UBC Tax Assistance Clinic for Students

The UBC Tax Assistance Clinic for Students (TACS) is an invaluable resource for those of you trying to figure out how, exactly, this thing called “being an adult” works. UBC TACS can’t solve all you’re adulting crises, but their volunteers can help you file your tax return, which already seems like a pretty scary business.

UBC TACS operates end of February/March. Most students, domestic or international, happen to be eligible for their services, which are free. In fact, by simply submitting a tax return, you’re likely to get some money out of the situation (a $75 refund, typically), if that gives you any incentive. Just schedule an appointment and bring in your documents! Volunteers are usually eager to help and will try to answer your tax-related questions to the best of their ability (and even then there’s always a supervisor to go over the more complicated issues, if the need should arise). They have been debriefed on the basic principles of how taxes work and what the most common student tax forms signify (e.g. T4, T4A, etc.), and they should have had some ethics training before they arrive at the appointment table to assist you.

UBC TACS uses UFile, a free Canadian tax software, to prepare your tax returns. UFile makes the process pretty simple if you want to try filing these tax returns yourself, but if you ever need some reassurance in what you are doing, I encourage you to take advantage of this resource. ????

School Supply Heaven

For the most part, I get my school supplies from the dollar store. Highlighters, binders, ballpoint pens–you name it, they got it. But sometimes I want to be all ooh-la-la fancy and indulge in something of somewhat higher quality. And sometimes dollar-store quality just doesn’t make the cut. (Ever try getting your erasers from there? Don’t. Hard as rock and smudges your writing like hell.) If you’re a stationary nerd like me but also broke half of the time (also me), and you want to explore more of this beautiful city called Vancouver, here is a totally-not-exhaustive list of some of the places I go to stock up:

  • Daiso (or, as a closer alternative: Yoko Yaya 123)
    • Go here for: notebooks, mechanical pencils, erasers, graphite
    • Unless otherwise noted, everything in Daiso is $2. They’ve marketed themselves as a Japanese dollar store, so they have products that are not writing-related (socks, plates, wrapping paper, clay, etc.), but this is a stationary-focused post, so I won’t go too far off topic. I always purchase my mechanical pencils from here, because they rarely jam, last a long time, and come in a pack of five. Lead packs are cheap and come in various grades. Most notebooks sold here are thin and lie flat [cue the angelic music]. Now, Daiso is quite far from campus (in Richmond), but Yoko Yaya 123 is much closer (Gastown/Chinatown area) and sells literally the same stuff, it’s just smaller.
  • Muji
    • Go here for: pens, correction fluid/tape, highlighters, rulers that can fit in your pencil case
    • Like Daiso, Muji sells more than just stationary, but….the other stuff is kind of pricy, imo. That aside, pens here are the bomb: sleek, smooth, and available in an exciting array of colours. (Ha ha, is it weird that I get so enthusiastic about this?) They’re $2 per pen (not as cheap as Daiso, where you could get a pack), but they’re worth it if you’re picky on how well your pen is supposed to glide across the paper. Highlighters are amazing too. I still get mine primarily from the dollar store because I go through highlighters far too quickly, but they have the dual-tip kind that acts as a neon marker on one end and a highlighter with a window (so you can see what you’re highlighting) on the other. Also, ever since Muji has arrived, I feel less worried about buying correction fluid/tape. I don’t know about you, but before Muji, I had the worst luck with finding good correction fluid/tape–they were such a risky investment! Well, not anymore! There’s a Muji in Downtown and in Burnaby (farther, true, but you get the bonus of being at Metrotown, which is, like, the mall that everyone refers to here).
  • DeSerres
    • Go here for: fineliners, sketchbooks, art supplies
    • You get a discount if you’re a student and sign up for free membership. I have a friend who goes here often because she likes to draw and make comics. If you need artist-quality fineliners (e.g. Prismacolor), this is your mecca. Side note: I’m so in love with the colours Copic Markers come in, but why do Copics got to be so damn expensive?
  • Pulp Fiction Books
    • Go here for: some of your textbooks, especially if they’re more commercially available (e.g. fiction for your English classes), Moleskine notebooks
    • Pulp Fiction Books is a used bookstore, but they have new books too, usually displayed at the front of the store. You can also order books, although prices will fluctuate depending on how fast you need them. This is probably your best bet for procuring cheap books, since even new books and books ordered in (with some exceptions) are discounted at at least 20% off their Canadian cover price. Moleskine notebooks, if you’re into them, are perpetually on sale too, although their selection can be small. However, I cannot recommend Pulp Fiction Books enough as a bookworm! You can take the 99 and hit all 3 branches along the way (albeit with some walking if you’re going to the one on Commercial).
  • Indigo/Chapters
    • Go here for: ~fancy~ notebooks/agendas
    • Walk in the store. You’ll know what I’m talking about. Indigo has a far larger selection of Moleskine notebooks  as well as Leuchtturm for bullet journaling (although  stock for that brand has kind of faded over the months, from my own observation). My suggestion, if you really crave these higher-end notebooks, is to come in during one of their (frequent) sale periods or at least rifle through their stock, as many items are marked down but not explicitly advertised as such, like through a poster on a wall. If you take the 99 to Granville, you’ll be right at their flagship store, although there are many other branches scattered about the city.

