Category Archives: Appointments

Welcoming Dr. Imre Szeman to English

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Please join me in welcoming our newest member of the English department,  Dr. Imre Szeman. Imre’s research focuses on energy and environmental studies, social and political philosophy, and critical theory and cultural studies. Previously a Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Imre  is the recipient of numerous awards, including the John Polanyi Prize in Literature (2000), the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award (2003), the Scotiabank-AUCC Award for Excellence in Internationalization (2004), an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (2005-7). He is the founder of the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies and a founding member of the US Cultural Studies Association.

His most recent books include: Energy Humanities: An Anthology (with Dominic Boyer, 2017); Popular Culture: A User’s Guide (with Susie O’Brien, 4th revised edition, 2017);   Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment (with Jennifer Wenzel and Patricia Yaeger, 2017). Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture (with Sheena Wilson, Adam Carlson, 2017);  Popular Culture: A User’s Guide (with Susie O’Brien, International edition, 2017); and After Oil (with the Petrocultures Research Group, 2016).

Forthcoming books include: A Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory (co-ed, 2017); Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment (co-ed, 2017); and On Petrocultures: Globalization, Culture, Energy: Selected Essays, 2001-2017 (2018).

Dr. Szeman is jointly appointment with Drama and Speech Communication.

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Our newest department member: Dr. Forrester

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In case you missed this fantastic piece of news, I am absolutely delighted to announce that Dr. Clive Forrester is the newest member of the UWaterloo English department. His linguistic research into the operations of Jamaican Creole in courtroom spaces is compelling. He kindly agreed to an interview with Words in Place, discussing everything from snow and swag to comic books. Enjoy!–JLH

JLH: Welcome to Waterloo! You did you PhD abroad–when you started your PhD, did you envision yourself teaching in an English department in Canada?
CF: I didn’t even see myself in Canada full stop! I knew my grandma spent a good deal of her later years there (she returned to Jamaica for her final few years) and that it was almost always cold. I remember asking her to bring back some snow once so I could see what it looked like in real life. Well, when I arrived in 2008 as a Visiting Prof at York University I got my “baptism by ice” that winter. But, if you can survive one winter, you can survive two. And if two, then three. And so on.

JLH: How have you found Waterloo so far? Have there been any surprises?
CF: I quite like it here at Waterloo actually. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of welcome/orientation activities for new faculty members. Usually orientation is focused on students and new faculty are given a map of the university to figure things out. But I’ve attended at least three welcome functions and been treated to all manner of pastries and UWaterloo swag.

JLH: Your research adds a new area of expertise to our department: can you tell us a bit about what you do and how you see it fitting here?
CF: Well, at first I felt like an oddball given the kinds of research and courses in the department – Medieval literature, Chaucer, Shakespeare, even a course on Harry Potter. But then I realized that a lot of the courses really deal with how different genres/styles of language shape and influence the way people see the world in different contexts throughout different time periods. I kinda do the same thing in my own area of research, applied/forensic linguistics, especially when I look at how different linguistic identities are perceived inside the courtroom in a context where two languages of differing status (Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole) occupy the same discourse space. I think I can contribute to the theoretical underpinnings of what comprises one’s linguistic identity and the ways in which this identity is negotiated across concerns such as linguistic discrimination, code switching, language change etc. One of my current works in progress looks at perceptions of hate speech in the Caribbean, and how this perception is framed against a background of a context where indigenous Caribbean languages are often dismissed as inherently hateful.

JLH: Do you have future research projects you are excited about?
CF: I’d say I’m excited about (a) co-editing a volume on language and the law from a Caribbean perspective, and (b) seeing how best I can develop my research on hate speech perceptions in the Caribbean.

JLH: I know most of us don’t have spare time for pleasure reading this time of year, but I’m curious: if could sneak in a few books, what would they be?
CF: Of late, I’ve started to read works from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – the Nigerian feminist author who wrote Half of a Yellow Sun (the first one I read). I’m also eager to start Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings; he’s a Jamaican author who shot to fame after winning the Man Booker Prize in fiction for 2016. I also love a good Marvel or DC comic, my favourite story arc of late has been “Injustice: Gods Among Us” where the DC superheroes (and some villains too) decided to use their powers to the full extent and end crime permanently.

