Life in the Department
The Graduate Students Association in Religious Studies (GSARS) plays an important role in bringing the grad students in our department together throughout the year for social and academic events. Members of the GSARS executive team (elected in September) host parties and various welcome week activities as well as organize research and writing workshops and colloquia.
Depending on student interest, the GSARS social committee may also plan less formal gatherings: pick-up hockey games, pub nights around Hamilton, or trips to museums and art galleries. Every graduate student in Religious Studies is automatically a member of GSARS and is encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities the association provides!
Life at McMaster
What GSARS does for students in Religious Studies, the GSA (Graduate Students Association) does for students across the departments at McMaster including sponsoring events and opportunities for networking and professional development. The GSA also funds a number of scholarships (conference and travel scholarships in particular) and members are automatically enrolled in a health and dental plan (unless they hold a Teaching Assistant position – see below).
If you’re a Teaching Assistant (or a Research Assistant in lieu) at McMaster, you are represented by Local 3906 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The Local (which also represents sessional instructors and post-doctoral fellows) negotiates a collective bargaining agreement on behalf of its members and represents their interests to the university on workplace matters such as equity and health and safety. CUPE members also enjoy separate dental benefits, a child care reimbursement, and a health spending account.
The McMaster campus boasts a number of outstanding recreational facilities that are available to grad students at any time of the year. These are found at the David Braley Athletic Centre, one of the largest of its kind at a Canadian university and just a short walk from our offices in University Hall. Students enjoy free access to swimming facilities, squash courts, and an indoor track. For a small fee, members can enroll in spin classes, yoga, dance, martial arts, and tai chi, as well as make use of the weight room, stationary bikes, and indoor climbing wall.
Hanging Out on Campus
No doubt, the Graduate Student Association will play an invaluable role by offering networking, scholarship and career development opportunities but the GSA also provides another crucially important service to the students: they manage The Phoenix, a bar and restaurant located in the historic Refectory building.
The Phoenix staff are the keepers of the McMaster version of the Holy Grail, The Thallion. Only those that have successfully defended their thesis may drink from this mystical chalice.
Arts & Culture
Once characterized as an industrial center, Hamilton is experiencing a period of intense revitalization. The downtown is now home to one of the most exciting arts and culture scenes in the country, with new shops, galleries, collectives, and restaurants opening all the time. The crown jewel of this initiative is the area surrounding James Street North, which has undergone arguably the most dramatic transformation. Supercrawl, a yearly celebration of JSN’s arts community, has exploded in popularity in recent years, drawing more than 100,000 visitors over the course of a weekend.
Where to Live
When it comes to housing for our students, the majority tend to prefer a living arrangement that will place them close enough to campus for an easy commute, while also giving them a chance to experience life in Hamilton on its own terms, apart from the university and its influence.
This has often meant renting a house, apartment, or room east of the campus in the communities of Kirkendall, Durand, and Corktown or to the west in the town ofDundas. Space in these neighborhoods is coveted not just for its proximity to the school: these are vibrant, historic, walkable communities with a wide variety of amenities and attractions. Although finding a great place to rent can be a challenge in any city, our students have reported success in using the McMaster Off-Campus Resource Center, as well as private services such as Padmapper and Kijiji.
A Nature-lover’s Dream
Newcomers to Hamilton are often surprised not only by its dynamic neighborhoods by its impressive natural beauty as well. The city is bisected by the Niagara escarpment, creating an ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ Hamilton. There are breathtaking views to be had when travelling between these two, especially on foot. Hamilton is also home to more than 100 waterfalls and cascades, and to numerous trails and hiking paths.
Getting around town has gotten a lot easier recently with the launch of the SoBi Hamilton bike share network, which offers a discounted rate to university students. McMaster also has an agreement with Hamilton Street Rail that guarantees a subsidized, yearlong, renewable bus pass to every graduate student. Those of our students living further away in neighbouring towns or cities may drive and pay to park on campus, but, more often, they choose to ride on GO Transit, a network of trains and buses servicing the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area conurbation.
Those that don’t keep a personal vehicle may also want to consider using Community CarShare for occasional trips. Cars are centrally located in the downtown core and at McMaster.