Got some of your own favourite places to shop for school supplies? Leave a comment below, because I’d really love to check them out! ????

How to Get Into Research Part 3: Getting Out There

Step 2: Submitting an Application

Some labs will specify what they want in their application, but what all applications boil down to is pretty much this: your transcript (a screenshot of your grade summary off of SSC is fine, no need to pay that fee at Brock Hall), your C.V., and a cover letter.

Most labs require a minimum GPA for you to be an RA (usually 75 % or 80 % and above). If you don’t meet that GPA, you can always try to explain in your cover letter why you might still be an excellent candidate, but please, please don’t photoshop your transcript. You know why.

Unlike what your Planning 10 teacher might have told you in high school, a C.V. is not exactly like a resume. It’s more focused on your academic achievements, and you can get a sense of what I’m talking about by looking up the C.V.s of the PIs you’re thinking of contacting. Yours doesn’t have to be as extensive, though, especially as you don’t yet have your Masters and PhD, ha ha. Stick to the resume rule of being no longer than two pages, and you should be fine. Of course, try to tailor the experience you put on your C.V. to what you think might be relevant for the lab. Previous lab experience is great, but assuming you don’t have that, say, if the lab you’re applying for studies infants and you used to volunteer at a day camp for preschoolers, that’s a legitimate point to note down. At least the PI/lab manager(s) will know that you can interact with people just fine.

Most people forget a cover letter. Don’t! Sure, you can just email a PI/lab manager your transcript and C.V. saying, “Here’s my application, Please consider it. Byyyyeee!!!!”, but why not put in a tad more effort? For your cover letter, you don’t want to write a novel, but you do want to include enough information to convey who you are, what experience you might have that makes you a good candidate, and your reasons for wanting to join the lab. Most PIs should have a website that lists the papers they’ve published. It would be in your best interests to go over some of these papers, or at least the abstracts, and note one or two in your cover letter that you found particularly rad to show that you are actually keen on the research of the lab.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get an immediate reply, or even a rejection! I got every response from no replies (this also happened to my friend this summer, so perhaps this is not all that uncommon) to a kind reply about how the PI whose research I was really, really interested in was actually retired (!) and chilling in Papa New Guinea (!!) to a few requests for interviews. In fact, the first interview I was about to have I never got to go to, because later on I learned I needed a lab for PSYC 366, and the lab I wanted to work in couldn’t accommodate. The struggles of applying to be an RA are like the struggles of applying for a job: people get hired when they have past experience in the field, but how are you supposed to get to that point when you have no experience??? My friends, the tough answer is perseverance.

Step 3: Mastering the Interview

Interviews are conducted differently for each lab. Some questions you might be asked are: What are you planning to get out of being an RA? What experience do you have that’s relevant for XYZ, which is a common RA task in this lab? Are you planning to pursue research further after you graduate? My advice? Be honest, and if you really want to be a part of this lab, let your enthusiasm show! In my experience, this is just as much an opportunity for the interviewer to tell you more about the lab as it is for you to convey why you want to be in the lab. Labs need people to run, and it’s best to know from the get-go whether you and the lab are a good fit. Positive feelings have to be mutual.

Step 4: What Next?

