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Asked and Answered: Interviews with Alumni

Graduate School, Nicole!

What grad program are you in, and what are you studying?

I'm a Masters student in Arts Education at Simon Fraser University, exploring art theory and forms of artistic inquiry that can enrich education, research, and professional development. My research explores how the artistic process can serve as both an avenue into and a metaphor for transformative pedagogical experiences, drawing insights from a series of interviews with artists who work in a community-engaged setting. 

 

How and why did you choose that program?

As a life-long lover of the arts, I wanted to further develop my ability to incorporate art in my research. I was especially drawn to the SFU Arts Education program because of its interdisciplinary nature -- each semester we explore different art practices as a form of inquiry and research, such as performance, narrative, poetry, or movement.  

 

How did your Undergraduate degree in WL affect that decision or inform your studies?

Studying World Literature was one of the experiences that strengthened my belief in the value of art and its potential for personal and social transformation. In particular, engaging in creative projects for some of my World Literature classes, and then facilitating these as a Teaching Assistant, made me interested in exploring arts-based research. The WL degree was also surprisingly excellent preparation for qualitative research. Studying literature strengthens your ability to write clearly, synthesize information, and see themes, narratives, and context in order to find meaning in data.

 

What are your career goals? Dream big.

I'm currently working on applying for a PhD program, to continue researching the value of introducing undergraduate students in different fields to artistic inquiry as a way to engage meaningfully with course material. I dream of a world where people in all fields are connected to art and the humanities as a way to inquire into their life and work, and dream up new solutions to our world's challenges.

Graduate School, Gyuzel!

What grad program are you in, and what are you studying?

I am currently in an MA program with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at SFU. I have also received an MA degree in Cultural Studies from the University of Sydney in Australia.

In my current program I am studying ethnographic research and my thesis focuses on identity construction and negotiation among orphanage graduates in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan. In particular, I plan on doing fieldwork in Kazakhstan after completing all the required coursework.

 

How and why did you choose that program?

After graduating from the University of Sydney, I returned back home to Kazakhstan and worked as a lecturer at Kazakh-British Technical University. While working there I got involved with a non-profit called Open Mind. At Open Mind we prepared series of public lectures on Cultural Studies, Modernity, Body, Feminism and Philosophy. I wanted to continue my education and I also got interested in the issues surrounding orphanages and institutional childhood. I started looking for a program and a supervisor that would fit with my research interests. Anthropology looked like the right place, especially as  related to my undergraduate and graduate work. At the same time, I was not confident in applying for a PhD, since I had almost no experience in Anthropology. SFU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology has amazing faculty members. I  am lucky to have Dr. Sonja Luehrmann, who researches “transformability of human experiences and identities in shifting everyday conditions,” as my supervisor.

 

How did your UG degree in WL affect that decision/inform your studies?

I learned a lot during my studies in World Literature and I owe a lot of what I know to the WL faculty. In many ways, the classes I took in WL shaped my research interests. I also think that if it was not for WL, I would not be where I am now. I came to Canada to study Finance and possibly work in a Big 4 audit firm one day. That was the familiar and “safe” path to take at the time. But after I took my first WL class as an elective, I got hooked. And looking back now, I couldn’t be happier that I changed my major and took a path that, back home in Kazakhstan, might not have been considered a “proper” one.  

From WL, to Cultural Studies and Anthropology, I do not know where my academic journey might take me next. But this interdisciplinary background allows for so much flexibility,  adventure, and fun that I would not trade it for any other.

 

What are your career goals? Dream big.

I plan on applying for a PhD after graduating from my MA program. I also really want to teach at the university level. One day I hope to open an interdisciplinary Social Sciences program back home in Kazakhstan. There are almost no such programs and only few take the path of Humanities and Social Sciences. I want to contribute to transforming education and academic research in Kazakhstan.


I have a very long way to go. I have so much more to learn. And it excites me. A lot.

Graduate School, Bonnie!

What grad program are you in, and what are you studying?

I am currently in the PhD program at UBC’s iSchool (School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies). I am researching children’s engagement with nonsensical texts online, specifically focusing on Internet memes (e.g. Image Macros, Youtube videos, tweets,GIFs, etc.).

 

How and why did you choose that program?

I finished my Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at UBC last June. The interdisciplinary program is located within the iSchool. During my master’s I took a course on  youth media and decided I wanted to extend my research in children’s literature to encompass the digital texts children encounter online. UBC has excellent faculty and the university offered me a Killam Fellowship to continue my studies there.