Welcoming Dr. Vershawn Young to English

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I’m genuinely thrilled to announce that Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young has just been cross-appointed to English. (He holds a PhD in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago–perfect!) His books include: From Uncle Tom’s Cabin to The Help: Critical Perspectives on White-Authored Narratives of Black Life (co-editor, 2014); Other People’s English: Code Meshing, Code-Switching, and African American Literacy (co-editor, 2014); From Bourgeois to Boojie: Black Middle-Class Performances (co-editor, 2011); Code Meshing as World English: Policy, Pedagogy, Performance (co-editor, 2011); and Your Average Nigga: Performing Race, Literacy, and Masculinity (2007).

If that isn’t enough, he is the lead editor on the forthcoming Routledge Reader of African American Rhetoric: Debates, Histories, Performances as well as Anti-Racist Activism in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication, co-edited with English’s Frankie Condon. I could list his numerous articles and awards as well, but I think you get the point: Dr. Young enriches our offerings in rhetoric and American literature in important ways. The students recognize this too, and he is already sitting on PhD dissertation committees.

Photo credit: Richard Tsong-Taatatarii.

Our Newest Faculty Member is also an Alumna?!

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It rarely happens that professors are hired at an institution from which they graduated–but it has just happened at UWaterloo! Ashley Rose Kelly is our newest Assistant Professor, and we are thrilled to have her. She also graciously agreed to do a Words in Place interview. Read on to find out what it is like to come back as faculty and  have former professors as new peers–all while establishing yourself and your research at a new institution.

JLH: You have the uncommon experience of being hired as a professor at the same university where you did your undergrad—is there a little bit of déjà vu? Is it a mental adjustment to have your former professors as colleagues?
ARK: I completed both my undergraduate studies (B.A. in Literature and Rhetoric) and early graduate studies (M.A., co-op in Rhetoric and Communication Design) in the department. Returning to the University of Waterloo as a faculty member was all part of my ideal career trajectory and by some alignment of the cosmos that actually happened. More than feeling déjà vu I’m a little surprised to find myself here—thrilled, but surprised.

Mental adjustments have felt breezy and natural, and I credit that to how well I have been treated by the department’s faculty. Working with Randy Harris and Neil Randall I always felt as though I was treated as a competent and respected colleague, albeit a junior one.

JLH: Has campus changed since you were here? Do you find you are looking at Waterloo—the city and university—with a different set of priorities?
ARK: Kitchener-Waterloo is certainly a growing region and the campus has indeed changed. My fiancé, Brad Mehlenbacher, also completed his BA (85) and MA (87) in the Department of English Language and Literature at UWaterloo so we toured around campus and had some fun noting the changes that occurred between our times there and my return to UWaterloo.

Upon returning my priorities are certainly different for the city. A lot of long-term commitments to the city and region exist now where they didn’t before. Looking at the university now, as alumni and faculty rather than a student, I am somewhat more focused on long-term planning. Some priorities remain the same, such as my commitment to inter- and multi-disciplinary research, which I engaged in during my graduate studies at UWaterloo.

JLH: What excites you most about this upcoming year?
ARK: Wherever I begin this response I find myself overwhelmed with an ever-growing list. Most generally I am excited to return to an English department. I feel at home in an English department, and enjoy the composition here at UWaterloo of literary scholars, new media and critical cultural, writing studies scholars, and rhetoricians like myself—and, especially and of course, those with overlapping identities.

JLH: How do you feel your research fits at UWaterloo? Are there specific opportunities you are pursuing?
ARK: Much of my research is inter- and multidisciplinary and collaborative. At North Carolina State University, where I earned my Ph.D., and at Purdue University, where I began my career as a faculty member, I worked with researchers from across the humanities and social sciences as well as STEM disciplines. UWaterloo’s reputation in STEM subjects and our own department’s industrious faculty members who collaborate with other departments and programs, and indeed the faculty in English who are appointed from other program homes, are good evidence that the research I conduct is already established and valued here.

After landing at UWaterloo, I secured an internal grant to support my next major project, “Networked Expertise in Multidisciplinary STEM Collaborations,” which I am beginning in the Fall term. The study examines the role of expert social networks in generating scientific knowledge by investigating how individual researchers in effective multidisciplinary STEM collaborations assess the competencies of their peers from other disciplines in order to understand implicit and explicit assessments of expertise.

