Monthly Archives: November 2010

Perspectives: Airport Security is Essential

Every time I go through security, I get a complete check: shoes and jacket off, my bag is always searched. I still beep and wait patiently while airport personnel check me with the metal detector. On a recent trip home, it was  clear that I had nothing on me but the shirt and skirt I was wearing. Of course, I still had to follow protocol, so I waited for that metal detector search and a new security procedure that tests your hands to see if there are any chemical residues on them. While this was going on, one security guard turned to me and said, “It’s a little bit stupid, isn’t it?” We laughed about how it was a waste of time, but a necessary part of his job.

Going through security is time consuming and often irritating, especially for those of us with dark hair, dark skin, and a Middle Eastern appearance. But the last thing I would call it is stupid.

Recently, complaints over the TSA procedures have caused uproar among travelling citizens, who call them “invasive.” One unnamed ABC News employee said her experience was “worse than going to a gynecologist.” Even if the most extreme scenarios people have described are true, such as TSA officers feeling around travellers’ groins, breasts, and thighs, they hardly constitute that dramatic exaggeration.

Another traveller, a US Airways flight attendant, complained that she felt like she was taken advantage of after a TSA agent checked her extensively. Perhaps she thought that she, as a flight attendant, would be exempted from these searches. However, security measures should apply to all travellers, regardless of their occupation. I’ve been following these stories in the news the past few weeks and I’m genuinely surprised. Almost a decade after 9/11, people have already forgotten why security measures like these are in place.

The reason why even children, the elderly, and 20-year-old girls go through rigorous testing is that in order to ensure security, you have to think like your enemy. If a terrorist wanted to tamper with the flight, don’t kid yourself into thinking he or she wouldn’t stoop so low as to force a child or an older person to hide the explosives.

Perhaps the procedures seem a little silly or even inappropriate, but the purpose is important and should be commended. If an innocent person is checked for 10 minutes, then we can be hopeful that more suspicious people are checked for even longer—and that guilty ones might get caught.

I understand that we all have a right to basic privacies, but in this case, protecting privacy might also cause harm to our fellow citizens. Reducing the use of these procedures only makes us less safe.

That particular airport employee who told me the procedures were “a little stupid” probably had a long day and was tired of checking 20-year old girls for bombs. It might seem redundant to him, but to everyone who has to fly, it’s a life-saving measure and one I’m thankful exists.

This was published in the McGill Tribune as part of my bi-weekly column, Perspectives.

My love of criticism

It is always surprises me when readers actually take the time to read articles thoroughly, digest them, and disagree (or agree) so much that they are motivated to write a response.

In a recent article in the McGill Daily, Ted Sprague discussed a few of his critiques on the articles in the recent McGill Daily and Tribune. Of all these articles to choose from, he critiqued my most recent article in my column, Learning to Network. Although I can definitely agree with his point of view, that a new generation of youth has sprung up believing they must network with important people to gain any importance whatsoever, his belief that this is “selling your soul” is unwarranted. Whatever career path you choose, you will inevitably be required to meet people who have more expertise than you and have higher positions than you. Learning from then and putting your name out there is an important prerequisite for success. The way we should not do this, like Sprague argues, is attempt to change who we are, or become a “commodity” as he put it. Networking can be done by being yourself – and is most likely to guarantee success when you present an authentic self – someone worth getting to know.

I don’t want to focus on the actual disagreement between our views, but instead I want to focus on the fact that there is disagreement. As a writer and a columnist, my biggest hope is that readers take in what I am saying and are intrigued enough to formulate their own point of view, no matter if it diverges from mine or not. My column did that and motivated Sprague to critique it.

When you have deadlines to meet, and edits to complete (sometimes the sixth or seventh edit of one 500 word article), journalism can seem like a stressful industry. It is in times like these that I realize how lucky I am to be doing what I do and how important this industry is. It allows us to create new opinions and beliefs and share these thoughts with those around us. It is a circle of knowledge flowing, that will never be broken as long as people are free to speak their own opinions.

I became a journalist because I was intrigued by the power of words and today I was reminded that words – including mine – can make a difference.

Perspectives: Learning to Network

It’s only when standing in a room full of strangers that you realize networking is not at all as easy as it seems. In fact, it might be the hardest thing a young professional has to do, and unfortunately, one of the most important things McGill doesn’t teach us.

Last weekend, I attended a conference in Ottawa for political junkies where we heard from notable Canadian political figures like Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton. I didn’t feel intimidated by these great politicians, but I was intimidated by my peers. The students at the conference were intelligent, well-versed in Canadian political history, but most importantly, knew how to shake hands and make small talk.

While I was first in line to take a picture with the politicians, my friends were first to introduce themselves to each other. I was surprised that during the rare and short five-minute breaks, my friends didn’t run to grab a glass of water or a snack, but instead used their limited free time to network with one another. It soon became painfully aware to me that small talk wasn’t my best asset. For a girl who wants to pursue a career in journalism or politics, this revelation felt like a flashing red danger light that my future might be in jeopardy. So, am I totally doomed? The short answer is yes, but my inner optimist suggests there’s still some hope for me and other timid people.

Queen’s University career counsellor Cathy Keates says that the social component of conferences or events are extremely valuable for students. Work relationships are fostered and new friendships are made. She believes that it can be very intimidating, but it’s something you can get over once you get used to it.

When I thought about how this weakness might affect my future, I realized, as with any other problem, that the first step is admitting I have one. I feel uncomfortable in social situations where I must ask fellow students what organization they are a part of, what student leadership positions they’ve attained, and which 50 extra-curricular activities they’ve participated in. However, students who are about to graduate need to perfect this small talk, since the ability to relate to other people, communicate effectively, and promote yourself is a part of the lifelong job process we are about to embark upon. Even if we have the skills and experience required for a job, if we can’t sell ourselves, we won’t even be considered. If I let my belief that I don’t have this skill stop me from even trying, then yes, I am “doomed.” But the point is that I don’t have to be.

I can change my skills. Four years at McGill have taught me more about interacting with books and computers than about interacting with students and teachers. Now that I’ve recognized it, I’m ready to change. Granted, it won’t be easy, and will probably be awkward as I maneuver social situations asking strangers personal questions, but it will be something that will get easier.

The first step starts with acquiring confidence. Soon-to-be graduates like myself feel intimidated leaving the protective school bubble and entering a new social environment. But we’ve been educated at one of the best universities in the world, and with that should come pride, not shyness.

Probably the most important thing to do is just to put yourself out there. Yes, it’s awkward and difficult the first 10 times, but I know that if I try hard enough, it will get easier, because at every new event I can meet people who will help me foster greater confidence in myself as I practice meeting other new people.

And the next time I attend a conference, I will be the one ready to network with both the presenters and the audience during those brief, precious free moments.

Perspectives: A Close Call with Plagiarism

Last week, I submitted an article to the McGill Daily. (Just broadening my horizons, not switching turfs.) When the editor told me that I had used too many of another’s words and as a result, the article could not be published, I was shocked. Had I really crossed the line to plagiarism?

A 2009 study at the University of British Columbia found that students who plagiarize or cheat have “dark” personality traits, most commonly psychopathy. The study’s author, psychology Professor Delroy Paulhus, recommended that universities should treat plagiarism as a mental disorder.

Me? A psychopath? It doesn’t match my personality traits or my strong ethical values. I still can’t come to terms with the fact that laziness and sloppy work resulted in a close call with plagiarism. I am reluctant to even talk about this incident because, like many other students, I’m hesitant to admit that I came so close to cheating. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.

Apparently, I’m not the first. Researchers at Guelph University and Rutgers University revealed in a 2006 study that over 53 per cent of Canadians admitted to plagiarism and 18 per cent to cheating on tests at post-secondary schools. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper was accused of plagiarizing his 2010 throne speech from former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Harper was also accused of plagiarizing a speech he gave as opposition leader, urging Canada to send troops into Iraq. His speechwriter eventually was forced to resign.

The fact that plagiarism is so widespread-among politicians, students, and even professors-makes me wonder why it’s so appealing. Is it laziness, or is it a deeper societal problem?

One issue is that students often don’t realize they are cheating. Letting your parents edit your work (or write it for you) is plagiarism. Working in groups to solve a project, when the professor has forbidden it, is cheating. A survey of 20,000 students compiled by the Canadian Council on Learning found that students of our generation are more likely than those of others to cheat, and less likely to call it cheating.

Another problem is the accessibility of cheating. Internet-based cheating increased by 81 per cent between 2003 and 2006 according to a survey conducted by the CCL. Copying and pasting from an article has never been so easy.

But the biggest problem is our failure to value our own words and work. People cheat not because they are unethical or too busy to come up with their own ideas, but because they don’t value their own opinions. The thoughts of supposedly reputable others seem more important; one’s own original thoughts seem not to measure up in comparison. While discussing ideas for a class paper, my Shakespeare professor didn’t just tell us not to plagiarize. He told us not to disrespect our own intelligence.  “Borrowing” an idea from someone else only means that we don’t believe sufficiently in ourselves.

An organizer of the Rutgers/Guelph study said the best way to deal with plagiarism is to implement an honour code in schools. But students know cheating is wrong. It’s more important to encourage them to develop their own ideas and take them seriously when they vocalize those ideas.

The excuses are endless but at the root of cheating lies an under-appreciation of your own self-worth. Rather than just inserting the section “McGill values academic integrity” onto every syllabus, it would be more effective if professors and students discussed what academic integrity really is: an understanding that my ideas can only be authentic if I work hard to ensure that they’re my own.