 

How did your UG degree in WL affect that decision/inform your studies?

World Literature instilled in me the value of pursuing different perspectives and venturing out of my comfort zone. Reading literature from other cultures, I challenged myself to improve my French and present papers at comparative literature conferences where I was one of the few monolinguals. In the process of my degree, I realized that my limitations could also be an opportunity to exercise my creativity. When things do not come naturally to you, you are able to look at them in a different way, which is valuable from a research perspective. Because of my diverse experiences in World Literature, I was excited to pursue a master’s that took an interdisciplinary approach to the study of children’s literature (e.g., English, Library Studies, Creative Writing, and Language and Literacy Education). My thesis, “A Spoonful of Silly: Examining the Relationship between Children’s Nonsense Verse and Critical Literacy,”  was an extension of the honours essay I wrote in World Literature, which was titled, “On Beyond Nonsense: Analyzing Nonsense as Dialect in Selected Works of Dr. Seuss.” My other funded master’s research project came out of an affinity group discussion at the Institute for World Literature. This project examined the differences between domestic island novels featuring female protagonists and the adventure novels featuring male protagonists. Adopting a postcolonial lens, I explored how the adventure of the “girls’ books,” unlike the colonial adventure of the “boys’ books,” was one of decolonization. In my doctoral program I am continuing to challenge myself by adopting an interdisciplinary approach to information research, which is introducing me to the world of media studies and computer science.



What are your career goals? Dream big.
While I am open to the career opportunities that may emerge in the course of this degree, my ultimate aim is to have a career as a research and teaching professor at a university. My hope is that my research on children’s literature, children’s media, and children’s literacy will be able to influence curriculum design in schools. I would love to work in collaboration with educators to develop new models for supporting children’s traditional, digital, and critical literacy practices.

Careers, Michael!

What are you doing now?  

I’m the marketing/promotions person at Caitlin Press, home of Dagger Editions. Caitlin Press publishes culturally significant books, including fiction, non-fiction (both historical and creative), and poetry. Occasionally we will produce a children’s or young adult title. We have two mandates: the first is to publish works by women (and all those who identify as such) and the second is to publish rural voices that are relevant to urban readers as well. Just recently, we launched Dagger Editions, dedicated solely to publishing literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry by and about queer women (those who identify as queer women, including trans women, or include this in their personal history).

 

How did you come to be in your current role? Did you know what you would be doing prior to completing your degree?  

I was convinced to apply for the position I currently hold by a former employer who had previously worked with Caitlin Press. I was hesitant at first, since I can be quite a city kid and wasn’t sure if a small press on the Sunshine Coast would be interested in me. Nevertheless, my former employer sold me on applying and then sold the Publisher of Caitlin Press on hiring me. I should add that, this was after dozens of job applications over the course of a few years, and after a few years of freelancing and starting up my own ventures.

The job I do now was very much informed by the minor I did in Publishing as well as the Masters of Publishing program I completed after my undergraduate degree. Coupled with my major in World Literature and second minor in Interactive Arts & Technology, I was a perfectly well rounded applicant in terms of skills, expectations, and opportunities.

 

In what way did your degree in World Literature help you prepare for your current role? Of the skills that you developed during your undergraduate degree, which three do you use most in your current work?  

Studying World Literature (and majoring in it) was a perfect way to familiarize myself with the diverse authors, stories, poetry, and ideologies that mirror society’s past, present, and future. As opposed to receiving a straight forward education in the English canon, World Literature brought me face to face with authors of colour, complex story structures, marginalized narratives, and various other texts that the publishing scene simply needs more of. During my degree, I had no reservations about getting involved in all capacities, and began to gain the three skill sets that I use today in my job:

Event Planning and Community Involvement
As an avid volunteer for the World Literature Student Association, I’ve hosted open mics, assisted in author appearances, and generally just been very present in the important literary communities throughout the Lower Mainland. Thanks to partnerships with literary festivals and conferences, I’ve experienced first-hand the methods of marketing that I now organize in my role at Caitlin Press.

Editorial Management & Production

As the Editor-in-Chief of the fourth volume of Lyre, the World Literature student magazine, I was able to quadruple the editorial submissions as well as the published works from past editions. This opportunity to create a published work from start to finish was instrumental in giving me the confidence and general management abilities I have required throughout my career in publishing.

