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  • 00:00 - Introduction

  • 01:07 - Segment 1: Slap Shot (Short Story)

  • 08:59 - Segment 2: The Origin of "Shoot For The Moon" (Metaphor History)

  • 15:28 - Segment 3: Canadian Vs. American Research Institutes (Communication Topic)

  • 27:39 - Segment 4: Talk With Amanda Bentley-DeSousa (Guest Interview)


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To my conspicuous family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the 37th episode of the Metaphorigins Podcast.


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Okay. So for today’s episode, I’ll be talking about an expression that metaphorically, sounds so astronomically arduous, it may even be beyond this world.


Here’s the DL. You’re ecstatic, beaming with jubilance and delight. It’s November 12th and you and your friend have tickets to see your favourite music artist perform at their AstroMoon World Tour Concert. The artist is question is Scott Travis, one of the leading hip-hop MCs in the world today. He’s best known for Psycho Mode with classic lyrics like:


In the 305, bitches treat me like I'm Uncle Luke

(Don't stop, pop that pussy!)

Had to slop the top off, it's just a roof (uh)

She said, "Where we goin'?" I said, "The moon"

We ain't even make it to the room

She thought it was the ocean, it's just the pool


He’s also known for yet another classic track, the Caterpillar Impact, with yet another verse containing the following bars: 


Heatin' up, baby, I'm just heatin' up (It's lit)

Need your love, not a need, it is a must (Yeah)

Feelin' stuck, you know how to keep me up (Yeah, yeah)

Icy love, icy like a hockey puck (Alright)


As these are your favourite songs since AstroMoon album debuted in 2018, you and your friend even dressed up for the festival. Your friend coming in a full Moon spherical costume, with a shirt that has the question, “Where we goin’?” Written on the front. And yourself, wearing a full hockey player outfit: gloves, helmet, stick and puck in hand. “You’re just missing the skates.” Your friend said before you hopped on the bus to the venue.


AstroMoon has multiple meanings for you. Not only is it your favourite hip-hop album with more bangers like Planet Grazing, having such stylish lyrics as the following:


Got new money, got new problems, got new enemies

When you make it to the top, that's the amenities

Packin' out Toyota like I'm in the league

And it ain't a mosh pit if ain't no injuries

I got 'em stage divin' out the nosebleeds (Alright, alright, alright)

And she hit that booger sugar 'til her nose bleed (Alright, alright, alright)


But AstroMoon was also named after one of your favourite theme parks. Created by Six Flags and now a defunct amusement centre, going to AstroMoon with your family and friends were the best years of your youth. Scott Travis felt this distinct pain, this isolation of having a location so sentimental to your existence implanted within you. “For this life, I cannot change.” He was right, you could not change. Nonetheless, you could at least relive those colourful memories through his insightful bars and beats.


You and your friend finally arrive at the AstroMoon Festival entrance. It’s packed, something that you never thought would happen again after COVID (and in fact, COVID still rages on, it’s just people are tired of it. As Travis would say, “There's a lot of us out here that are birds, man. We all need to just fly). As you think of this, you see a man dressed as a gigantic robin. The three of you snap some selfies before walking through the mouth of a large sculpture representing Travis’ head.


You and your friend make your way as close to the front as possible. The costumes you both brought pose some spacial and attention challenges, as your hockey stick continuously trips attendees, and others trying to plant flags on your friend while screaming “IT WAS A HOAX”, whatever that means. The both of you make it about halfway to the stage before it becomes almost impossible to squeeze passed anymore. It’s a bit peculiar, as you look up in all directions and just see the fronts and backs of heads, countless of them. “Where did we even come from?” You ask your friend. However, when you turn to where they were last, they have disappeared, engulfed by the crowd pushing closer and closer to the stage.


