Waterloo Arts has written a fantastic profile of the English PhD program, now 25 years old. Read on to find out what our current and past students are up to! –JLH
Twenty-five years ago this month, the PhD program in English Language and Literature admitted its first students. Since then, the program has become the second largest PhD in the Faculty of Arts at UWaterloo, with 64 current students, and one of the largest English doctoral programs in the country. Blending literary, rhetorical, and digital media studies, the program is the only one of its kind in Canada.
Behind its growth lies the extraordinary success of its graduates over the last two and a half decades. In recent years, the career trajectories of English PhD graduates have expanded from many securing full-time academic positions to an increasing proportion who have embarked on excellent careers outside academia.
Former chair of English Gordon Slethaug spearheaded the development of the new PhD in the mid-1980s, shortly after a new BA in Rhetoric and Professional Writing and a new MA in Language and Professional Writing (now Rhetoric and Communication Design) were launched. This period of exponential growth in the department combined elements of American-style rhetoric, writing, and communication studies with the study of literature in English. Key contributors to the development of the PhD include such department members as David Goodwin (now in Drama and Speech Communication), Neil Randall, Lynne Magnusson (now at the University of Toronto), Helen Ellis, and Bill Macnaughton.
The PhD has flourished since its humble beginnings in the 1990s. “Our PhD program has seen successful graduates join us from across Canada and the world, including students from Russia, Iran, Italy, Iraq, and Nepal,” says current Chair of English, Fraser Easton. “And the PhD program is diverse in other ways, too, with student dissertations spanning medieval poetry, medical informatics, post-911 American fiction, games studies, and graphic novels, to name only a few.”
Current PhD student Elise Vist comments, “I came to Waterloo’s English department to do my PhD because there is no other English department in Canada that does it like we do. I wanted to come somewhere where I could dig into the digital humanities while maintaining a link to English literary and rhetorical studies.”
Twenty-five years on, UWaterloo English doctoral graduates teach at York, Dalhousie, Brock, Laurentian, and Ryerson universities, as well as the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the University of Winnipeg. They have also secured positions in English departments internationally, in the U.S., in China, and even in Kazakhstan. And they work full-time in academic units other than English, such as university departments of Medicine, of Interactive Arts and Sciences, of Marketing, and of Professional Communication. One noted graduate, Isabel Pedersen, is Canada Research Chair in Digital Life, Media and Culture, in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
“This degree is unique in requiring our PhD students to do course work and examinations that span literary, rhetorical, and digital dimensions,” notes Aimée Morrison, Associate Chair, Graduate Studies. “This internal interdisciplinary scope gives our doctoral graduates invaluable range and flexibility that help them gets excellent jobs inside and outside of academe.” The program’s attention to writing lies behind many a successful careers outside the academic track, whether in administration, the executive suite, or professional communication. One successful graduate, Catherine Scott, is now director of foundation relations for Heifer International in Huntington Beach, California.
What will the next twenty-five years hold? The English department looks ahead to continuing to mentor and support nimble PhD graduates ready for careers in and out of academe, graduates who will thrive in various areas of our new creative economy.
This text originally appeared on Waterloo Arts.