I’m also reaching out across campus to make, or in some cases to rebuild, connections. Part of my time is spent in The Games Institute where I am developing a project entitled the SciGames Hub. I’ve also been working with Randy Harris (PI) and Chrysanne DiMarco on a grant-funded project looking at rhetorical figures in computational rhetoric, a project situated between English and Computer Science. Another exciting affiliation is with the Science and Technology in Society Teaching Group at UWaterloo. I identify as a rhetoric of science researcher working in science studies, so I was thrilled to find a broader community of science studies scholars here at UWaterloo.

Another way UWaterloo has benefited my work is to host the Genre Across Borders website. I’ve been working closely with Carolyn R. Miller, a leading—if not the leading—genre scholar, to continue building this inter-disciplinary and international resource for genre researchers and we’re thrilled to have a long-term, university-based hosting solution for this scholarly project.

JLH: I presume—like most of us—you have several research projects underway. Is there one that you are most excited about?
ARK: My book project, Trans-Scientific Genres of Science Communication, is one that I have been working on most intensely since joining the faculty here. I’m very excited about the project, which is progressing nicely. The book explores how scientific communication is rapidly changing in web-mediated environments and encompasses a range of emerging genres and social practices and it explores crowdfunding proposals, open notebooks, open databases, new kinds of visualizations, and blogging as “trans-scientific genres.”

JLH: Finally, what is the last novel you read for fun?
ARK: How about what’s next? I’m eager to crack open The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon. The book is about the relationship between a young Alexander the Great and Aristotle. I’m a rhetorician so it is probably obvious why I’d be interested in the book, but I’m especially excited to begin reading Lyon’s book because she is a Canadian author, and I’ve rather embarrassingly not kept up with Canadian literature while I’ve been abroad.

A Recent PhD Graduate Reflects on the Academic Job Search

Hawreliak_blog_photoYou may recognize Jason Hawreliak, UWaterloo English PhD graduate, from previous WIP posts about his post-doc, or his work as a co-founder and editor at First Person Scholar. Jason is now an Assistant Professor of Game Studies at Brock University’s Centre for Digital Humanities. Jason was kind enough to agree to an interview with Words in Place about his experience preparing for and entering the academic job market.–JLH

JLH: Firstly, congratulations on the tenure-track job. Were you wedded to the idea of academia, or were you also considering industry?
JH: Thanks! An academic job was certainly my first choice, but I was also seriously considering a job outside of academia. With the way that the job market is right now, I think that’s important. After finishing my Ph.D. last summer I got a Mitacs postdoc through Neil Randall and the Games Institute which had me working with a startup firm. That was a great experience and opened my eyes to startup culture. Not everyone will be interested in startups, but I think it’s a very good idea for Ph.D. candidates to try to get some experience outside of academia.

We all know that many university departments—especially in the humanities—are not hiring many tenure track positions, and certainly not enough for the amount of people looking for work. Contract or adjunct work is becoming the norm for new grads and it’s difficult not knowing if you’ll have a job come next term. I was very fortunate that I only worked in the “gig economy” for about a year, but it was a very stressful period. If you’re able to get some industry experience then you’ll be much better off when looking for a job. A broad skillset is really important I think.

JLH: At what point did you go on the academic market, and what were your thoughts as you eyed the job ads?
JH: I started applying quite early, while I was still trying to nail down a defense date. My initial thoughts when looking at ads were, “oh this position looks perfect for what I do – how could they not hire me?” But of course it doesn’t work that way. I received many rejection letters, and it was certainly discouraging at times. That said, I just kept plugging away and applying, even if I didn’t think I had a chance. For this job at Brock, I revamped my CV and application package thanks to some invaluable help from faculty, and got the interview.

What I learned more than anything through the application process is that you have to be able to accept rejection, and that you have to be in the right place at the right time. I really do believe it’s a lot about luck as there are plenty of hard-working, qualified people who aren’t getting jobs. You can obviously increase your chances by doing interesting research, publishing, getting grants, serving on committees, showing a passion for teaching, etc., but I don’t think there’s any denying that a lot of it is about fit and timing. The stars really do have to align.

JLH: You began the program before the professionalization course was in place; how do you think UWaterloo prepared you for post-PhD employment?
JH: I think very well. I never took any professionalization courses but there were workshops available. Also, UW English has some great connections with local tech companies and places like Communitech, so I always felt I had a decent sense of that world if academia didn’t work out. More than that though, my supervisor, Marcel O’Gorman, was a huge help. Marcel dragged me along to my first conferences, gave me interesting RA work, and throughout my Ph.D. guided me on how to better position myself as a job candidate. I really lucked out in that regard. Generally speaking, UW English is also great because it offers teaching opportunities throughout, and that doesn’t happen everywhere. I have friends at other schools who never taught independently until after their Ph.D. Having that teaching experience really helped.

