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The Willy Trip: A student initiative to learn about rocks

Science & Technology/Student Research by
(Jordan Kasarjian/The McGill Tribune)

In many programs at McGill, experiential learning opportunities are difficult to access. A student group with a passion for geology has found their own solution to this frustrating barrier. Every year, students from the earth and planetary science department organize a reading week field trip to a geologically-rich region of the world. Founded in 1978 by Professor Anthony Williams-Jones, the field trip—dubbed the “Willy” trip in honour of its founder—offers McGill students a chance to gain first-hand experience in the field of geology. Williams-Jones, professor and Logan Chair in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science, is still involved in helping students facilitate the trip, though it is mostly student-run from start to finish.

(Jordan Kasarjian / The McGill Tribune)


The process begins in the Fall semester, when interested students meet to decide on a destination. They discuss a number of prospective locations, and the group votes by process of elimination. This year, the group chose Guatemala from a list that also included Mexico, Tanzania, and Morocco.

After choosing a destination, students split the complex undertaking of organizing the trip into smaller subtasks: Some students focus on reserving flights, contacting geologists in the decided location, or fundraising. This year, the 15 student attendees of the trip raised over 10,000 dollars to fund their voyage. Others plan the itinerary, which usually includes mine visits and tours of geological features like volcanoes, mountains, reefs, calderas, or caves, complemented by culturally-enriching activities and visits.

Daphne Saint-Denis, a U3 earth and planetary science major, described her experience on this year’s Willy Trip.

“[It’s] an incredible learning experience in the sense that we need to plan, research, and organize the whole thing and as a team too,” Saint-Denis said. “It is basically a really fun and non-formal way to gain geology field experience, which is really important for our learning process.”

After all of the planning this year, the students enjoyed two weeks in Guatemala. The country’s unique geology is thanks to its location in a triple junctiona place where three tectonic plates meet. This feature has resulted in exciting geological phenomena like volcanism, metamorphism—or changes in the composition of rock—and sedimentation.

“For me, a big highlight was our snorkelling day in the southern tip of the Belize reef,” Saint-Denis said. “We also got to climb an active volcano, which was huge for everyone on the trip really.”

For Zach Kowalsky, also a U3 earth and planetary science major, the best part of the trip was visiting the Tikal National Park. Tikal, located in Northern Guatemala’s Petén region, is one of the most important archaeological complexes left by the Mayan civilization, and consists of numerous ruins dating back to 600 B.C. The region surrounding the ruins, known as the Maya Forest, is home to diverse landscapes and species.

Kowalsky described his experience at Tikal National Park to The McGill Tribune.

“We were there from the early morning until it closed, and it had a multitude of paths walking through the jungle, where you could appreciate the nature of the region,” Kowalsky said. “We spotted spider monkeys and howler monkeys in their natural habitat, which was pretty surreal.”

The next Willy Trip is set to take place in March 2019, with preliminary meetings beginning during the Fall 2018 semester. Although it is recommended that participants have taken one or two geology classes prior to participating, the trip is open to any McGill student with a feverish interest in geology and who is willing to commit the time and hard work to organizing the trip.

(Jordan Kasarjian / The McGill Tribune)

SUS discusses student trip to active volcano and other extracurricular events

McGill/News by

On Feb. 14, the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) Council appointed Haoyi Qiu as the new Science Representative to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). Qiu will replace Mana Moshkforoush, who resigned earlier this month. Council also discussed progress in planning events such as the Psychology Case Competition and the Science Gala, and established goals for getting more students involved in SUS department activities this semester.

Representatives present updates on upcoming workshops and events

Councillors from various science departments reported on their work this semester, praising the success of the 25th Anniversary Gala on Feb. 10, the popularity of recurring Hypnosis sessions, and the high attendance at a lecture by the popular YouTube channel AsapSCIENCE. They also shared updates on a variety of upcoming events and extracurricular activities. 

Following the positive reception of their first kombucha how-to workshop, the Microbiology and Immunology Student Association (MISA) will be hosting a second class on March 15 at 6 p.m.. MISA also intends to host multiple career panels this semester. MISA Representative Caroline Chu encouraged collaboration among SUS departments to promote science students’ exploration of alternate career paths.

