Conversations with the Class of 2021: Tayah Liska

Tayah Liska talks about her journey from a small Ontario town to earning a Master of Arts in Kinesiology at McGill – and what comes next

Tayah Liska.

Convocation is a special time at McGill – but Fall 2021 Convocation might be a little more special than usual. For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, graduating students will actually walk across stage to receive their diplomas and certificates. This, McGill’s first in-person Convocation ceremonies since 2019, will take place at Place des Arts on November 25-26.

But while each graduating student’s destination is the same – PdA’s Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier – their journeys have all been very different.

In honour of this special day, the McGill Reporter spoke to some graduating students, asking them to look back at their time at McGill, the road they took to get here, and what their plans are for the future.

In this installment, we speak with Tayah Liska, who earned a Master of Arts in Kinesiology.

What is your hometown?

Stittsville, Ontario.

What degree are you getting?

Master of Arts in Kinesiology.

Tell us about your path to McGill.

I have always been drawn to research. In the final year of my undergraduate degree, a BSc in Human Kinetics, I completed an honours thesis and was able to gain a sense of what the research process was like. I quickly enjoyed the hands-on engagement of research and realized that I didn’t want my research experience to end after graduation. I began searching for universities with a Masters in Kinesiology program and professors within the departments whose area of research aligned with my own research interests.

My search brought me to McGill’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education and reaching out to my current advisor. One decision led to another, and ultimately, I applied to McGill. I can’t say my path to McGill had a massive “ah ha moment,” rather many gradual steps forward and decisions that fell into place that supported making it the best choice to pursue my graduate education.

What were your impressions when walking onto campus for the first time?

Coming from a small undergraduate university in an equally small town, to a large university in a major metropolitan city, my initial thought was “this place is big.” The contrast of the university experience that I was familiar with, to a university and city that I was unfamiliar with, was a bit intimidating.

However, looking past the obvious differences when walking campus, I felt a lively energy among the students and a very engaging, academically focused community. I was also captivated by the architecture and unique beauty of the campus.

As I kept walking on campus, I thought that McGill could be the right change for me by being challenged to move somewhere unfamiliar, being pushed academically in my graduate studies, and also being within a supportive campus and campus community. My impressions changed from being unsure, to being very excited at the thought of attending McGill.

How did the pandemic impact your studies?

The pandemic brought continued change to my planned research. I was proposing my thesis in the initial months of the pandemic. My original plan was to travel to New Brunswick, meet and speak with the community partner I was working with, interview my participants in person, and have an immersive research experience. As time went on, the research plan had to quickly change and adapt. My research went from in-person to remote research, which altered the research methods and required frequent communication with our community partner on the best approach to remote delivery with potential participants. In the end, the research project worked out very well. I learned a tremendous amount throughout the course of my Masters program, but the pandemic definitely added unexpected challenges to overcome.

Tell me about your Faculty and your classmates. How important have they been to your overall McGill experience?

They’re awesome! The professors and administrators in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education have been so helpful and insightful. Whether questions were related to the program, course work, or research, they have been really supportive and encouraging throughout the completion of my degree. My classmates really shaped my graduate experience. Being able to learn from my classmates, lean on each other throughout various milestones while completing our degree, and having a lot of laughs along the way, has been the most influential and memorable aspect of my McGill experience.

What advice do you have for new students to McGill?

Ask questions. Ask all of those “How do I…?” “Where is…?” and “What’s that?” questions when starting. This may come as a surprise, but people like answering questions and it’s not at all a bother to answer them.

Also, don’t be afraid to continue asking questions as time goes on because the later stages of your studies will also bring uncertainties. Ask your professors and TAs questions about course material and reach out to classmates and friends when you feel unsure about navigating any changes or challenges.

Once I started asking my friends and classmates questions as to whether they had encountered a similar difficulty or feeling surrounding school, the majority of the time they had a similar experience or feeling. When we all recognized that we have gone, or are going through similar situations, it was so much easier for us to lean on each other for ongoing support and guidance.

What are your plans for Convocation? Will you take part in the ceremony? If so, how exciting is it to be able to take that iconic walk across the stage to accept your diploma?

I am very excited for Convocation! Having COVID-19 dramatically shift school, I’m really excited to reunite with my peers and celebrate this significant milestone. School can be difficult to begin with, adding a whole new set of changes and challenges with the COVD-19 pandemic did not make it easier. To finish a degree and walk across the stage in-person seems a little surreal. All graduates should be proud of their accomplishments and making it through quite a historical year!

What’s next for you, both short and long term?

I’ve started my PhD in Kinesiology Science this September at McGill, so I’ll be on campus for the foreseeable future. Right now, my focus, both short-term and long-term, has been towards meeting degree-related milestones. After completing my PhD, I anticipate entering academia.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the world today and what needs to be done to overcome them? How confident are you that we can address these challenges and make a difference?

When you turn on the news it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by many challenges facing the world today. The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, social inequity, and economic stress are some of the many challenges currently facing the world and our modern society. But as someone who considers themselves as an optimist, I’ve adopted the words of my grandmother: “There is no problem too big in the world that can’t be solved.” I recognize that these words are easier said than done, but I do believe that these challenges can be overcome when there is a collective drive for change and to generate solutions.

Some of the influences to make change would need to come from a top-down approach; academics providing evidence-based solutions, policy that solidifies public measures for change to address these challenges, and leadership that addresses the calls for action and ensures guidance to implement positive change.

However, solutions can come from a bottom-up approach as well. Communities that unite and provide support to one-another, each person speaking up and voicing challenges and solutions that could be addressed and extending a helping hand whenever possible. We all have a responsibility in making the world a better place, and approaching these challenges with an open mind, ambition, and a positive attitude, I believe, can go a very long way.

Who have been your biggest role models or mentors in your life?

First and foremost, my mom and dad. They have been my greatest teachers and mentors, providing me unwavering support and encouragement in all my endeavours. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for their consistent presence and guidance. Also, my undergraduate research advisor and professor, Dr. Angie Kolen, and my current advisor, Dr. Shane Sweet. Both have been influential role models personally and professionally. They have not only shaped my academic interest but have also challenged my skillset and insights and have provided immense support and encouragement. In doing so, they have brought out many of my strengths and have contributed significantly to my personal growth.