Edinburgh: Friends, pubs, and lots of walking

For the past year, I haven’t updated this little blog with anything of much importance because I haven’t felt like I’ve got anything important to say. Through the labour pains of birthing a monstrous Master’s thesis and the struggles of coming to grips with a new field of study, the imposter syndrome has hit me pretty hard. That being said, I want to  shake things up and get my head back in the writing game – so I’m starting gently with some of the best bits of our recent and soul-renewing trip to Scotland! First up – Edinburgh.

Planning for this trip started last spring, when Jess announced her upcoming nuptials. She’s like a sister to me and I had always wanted to visit the Scotland – so stars aligned and the trip planning began! After some serious research (my second favourite part of taking a vacation), I came up with a fairly intense highland roadtrip itinerary. But first, we spent three days in Edinburgh.

Day 1 involved fatigue (thanks, Aer Lingus), food (at the Dublin Airport, Teuchter’s Landing and BrewDog), and nighttime wanderings around Old Town.

The time we had the Royal Mile to ourselves at 10pm on a Thursday

Day 2 started with wonderful coffees and catchups with Jess at Willams and Johnson Coffee Co. Then we moseyed up Arthur’s Seat for a stunning, sunny (!) view of Edinburgh. We popped by Dishoom for tasty Indian food and rosewater cocktails with the lovebirds, then struck out on our own for a pub crawl through Old Town and the Grassmarket.

The view from Arthur’s Seat

Fighting fatigue, Day 3 took us to Toast for breakfast by the Water of Leith, then to the Princes Street Gardens (past a disturbingly loud, mid-morning EDM festival), Dean Village, and New Town. We collapsed at Jess and Murdo’s flat in Leith for some homemade pad thai, scotch, and cat cuddles.

Along the Water of Leith
Dean Village; possibly the most charming place on earth

Even though they were fighting an early morning washing machine-related leak, Jess and Murdo graciously drove us downtown to pick up our noble highland roadtrip steed on the morning of Day 4.

Everyone is terrified about my driving and this is an unflattering photo

After almost side-swiping a Merecedes-Benz and a lot of deep breaths, we bid a temporary farewell to Edinburgh (on the wrong side of the road).

10 minutes into the roadtrip, I’m still surprised Aaron had time to take this photo in between screams of sheer terror

Up next, I attempt to summarize a huge swath of the western highlands in a single post and spend way too much time trying to decide how many panoramic photos of mountains is reasonable. That’ll be Days 4-6; Loch Lomond, Glencoe, the Isles of Mull and Staffa, Glenfinnan, and Camusdarach Beach. Stay tuned!


An Open Letter to the School of Graduate Studies at the University of New Brunswick

LATEST UPDATE (2PM, June 12, 2017): The UNB GSA has clarified on behalf of the SGS via email to all UNB Fredericton graduate students:

On Tuesday, May 30, 2017 an email was sent to the graduate students at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) from the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). A portion of it is quoted below:

“Commencing July 1, 2017 confirmation of enrolment letters will be subject to a $15 processing fee. Before submitting a request for confirmation letter, students must first pay a $15.00 processing fee, payable in person at the School of Graduate Studies, or by phone.”

In response, I sent the following email:

Dear [SGS contact],

I felt compelled to respond to your most recent email re: Confirmation of Enrolment letters, since I feel that the decision to charge students for these documents is unreasonable, discriminatory, and amateur. I have outlined my concerns in more detail:

The charge is unreasonableStudents (both undergraduate and graduate) pay thousands of dollars in tuition to be enrolled at UNB. In fact, they will soon be paying even more to be enrolled, since a tuition hike has been included in the most recent UNB budget. Included in this tuition is presumably enough overhead to provide students with basic administrative services including, but not limited to: processing their registration and tuition payment and confirmation that their registration and tuition payment was processed. In day-to-day business interactions, this would be referred to as payment (i.e. tuition money) followed by a receipt of payment (i.e. confirmation of enrolment letter). It is unreasonable that, after paying thousands of dollars in tuition, the university finds it difficult to provide its students with confirmation that they paid these thousands of dollars.

