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Becoming a SSHRC Storyteller

I have a tendency to be drawn to side-projects. From a thesis supervisor’s perspective, this is a minus for someone completing a PhD. For me, I find it a great way to network, learn new ideas, put into practice my theories about collaboration. It is extra work, but I try to see it as overlapping and complementary work. My recent experience with the #SSHRCStorytellers* competition is a great example!

I was recently announced as one of the Top-25 finalists in the 2017 SSHRC Storytellers Award. It is a competition that entails creating a 3-minute video describing your SSHRC-funded research project. You can see my video here.

While I was putting together my SSHRC Storytellers video, I was also developing my thesis proposal. It has been dragging on for months and I was struggling with finding my positioning in the research. What did I want to say exactly? What was my focus? And how was I going to say it? What methods would I use?

Having to think about presenting my ideas using accessible language in three minutes for SSHRC Storytellers was a perfect exercise to help me with that. I wrote and rewrote. I edited and reviewed. I added that piece there, removed this one here. I began to see the outline of my work taking shape. Of course, the 3-minute video is just a brief glimpse at everything I'm doing. But all the ideas that matter for a non-specialist audience have boiled to the surface. After writing the script, everything fell into place for me and I was able to complete my thesis proposal at the same time as the SSHRC submission deadline. It just all made sense. I follow the formula I had developed for the SSHRC submission and enriched it with all the other details I wasn’t able to put in the video that really mattered to me.

Many graduate students when given the opportunity to share their work in side projects tell me they are too busy. And I hear them! There is so much to do! But what I would really like to emphasize to my colleagues is that the experience of working on something where you have to explain what you're doing is a great opportunity, not only to share and promote you work, but most of all the reflect on it and even refine it!

For instance, at the moment I am working with musical artist and philosopher, Sebastian Roberts, to developing an arts-based approach to analyzing some of the data from my thesis through sound sculptures. This is important to me because I plan to work with sound and write a musical with the data for my own doctoral research. I’m also working with my colleague, Takako Nomura, who is a researcher and visual artist, to help her with her work on analyzing visual data. This is not necessarily my area in arts-based research, but I’m learning a lot about the foundations of arts-based research on the way.

I also like to put into practice my ideas about collaboration. My whole thesis is about collaboration! I don’t just want to talk about it – I want to LIVE it! So that’s what these side-projects do for me. In particular, working with Shakina Rajendram and Elizabeth Jean Larson, we are creating a critical discourse analysis framework to investigate collaboration in Higher Education and researcher praxis. With former students of mine, Felicia Watkins and Shivani Anand and new friend Jasmine Hodgson-Bautista, we have collected reflections we all wrote during the course, and again, we are using a critical discourse analysis framework to explore emotion in teacher learning. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that my method for analysis in my thesis is critical discourse analysis… So, with these two side-projects, I am familiarizing myself more deeply with applying CDA to today, I am practicing researcher praxis by creating collaborative research networks, and I am exploring the role of emotion, which (surprise!) is another facet of my work.

And all of it is so much fun! I’ll admit, it takes a lot of planning and strategizing. And this approach is probably not for everyone. But if you have the chance, don't shy away from side projects if they can feed back in to what you're doing or allow you put in to practice the things you are preaching through your work.

* I would like to formally thank SSHRC for this wonderful opportunity and look forward to many more future collaborations!

ETA: At the Congress for Social Sciences in Toronto in May I became one of the top-5 SSHRC Storytellers for 2017! What an exciting prologue to this story... more to come!

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