Literary Narrative Mapping

You know when you try and explain your favourite book to someone by comparing it to other books? This is my job, Monday to Friday, 9:30 to 5:30pm, in a variety of capacities. Having read authors from around the world and across time, I am simply very well informed on the influences and traditions writers use when bringing pen to paper. Canadian Literature (or CanLit as it’s commonly called) is undeniably a meeting of stories, ideas, and attitudes from around the world. Where else could I have been better prepared to understand this, than in the World Literature Department?

 

What career advice would you give to current World Literature students?  

Get involved, stay involved. World Literature students have a lot of flexibility and independence to carve out their own education. This usually sounds amazing until you actually try to start your own magazine, host an event, or write a book review. But don’t be afraid! All the stuff I did in my undergrad is pathetic in comparison to what I do now, but without those little lemonade stand successes, I would never have made it this quickly into the real deal.

So, ask your professors and other faculty for help in a) reading the books you want to write/publish later, and b) exercising your skills in this safe zone. Whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t sound like they have to do a ton of work (they still do, no matter what, but they don’t have to know that in the beginning).

 

Knowing what you know now, is there anything that you would have done differently as an undergraduate student?  

Ironically, with all my involvement and with my independence to create ventures outside of my education, I never bothered with travelling abroad or doing co-op. In retrospect, I wish I had done those things, but the reality of life is that you can’t always “do it all.” So while I’m happy with how I did my undergraduate, I still think those students who do a couple of co-op terms or travel the world for a year are just as primed for success as I was.

 

What would you say was your greatest learning experience as a World Literature undergraduate, one that has made a difference in your career today?  

I’ve told people this before, but it’s more true with every I step I take in my career: learn how to read closely. World Literature is all about close reading texts, thinking critically, and forming cohesive written communication. Believe your teachers when they say you’re being unclear. Go read an A+ essay so you understand why following conventional essay structure can be good for you. And if you can, read your World Literature texts to the very last page, and keep them on your shelf for as long as you can. If you can close read those books, you can close read the world.

Careers, Christina!

What are you doing now?  

I am a teacher at the British International School in Freetown, Sierra Leone, as well as the executive director for a Non-Profit Organization and Canadian Charity called The People's Foundation of Sierra Leone (TPFSL). Our website is www.tpfsl.org. I am also currently completing my MA Degree in Education Administration and Leadership at Royal Roads University in Victoria; I will graduate in June 2017.

How did you come to be in your current role? Did you know what you would be doing prior to completing your degree?   

I have volunteered as a teacher for many years, and did so for a few years after my degree as well. I was able to get a job with an international school because of my international work experience, combined with my World Literature degree. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and improve education in countries around the world, but I did not imagine I would be living abroad full time after completing my degree. 

 

In what way did your degree in World Literature help you prepare for your current role? Of the skills that you developed during your undergraduate degree, which three do you use most in your current work?  

World Literature helped me consider the world from the perspectives of many different cultures, not just my own, which is essential in living and working abroad. Every day when I am teaching my students about cultural sensitivity, understanding, and equality, I am reminded of lessons I learned in World Literature through reading books from authors who came from many different countries, walks of life, and socio-economic standings. The three skills I currently use the most are cross-cultural understanding, translation, and critical thinking. 

 

What career advice would you give to current World Literature students?  

World Literature is a fantastic degree program. It enables you to not only think of the world, but also go out and live and experience the world. Go on exchange. Meet new friends. Travel to different countries and read books from those countries. Read books from as many countries as you can, research them, and recognize how big and beautiful and interconnected this world is. Career advice? Try to blend World Literature with anything else you're interested in as well - for example, I did a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language along with my World Literature program, and this really made it much simpler for me to find jobs in my field because I had such diverse skills. 

 

Knowing what you know now, is there anything that you would have done differently as an undergraduate student?  

Honestly? I don't think so. I loved World Literature and all the professors and students I met through the program. I might have encouraged my professors to try out books from many different African countries, such as Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda -- all places I have lived and spent time in. So perhaps I would have suggested that we read even more diverse authors than we already do.

What would you say was your greatest learning experience as a World Literature undergraduate, one that has made a difference in your career today?  

I studied African Literature on exchange in Ghana in 2011, and that was a phenomenal experience. I not only got to read World Literature where it was written, but I made many lifelong friends. Another learning experience that really made a difference was a class I took about literature in the East vs. the West -- my professor allowed me to write and think critically about my experiences in Sierra Leone. This taught me how to integrate life and education, rather than separating them -- a lesson I share with my own students every day.