There are two kinds of labs; wet labs and dry labs. Think micropipettes for the former and human participants for the latter. As an RA for either of these labs, you’re likely to start out doing administrative work: cleaning, preparing solutions, booking, data entry etc. Take this as an opportunity to explore the workings of your lab a little more, like the people and the research. Once you get a feel for this, if you’re still pretty enthusiastic about what you’re doing, consider asking the PI to take on more work. From my experience, there’s always room for growth as an RA, even if you are just an undergraduate student. I’ve known RAs who’ve taken on actual studies and had their names included in research papers and RAs who have presented in conferences from BC to Texas. If you’re just starting out, consider presenting for UBC undergraduate conferences like LSURC and MURC.

Being an volunteer RA allows you to move onto other positions in the lab that allow you to take on more responsibility. For Psychology/BNS students, you can apply to be a Directed Studies student through your undergraduate advisor. What this involves is taking on your own research project and writing a paper about it, either for one term or the full school year depending on what you and your PI work out. If you want to be more serious about it, consider becoming an Honours student. Conduct wicked science and earn school credit! If you’re more financially inclined, look into becoming a Work Learn student. Get paid to be an RA!

So that’s a wrap! Before I end off this series, I want to say a few things because I can never stop typing, ha ha. (1) It’s never too late or too early to get into research. PIs/lab managers deliberately seek out young RAs (read: first and second year students), because there is potential for these RAs to stick around. If you’re older, that’s not so bad either; you’ve likely accumulated a lot of experience to help you out with the application process. (2) Most labs seek out RAs at the beginning of a term, and some labs even operate over the summer if you want something to do and have less schoolwork to juggle. Keep this in mind when you send off your applications. (3) Some labs are huge and have as many as twenty RAs, and some are small. There are pros and cons to each of these situations. If one lab doesn’t work out because of the people or the research or whatever, you can always try finding another one. (4) You know, I didn’t expect how much I would enjoy being an RA, but it’s really been an eye-opening experience for me. I hope it is for you too if you decide this is what you want to do.

As always, if you have any questions–or even tips of your own, if you’ve been through this–leave a comment! Best of luck!!!

\(^-^)\

How to Get Into Research Part 2: Resources

Hunting for labs is always fun. There’s so much cool stuff that gets done at UBC, you shouldn’t bother with applying for labs doing research that doesn’t interest you. Something’s bound to come at you with that “Ooohhh” factor.

Now, being an RA is a huge time commitment. Most labs require 6-10 hours a week and either a full-term or full-school year commitment. You should be confident that you can balance this along with your schoolwork. That said, although some labs may require fewer hours out of your schedule, it’s as the saying goes: “You get what you put in”: a lab that requires more commitment might be the better determinant in what you choose to do in the future. I speak from personal experience here.

Just something to keep in mind.

Step 1: Finding the Right Lab

If you major in Psychology or BNS, you might have already received emails from UBC IT SSPA about RA calls for psych labs. (It really is a good idea to pay attention to your emails, folks!) These emails direct you to the Department of Psychology’s Get Involved in Research page, which is a good place to start hunting for labs, since there’s at least some guarantee that the principle investigator/lab manager is looking for new RAs.

Another resource to take advantage of would be the bulletin board on the main floor of the Kenny Building. Lots of labs that don’t always know how to connect with UBC IT post RA calls there. I recommend taking photos of the postings so you can research their respective labs further at home. (Side note: this is also where you might find info about other volunteering opportunities, clubs, and PAID (!) studies that you can participate in.)

If you’re planning to participate in any HSP studies, ask for the contact information of the researcher. The grad student in charge of an HSP study I once supervised let me give out her email address to participants who were interested in joining the lab.

Also, talk to your prof! I know a lot of these resources concern psych labs, but this advice applies to anyone looking to get involved in science. One of my peers became an RA in her first year through this method. Over the summer, a friend of mine sent out emails to profs who had taught courses she enjoyed, and she eventually scored a lab to work with for her Honours thesis. You know how profs are like, “Come to my office hours! I’m down to talking about anything!”? This is your chance, my friends!

Lastly, if you already have an idea of what branch of research you would like to contribute to, you’re in the best position. Snoop around some UBC departmental websites to get a sense of which labs best align with your interests, then politely email the PI listed. For Psychology/BNS research conducted at UBC, check out the Department of Psychology’s Labs page.