Before you can begin the search and rescue, the lights shut off, signaling the concert is about to start. The crowd erupts in cheers. More and more people are fed into the space between the entrance and the stage. Strobe lights flash the stage in epic sequential fashion, and with fire blasting like a volcano exploding through stage floor nozzles, Travis appears and starts the show with Yellowstone, laying down some more of your favourite bars:


Ice on my neck, flawless baguettes

Hop off a jet, barely get rest

Cash through the month, I get a check

Yves Saint Laurent on my pants and my chest

Chanel, her dress

Clean up her mess

I eat her flesh, you know the rest


It is at this moment that you realize how difficult it is to breathe. Not because of the lack of air in the venue (you are outside after all), but because of the amount of people packed into the clearing. It’s as if guards at the entrance have continuously let in person after person without accounting for that fact that people actually take up space. You start panicking and begin asking people around you if they have seen your friend. “What do they look like?” One concert goer says. “Well, they’re tall, have black hair, kind of nerdy looking…” You almost forget about the costume. “They’re dressed like a moon!” You exclaim.


The woman points to your friend, standing on top of a security car, looking extremely frightened. They’re much closer to the front of the stage than you are, where you are shocked at how many people are lined up with their arms in the air. You hear, over Travis and his crew screaming, “Fuck the club up, fuck the club up”, that people are screaming back, “Stop the concert, stop the concert!”. You yell towards your friend, to no success. You say aloud, “There’s absolutely no way I can get to that security car with all these people! How am I going to get my friend’s attention?”


Surprisingly, the woman you were questioning earlier responds, “Well, you have a hockey puck right? Why don’t you shoot for the moon?” Making the motion of a Stanley cup champion scoring the game 7 overtime goal. You have no other choice. You get up on the picnic table beside you, line up your shot, breathe, and take the most important slap shot of your life.


Incredibly, this bounces off someone’s beer bottle and smashes the rear window of the security car. Luckily, this grabs your friend’s attention immediately, and they see you waving your hands in the air to the beat of “No Witnesses”. The sound scares all those around the car, and this pushes people more forward towards the stage, causing a kind of stampede. Because of this, there is enough room for your friend to jump down and make their way towards the entrance, where you meet them. This endeavour takes 37 minutes, all of which people are yelling to stop the concert, but oddly enough Travis continues. You and your friend finally get home, despite the sirens whooshing by back towards the concert venue.


Alright, maybe too soon. I enjoy the idea of creative writing around recent events, and this sort of evolved into you starting the now infamous AstroWorld Incident during Travis Scott’s latest show. He should have stopped the concert much earlier than it did. Anywho, if you caught today’s expression, well, good on you. It’s an elegant one, but has me wondering why we aim for Earth’s companion when embarking on a difficult mission with high reward.


What’s the origin to the expression, “shoot for the moon”?


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Most of this information was obtained from many articles discussing the origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.


I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering

Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.

Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,

Floating on their delicate feet over cold pews,

Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.

The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.

And the message of the yew tree is blackness –

                blackness and silence.


Sylvia Plath, ladies and gentlemen. This is the conclusion of one of her many poems, The Moon and the Yew Tree. And although the moon, in this case, is a convoluted metaphor to a parent, Plath is not the only wielder of wordplay to allegorically use the moon for hidden players. Here’s Percey Shelley’s “To the moon”:


Art thou pale for weariness 

Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth, 

Wandering companionless 

Among the stars that have a different birth, 

And ever changing, like a joyless eye 

That finds no object worth its constancy?


Or Robert Frost’s “The Freedom of the moon”:


I put it shining anywhere I please. 

By walking slowly on some evening later, 

I’ve pulled it from a crate of crooked trees, 

And brought it over glossy water, greater, 

And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow, 

The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.


The moon is an entity that represents the human experience of beauty and melancholy. Its dim light just a reflection during nocturnal quandaries of people out and about, reflecting in themselves some deep thought or returning home from an evening of splendour. In fact, the language surrounding the moon has been referred to frequently in music, like Bruno Mars’ “Talking to the moon”, Prince’s “Moonbeam levels” and Credence Clearwater’s “Bad Moon Rising”. Here, loneliness, missing someone, death, and quite possibly the end of the world, which I suppose might be beautiful from a global disaster point of view, like the upcoming movie “Moonfall”.


