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Laura-Julie Perreault: Always on the go
Rushing through the Roddick Gates for a quick meeting with a professor a dozen days before her departure from Canada, Laura-Julie Perreault slips in a self-assessment that's quite at odds with her profile as an overachiever.
|PHOTO: Claudio Calligaris|
"I'm afraid that I'm a bad time manager," she says.
The comment elicits a loud laugh from this reporter. Perreault has to be joking. After all, she's just spent the last hour detailing how she's crammed two lifetimes into her short 26 years.
Not only has she nearly completed a master's degree in international relations at McGill over the past three years, she's been a full-time reporter during the entire period. If that crushing schedule wasn't enough, she's also maintained an active social life and managed to marry her beau, Shoresh, last August.
Ensconced on a café's settee, she proves her juggling aplomb once more, squeezing in a fast chat with a friend on her cherry-red mobile phone. "Excuse me," she explains. "Last-minute party preparations."
The cellular disruption is excused, considering Perreault's party is to celebrate her impending departure.
On October 1, she will begin a whirlwind journalism tour that will see her spending four months in England, followed by eight months travelling though parts of the former Soviet Union. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has been granted through a $30,000 internship with the Gemini News Service, based at Panos Institute in London, and sponsored by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
Over the next 12 months, Perreault will use the funding to visit and report on five countries of Central Asia that were formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Once there, she plans to investigate and report on the state of these nations and their people and to focus on societal identity.
"A decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, I want to investigate for myself whether these are countries that are in transition or stagnation," she says. "I want to see how their people have developed their cultures, how they are developing academically and where they are generally headed."
Perreault is already well versed in Russian, having studied the language while completing a bachelor's degree in international studies and women's studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill from 1993 to 1997. Her proficiency in Russian helped her grab the Gemini internship, as did her undergraduate academic background.
It was during a research trip to Russia in 1997-98, to produce an undergraduate honours thesis on Russians' attitudes towards abortion, that Perreault first fell in love with the region. "Russians have such a strong spirit," she says. "Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, it seems they've been able to overcome the greatest of misery."
Perreault says she's always been fascinated by and drawn to the Eastern hemisphere. "I've just never believed the propaganda that's tried to demonize places like Russia," she says. "If it was so bad there, why would people possibly want to stay?"
That's why she felt inclined to study, for one year, at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow on a Celanese scholarship. Getting to know the country better also persuaded her to intern at CNN's Moscow bureau in the spring of 1998.
The CNN gig, however, wasn't her first foray into journalism. A year earlier, in 1997, Perreault interned for the summer at Quebec's Le Soleil newspaper.
"I had zero experience going in, but I quickly learned and absolutely loved it," she chuckles, explaining the birth of her writing bug.
While Perreault has since freelanced for Elle Québec, Madame au foyer and Confidente magazines, her chief gig has been as a La Presse reporter since January 2001. By now, the paper is well aware of Perreault's travelling bug, since she received another IDRC bursary to produce three weeks of reporting on Iran for La Presse last February -- one month after getting hired.
Since beginning her scholastic journey, Perreault has been quite astute at nabbing a slew of scholarships. The Fonds pour la Formation de Chercheurs et l'Aide à la Recherche, for instance, funded her McGill studies, while her U.S. education was underwritten by a prestigious Morehead scholarship -- other Morehead winners have gone on to become U.S. Congressional representatives, ambassadors and corporate leaders.
All told, Perreault estimates she has received over $150,000 in academic financing. "It's become something of a family joke that if I apply to a scholarship, I'm sure to get it," she quips.
When Perreault finally traipses throughout the countryside of Central Asia thanks to her Gemini award, she stresses that she'll be using all her skills. "I'll double as both a reporter and an [academic] researcher," she says, noting she'll also be hunting for feature ideas to sell to La Presse, a paper she's eager to still write for during and after her trip.
"So few people know about the part of the world I'm about to visit," she says. "I'm eager to write about it for francophone readers."
The only down side to her travels, Perreault says, has been the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. and the fears they have raised. Afghanistan is perilously close to the regions she will be visiting. "It's less tempting to leave now," she admits.
Yet nothing can stop her. "I've got to go, because this has been my dream for years," she says. "Russia, to me, has become like a drug."
"It's not a one, two, three concussions you're out, type of thing. Some people can tolerate many more injuries if they fully recover each time."
Squeezing the journals
|PHOTO: Owen Egan|
It's crunch time for the Public Library of Science.
A year ago, the organizers behind the initiative, which hopes to make published research results much more widely available, threatened scientific journals with a boycott if they didn't make the studies they published more accessible. The subscription rates for many of these journals have skyrocketed in recent years and scientists have had a harder time maintaining access to them as a result.
Given that over 25,000 scientists, all prospective contributors to the journals, signed a PLS open letter calling on journal publishers to make their contents available to public online archives for free within six months of publication, publishers in the highly profitable industry were spooked. But not spooked enough.
Only a handful of prominent journals, among them The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the British Medical Journal and the Canadian Medical Association Journal, have agreed to PLS's terms. Other journals, including Nucleic Acids Research and Genetics, have agreed to allow full-text searching of their articles at PubMed Central, a public archive. But the articles continue to be accessible only at the publishers' own sites.
"We believe the best way to advance our shared goals is to make every effort to publish our work in, and give our full support to, journals that have adopted the policy proposed in the open letter," PLS organizers recently stated on their web site.
But the call for a full-fledged boycott is fading. "A boycott is a negative thing. People have careers and need to publish," PLS organizer Michael Eisen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, told Nature.
Instead, PLS is shifting tactics. "If we really want to change the publication of scientific research, we must do the publishing ourselves," declare PLS organizers. The group is now laying the groundwork for a non-profit scientific publisher "operated by scientists, for the benefit of science and the public."
McGill professors who signed the PLS open letter include geneticist Charles Scriver, biologist Kevin McCann, computer scientist Luc Devroye, psychologist Peter Milner and mathematician John Labute.
"I hate to tell you this, but we women don't do ourselves a favour sometimes -- and the worst stories I hear are about women employers."