And so the search begins! Keep an eye out for my next post in which I go over how to apply to labs and what you might expect once you become an RA.

/(^-^)/

Refined Ramblings: Poetry to Make You

Today I want to introduce you to a great poet that I know and her poetry. Her name is Alex Nastasa. We came to know each other when we were both students of Science One, but it wasn’t until the summer following that school year, when we happened to both enrol in the same creative writing class, that I realized the extent of sheer awesomeness that I was dealing with. I mean, this girl had brains and confidence and could sing a pretty damn good rendition of your favourite pop song (side note: if you’re into choir, consider joining the UBC C4 Choral Composition Club, which she founded), but now you tell me she’s a brilliant wordsmith too? Dude, some people have it too easy.

After second year, I saw less and less of Alex as our classes never intersected (she’s a Biophysics major with a Creative Writing minor, I study Behavioural Neuroscience and English) and UBC is just too darn huge to have too many coincidental meetings, but I never forgot how amazing it was to be able to read her work that one summer and to talk about books and authors and craft and the purpose of writing, if there was any.

Just last year, though, a friend pointed out that Alex ran a blog, REFINED RAMBLINGS , where she publishes gems such as these:

Sequence

By Alexandra Nastasa

The human brain fills me with awe. There’s a hint
of lemon and a whole lot of human. I am scared
of the dark
because I do not know it.
I don’t want to think about serial killers
and monsters in the closet
and guns. The thought of going
to space terrifies me. I sleep
like a tranquilized muskrat. I love lilacs
because they smell like cat
pee and comfort. Once, I held someone’s hand;
it was awesome. Someone somewhere
crossed a river, and someone else
died because of it. Never leave the top
off the toothpaste. De ce
nu ai nici un castravete? Never again
will I offer to carry things for whole
groups of other people. Grace is
curling your pinkies in but not
touching the cup.

And obviously my first reaction was to wish I was talented enough to write poetry as beautiful as this and gosh, I was sooooooo jealous, but then I stopped being jealous because as I kept scrolling through all of these lush, gorgeously written poems, all I could feel was: <3 <3 <3. Because for me, those poems were a reminder of what it felt like that summer to rediscover my relationship to writing and, for maybe the first time, what it was like to have friends who also loved to write and read and talk about writing and reading as much as I did. And I was so happy to discover that Alex had never stopped writing for herself, that her writing was more intelligent than ever, and all I wanted was for her to keep writing for a long time so that I could always be inspired by her.

Anyhow, I hope that in sharing Alex’s poems, they inspire you too. Ha ha, I’m such a fan, but seriously, people, check her blog out–and leave a comment if you can! ????

 

Your Short Guide to Short Stories

I get why it’s harder to invest yourself in a short story instead of a novel, but I think short stories don’t get enough love. When you’re on a tight schedule but want to get some uninterrupted reading done, they’re perfect. There are also a lot of technical feats you can achieve with a short story that wouldn’t work that well in longer form. And some of them can be pretty imaginative and inspiring. A quick burst of…well, whatever you want! If you’re up for some reading and want to try some short stories out, I recommend these, in no particular order:

  1. “ZZ’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers” by Karen Russell
  2. “The Missing Guest” by Alice Sola Kim
  3. “The Summer People” by Kelly Link
  4. “Why I Read Beowulf” by Shashi Bhat*
  5. “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Melville
  6. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  8. “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” by Libba Bray*
  9. “The Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. “Zero Hour” by Ray Bradbury
  11. “Two Part Invention” by Doretta Lau*
  12.  “The Groom” by Emily Carroll**

Looking at this list now, I suppose you could say my interests delve into the more speculative and/or nineteenth century. Huh. What do you think of the short story? Love it or hate it? Any favourite genres you would like to share? I love talking about what I read to others, and listening to what they like to read! I only wish there was more time to do it in real life.

*The full version is not available online, but if you’re able to get it in print, either through the library or bookstore, then I highly recommend it.

** Short story comic! Woo-hoo!

Pursuing a Double Major

So in the midst of April when my exams were underway, I actually got some good news in my inbox. It started out like this: