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Insights from Labour Relations

I’m currently TA-ing for a Labour Relations class, and the professor is our university’s retired Director of HR. Today he invited a local CUPE representative and the Mediation Expert of the Dispute Resolution Services Branch of the Ministry of Labour to give a talk about what they do. Here are some gems:


– always pad your bargaining issues…so if the real issue is about the money, it won’t look like it’s just the money at the end. And you don’t take anything out towards the end/in the last round of bargaining. 

– we sometimes have someone in our bargaining team whose job is to just watch the other team’s facial expression and body language and note all that


– “Collective bargaining is messy.”

– the bargaining doesn’t just happen the day of; the employer and union members could’ve planted the seed of mistrust or positivity from before. if the employer has been lying to the union people all year long, and on the bargaining day, the mediator comes with a “final” “truthful” offer from the employee, the union won’t believe them. the small actions add up.

– there are 4 dimensions of collective bargaining:

1) strategic – straight forward

2) technical – things like which rooms the employer/union reps are staying in (pent house or basement near the furnace), who gets more coffee in their room, etc.

3) psychological – transactional analysis – basically you can act like a critical parent, an adult, or a petulant child in the bargaining. ideally both sides including the mediator will all act like adults, but if you’re not, then something could go wrong. 

4) emotional – emotions should be checked at the door. if you find yourself getting angry, take a break. 

– “sharing information is going to give you credibility.”



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Expat Eavesdropping

Two cool things (to me) overheard on the Skytrain today from a (probably) British business man to a Thai colleague.

1) British business man, “When I was on the board, we had code names for a lot of our projects so that nothing would be written down when the secretary took notes. The problem was, our chairman couldn’t remember to which project the code names referred. So we had to remind him and each other every time. We did try to have a naming convention but it was always somewhat arbitrary. For example, the CEO of the other company’s name was White so we called our project “Black.” But we still couldn’t remember.”

It’s stories like these that allow me to glimpse into the corporate world, especially into the C-suite.

2) Same British man, “Do you think Thai people need more personal space?”
Thai colleague, “Probably, but not with family and friends.”
British man, “Of course. But, I’m talking about in common areas.”
Thai colleague, “Yes, I think Thai people need more personal space.”
British man, “I agree. I notice that Thai people usually leave more space compared to some other cultures.”

I thought about this and on the one hand I didn’t agree because, for example, Bangkok is so crowded = there is almost no personal space and shops and stalls are crammed together. On the other hand, Thai people rarely touch each other. We don’t touch each other through greetings (the “wai” where we put on hands together and bow our heads down) and for strangers to hug even after some team success (besides sports teams) would be really strange.

Imagine the “horror” when Thai people saw me greet my French friends at the airport!

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How to think like a Department Chair

When do you get a rare visit from the Department Chair?

a) He owes your money
b) He wants to collect the item the aforementioned money was paid for
c) He wants to pitch an idea to you
d) All of the above

Today our Department Chair paid a visit to the VP of the Graduate Association of Students in Psychology and I (the President) to collect the psych tshirt he ordered. He then took this opportunity to pitch us an idea that he’s had for awhile that no GASP exec has actually taken up.

I actually like the idea a lot and would love to get it started. The Chair proposed that we should have an intra-departmental poster session for graduate students. These posters can just be the ones students have already presented at conferences around the world. In this way, students and faculty members from different divisions can see what amazing research we’re all doing.

Another thing the Chair proposed was to start a booklet that contains all the poster/presentation abstracts from all the conferences students have presented throughout the year. Doing so will allow the psych department to have permanent records of these presentations, and we can build a library of this collection.

Now, this is the part that made the aforementioned ideas go from “just a thought from some old, famous psych prof” to “a thought from the forward thinking Department Chair;” he proposed that we should forward these booklet/evidence of research awesomeness to the Associate Provost, Graduate Studies; Dean of Arts; and other Senior Administrators, etc.* because, I paraphrase, “Some departments are better than others.”

My respect for our Department Chair just went up 10-fold.

*Whoever can figure out the political structure of universities, please fill me in.

This picture isn't that relevant, but you get the idea. Also, I think it's funny, and I want one.


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Problem Solving in a Group

I’m reading this incredible book by Daniel Levi called Group Dynamics for Teams (2nd Ed.) and I wanted to share one part from the book.