The English language has dedicated much of its expressions with our eclipse creator to describing impossible outcomes. lists some more lunar expressions such as “Asking for the moon” and being “promised the moon” which are redundant statements that lead to heartbreak. Even the term “honeymoon” that coincides with celebrating the love of a recent marriage was created because honey represents sweet, while moon represents a short duration of time. And incredibly, to be “over the moon” is when one feels enormous happiness.


The moon is quite literally something many of us can never obtain, or reach towards, but it is there, ever present in our lives every single day, watching over what’s happening on Earth. A select few have been given the opportunity to land on the moon, like Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong, who’s first statement of “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” is missing an “a” to have any profound meaning. But even its surface is beautifully melancholic; cold, quiet, uneventful, lacking hues like the Moon filter on Instagram. But yet, we still strive to reach it, like an infant reaching out to a parent.


This line of thinking got me curious about today’s expression, “shoot for the moon”. Oddly, my usual sources had varied interpretations of its meaning. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes to “shoot for the moon” as “to try to do or get something that is very difficult to do or get” while Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “to ask for the best or the most you could hope for”. The first, deterministic and gamble-like inferred behaviour echoed by the 2020 film-making documentary named of the expression itself, who’s tagline was, “Being an entrepreneur is like having a disease. Either you get better or you die trying.” The second, more hopeful and optimistically inclined, spirited by Australian AIME teacher Sherice Jackson as their educational program’s motivational slogan.


Right. So who or what do we attribute “Shoot for the Moon”’s origin to? Note that “to shoot the moon” would be attributed to something entirely different, as the Online Etymology dictionary describes as “depart by night with ones goods to escape back rent”. Stack exchange user John Mack states today’s expression may have been, “inspired by the Jules Verne novel 'From the Earth to the Moon' which portrayed the efforts of a group of ex-Civil War gun manufacturers to blast a man-carrying projectile from the Earth to the Moon.” This in itself was likely inspired by, as Mack says, “Shooting at the Moon (with arrows) [as] a common theme in folk tales as diverse as those of the North American Indians, and those of Vietnam”. Yet, others attribute the expression to American minister Norman Vincent Peale, known for being an advocate for positive thinking, in which one of his most famous sayings is, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars”.


Therefore, I must conclude this segment, due to the surprising lack of validation on the origin to this expression, with an unfortunate shoulder shrug. It is unclear whether we can attribute the saying to Minister Peale or Verne’s novel, since either could work and fit within the growing context of our lunar satellite, it being a potentially unobtainable goal that should be attempted in order to find other goals, or a goal that, at least at the time, was literally impossible without advancing rocket science. In any case, the fascination found in myself and many before me about the moon on its elegant sadness in our language had me shooting for the moon with this segment itself, and, once over it, left me feeling happy that I made the attempt.


*Theme Music*

For my communications segment, I would like to talk about another comparison between two similar environments within academia, with one having such global prestige and thus sought after more in the professional ladder of research. And that comparison is of Canadian vs. American Institutes.


We’ve all heard the trope before, that feeling of positive surprise or bewilderment when someone utter’s the name of a specific university. The brand connection to higher orders of the human experience and difficulty in obtaining such a level of class unless, of course, you’re one smart cookie. The top university of the country, Ivy League, home of the Nobel Prize winner in such and such, these promotions that drive students and early career researchers to their websites and spend hours filling in those online applications, then shakily click the submit button (after paying an application fee of course).


I think I will, in a different episode, dive more into the drivers of academic prestige, like university ranking lists and brand promotion, as this attribution of brand to actual work may be more convoluted than we believe. But here, for this episode, I’d like to discuss this juxtaposition of regional research settings, of which I became curious about whether there are any noticeable differences.


