Student with a young family: Marianne

Hi! I am a first year student at the SCSD. I am a francophone living in Laval (it takes me a bit more than an hour to go to the University), and I have a one year old son. Many ask me what it’s like to pursue a Master’s under these circumstances. In three words: it’s very hard!!! The key elements that make it work for me are: being extremely organized, having a very supporting family and doing schoolwork during every free moment I have. Also, the fact that the faculty and staff at Beatty Hall are understanding, and that they do what they can to accommodate my particular situation, is a big help. It is however frequently frustrating for me to be unable to be with my son more, but it is as frustrating to be unable to fully immersed in schoolwork!!! But overall, I am satisfied with my achievements, and knowing I finally found what career I really want to do helps me get through it all.

Second career starter/working during studies: Joëlle

It was after meeting an SLP as part of my work that I started thinking about speech-language pathology as a second career. I didn’t like the idea of being entrenched in a single professional world. I wanted to add a second string to my bow, a competence that would assure me financial stability and promising job opportunities, two things that my current career doesn’t offer. SLP also brought together two of my fields of interest: language and science.

Returning to study full time wasn’t an easy choice. I studied part time for several years to obtain the necessary credits for the Master’s in SLP, because my background wasn’t in science or linguistics, but in Communications. I’m well aware that I don’t have as solid a theoretical knowledge as my classmates, and notice it often in class. Instead, I worked for several years as an educational game designer, then as a researcher/reviewer for a TV show about science and technology. Although it isn’t directly linked to SLP, I realize now that the skills are certainly going to help me in my second career. My academic and professional journeys aren’t conventional, but I don’t stand out all that much: there’s a great deal of variation in the scholastic backgrounds of my classmates, which is another reason I like McGill. It brings a lot of dynamism and richness to our exchanges, and eventually, this will carry over to the profession.

It hasn’t been easy to be surrounded by colleagues who don’t (yet) have the same preoccupations as me: professional insurance, car payments, family obligations… The timetable is very intense and life as a couple can take a blow. It’s also not been easy to feel inexperienced during the placements when you think after nine years on the job market that you have reached a good level of self-confidence! Nor to find the energy to survive at the end of the semester when your neurons are a bit older than those of the rest of the class! But at the end of the day, it’s worth it. The students in the program all have a strong desire to help and motivate each other. So at the same time, it gives me the energy that I need to get to the end!

[Note: what Joëlle modestly didn’t mention is that her transition to SLP at McGill was perhaps made even harder by the fact that she’s used to working in French. We think she’s doing a great job managing her studies while continuing to work in French!]

Student from another province, (Sarah, from Perth, Ontario)

Before coming to study at McGill I had only been to Montreal once for a Grade 8 field trip and didn't remember anything about it except the amusement park that we went to. After receiving my acceptance into the program at McGill I decided to come and check out the university. Once I saw the university and Beatty Hall, and met some of the students, staff and faculty here, I was sure this was where I wanted to come!

This sureness began to wear off over the summer as the reality of things set in. I was going to be moving to Montreal...this huge, noisy city where everyone speaks French. Having never lived in a big city before, and having a very limited ability to speak French, I was more than a little nervous when September rolled around.

However, after about a month of adjusting to city life I came to love Montreal, and here are some reasons why:

Montreal is huge, but it doesn't feel that way like other big cities I have visited. There are lots of beautiful, green spaces that you can go to escape the business of the city, such as Mount Royal, the Lachine Canal, or the Laurentians just a short drive from the city (great skiing in the winter!). Also, the way of life is just different here I think. Things seem more relaxed and slower paced than big cities in Ontario. And, the people in Montreal are so friendly! Yes, a lot of these people do speak French, but being an English speaker with very little French, I am having no trouble communicating with people anywhere. I buy groceries, mail letters, order at restaurants all in English. However, I am trying really hard to do these sorts of things in French, just because I think living in Quebec provides me with an amazing opportunity to learn the language. Everyday is like a free French class and the French speakers are more than happy to teach you!