The following are characteristics of effective group problem solvers (Beebe & Masterson, 1994; Janis & Mann, 1977):

– Skilled problem solvers view problems from a variety of viewpoints to better understand the problem.
– Rather than relying on its own opinions, an effective group gathers data and researches a problem before making a decision.
– A successful group considers a variety of options or alternatives before selecting a partiular solution.
– An effective group considers a variety of options or alternatives before selecting a particular solution.
– A successful group’s discussion is focused on the problem. Too often, groups have difficulty staying focused on the issues, especially when there are conflicts.
– An effective group listens to minority opinions. Often the solution to a problem lies in the knowledge of a group member but is ignored because the group focuses on the opinions of the majority.
– Skilled problems solvers test alternative solutions relative to established criteria. The group defines what a criteria a good solution must meet and uses those criteria when examining alternatives.

(Levi, 2007, p. 186)

Think about this the next time you are trying to solve a problem in a group setting!

Random note: If you visit his faculty page in the link above, the first selected publication is “Levi, D. & Kocher, S. (2008). International visitors’ experiences of Chiang Mai’s Buddhist temples. Journal of Human Sciences, 9, 86-102.” haha awesome!

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The Dark Side of Academia

by Svelte

The Dark Side

My graduate friends and I had a gathering yesterday, and I heard an upsetting story from one of them.

One of my friend’s supervisor discourages her to present any work-in-progress at conferences. I thought it strange because I have already presented preliminary findings at two conferences and recently submitted another paper to an upcoming conference. Also, doing so adds credentials to your CV, which can help you get more scholarships.

Here’s the reason why. This supervisor was a PhD student at an ivy league school in the states, and she presented her preliminary findings for her dissertation at a lab meeting. There was a student (or post doc?) from another institution who attended this talk.

Awhile later, this supervisor received an email from a professor who was reviewing articles that someone just submitted an article about a study that was practically the same as what the supervisor was doing. So that professor rejected that submission.

Another while later, another professor also reviewing articles told the supervisor that there was an article about a study that was practically the same as what the supervisor was doing! So that professor also rejected that submission.

Turns out, that bastard student/post doc who attended the supervisor’s PhD talk COPIED her ideas, conducted a study on it, and tried to get it published before her. Luckily, that field is kind of small and those two professors who were reviewers knew about the supervisor’s work. In the end though, that bastard still got published because he/she submitted to a European journal, and no one knew the supervisor there.

The story ended well in the sense that the supervisor still managed to get her PhD and is now a professor at my institution, but the story doesn’t end well in the sense that she is forever paranoid about others stealing ideas. Academics make their name (and money) out of being the first to come up with ideas or studies, so they have to be guarded with their novel research.

Luckily, in my lab, my supervisor did not have that experience and encourages knowledge sharing and collaboration*. Instead of going through graduate school in fear, we are experiencing a more supportive, growth inspiring, and collaborative culture. For that I am also thankful.

(*Also, from presenting preliminary findings at conferences, we learned that someone else is doing something scarily similar to us. Because we learned about this early, we get the chance to mitigate the potential negative consequences.)

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Lab Logo Unveiled!

We have finally decided on our lab logo. Thanks to Lucia Hsieh for the design!

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Advice from a Master Jedi Series – Part III: My overall impression of the Master

When our division head informed us that Gary Latham was visiting us, we had no idea who he was and I thought, “Oh yay, I have to suddenly take time out of my week again.”

But when I researched him and found out who he was, I was shocked that he’ll even come visit us! And although I wasn’t familiar with goal-setting research, I realize that when you read about goal-setting out there in general (people’s blogs, etc.), most of the advice came from his (and Locke’s) findings! Cool!

Then when I went to Gary’s colloquium, I was blown away. Literally BLOWN AWAY. Not only is he incredibly smart, he’s very personable and charismatic. He was so funny and he pretty much told a story of his life and how he ended up with the findings for his research in a very entertaining manner. The slides sucked but he made up for them big time (the slides were made by one of his graduate students and he hasn’t even seen it until that day). If he didn’t have the personable sides to him, he would’ve come across as cocky for sure. But let’s be real, if you’re THAT BIG of a deal, you’re 100% entitled to be cocky. You have the credentials!

Then after he and the lucky few had lunch with him, Gary held a meeting with us graduate students only. He was great! He went around the room and gave general advice but also talked to us individually. He went around the room and asked what our name was and what we were researching. And he gave personalize advice to each and everyone of us. I thought that was impressive considering how big of a deal he is. And he gave so many great advices to everyone. If you can get anyone as a mentor, definitely try to get Gary Latham for sure!

He also encapsulates a true scientist-practitioner. He’s a faculty at the Rotman School of Business at U of Toronto right now, but he’s always consulting and doing research in the field. And he’s a true believer in balancing the two sides.

This is why he’s ranked as one of the Masters!

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