For a bit of context, I completed a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Biochemistry at the University of Ottawa in Canada. I have also worked in the University of Alberta in Edmonton as a research intern in a virology lab (oh how I never would have dreamed of its relevancy 7 years down the line). Additionally, I have been affiliated with other universities in Canada through other professional experiences in government and industry, along with some contacts actually doing research in all sorts of fields. This network of motivated men and women, Canadian or international, has inspired my own work ethic, shaped and constructed the pillars for which it stands strong despite much of the weight in experimentation and extracurriculars I dump on top of it.


Yet, a thought arises when I turn my head south of our Canadian border. When I look at mainstream news, or when I read the affiliations of keynote speakers at conferences, or even through everyday conversation with my peers about research, this “wow” factor towards American research institutes. Harvard, Yale, MIT, UCLA, institutes that I personally know that people in my network have dreamed of going to ever since they became fascinated with the scientific method.


Why is that? Excluding climate reasons, generally speaking, why would somebody rather go to Harvard than, say, the University of Toronto? MIT rather than McGill University? Hell, I’m a complete tech bafoon but if an opportunity arises to do some post-doctoral fellowship in biological sciences at MIT, why am I certain that I will weep with tears of joy? I’m obviously exaggerating but this bewilderment towards this similar yet different-enough research environment is something I cannot quite put my finger on, since research cultures, at least in my head, seem to be pretty much the same (though this will be expanded on in the guest interview).


First, let’s talk about the countries more broadly. In a 2016 article published in Vox by writer Sarah Kliff, a 2013 international survey of 27,000 respondents found that Canada was top voted in terms of safety, public policy and efficacy of government, and also that residents themselves feel great about living in Canada. The article also mentions the Programme of International Student Assessment, which ranks children’s abilities in reading, math and science across 44 countries, and found that the average performance of a Canadian 15 year old beat their American counterparts, only under Japan and Finland students. Mentioned in a separate article on GREedge, between 2018 and 2019, “Canada is the highest educated country across the globe, and that “Canada has the highest proportion of Working Age Adults among OECD Countries, at a staggering 55%”.


Branching off what Canadians think about themselves, a 2020 Pew Research Centre survey of Canadian opinions found a majority believe that STEM education at the university and primary/secondary levels are either above average or average. A greater majority also believe that Canada is a world leader in scientific achievements and government investment in scientific research. 


Of course, this obviously changes depending on which government party is in power. During the Trump era of politics, scientists were baffled at how erroneous the former president’s public statements were in regards to scientific research, and how little was done as punishment. In a 2020 Nature article by writer Jeff Tollefson, he quotes former head of the American Environmental Protection Agency Christine Todd Whitman saying, “I’ve never seen such an orchestrated war on the environment or science”. This period has been compared to a similar and arguably more Machiavellian period of conservative Canadian politics during the Harper government. In a 2016 Extreme Tech article by writer Graham Templeton, he states how there was a “War on Science” in Canada, in which many disciplines of research became defunded, valuable project data was effectively trashed, and scientists were muzzled by government officials from speaking out due to more financial consequences or, in some cases, even losing their jobs entirely.


Yet, these are extreme examples of impressions towards these two countries’ research environments. Let’s plunge even deeper into the institutes themselves. Admissions into universities on either side are important for making that final choice. As mentioned on a blog post for Study USA, for American universities, applicants usually need to provide results of a standardized test, like the SAT or GRE examinations, in order to assess whether they can handle university life. This is not the case for applying to Canadian universities. Additionally, American universities also require some form of a personal essay describing you and the motives you have for pursuing higher level education. In Canada, all applicants are only really required to meet a Grade Point Average (or GPA) cutoff assessed from their secondary school grades (and even then this may just be to determine whether you get a scholarship or not). This is a much more simpler process and admittance within Canadian institutes is higher. 