JLH: When it came time for job applications and interviews, did anything surprise you?
JH: Not really, but again, I think that can be attributed to the guidance I received. Maybe just the rate of rejection. You know intellectually that the odds aren’t in your favour, but after a certain number of “We regret to inform you” letters it takes a bit of a toll on you. For people about to go on the job market I’d say to just be prepared for that and know that it doesn’t have anything to do with your worth as a scholar, teacher, or person because it can feel that way sometimes. Once I realized that rejection is just a part of the process it became easier to take.

As for interviewing, I did some mock interviews and job talks in front of faculty and other grad students and I can’t stress how much that helped. Those should be mandatory. I can almost guarantee I would not have gotten this job without the mock job talk. It was awful and I probably would have walked out on myself if I had been in the audience. But that’s exactly the place where you want to have that bad experience, and it gave me the skills and confidence I needed for the real thing. For the actual interview, I guess just that it was a very long day. You always have to be on and that can be tough for some people.

JLH: In hindsight, is there anything you wish you’d known when you first started the PhD? Or anything you might have done differently?
JH: It’s hard to say because I ended up in what’s essentially my dream job at Brock. I’m researching what interests me, the courses I’m teaching and developing are the courses I’ve always wanted to teach, and the people I work with are wonderful. If I did anything differently, who knows, I might not be here.

One thing I did learn about the dissertation though is that at some point I had to stop reading; I had to stop worrying about making the dissertation perfect. I was really worried that my dissertation would have some glaring blind spot, that I would miss something obvious and important and I would be laughed out of my defense. So I just kept reading everything I could get my hands on, accumulating mountains of notes. There’s a benefit to that, obviously, but at some point it becomes an impediment. You can never know everything, even about your very specific topic, and I had to learn that that’s ok. If you try to know everything, you’ll just keep spinning your wheels. Of course, you can’t go too far on the other side of things and get complacent, but in my experience that’s almost never an issue. The problem for me was that I wanted it to be perfect and so ended up taking much longer to finish than was probably necessary. But everyone is different and that’s certainly not the only reason why dissertations take as long as they do.

Actually, one other thing is to seriously consider whether or not to make your dissertation open-access once it’s done. If anyone can just view your dissertation online at any time then publishers may be more hesitant to publish it as a book. I allowed mine to be open-access because I strongly believe that information should be as accessible as possible, but there are material considerations to keep in mind too. Mind you, I have colleagues who were able to get their re-worked dissertations published by very good firms, so it’s hard to say. It’s complicated and I don’t know what the right answer is, but it was just an issue I hadn’t anticipated.

JLH: Finally, what has been the biggest shift for you as you moved into a tenure-track position?
JH: Job security, for one. That’s the biggest thing no question. But in terms of the actual work, it’s more meetings! That’s honestly the biggest difference I’ve seen so far. The workload for teaching and research is certainly heavier, but I had expected that. I hadn’t expected that meetings would take up so much time and energy. Luckily I enjoy the committees I’m on and really like the people I’m working with. We’re setting up a new game design and development program slated to start next fall, and it’s exciting to be a part of that process. I guess just generally you feel like you’re more of a part of things in the department and the university and that’s nice. Otherwise you teach, you read and you write. Everyone coming out of UW English is more than prepared for that.

Introducing new faculty member Stephanie White

Stephanie WhiteWaterloo English’s latest hire, Stephanie White, will soon be defending her PhD dissertation on community-engaged composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We are thrilled to have her join the department and enhance this area of research and teaching expertise. Thank you to Stephanie for squeezing in an interview between moving and the beginning of term! –JLH

JLH: You’re Canadian, but you did your entire university education, from undergraduate to PhD, in the US. What made you make the choice to stay abroad throughout?
SW: Well, it ultimately came down to which schools took me! But the main reason I applied to PhD programs in the US is that there simply aren’t many programs in Canada that focus on composition and on writing instruction at the doctoral level. And that’s what I most wanted to study: university writing pedagogy. I also really wanted to learn about community engagement when it comes to writing studies, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison has a very cool culture of community engagement in their Composition and Rhetoric program. So that choice came down to which school was the best fit for what I wanted to learn about—and that school happened to be in the US. Oh, and I also fell for this American during undergrad, and his career decisions worked well for him in the US, so that was a factor.

