UWaterloo undergraduate students are a diverse lot, and–as I learned while interviewing Quinn Silbermann–can be quite generous with their time. Quinn completed this interview in airports while travelling to Germany, even providing photographic evidence! Read on to learn about how and why Quinn ended up at UWaterloo studying English. –JLH
JLH: You’ve met your degree requirements and are waiting to graduate–congratulations! Reflecting on all of the reasons you chose University of Waterloo, were they valid?
QS: I actually didn’t begin my undergraduate studies at the University of Waterloo or even as an English major. My first year of study was completed at the University of Toronto, where I was enrolled in the Rotman Commerce program. After the start of my second year however, I realized that my course load wasn’t making good use of my skill-set and I consequently found it unfulfilling.
I decided that I wanted to write, and to study English in order to do so. Next, I compared English at institutions across Ontario. The Rhetoric and Professional Writing program at the University of Waterloo stood out. I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t want to focus on literature. Looking back, I’m pleased with my decision. I’m a stronger writer than I was when I first transferred, and I was able to study a range of texts at the University of Waterloo: classic and contemporary, prose and poetry, fiction and theory. So, to get back to the question, my decision to study at the University of Waterloo came down to the unique English department. I learned everything that I expected to and more, but I’m in a different place than I envisioned I’d be coming out of high school.
JLH: You won the English department’s 2015 Canadian Literature Prize: what about your work do you think made it stand out?
QS: The course that my winning paper was written for, ENGL 470A: Contemporary Critical Theory, was a fourth year seminar course of about seven students. My peers and I attended the class sessions because we genuinely wanted to be there, which is a true testament to Dr. Siemerling’s excellent teaching and the environment he created. My peers probably engaged in debate more than I did, but I was always listening attentively, trying to soak everything in and commenting when I could. The environment filled me with ideas, so all I had to do was sit down and write. I didn’t approach the winning paper any differently than my other English papers at the University of Waterloo. I thought, I researched, I wrote, and I scrutinized. I owe Dr. Siemerling and my peers great thanks.
JLH: Looking back, what were your favorite English classes? Are there any course books with which you absolutely won’t part?
QS: Creative Writing forced me to take the time to write poetry and prose. I have fond memories of writing growing up, and I even remember the first writing task I had in Grade 1. (We had to cut out a picture from a magazine and write a story about it. Mine was about a fighter jet.) However, when I was writing essays and other assignments during my pursuit of an English degree, I drifted away from writing for pleasure. Creative Writing at the University of Waterloo was a nice way to get back to what brought me to the study of English in the first place. I wrote some poems for that class that I’m still happy with a year later, which is a true rarity for me.
I won’t part with any of my books, really. Early on I decided that I valued establishing my own book collection over the money I could recoup selling my used books. It’s a lifelong thing and there are other ways to be thrifty. I do prize my copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger above my other books, simply because I go back to it so often.
JLH: How does your work experience relate to your study of English? How do you think your work experience shaped your post-graduation job prospects?
QS: I worked for the same team at Manulife Financial in Waterloo for all four Spring terms of my undergraduate career. Once my team at Manulife Financial realized that I switched programs, they started utilizing my communication skills to a greater degree. I was tasked with leading conference calls, writing documentation, and delivering presentations.
In my fourth year of study, I realized that I wanted to diversify my resume. I got involved with REAP: Research Entrepreneurs Accelerating Prosperity, a research initiative founded by Dr. David Goodwin. At REAP I was able to apply my skills (and develop new skills) in a high-tech, innovative environment. If you’re a University of Waterloo student reading this, go check them out! Also, in my final term, I was a teacher’s assistant for a Speech Communication course called “Leadership, Communication, and Teams.” It kept me busy, gave me a different perspective on academia, and in the end I probably learned as much as, or more than, my students did.
I look to my job prospects with optimism. I am confident in my skill set. That’s if I don’t return for graduate studies…
JLH: Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known first term?
QS: In first term I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I still don’t know. I may never know. I wish I’d have known then that that’s OK.