thought GradProSkills would be a great place to hone my teaching skills at the university level and I wanted to teach data science. I was very excited to apply for the job after receiving an email announcing GradProSkills opening positions.
What was your most valuable learning experience?
Gabriela: I applied to be a workshop host because I am technically savvy, so I thought I would be a good fit for the job. However, I was surprised by how important human interaction was the key to this role as you need to make attendees and workshops instructors welcomed in an online environment.
Alex: I have had in-person teaching experience, but the last year has pushed me to shift the way I teach online coding and programming. My in-person teaching style had been very hands-on as I moved around the classroom, helping students debug and fix their programs directly on their computers. The online teaching format removed this proximity with students, so I had to find ways to correct students' coding remotely.
What do you enjoy in your current position?
Gabriela: It is learning about new topics! I host several workshops across different fields that are not related to my career and academic interests. This incredible experience pushed me to learn new things and out of my comfort zone. For instance, I hosted the entire Indigenous workshop series. I really enjoyed the Q&A sessions to understand the Indigenous perspective as we grapple with our historical past.
Alex: I love getting students' questions during workshops because they often make me gain new programming perspectives that I didn't consider before. I also like to understand students' projects and recommend new approaches to their coding to advance their research in new ways.
What would you say to students applying to GradProSkills?
Gabriela: It is fun to be a host because you interact with students and several people inside and outside the GradProSkills team. The range of learning potential is the most motivating aspect since as a host you are working and learning the workshop content.
Alex: It is a great opportunity, and might not be as scary and intensive as it seems. The team is excellent and flexible. GradProSkills is one of the most accessible ways to take on a teaching opportunity within Concordia. I had experience teaching R as a TA for a statistics course in the Psychology department for two terms. I really enjoyed bringing my knowledge in R programming to a broader community of students who do not know anything about it, but are willing to experiment with coding. I was pleased to make coding in R accessible to students in social sciences and even artistic backgrounds.
How did your job with GradProSkills prepare you for your future career and academic plans?
Gabriela: I got the first-hand experience of a fully online learning environment over the past year. I noticed that specific topics work well with the online format without compromising students' learning. I realize how technology will shape the way we learn in the future. I have contemplated becoming a teacher, and seeing more and more content delivered remotely changed how I see myself as a future educator. I believe that the quality of human interaction has to be unique for a future educator to thrive in the future of education.
Alex: As a workshop leader, I honed my teaching skills in an online education format. It pushed me to explore better ways to deliver information and effectively teach students. I love teaching data science, and I plan to be involved with it in the future, so I am glad that GradProSkills worked as my stepping stone to support me in a potential career as a teacher.
What are your plans for your academic pursuits and professional goals?
Gabriela: This has been a year of reflection on what I will be doing after graduation. I had this unexpected break in the middle of my MA course due to difficulties accessing studio facilities which hindered the ability to film my work. I started contemplating joining a PhD and start teaching, but I also want to keep doing movies. The path to achieving these goals is still at the planning stage, and, for now, I am focused on finishing a brand new website to showcase my portfolio. I also expect to complete my Master's degree when filming and full access to the studio is available.
Alex: I really like academia and the collaborative environment it offers, as well as the chance to develop our teaching and mentorship. I am also aware that there are great opportunities to do research and continue working outside academia. So far, I haven’t decided yet which path I will pursue.