Nick Vieira (he/him/il) is a second-year PhD student in astrophysics at McGill and works as a Teaching Assistant.
Where did you grow up / where is home for you?
I grew up in Montréal! My family is Portuguese.
What is your academic research about?
I study the mergers of the densest objects in the Universe--neutron stars and black holes--and how they might synthesize the elements we see around us. I do this by running simulations and comparing them to observations.
What do you like doing for fun?
Right now, I’m learning to play bass!
Favorite place in Montreal?
I’m currently a big fan of Chez Claudette, my favourite poutine place! Highly recommend the all-dressed. I also grew up in Côte-des-Neiges and really love the area. There are lots of great parks (Van Horne, Mackenzie, Kent…) and lots of good restaurants which don’t get as much attention as those closer to campus.
How long have you been working as a TA at McGill?
I spent most of my MSc as a physics outreach coordinator, which was a paid position which
“replaced” my TA-ship. I have been TA’ing since Fall 2022.
How long have you been AGSEM delegate? What have been your tasks as a delegate so far?
I was elected as an AGSEM representative by our graduate student association in Fall 2021. I assumed my role as delegate and got much more involved in Fall 2022. I’ve mostly worked on de-mystifying the union for students in physics and communicating the importance of a strong union. Recently, I helped organize a “TA bingo” night, together with Earth & Planetary Sciences.
What is your favorite part of working as a TA?
I love working with undergraduate students in their lab courses. Lab time (for well-designed
labs!) is an opportunity for students to build the ability to design experiments, troubleshoot, and actually practice physics. It’s also crucial for students to develop a sense of being a
physicst/scientist--especially after 2+ years of remote learning.
What has been the biggest challenge in your work so far?
We are fortunate in physics, as we do not face some of the issues students face in other departments. On the flip side, the relatively good situation in physics sometimes makes it challenging to bring students' attention to the importance of a strong union.
What should be improved about the current TA Collective Agreement between AGSEM and McGill?
I think it is crucial that we do not allow TA-ships to be included in student funding packages. Students should not need to work as TAs in order to receive their full funding. We are fortunate that this is not the case in physics, but in other departments students (barely) make enough to survive if, and only if, they TA. For these students, add tuition costs and the situation becomes untenable.
Why do you think unionizing and having a strong labour union is important for Teaching Assistants, Invigilators, and other groups of employees at McGill?
Students across the university are currently fighting to have their stipends raised above the
poverty line. The success of these fights is highly contingent on how effective a given graduate student society is in any given year, and these societies have a high turn-over rate. They are also highly dependent on how sympathetic a given chair or graduate program director is. Further, because these fights are happening in relative isolation in each department, there are huge inequities across the university (or even within single faculties). Federal funding (e.g. Tri-Council awards) has stagnated for decades. Students spend a lot of time and energy fighting, sometimes unsuccessfully, for basic living conditions and benefits, which could easily be guaranteed through an appropriate collective contract.
Are you involved or interested in other activist or political movements/organizations at the moment?
I am currently serving as president of the McGill Graduate Association of Physics Students. Our current priorities are negotiating a new stipend for the coming Fall and following years and fixing the broken expense reimbursement/advance system. Off-campus, I’m a big advocate of the decolonization movement of so-called Canada. In particular, I hope to see the end of exploitation of Indigenous land by the energy industry (e.g., the Coastal GasLink pipeline on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in so-called British Columbia).
Thank you for your union involvement and for participating in the Q&A, Nick!
"Get to Know Your Delegate" is a series of blog posts introducing AGSEM Delegates in a Q&A format. Are you an AGSEM Delegate interested in being featured in the series? Email your External Communications Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org