“We really think that it’s a great opportunity for students to think about what they could do outside of academia and medical school,” Chu said.

Meanwhile, the McGill Psychology Students’ Association (MPSA) is planning a Psychology Case Competition on Apr. 1 in collaboration with student associations at Queen’s University, Concordia University, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Montréal, and Université de Laval.

“We have been organizing [the Psychology Case Competition] all year and it will include topics from neuroscience to developmental and clinical psychology,” MPSA Representative Leora Pear-Dowler said. “It should be a really big event.”

MPSA will also host a mental health first-aid certification workshop on the weekend of March 24 to prepare students for handling mental health emergencies. The event will take 24 participants to achieve certification by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It promptly sold out.

The McGill Monteregian Society (Monty) promoted the Earth and Planetary Science Department’s annual geological field expedition to Guatemala, known as the “Willy Trip.” Students involved in Monty have organized these trips for the past 35 years, with this year raising the most funds. The 15 students participating raised nearly $10,000 to fund the excursion, which begins on Feb. 24. 

“The Willy Trip really represents a unique learning opportunity for students who are eager to see how the concepts introduced in the classroom apply to the real world, and it is a great way for everyone interested to get together and fundraise,” Monty Representative Maggie Whelan said.

During this year’s Willy Trip, undergraduate geology students will have the chance to see rare geological phenomena that cannot be found in Canada, such as coral reefs and active volcanoes. In years past, the Monty’s trips have brought students to Colombia and South Africa. 


Councillors discuss SSMU policy on gender-neutral language

In accordance with SSMU’s recent policy mandating the use of gender-neutral language in its legislation and communications, MISA announced that it replaced instances of “him” or “her” in its documents with gender-neutral pronouns. SSMU Science Representative Marjan Ghazi praised these changes as indicative of a campus-wide shift toward gender awareness.

“I find this motion very important,” Ghazi said. “We want to make sure that, at SSMU, we are using the correct pronouns when addressing speakers and Council members to ensure [that] everyone is being respected at all times.”

POP RHETORIC: Burton’s formula

Arts & Entertainment by

Tim Burton has a distinct, dark, and quirky style that puts him in a cinematic class apart from any other director. The problem is that after creating so many successful films, his new projects are always going to be compared to his earlier “glory days.” The empire he has created is subject to unwarranted, faulty criticism merely because of the expectations that he’s planted in viewers’ minds. It’s no longer a question of how good his new movie will be, but rather how Burton-esque it will be.

I realized this after seeing Alice in Wonderland. My initial reaction was that the film was okay, but it wasn’t Burton-esque enough. Most people I spoke to held similar opinions. But after further consideration, I realized this was an unfair judgement. My critique was not based on the quality of the movie – it was based on my comparison of the movie to Burton’s other work, and this type of reasoning doesn’t make sense. When we see an actor play a certain role in a movie, we shouldn’t base our analysis of their acting on comparisons to other roles that the actor has played. This phenomenon seems to happen all the time with Burton’s work. His remake of Planet of the Apes was criticized at the time for stylistic departure, but in retrospect, the film was a great success.

The question is, what exactly makes a Burton movie a true Burton movie? A hilarious College Humor parody sums it up perfectly. They poke fun at the fact that his “secret formula” – including spirals, an outcast with daddy issues, and a recycled Danny Elfman score – is becoming less secret and more expected in each movie he makes. Furthermore, he decides to take an already odd classic story and make it a whole lot creepier, while incorporating bits and pieces of his own crazy ideas as well as some not-so-original ones. Case in point: the original Alice wasn’t bizarre enough, so he added his own twists and turns, which showed similarities to at least five other fantasy movies (including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, and The Chronicles of Narnia). Next, Burton seems to use the same people in his movies, most notably Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, while musician Danny Elfman composes the scores for all his films, which usually end up sounding the same. Throw in some spiral staircases, striped costumes, white make-up, and mad-scientist-like hair, and we’ve got ourselves a new Burton movie!

The point is this: just because Burton applies the same not-so-secret formula to his movies doesn’t mean we need to compare them in order to criticize or praise them. There’s no question that Burton is clearly a creative genius who makes creative and memorable movies. And following his own formula has never made him boring¬ – because, let’s be honest, who could have done a better job reincarnating Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter?

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