Another great thing about Montreal is that there is always a tonne of fun stuff to do! If you like music, you are sure to find live music any night of the week. There's also theatre, shopping and little coffee shops on every corner where you can get great hot drinks and delicious pastries!

One of the best things about Montreal is the diversity of cultures represented here. Coming from a small town in Ontario and studying at a university in southern Ontario, I hadn't had a lot of opportunities in my life to experience different cultures or to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds. Here in Montreal I am getting lots of opportunities to do both, and I love it! This diversity is reflected in the faces of the friends you'll meet, the many different restaurants you can eat at and in the multitude of different places of worship across the city.

Oh, I also study here in Montreal...maybe I should say something about that! The program is really amazing. It is a lot of work, so be prepared for that, but don't be scared by it. The classes that we take are great because they cover a wide range of topics from Language Development to American Sign Language in the first year. I also like that we have placements right from the first semester, allowing us to actually practice the skills we are learning. As well, the professors try to give us practical applications for the information we are learning in lecture, providing examples of how we might later use the information in clinical practice. I also like that, since we study in Quebec, and many of the students in our class are from Quebec and plan on working here, the professors try to include information about research on the French language into our classes, which I think is something that may not happen in other universities.

There is so much more I could say about this city, the university, the people, the food, the culture, but I think I'll just let you come and see for yourself!

Student from Quebec: Eleanor

It might seem a bit strange to have the perspective from someone already in Quebec. There doesn’t seem much to say to potential Quebec students because you (probably) already know what Montreal is like, have heard about or even attended McGill, and can read about the program on other parts of the site. But it would seem strange to leave out this section because of course, there are students from the province in the program. In fact, our class has a larger number of Quebec students than last year’s class, as we have two students from UQAM, two who did their undergrad. at McGill, and three from Concordia. I had heard rumors while applying that preference was given to out-of-province students, and then later I heard that Quebec students were preferred. I guess the morale of the story is don’t believe what you hear! Everyone is judged on their own abilities and merits and there is no fixed amount of places that are designated to any one type of student. Where you’re from is only an issue when you’re deciding which friend to go and visit first! It has been interesting to see the reactions of people in our class when they first moved to Montreal, and has also been a lot of fun watching them experience new things (some of which I hadn’t even done myself), maybe try French and generally settle down in the city that is currently ‘home’ for me already. So while you probably haven’t learned anything new from this section, at least rest assured that Quebec students are very welcome at Beatty Hall!

A Francophone student: Annie L.

Nouveau défi : étudier en anglais

Déjà un an de passé et tout s’est parfaitement bien déroulé … même encore mieux que je l’avais espéré. Mon parcours ressemble à celui de mes collègues, à l’exception près que toutes mes études se sont déroulées en français. Quoique nous soyons quatre francophones dans notre cohorte, j’étais la seule n’ayant eu aucune formation en anglais dans mon curriculum.

Bon, je l’avoue, j’ai eu une frousse énorme devant ce nouveau défi, je rentrais épuisée à la maison après les cours, je faisais des erreurs de prononciation, de grammaire, et je n’arrive toujours pas à dire le mot ‘mirror’ correctement … à croire que moi aussi j’aurais besoin des services d’une orthophoniste !

Mais tout ceci n’est que détail quand nous savons quelle passionnante profession nous pourrons exercer à la suite de ces deux ans.

En somme, je crois que mon expérience avec ce dynamique groupe de 21 filles formidables, provenant en autres de l’Ontario, du Québec, du Manitoba, de la Nouvelle-Écosse et des Etats-Unis aura été des plus enrichissante, tant personnellement que professionnellement.

Acceptez-vous le défi ?

A New Challenge: Studying in English

A year has already passed and everything’s unfolding perfectly… better than I had even hoped. My journey to this point resembles that of my classmates, except that all my previous study has been in French. Although there are four Francophones in the class, I was the only one without any prior education in English.

