Alumna Profile: Jennifer Scott, English
After the feat of finishing and defending a dissertation, there are a number of potential trajectories for doctoral graduates: some continue to pursue academic research, begin to turn their thesis into a book for publication, perhaps start a post-doctoral study and prepare for the great academic job search ahead of them. Some people move into a job that focuses on teaching, either as an adjunct faculty member of their university or as a college instructor in surrounding post-secondary schools. Some people—perhaps already suffering research or teaching burn-out, or perhaps due to the shortage of academic and teaching jobs in the post-secondary sector—eschew research and teaching all together, and begin working for the government, private industry or in a freelance capacity for their professional careers.
Dr. Jennifer Scott, a 2013 graduate from SFU’s Department of English doctoral program and new Membership Services Officer for the SFU Faculty Association (SFUFA), has made her own path in the aptly hash-tagged professional field of #alt-academy or #alt-ac. Hired by SFUFA in August 2013, Scott defended her dissertation just months before in May 2013, and attended SFU’s Fall Convocation less than two months after starting her position with SFUFA.
The job requires assisting faculty members in exerting their rights as members of a professional association, understanding SFU policies, and helping members with any workplace-related issues. Scott says the transition from doing research, dissertation and article-writing, and participating in academic conferences, has been quite “big” in some ways and yet very familiar in others: “On the one hand, the workplace is familiar,” she notes, “ I know where to get coffee, I know my way around the AQ.”
She goes on to note that some of the work she is doing is “quite similar” to her role as Organizer of the Teaching Support Staff Union at SFU (TSSU) or to her participation as a graduate student serving on such university committees as the Senate Appeals Board. Regarding the work and research, Scott says “The pace and environment is quite different from writing; for one thing, I get to see more people…in real life,” she laughs and adds, “and I think about dead people less.”
Scott’s research is in the area of Victorian Literature and Early Canadian Literature. However, as her dissertation, “The Business of Writing Home: Authorship and the Transatlantic Economies of John Galt’s Literary Circle, 1807-1840,” demonstrates, her academic work traverses the fields of Economics, History and even Business. More specifically, she investigates the Victorian author and publisher John Galt, and how his work with the Canada Company not only staked claims in the British literary marketplace and promoted projects of colonial expansion, but how the author’s work also critiqued contemporaneous economic discourses.
When asked if she had any advice for graduate students looking towards #alt-academic careers, she recommends that they “participate in a variety of communities and committees. You can diversify your skill-set beyond your academic discipline and if you do get an academic job, you are all the more prepared for the administrative and committee responsibilities it entails on top of research and writing.”
Scott says her background as a researcher keeps her “current on the nature of academic research” and what is required of faculty members as researchers. With a busy family life herself and as someone who still passionately participates in her academic field, Scott intimately understands both the “challenges and benefits that that work poses” in the current academic environment. She explains, “I love my research and I can understand how having a productive environment can help members be productive in other parts of their jobs.”
The time Scott has spent familiarizing herself with external funding bodies like SSHRC or NSERC has also given her a unique perspective on the experiences and challenges faculty members face. She notes, “these bodies are becoming increasingly relied upon and I understand the immense work that is required to access their resources and the time that takes on top of actually doing your research, which is what you love.” In fact, Scott says she sees daily how faculty members can find themselves stretched as they try to balance pursuing their research, organizing classes, performing administrative and service work for their Departments, not to mention participating in busy family lives and responsibilities.
On January 16th, 2014, as the SFUFA website explains, the Executive “voted to proceed with the collection of cards to support a certification ballot,” as of February 3rd, 2014. This movement towards certification in accordance with the BC Labour Relations Board is the most common way an organization becomes recognized as a union. Since the Membership Services Officer’s primary responsibility is to support and help represent faculty members in a myriad of contexts, Scott’s work brings with it the deep recognition that faculty’s time is invaluable and their work labour-intensive. Scott says she increasingly understands the challenge of balancing “do what you love,” or #DWYL, while maintaining professional development and committee responsibilities. Ultimately, even if one loves one’s research, Scott reminds us that “academic work is labour” and should be valued by the community as such.