Grad Life: The Usual Beginning of Term Issues

I’ve been prompted to discuss some of the recent issues I’ve been having. There’s been a slight delay on some issues popping up, but as projects rise and fall, changes to my computer set up are required. Also I just moved. Again. We’re now counting 9 moves since I’ve started graduate studies. Let’s chat.

Projects and Pathing

What feels like a common silly thing to wrestle with which each new code package is the installation of specific dependencies and setting up folders and paths in a particular fashion to allow the use of said new fancy code package. Without going into detail, I’m astonished that I was able to follow some specific set of instructions to install GDAL (notorious for being tricky to set up since a number of dependencies need to be upgraded and downgraded at various steps in the installation). However, I’m at a loss when it comes to the more cryptic error messages (Figs. 1 and 2).

Usually what I do is Google and check various forums for days on end, find some workaround and install something completely different instead. This time it’s looking like I really might have to figure out the issue. On a related note, speaking with my labmates did help out for another software problem I was having. Thank you!

Figure 1. A screenshot of Anaconda. I cracked open my “clusters” environment and got a series of messages that I have no recollection of setting up. Here I was just trying to reproduce the weird error that I get when I try to import a python package! More to solve I suppose. I should start documenting what I do to set up my environments.
Figure 2. The actual issue. The log has nothing useful in it by the way.

Housing

Wow, what a problem. This is a nation-wide issue of course. There’s the actual cost of housing that means I get to spend something like 80% of my income and have 20% leftover for groceries and any sort of enjoyment in life outside of work, then there’s bad housing. Let’s document my housing experiences briefly.

Location zero: never even moved in. I got a last minute notification that the place I had originally planned was not going to work out.

Location one: Landlord insisted on meeting up in a different city. Played games with the offer (stating there was another tenant they preferred). Entered premises without notice. Did not resolve issues. Gave me keys to everyone’s bedroom and asked me to keep it a secret (I refused) because they didn’t have a property manager and didn’t want to drive in to unlock the doors for people. Refused to address the issue of a surprise pet someone had been hiding in their room (and causing allergic reactions) despite this being a condo with no pet rules. Failing to notify the condo association of the tenants and associated vehicle licenses. Gaslighting and yelling. It goes on.

Location two: Landlord lived in the house. When viewing the place, they indicated that kitchen and pool were for common use. Linens were provided. Moved in. Got yelled at for cooking and having “food scents”. Insisted that people in the past just ate take out every day. Threatened to call the police on me. Put something questionable in my room that caused it to smell. Lied about the passcode for the entrance. I didn’t even last the two weeks I had paid for.

Location three: Just a crash pad at a friend’s place while avoiding Location two and figuring out where to go.

Location four: Perfectly fine! The place was a little small and out of the way. This was a non-issue until the pandemic rolled around and I was stuck indoors all the time due to a wasp problem in the backyard.

Location five: Pretty great. Minus the extreme heat (no AC) and roommates that had weird sleeping hours that resulted in a lot of stomping overhead. The folks were great, but the random footsteps overhead really got to me after a while. I was all set for the rest of my degree. Until I wasn’t.

Location six: Turns out it’s really hard to find housing when the university suddenly declares in person classes again. After 60+ calls and messages, and several in person visits where people were making offers on the spot, I finally found a place reasonably priced and close enough to bus. Only issue is that the landlord hated onions. Okay. I could deal with that for a bit.

It turns out that it was a lot more than that. There was a lot of random sudden sniffs outside my door, and loud music being played all the time from upstairs, and a lot of guests (guess what we weren’t allowed to have?). The heat would also get randomly turned off and she demanded our windows be opened for hours to air out. Eventually me and my law school roommate decided to look into the legality of our living conditions and decided that we were indeed protected by the Residential Tenancies Act and our lease was nonsense. Over the holidays our landlord someone developed some terrible illness wherein her doctor insisted that no scented things were allowed in the house. Of course, they felt welcome to inspect our quarters. Somehow my roommate spilled an entire bottle of perfume that the landlord didn’t notice, but my diffuser that had water in it for over a month was a problem. No wonder I didn’t submit my thesis in time to work from home the next term.

Location seven: Great! Lovely roommate, reasonably nice location. Wasps in the house and mice in the walls. Can’t win ’em all. Those issues never got resolved properly. There was also incredibly poor heat distribution in the house and a gap in our entry door, so we often had a space heater on. Oh, and the house down the street was regularly broken into and we had a couple fires in the five months I was there. I wouldn’t have enjoyed living there much longer.

