“Women’s studies gives you the chance to look at, and into, masculinity, race issues, and gay and lesbian issues too, which a lot of other programs don’t’ really get into. (…) Women’s studies provides students with excellent opportunities in the future because of the solid and broad base they can acquire in many different subjects; this further helps to set us apart from other candidates when we hit the job market.”
Safa Abdel Rahman, student
Hayley Crooks, Ph.D. Candidate
My background is in media studies, and I’ve worked in documentary filmmaking, but I found that my research always focussed on gender, specifically representations and stereotypes in the media, so I decided a gender studies program would be a good fit for me. When I first spoke with Dr. Kathryn Trevenen (Director of the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies), she was very warm and welcoming; it was clear that she cared about supporting students in their research. Dr. Shoshana Magnet also goes above and beyond in order to mentor students. At the Institute, I am treated like a colleague and a fellow academic. I have a wonderfully supportive supervisor, Dr. Sylvie Frigon (Joint Chair in Women's Studies at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University), who encouraged my use of arts-based research methods. She is an expert in the use of arts in scholarship, and has helped me to grow intellectually.
Why feminist and gender studies?
I think everyone should take a course in feminist studies. Issues related to gender and identity impact everyone, so I think at least one course at the undergraduate level should probably be required! A lot of students entering university seem to think that feminism is a thing of the past, but when you take a gender studies course, you learn that there are many feminisms, and that not only are these contemporary struggles, but that they are more important than ever. From a well-being approach, it helps debunk myths like “Men are strong and women are weak”, which can really help students personally. Women’s studies can be approached from any disciplinary perspective; humanities, social sciences, politics, transnational and indigenous perspectives. The Institute is very focussed on human rights and social justice, so there are bridges being made between academia and the broader community, which is crucial, in my opinion. The name of the institute has changed from women’s studies to include gender studies as well, so it isn’t just limited to those who identify as women. The Institute is evolving and reflecting what is happening now, and that’s really exciting.
On June 20, 2013, after having successfully defended her thesis before her supervisor and other committee members, Heather Hillsburg became the Institute of Women’s Studies’ first Ph.D. graduate. A hearty congratulation to Dr. Hillsburg for making IWS history!What did you choose to research?
My thesis, titled Furious Females: Women’s Writing as an Archive of Anger, nuances debates surrounding anger, and proposes alternative readings of this emotional response.
Who was your thesis supervisor?
Professor Dominique Bourque. She was absolutely wonderful!
I like to work independently and would historically shy away from asking for help, but with Professor Bourque, I never had any fears of asking for assistance. She was also very meticulous and thorough: I would send her a chapter for review and 3 weeks later she would have it back to me reviewed. Her insight and advice helped me out tremendously.
Tell us a little about your academic journey
I completed my undergraduate degree in English literature at York University (Toronto, Ontario) and followed it up with a master’s degree in English literature and women’s studies at Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Ontario). I then came to the University of Ottawa for my Ph.D. studies.
Ever since the first days of my undergraduate studies, I had wanted to see if I could, one day, complete a Ph.D. Even though there were quite a few bumps on the road, I made it through! I really feel like I accomplished something.
And how was your Ph.D. experience here at the Institute?
Well, I started on September 2009 (4 years ago!) and despite the stress and amount of work, it really was a beautiful experience. Winning a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) doctoral fellowship really changed the outlook on my studies: I could now focus entirely on my academic success and not worry about money. And of course, the new building is phenomenal! Students have plenty of room to study and work, all the while benefiting from a new, energy-efficient building!
Women's studies is a great field- it’s extremely interdisciplinary, and I got to meet and learn from profs from different departments. The Institute, its professors and staff are amazing. Smart, but also caring and kind. I always felt both intellectually challenged and supported.
How do you feel about the new undergraduate program reform?
The new program is great! Theoretically broad, it addresses new and pressing issues in women's studies. It’s cutting edge and exciting; I think students will be happy to see what they have in store for them!
All in all, my studies here impacted my life in good ways: I met new people, learned challenging, new things, and learned about myself.
What’s next for the Institute’s first Ph.D. grad?
Right now I want to enjoy a little break! I’m going on a 3 week bike trip across Newfoundland with two friends- we are even going to stop in at St-Pierre & Miquelon!
Following that, I have accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at Lakehead University, Department of Women's Studies, where I will work with Lori Chambers on issues surrounding Women, Sport, Affect, & Bio-power.