Okay, I admit that I really had cold feet when faced with this new challenge. I was coming home exhausted after class, I was making pronunciation and grammar errors, and I still can’t say the word ‘mirror’ correctly… you’d think I too needed the services of an SLP!

But all those things are minor details when you consider what an exciting profession we’ll be practicing at the end of these two years.

In summary, I think that my experience with this dynamic group of 21 great girls coming from among others Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and the US will have been most enriching, both personally and professionally.

Will you accept the challenge?

International student: Abdul

I completed my undergraduate degree in speech and hearing from King Saud University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. At that point I was looking for a graduate speech-language-pathology program that integrated both theory and practice in its training. McGill University’s Master of Science (Applied) in Speech-Language Pathology has provided me that, along with a highly challenging but manageable training. The small, dynamic, cooperative, and supportive classrooms made my training both thorough and exciting. From the application process to convocation, the staff and faculty members were very encouraging, helpful and friendly at all times.

The first year consisted of a well integrated curriculum, which established a strong theoretical foundation for the following year, which was more clinical. While the second year was very clinical, it incorporated enough theory to prepare me for my final internship and career as a SLP. I must say that I learned a lot from all my classes, especially the Practicum & Seminar courses each semester, which offered practical examples and one day a week of training throughout the academic year.

Coming to Canada for the first time caused me some anxiety, particularly since I arrived only a few days before classes started. However, the Beatty Hall buddy program and friendly networking with new and returning students helped me to settle in rather easily. As an international student, I felt very respected and supported by the staff and professors, as well as my classmates. Also, McGill’s downtown location proved optimal for a student in terms of finding a place to live with everything within walking distance or a short metro ride. Given the University’s excellent academic reputation and considering that Montréal is a bilingual, multicultural, and dynamic city, I felt very fortunate to be a McGill student. I am currently doing my PhD at the school of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Male student: Ben

I certainly haven't had any negative experiences due to being a man in this program. Then again, I almost never think in those terms. I do sometimes feel that there is a kind of energy and social dynamic in the class (and perhaps the profession at large? I'll find out soon...) that reflects the demographics of speech pathology. But that's not a bad thing, obviously, just the way it is.

To be honest, I chose Speech as much for the working conditions as for the work itself. Being in a "female profession" means almost no overtime and an easier time taking parental leave if I become a parent one day. That plus the relatively good work-life-salary balance pulled me towards Speech.

Anyways the short story is that I don't feel in any way a victim of my chromosomes when I'm in Beatty. Everyone remembers my name quickly and when I present people pay attention.

Taking the French exam to practice SLP in Quebec: Catherine

I grew up in a suburb of Toronto, where the only place you're ever likely to hear any French is in a school French class. I was in French Immersion (which in my district meant 50-50 bilingual education in elementary and 10 French language credits in high school), although I can say with some confidence that only a very small number (maybe 15%) of my classmates in the program graduated with any sort of comfort level in the language. I did my undergraduate degree in Ottawa, and while I was there, I spent about 9 hours a week for one year volunteering in a bilingual private school (where about 1/3 of the kids were francophone), working with the (francophone) French teacher. I learned a lot more doing that, and gained a lot more confidence, than I did in the one university-level French class I took.

Although I'm from the Toronto area, I have family roots in Montreal, and I've always liked this city. I never really knew where I wanted to end up, but Montreal was always a possibility (as were Ottawa, Toronto, and Halifax). I probably would have taken the French exam regardless, just so that the possibility of staying here would be open to me (once you've gotten your attestation from l'Office québécois de la langue française – OQLF - that's good for life).

It took the OQLF six months to get back to me with a date for my exam, and they ended up (after I called them to ask whether they'd gotten my form or not) giving me a date in September that I couldn't take, so I asked them to reschedule me for January, which they did with no trouble. You have to wait three months after failing any subtest before you can take it again, and you should probably call them to schedule the retest as soon as possible after getting your results, to make sure you get an early date.

