In Persian, my language, we have two different words for people studying. We use “the one who is gaining knowledge” for high school, mid-school, or elementary students, and “the one who is seeking knowledge” when you enter university. More than ever, I believe these distinctions are accurate. If you choose to be a knowledge seeker and join professional studies, you need to be motivated to go after it and succeed. Although I knew of this distinction between seeking and receiving, it wasn’t as vivid to me as it is right now.

Being a graduate student in both Iran and in Canada has opened my eyes to differences between the experiences. When I decided to continue my education as a Ph.D. student in Canada, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Studying in Iran is a competition between millions who all have the same goal in life: obtaining higher education to improve their life circumstances. With the rising demand for graduate studies and so many people applying for limited positions, measuring intelligence and knowledge has been (unfairly) bypassed in entrance exams in favour of memorization. The only form of funding is a tuition waiver for public university students, which I was when earning my MSc. Research students won’t earn any income and work on topics prescribed by their supervisor. Most of the time graduate students in Iran do not have the option to work in teams. Unless they need specific assistance, they do not meet others working with the same supervisor. Learning opportunities are also slightly limited because of gender inequality and at other times due to limited resources available.

I learned so much doing my master’s degree in Iran, and I grasped every single opportunity I could. I am grateful for the work and research paths I chose because they led me to this point in my life.

Graduate study is undoubtedly a different experience in Canada. I am as responsible as my supervisor for the path I am choosing. Having control over decisions makes it easier to focus on achievable goals. Moreover, teamwork is a big part of graduate study here; even though everyone on the team has different research goals, people help one another and being united spurs opportunities for new knowledge. Working with and alongside others provides connections and new opportunities.

Fluxlab is brimming with ambitious and cooperative peers which makes it a fantastic place for me to work toward my research goals. I am glad that I seized this opportunity to study at StFX, and I feel well supported to cover the required ground needed to obtain my doctorate degree. As Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” So far, this new chapter of my life is full of amazing experiences, 9000 kilometers away from where I started!

Afshan Khaleghi