Inspired to pursue academia
From 1995 to 1998, I was a Simon Fraser University graduate student working with Kelleen Toohey and June Beynon. These two intelligent women were inspiring and formed my entire life trajectory. I thought I was getting my master’s degree to develop my qualifications for work in the K–12 system, but I ended up going on to complete my PhD in Education in London, UK, and established an academic career both in the UK and Canada. Both Toohey and Beynon made educational research meaningful and incredibly worthwhile, and they also made me believe I had something to offer the field. They both could see my lack of life experience in many ways and asked such kind yet powerful questions to get me thinking about inclusion and diversity in Canadian life.
My first course was with June Beynon, and one month in, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer (at 27 years old). She was incredibly kind throughout this experience. She even marked an already submitted paper and delivered it to me. She organized the paper work so I could go on leave rather than withdraw completely. I didn’t think I’d be alive to return a year later – but I did return to complete the degree and continue with my career as a teacher educator and researcher.
Working with Dr. Toohey on the RIIM project (and to contribute to my developing thesis) was very formative regarding educational research; I have continued to study language and learning themes in my conference papers and my published work over twenty years. A highlight for me is our shared trip to the Canadian Society for the Study of Education conference in Sherbrooke in the 1990s, where I presented for the first time. Traveling with the team from SFU’s Faculty of Education (Kelleen, June, Dianne, Bonnie, Roumi) was a wonderful experience. I particularly remember a fine dinner that we shared as a group on the waterfront in a small Quebec village. The conversations were so deeply engaging; I felt such warm inclusion that I believed that I could belong to such a group. We also formed a reading group that met at my home for a term. I loved this! These women (plus Linda Hof with her audio/visual expertise) impacted my life greatly. I would never have been able to collect the 100 hours of video footage without Linda! And I would never have been able to establish a rewarding career in education without the group of women at SFU and the guidance and care I received from Kelleen Toohey and June Beynon in particular.
I also had the opportunity to teach as a sessional instructor throughout graduate school, teaching classes on early years, multiculturalism and the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) course: language and literacy. Roumi and I team taught that one. I enjoyed meeting faculty and students for coffee at the coffee stand out in the main hallway (I think it’s still there), hanging out in the media centre with Linda Hof, using the library and chatting with other sessional instructors in the sessional instructors’ room.
Such experiences inspired me to pursue a career in academia, a life I have deeply enjoyed!
Read all the stories from the 1990s
"I'm going to ask you to think."
Accomplishing a dream
Virginia Li Lai-hing
Building Bridges in the Community
Educator, researcher, and scholar
Encouraging children to write
From school to music, from music to school
Inspired to pursue academia
Learning from one another
Life long education
SFU made it all possible