I was reasonably confident going into the exam of my reading and listening abilities (plus, I'd heard from other students that those subtests aren't at all hard). I did borrow a couple of French-language books from a friend of mine, and made a point of picking up those free daily newspapers in French whenever I happened to be riding the Metro. My biggest worry was the oral interview, which is why most of my preparation consisted of speaking in French whenever I could make myself do it. (That's where it helped to have a bilingual boyfriend ... he insisted that we speak nothing but French for the two weeks before I wrote the exam, and he held me to it.) I also borrowed the SAC lexicon from Antoinette and made myself a list of terms I was likely to want to use during the interview, and practiced talking about my placements and the kind of work I was hoping to do in the future. The oral interview is considered by most people I've talked to to be the hardest part, and getting someone to force you to talk in French a lot, and to do mock interviews with you, are probably the best suggestions I can make about preparation.

The exam is held Tuesdays and Thursdays (a real pain when you're in second year and have class on Tuesdays and possible practicum on Thursdays) at the OLF building at Sherbrooke and St-Urbain. I read somewhere that you get up to seven attempts for free, although someone else told me that you had unlimited attempts. I'm really not sure, but ... well, if I have to re-take it an eighth time, that's probably where I'd say forget it and head back to Ontario anyway! There are four sections to the test: listening, writing, reading, and the oral interview (in that order).

The listening section takes about 45 minutes and consists of multiple-choice questions (matching phrases to pictures and interpreting short announcements and bits of dialogue) which are, for the most part, ridiculously easy -- although you do have to pay attention, since in some cases the clue to the right answer is one little word which you might miss if you start daydreaming.

The written section is two questions, together expected to fill up one legal-sized sheet of paper, both of which (on my exam and apparently when other students took the exam. too) have to do with office situations and business. That kind of threw me, since I don't really know that much about the business world, even with a couple of summers of office experience, but the actual writing tasks didn't strike me as overly difficult. They give you an hour to finish that, and I used the whole hour.

The reading section involves reading two passages, one about a page, and one a few pages long, and answering multiple choice questions. On my exam, the short passage was related to speech pathology, while the longer one was business again. Most of the questions were fairly easy, although a few of them were tricky, and on a couple I had to guess. They give you an hour for that; I finished in about half the time. When you're done, they give you a form and send you out into the hall to wait for your oral interview.

The interview takes 10-15 minutes. It's done in a smallish room with a single interviewer, and is taped for later analysis. They'll ask about what speech pathology is, what background you have, what you've done in your placements, and what kind of work you'd like to do in the future. Some (but not all) of us were also asked about our language backgrounds: when and how we learned French, and how often we use it now. I had to answer questions about what linguistics is (since that was my undergrad), what kinds of activities I used when I worked with kids who had SLI, how I felt about the challenges of working with bilingual children, and why I'm interested in working with aphasia and TBI.

To pass each section of the exam, you have to get a score of 60%. If you pass some subtests and not others, you only have to repeat the ones you failed. Some people when I was there did only the writing and/or oral sections. They say it takes about two weeks to get the results; someone else in my class said she waited about three. I don't know yet how I did, but I do feel reasonably confident about everything but the oral. Since I have no idea what criteria they use to evaluate performance on the oral exam, I can't say how I did. I was reasonably quick with the vocabulary, and I was able to answer every question I was asked, but I did talk too quickly and make a few ugly grammatical errors and mispronunciations as a result. And, of course, I kept coming up with better answers to the questions I'd been asked as I walked home afterwards!

[Note: Catherine passed the French exam first time – félicitations!)

Student who did Master's Thesis: Alyssa

I did a Bachelor of Science at McGill. My major was Psychology and my minor was Linguistics.

Why did you choose McGill and did you know already that you wanted to do a thesis?

