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Leonardo Cai - ARIA Behind-the-Scenes Storybook

Hello everyone, this is Leonardo Cai. My ARIA experience has been a great one, so here are some highlights.

The Project

This summer, I worked with Professor Amelie Quesnel-Vallée and Dr. Jaunathan Bilodeau on a research project investigating the relationship between work-family conflict and children mental health problems. Our study makes use of the Growing Up in Quebec surveys conducted by Étude longitudinale du développement des enfants du Québec (ELDEQ). The ELDEQ surveys ran a total of four waves. Since the first two waves were conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, and the latter two occurring afterwards, we were also able to examine how the pandemic impacted the relationship in question as well.

My Expectations for ARIA

I am interested in ARIA for a few reasons. As a student of math and sociology, I have long hoped to apply my statistical skills and knowledge of social determinants of health learned in class to a project that have real-world implications. Further, I have always been curious about how research is carried out, from idea formulation to the eventual publication of results. I expected ARIA to offer me some hands-on experience in all of this.

Specifically, I also expected my research project to be relevant to the pandemic, since I am really interested in how such a global crisis had an unequal impact on the population in our society. It should allow me to gain a better understanding of the consequences of public health measures and policies, which is a field I would like to pursue further study on in the future.

Before my decision to apply for ARIA, I attended workshops and talked with several professors about the research they are currently working on. I was lucky that Professor Amelie Quesnel-Vallée, whose Health and Illness (SOCI 309) class I took in the term preceding the summer, is working on such a project that ticks all the boxes.

Working Remotely

Although our study dealt with confidential survey data, I did not have to go into an office or a computer lab to use a designated device to do the analysis. Rather, we were able to set up a remote access program on my laptop. This allowed me to work remotely most of the time, apart from a few face-to-face meetings with my supervisors during other events. This arrangement certainly meant slight inconveniences in timely communication, but it also prompted me to be more concise in expressing the difficulties I have when I meet with my supervisors, and it encouraged me to thoroughly think about the questions before asking for solutions. Working remotely also provided me with a more flexible work schedule in locations of my own choosing.

Things That Helped

In terms of doing research, the most helpful thing is to ask why. For example, don’t hesitate to ask your supervisor why the particular datasets are used, or ask yourself why you are using this very syntax to do the analysis. Research is about inquiry, and all inquiries are equally important.

I would also recommend connecting with others that are doing research and learn from their experiences. Here, I would like to thank the McGill Arts Internship Office for organizing “pizza meetings” for all ARIA recipients. I was able to learn about other people’s work and academic interests during these occasions.

Finally, in my strenuous fight against procrastination, my weekly to-do list came to my rescue. Every Sunday evening, I review my plan for the past seven days and lay out the plan for the upcoming seven, often in a very detailed way so that I won’t miss any important steps in research.

It’s more than just research

It is possible that your professor has other events planned over the summer that might sound interesting to you. That was definitely true in my case. Make sure you reach out and look for ways to participate in them. It might help with your research or your future studies, you never know!

I attended two speaker events about health policies and demography, as well as the CanD3 keynote address where I got to meet some master’s and PhD students who also have a background in sociology. Towards the end of the summer, I also helped out in a R training workshop on campus.

Wrapping Up

If you have read other ARIA recipients’ storybooks and mine as well, you would probably have noticed that they are all very different. To me that’s the beauty of ARIA. It is important to know what to expect for your summer research, but remember to embrace and make the most of the other unexpected challenges and opportunities.


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