At the graduate level, the financial costs of attending research institutes is daunting. Stated in an article on World Education Services, the average tuition in Canada can range from $8000-20,000 CAD, while in America it can range from $28,000-$40,000 USD per year. This excessive figure is likely the reason that, as mentioned in a 2021 CNBC article by writer Abigail Hess, “The Federal Reserve estimates that in quarter two of 2021, Americans owed a startling $1.73 trillion in student loans.” However, World Education Services also states that, “in our comparison, PhD studies in the U.S. have more favorable outcomes than in Canada. Recent data shows that the demand for employees with a doctoral degree in Canada is lower than the number of doctoral graduates.” And therefore, the job market for holders of a graduate degree might have better luck in the US for employment.


What about campus life? Surely that has an impact on whether you choose to go there or not. In a 2018 Insider article titled, 12 of the biggest differences between attending a university in the US and in Canada, by writer Zoe Miller, campus life is much more prevalent in American universities. Three of the 12 differences involve “a less populated and closer student body”, “the dorm experience”, and “greek life” like sororities and fraternities favouring the US. This, in my view, is most likely glamourized by Hollywood and thus adds to that fantasized notion of the college experience we all know about American universities.


In the end, when it really comes down to it, its all about brand recognition. Like a Marketing 101 class, brand is everything. Sure, Nobel Laureates flow through American universities as much as dropouts looking to launch the next unicorn startup (and sometimes succeeding to change the world for the good and the bad). And this goes back to something I’ve mentioned perviously, in that we value so much the idea of individual success and believe that this is what drives a proper research-intensive work environment. This sadly might be the case, as with brand recognition this may catalyze more research collaboration. But since Canada seems to be leading in both national and international polls in regards to views on science and research, quality of life and financial costs to achieving higher level education, we should not count out the prestige that comes to conducting research in general, no matter where you find yourself. Hopefully one day, the brand that brings recruiters or employers to provide you opportunities, stems not from locational prestige but rather the collaborative drive to change the world. Wouldn’t that be somethin’, eh?


*Theme Music*

For my seventh guest of the season, I’ll be interviewing someone who has taken a work ethic as hard as steel to succeed in their academic journey through outstanding Canadian and American research institutes.


She’s currently a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Shawn Ferguson's lab at Yale University studying how the innate immune response is impacted in the context of neurodegenerative disease with a focus on lysosome biology. Earlier this year, she completed her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Ottawa, and further she also has a Bachelors of Science in Genetics from the University of Western Ontario. Her resume is rich with accolades from scholarships, publications, grants, even awarded the Silver Medal for her poster at the 2019 CSHRF-CIHR Health Science Conference in Winnipeg. Otherwise, outside the lab, she enjoys being sportive through various extracurriculars, competitive or recreational.


Please welcome the scientifically methodical, Amanda Bentley-DeSousa.


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Truly, no matter which side of the border you find yourself on, its the research and the people within these institutes that contribute the most to one’s experience. We can follow opportunity, we can follow prestige, up to a certain extent, and surely there’s an argument about forces present or absent within Canadian and American environments in this regard. But ultimately what will likely foster passion and motivation in science are universal factors. From someone who studies the gut microbiome… Follow your gut. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed learning about moons and maple and ‘murica. These comparisons, at least to me, are always interesting as it breaks through into topics we typically think about unconsciously unless we’re deep in the thick of applications and moving dilemmas. In terms of updates, CHRISTMAS is coming! Woohoo! I will be spending my first Christmas away from the comfort of family in Canada, but so are a lot of people around the world. At this point, being grateful is all that we have to persevere through this pandemic. So be kind to your friends and colleagues, and complain (while still doing) the virtual call with family in order to celebrate this year. The podcast will take a small hiatus during the holiday season and return in the new year sometime in January. But yes, thanks so much for listening, it really does truly mean a lot to me. Do remember to follow the podcast Instagram page for visual updates and sneak peaks, and of course, anyone following will be placed into the draw to win some Metaphorigins swag, whatever that ends up being, on my 40th episode and Season Four Finale. Rate, subscribe, share, message, megaphone this episode to your family and friends. Tune in to the next episode of the season, but until then, stay skeptical but curious.


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