During my undergrad, I completed an honour's thesis. I had become very interested in speech and language development after working for years (part time) with children and adults with intellectual impairments. My honour's teacher pointed me in Susan Rvachew's direction. She agreed to supervise my research. My undergraduate thesis examined phonological awareness, speech perception, and speech production skills in 4-year olds with speech delay. The summer after I graduated, I received an Undergraduate NSERC award to continue my research in Susan's lab. I recruited and tested more participants and Susan and I were able to get a publication out of this work. I worked for a year before beginning my Master’s. I returned to Beatty Hall, received an NSERC award, and continued my research under Susan's supervision.

Why did you want to do a thesis?

Research helps guide clinical practice. I wanted to do a thesis to gain experience in research and to make myself better clinician.

What was your thesis about?

My research examined factors believed to contribute to accurate articulation. I focused specifically on accurate articulation of /s/ in children with typically developing speech. The factors I examined were perceptual knowledge, articulatory knowledge, and phonological knowledge of this sound.

How did you choose that topic and what did the thesis involve?

Because I had worked with Susan prior to beginning my Master’s, I was able to start my thesis almost right away at the beginning of my first year. During my first year I read a lot research articles, planned my project, prepared materials, and recruited participants. During the summer between first and second year, I tested children. During my second year, I continued to recruit and test participants, and began entering and analyzing my data. I started writing my thesis during the summer, after my internship and into the first semester of my third year. I submitted in February of my third year.

Did you receive any funding for it?

An NSERC PGS A award.

Do you have any advice to students considering a thesis in SLP at McGill?

I highly recommend it! The earlier you can get started, the better. The clinical program is a lot of work so it is important to plan and budget your time well! During the second semester of my first year, I did an Independent Study with my supervisor on a topic related to my thesis. This helped a lot when I was later faced with writing the lit. review for my research proposal. I do not have any immediate plans for a PhD. I am really enjoying clinicial work right now but I know I have left the doors open for a career in research should I choose to go that way.

A Ph.D. student: Pi-Yu

I came from Taiwan to pursue my Ph.D. studies with Dr. Rvachew in McGill three years ago. My background is in teaching English and linguistics. This is my first time in North America. Being an international student here in McGill and Montreal, I would say life is full of learning and adventures. In class, finishing required readings is not a big problem; however, classroom discussion, which is highly encouraged in many research seminars, usually hesitates many international students. I am not from a culture which actively encourages students to talk and ask questions in class. This “simply talking” once caused a lot of pressure in the first year. It was not because I didn’t understand the target issues; it was simply because I didn’t know what is worth discussing in public without wasting everyone’s time. Also, though comprehension is not a big problem, it could be really frightening in the beginning to produce meaningful and grammatical sentences in English in class, even though I am from English department in my undergraduate! Living in Montreal also involves a lot of learning, and many of them are related to Quebec French, both language and culture. Montreal is very French-dominant. For a person who doesn’t know French, it could be a headache to simply order something from the food court, or get groceries from the store, or find the exit in a building, because “everything” is written in French. I felt like an illiterate who couldn’t read the price labels of all sorts of veggies and fruits in the grocery stores, and I once stopped in front of ‘sortie’ wondering why the automatic door of the store didn’t open! Not knowing any French is not a problem at all in McGill; however, some French knowledge is highly recommended for the life outside campus.

Ph. D. students are required to take two research seminars in two consecutive winter terms. It is usually a term of developmental-related issues, followed by a term of neuro-related issues. Therefore, students all have the chance to learn something really different from what they are currently doing research on. A Ph.D. student here also has many opportunities to attend research-related talks, organized by the department or Center for Research on Language, Mind, and Brain in McGill. In addition, faculty here are highly involved in research projects, which allow Ph.D. students to have many hands-on experiences from data collection to research publication, in addition to their own thesis projects. All of these research-related activities broaden the scope of knowledge and research experiences.