Students, World Literature

Undergraduate Profile: Ken Ip, World Literature

September 21, 2016

For many undergraduates, the name “Harvard” might conjure up images of stone buildings, ivy-covered walls, and erudite intellectuals.  For SFU World Literature major Ken Ip, “Harvard” may forever mean a concrete first-step into high-level academic life. Over four weeks this summer (from June 20th to  July 14th), Ip participated in the Institute for World Literature conference, held this year at Harvard University. As one of only a few undergraduate students worldwide accepted into the prestigious event, Ip took seminars, attended panels, and presented his own paper in a colloquium group on Sociology and World Literature. In addition to engaging with international scholars, Ip also helped form a poetry reading group that met regularly during the Institute.

These are no small achievements for the former Air Cadet and Scout leader from Richmond, B.C. who claims to have come to SFU in part because of the “rather more decorated envelope in which the [acceptance] letter arrived,” and who jokes that he chose his major as a result of “a free umbrella somewhere in the deal for joining the program.”

In fact, Ip is no stranger to academic success: he is a recipient of SFU’s Caledonia Award for World Literature (2015), he is on the Dean’s Honour Roll, and he is an active volunteer, both in the World Literature Program and the larger campus community. As a Peer Academic Advisor, he has helped numerous undergraduates integrate their scholarly and personal interests. And it was as a volunteer that Ip found his way to World Literature: “I first experienced the program when some friends in the volunteering community at the Surrey campus suggested taking one of the WL courses as an elective, and since then I’ve found the particular blend of high theory and freedom of material to be something worth exploring.”

While Ip describes his academic path as “circuitous” it hasn’t been without purpose: “I’m also quite proud of my continued involvement with the extracurriculars around the World Literature program – there are some very tangible experiences and results that have come as a result of those.” Among them, Ip identifies three “most consistent commitments” as those of which he is most proud:  “being the designer for the Lyre magazine since Issue 6); […] acting as VP Internal for the World Literature Student Union; [and]  volunteering for the World Literature Student Conference for the past two years.”   

These experiences also proved valuable at Harvard, as they meant he “went in without being a stranger to academic ideas.” Despite some initial nerves “as an undergraduate student attending an event very much directed to graduate students and faculty members,” Ip admits he experienced “some shock,”    he found it “immensely rewarding” to share his ideas with a group “where every individual was likely qualified” to be his professor.  He explains, “most interestingly, I was able to put faces to some of the names that have appeared under the titles of class readings in the past few years. To be able to speak with academics from around the world in this context greatly expanded both my knowledge of theories within world literature and of the prospects available in intellectual life.”

IWL attendees at Harvard.

In his contribution to the WL blog, Ip credits the Harvard setting as influencing this sense of “expansion”: “the Harvard campus at Cambridge pays homage to traditions while retaining a very current sense of its prestige […] The museums and archives at Harvard are spectacular. We had a reception dinner at the Museum of Natural History which proved a rather unique experience. Exploring the stacks at Widener library was also a journey in itself which I don’t think will be matched soon."

As for how he sees these experiences impacting his journey through academic life, Ip “found the two panels, on academic publishing and jobs, to have further cemented my desire to work in academia. While I have a long path ahead, I found quite a bit of clarification on what to expect as I get closer towards graduate level education.” As for his undergraduate career at SFU, Ip reflects  “I think I’ve set up a decent base for the things to come, and I don’t feel as queasy about the future as I would have expected.”

Ever the peer advisor, Ip offers the following counsel to fellow students: “Be flexible, be fearless. At a university like Simon Fraser, where a program can be customized farther than most post-secondary institutions, and in a program like World Literature, versatile thinking has been the core of my undergraduate experience. There’s always more to explore by asking questions that nobody else would think of – and there are conversations to be had around daunting possibilities.”

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