The charge is discriminatoryOften, in order to pay these thousands of dollars in tuition, students who are less fortunate must take out bank or government loans or lines of credit so that they might benefit from the education that this institution provides. These loans and lines of credit require confirmation of enrolment documents on a yearly basis and sometimes (near the end of graduate degrees) each semester. To charge less fortunate students more than wealthy students (who do not have to endure the inconvenience of paperwork associated with student debt) is an obvious form of discrimination based on socioeconomic status that may negatively impact multiple minority groups.

The charge is amateur. At other Canadian institutions (e.g. Queen’s University, University of Guelph, etc.), confirmation of enrolment letters are given to students free of charge, in recognition of their necessity for the disbursement of student loans and lines of credit, as well as RESPs. To charge for such basic paperwork makes UNB seem unprofessional, incompetent, and petty – unwilling to provide students with a semblance of the service they might receive at another Canadian institution. This extra, unreasonable charge adds to the growing list of bloated administrative red tape that makes this university increasingly unattractive to high-caliber students.

A simple solution to this issue is to adopt a system similar to that used at Queen’s University, where students are able to access a “snapshot” of their current enrolment in their secure eServices account and print it off themselves (visit this link for reference). From this example it is clear that not every administrative snag requires the financial onus to be placed on the students. Instead, a cursory examination of the current system’s efficiency reveals a better way that both eases the administrative burden and serves students effectively. Since such a simple solution is obvious and has been successfully employed at other Canadian institutions, I am requesting an immediate response to my concerns from whichever party is most qualified.

Though charging $15 to confirm a student’s enrolment may seem minimal to administrators who make a livable (or beyond livable) salary, for those of us who struggle daily on less than minimum wage to create knowledge and dedicate ourselves to actively improving UNB’s reputation by attending conferences and publishing our work, it is a deeply disrespectful slap in the face (especially coupled with the recently approved tuition hike). I caution UNB’s administration not to forget that without graduate students, this institution’s extensive research program (and the associated “world-class” reputation of which UNB is so proud) would crumble.

I will be graduating from an MSc Biology at convocation this fall (having defended in early May) and I want to feel proud that my CV will include a degree from this institution. However, given the increasing lack of concern that the UNB administration has shown its graduate students during my four-year tenure, I am not convinced I will ever be able to feel anything but triumph at overcoming the obstacles UNB’s administration has placed in my way.

I sincerely appreciate the time you have taken to consider my concerns and look forward to your (or your supervisor’s) prompt response.


Michelle Lavery

I have since waited a full week. The Chair of the Biology Department and the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) have responded with sympathy and concern, however I have yet to receive a response from any member of the UNB administration. This is despicable treatment of a chronically underappreciated group of students who actively contribute to and ensure the university’s success.

If you are a current graduate student, I highly suggest contacting the administration with your concerns and offering your support to the GSA as they work to remedy this issue. If you are no longer a graduate student (or never were one to begin with), feel free to lend your support by emailing the UNB administration a link to this open letter. If you’re not sure why graduate students matter or what we do, I recommend reading this, this, and this to get you started.

UPDATE (6PM, June 6, 2017): I have received a response from Dr. Drew Rendall, Dean of Graduate Studies at UNB. His email response is confidential, however I can disclose that he spent the majority of the email discussing topics that I did not raise in my original email, like late registration fees. Also, he has made some unclear statements about what the $15 letter charge will actually apply to. I have responded requesting detailed clarification. The University Secretariat, President HEA Campbell, GSA, and the Biology Chair have been copied into our correspondence.

That being said, feel free to email Drew Rendall to request your own clarification on these issues!

UPDATE (2PM, June 7, 2017): Dr. Drew Rendall has requested a telephone conversation and I have accepted. Also, the GSA has an appointment to speak with SGS on Monday about an online system (similar to what I mentioned in the above letter) that is apparently in development for UNB students.

UPDATE (10:30AM, June 9, 2017): Via telephone, Dr. Drew Rendall (Dean of Graduate Studies, UNB) has confirmed that (at least) letters for the following purposes will not be subject to the $15 processing fee: Confirmation of Admission to your program, Confirmation of Enrolment for visa and banking purposes, and Letters of Invitation to graduation ceremonies. Despite Dr. Rendall’s resistance to clarify this explicitly to the graduate student population via email, he did repeatedly commit to this on the phone. If you require clarification about whether the letter you need will be exempt from the charge, I recommend emailing Dr. Rendall.

Mount Carleton and the Kedgwick River