Location eight (skipping over living from home and living at a remote campsite for three weeks): Okay. Housing in Toronto is rough. A family friend let me stay for a bit while I was waiting on residence to let me in. It was a lot of being treated like a surrogate daughter though. Not the most comfortable, but alright.

Location nine: Finally! I have arrived! I applied way back when I received my original acceptance and followed up after the response date had passed. I was on the wait list. Cool. Then I got in and picked a date. Great! I emailed closer to the move in date asking where the lease was. I was informed it was in the works. It showed up in my inbox a week before move-in with some additional information. For example, there was a link that informed me I would receive a move-in time via email and I should confirm this worked for me. The email never arrived despite reaching out several times and getting a response for elevator booking on the Friday before move-in. No one seems to work on the weekends.

Move-in day. I waited until around 10 that morning, calling in several times to see if I could get a hold of someone. I even got transferred once. To no avail. Anyhow, I show up and it’s all good. Then I get into the apartment. Fairly quickly, I notice it is not all good. There are several issues with the apartment, most of which are cleanliness and electrical related. I have a quick chat with the office that gave me keys, and they assure me that I can submit a maintenance request and most issues will be addressed between 24 and 48 hours.

Surprise! I am unable to fill out the maintenance form. To that point, I am also unable to complete the arrival inventory (where I can state the condition of things where I found them). I email IT and someone fixes this a day later citing a mysterious issue and I have now have access. Alright then. I fill out the form and make 3 specific maintenance requests, and within a day, I see notice that my requests have been updated and are in various stages of progress. I come back after going to a workshop out of town and see a notice indicating that one request is a non-issue, and another has been confirmed as an issue. A nice little notice informs me that they will be coming back. Cleanliness issues have not been addressed.

A week passes, and I check with the front desk how to escalate. They are surprised to hear that my issue is ongoing. I follow the information I was given to reach out to another group to figure out what has been going on. Another 48+ hours passes, and I hear nothing. I email again, requesting an update. 48+ hours go by. Nothing.

This morning, I ask the front desk to escalate. They are surprised to see me again, and apologize once more, this time promising to reach out to the custodial staff directly. I come back mid-day to address my rumbling stomach, and find my door open and people inside my apartment. Weird. Someone just emailed me confirming they would come by tomorrow morning to take photos. After extensive discussion and several phone calls (from the staff in my apartment), I am assured that their superiors have contracted someone to come by tomorrow. We shall see if this happens. It is evident that there are some communication issues within the Maintenance group themselves. At first, no one was addressing my issue. Now there are at least 4 other people involved. Apparently people had been trying to knock on my door for the last 2 days instead of simply emailing me back.

Lessons (RE)Learned

Being a student with limited financial resources can be rough. No doubt about it. I spoke with a few others who had been living in residence and they made it clear that they had ongoing issues that had never been resolved or required escalating several times and external intervention to address. I have absolutely paid my way out of bad housing situations in the past, but this isn’t a viable solution for everyone all the time. Being persistent in resolving issues is the only way they move forward, and it takes more time than I would like to spend. It would be wonderful if the people I had to interact with were competent, especially when I am reliant on them or pay for a service. To quote roughly the individual I spoke with the first time around regarding cleanliness, “It’s because they’re part-timers. I don’t get it. They should work hard until they’re full-time, then they can slack off on the job.” Admittedly, I bit my tongue when I heard that from what appeared to be one of the full-time staff. I think I may have responded with, “Right, so 24-48 hours?”

Pile of Projects, Solutions?

I’d love to be able to compartmentalize my life so that I can focus on one thing at a time. Research, TA duties, housing, a semblance of financial security, and my personal life. It doesn’t quite work out that way though. So instead, I write myself a small to-do list for each “project” in my life and see how much bandwidth I have that day or week. This doesn’t always work out (I still have what is hopefully an hour long task to wrap up a short project), but it seems to help. I will eventually find some time to work on my pet projects, such as in Figure 3. Electroforming and shampoo making, here I come!

Figure 3. Not all is bad. I finally picked up an LED lamp that mimics part of the spectrum necessary for happy plant growth. It also provides a warm light instead of the fluorescents everywhere else in the apartment!

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