JLH: Does it seem strange to be entering the Canadian system for the first time at this level? What differences stand out?
SW: It does and it doesn’t. I have a lot of questions about what really is different, but most of them at this point are logistical (like, what requirements are in place for doctoral dissertation defenses at UW?). But many of the differences will come down to institutional culture, not national culture.

JLH: Do you think your research will translate well to the Canadian context?
SW: I’ve always done research in both Canada and the US, and I’ve worked to make sure that my research was relevant to both contexts—that’s been a major priority for me. So, for example, my research on undergraduates doing community-engaged writing in first-year communication courses features case studies in Washington, DC, in Ontario, and soon in BC.

JLH: What most excites you about UWaterloo?
SW: I’m really impressed by the culture of growth that I see here–everyone seems invested in new initiatives, like the English 109 classes for math students that I’ll be teaching in the fall–which I think shows how innovative the faculty of English can be. That’s so important in academia!

JLH: Finally, what are you reading for fun right now?
SW: My sister just lent me her copy of Jane of Lantern Hill, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which was the perfect (re)read for coming back home to Canada. Before that, I read the newest Bridget Jones book. Next up, I’m rereading The Brothers K, by David James Duncan. It’s been almost ten years since I first read it, and it’s so rich and powerful and funny that I want to go back to it for more. And, when you’re in the middle of major life transitions, like moving to a different country and starting a new job, past books are like old friends that have moved with you, you know? I need some comfort reading.

Welcoming new faculty member John Savarese

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Welcome to UWaterloo’s English Language and Literature’s newest Assistant Professor, John Savarese. I was fortunate that John was able to fit in an interview, in between everything else that moving cities, countries, and campuses involves. Thank you to John for participating! –JLH

JLH: You’re coming to us from California; what was the response from your US colleagues about your relocation to Canada and our institution?
JLS: I’ve found that relocating often seems like second nature to academics! Everyone was very happy to see the department continue to expand its faculty. The other thing, which I probably should have expected, was the huge number of Waterloo-related puns I’ve now heard from my fellow Romanticists: Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo was a watershed moment in the period, and there’s pretty broad punning potential there.

JLH: Now that you’re here, what are your plans?
JLS: This Fall term I’m helping to pilot a new course design in composition, and also teaching a wide-ranging survey in British Literature (200A). I love teaching courses related to particular, period-based research, but it’s also refreshing–and very helpful for the writing process, too–to teach more broadly, to think about longer histories and wider contexts. The major item on my research agenda is to get my book project into its final form. It’s called Romanticism’s Other Minds: The Science of Poetry from Hume to Mill, and it really took shape during the two years I spent on postdoctoral fellowships. I’ll spend most of my time whipping the manuscript into shape, and also pursuing a few related smaller projects that touch on topics like evolutionary theory, the popular ballad, and media studies. I’ll also be organizing the department’s speaker series this year. There are a few exciting events in the works already, so look for some announcements soon!

JLH: Has anything surprised you so far?
JLS: I’ve been just a little surprised by how populated the campus has been during the summer months. Most universities at which I’ve worked have had well-attended summer sessions, but the trimester system and Co-op program are new to me. I’ve also been struck by how strangely familiar the campus architecture seems. When I was a graduate student at Rutgers, I lived for several years on the part of campus that was built around the same time and in a similar style. Of course, that was a few minutes’ walk from the football stadium, complete with weekend tailgate parties, hoards of fans, and the like—so the different relationship between higher education and sports culture is also something worth noting.

JLH: Finally, a fun question: in the midst of chaos and relocation and unpacking, what books are getting read around your house right now?
JLS: During hectic moving periods I like to dip into old favorites; this time I carried poetry by James Merrill and Adrienne Rich, and also reread Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, which I seem to return to every few years. Now that the boxes are unpacked there’s also a long list of scholarly titles on my agenda–right now I’m most of the way through Robert Mitchell’s book Experimental Life, on “experimentalism” in literature and the sciences. We also read a lot of children’s books. My wife Elizabeth is trained as a reading specialist, and we’re very keen on making a wide range of books available to our son James: things that help with his reading development, or just about anything that will pique his interest. Lately he’s been very interested in the Mes 100 premiers mots picture dictionary he took out of Waterloo Public Library.