I arrived at McGill University in 2009, after completing a Classe Préparatoire aux Grandes Ecoles in Lille, France. Since then, parallel to my academic curriculum, I’ve had a variety of jobs that I learned a lot from.
Research Assistant in Organizational Behaviour
Ruthanne Huising is teaching OB at the Desautels Faculty of Management. Inspired by the introductory class that she teaches, I decided to make it my major. OB is a synthesis of sociology, anthropology and psychology, applied to organizations. Common topics include: How to motivate employees? How do teams work? What level of autonomy should be given to employees? How to implement change? Basically, it’s the study of how to be a better manager.
In September 2011, the 1,700 support staff of McGill University went on strike for more than three months. The relations were particularly tense with the administration. Some acts of violence were even reported. Professor Huising hired me as a Research Assistant to look at the behaviour of strikers on the picket line. What motivated their personal involvement? Was it the first time they were engaging in collective action? What means of expression were they deciding to use? What was difficult for them on the line? Did they feel uncomfortable with anything?
I was conducting short interviews in French and English with picketers encountered on the line. For an overwhelming majority of them it was the first time they were participating in any kind of demonstration, let alone being on strike.
They usually enjoyed the interview as it would allow them to reflect on their personal history and why they are really here. As for me, it was a great experience to listen to people’s frustrations on their workplace. Although the demands were mainly monetary, it seemed to me that when it comes to the perceived contempt of the top management, the worsening of working conditions or the crippling red tape, a lot could be done to improve employees’ job satisfaction without spending a cent. Or maybe just a couple.
Grader for Information Systems
Another class that I really enjoyed was Information Systems with Professor Animesh. I’ve always been a computer keener, including doing some (basic) programming when I was a teen so I was pretty excited about this subject. We were going to learn how organizations can use ITs efficiently to perform better.
The following year, he offered to hire me as a grader for the class. I would help students in class during Excel and Access labs and would grade their finals.
I really enjoyed getting on the other side of the fence. As you write a paper you always imagine what the prof will think when they’ll read it but I think you never quite get it until you actually take on their role. It was great. Very helpful for future assignments too.
Teaching Assistant in French as a Second Language
Saying that Canada’s language situation is interesting is an understatement. I decided to come to Montreal because I wanted to experience life in a bilingual society. I knew Québécois were very proud of their language. What I didn’t know was how much some of them despise English.
There’s a number of studies in cognitive psychology that look at how bilingualism changes your perception of the world and I really believe in this. But here, there’s not a week without a « language scandal »: the coach of le Canadiens (the Montreal hockey team) doesn’t speak French, nor does the director of communication appointed by the Prime minister, etc. etc.
The provinces in the west (especially Ontario and Alberta) are pretty angry about the whole language situation and a lot of middle and high school students enroll reluctantly in French classes that they consider as forced upon them. Not the best conditions to learn a language…
Teaching French in the middle of this mayhem sounded like a great challenge. And indeed it was a challenge. Some students had been taking French for 8 years and were still in introductory or intermediary level. They were clearly complexed, refused to speak and felt like they were never really going to be functional in French. The fact that I was French from France was a mixed blessing. They didn’t feel the inter-province tension but they were embarrassed to speak with their French Canadian accent in front of someone who speaks what they call « real French ».
Anyway, after repeating that they were here to make mistakes and all the usual motivational catch phrases, we were off to a good start. It was really fun. But I really wish Canada was just embracing its bilingualism.