Janine Kiefer - My Journey from Criminology Student to Research Analyst | Alumni Guest Blog Post Series

Posted on Thursday, November 26, 2020

Author: Janine Kiefer, B.Sci.Soc '15 (Criminology)

Alumni Guest Blog Post Series

We are very excited to announce the launch of our blog post series. In each article, a graduate will tell us their story, their journey, their anecdotes, their regrets, their best memories or anything they would like to share with our community!

For this first blog post, Janine Kiefer, BSocSc'15 (Criminology) tells us about her journey and how she went from a student of criminology to a research analyst.

Janine and her 5 roommates locking arms and smiling behind the University of Ottawa sign on a sunny day

When I was first asked to write a blog post in support of the University of Ottawa’s FSS Alumni Relations, I’ll admit I was pretty excited. My partner can attest to the fact that whenever I speak of my undergraduate experience, I get a dreamy look in my eyes as I think about all the good times over those four years. I’m certain that part of that dreamy look can be attributed to rose-coloured glasses and the beauty of nostalgia, but I also know that it’s a testament to my four years at the University. It’s hard for me to believe, but I graduated over five years ago, in 2015, with an Honours Specialization in Criminology. I swear it feels like just yesterday; however, a recent conversation with a fourth-year student reminded me that it most definitely was not yesterday, since she informed me that she was still in high school when I graduated ...

Starting Point

Anyway, like a lot of high school students, I was completely unsure of what I wanted to do with my future. I applied to a few different schools, to a couple of different programs, eventually landing on the criminology program at the University of Ottawa. At the time I remember thinking that I would perhaps go on to apply to law school after my undergraduate degree, but that certainly didn’t happen! Despite the uncertainty of my decision, within the first year of the program, I was 100% sure that I had made the right choice in enrolling in criminology, and the next three years continued to reaffirm my certainty, as I learned from the likes of Kate Fletcher, Chris Bruckert, and Justin Piche. I learned about a wide range of social and criminal justice issues, developing a deeper understanding of the realities of crime and how we come to define it, as well as different forms of crime and social control. I can remember many family dinners where I brought home all of these new facts, opinions, and discussions. And although I know my parents were happy that I had found something about which I was passionate, I’m sure they were also happy when dinner was over. Even though I have fond memories of all four years, I thought I would focus a bit on some of the unique and memorable experiences of my fourth year, as well as how my degree has influenced the five years that followed graduation.

Directed Research Course

A light bulb on a black backround surrounded by white text bubbles.

In the first term of my fourth year, I participated in a directed research course, led by Justin Piche, that focused on the collateral consequences of incarceration. Specifically, we were able to contribute to a study jointly undertaken by the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) and Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS) that examined the invisible punishments that the families and loved ones of Canadian prisoners experience at various stages of the penal process. This course, which included only three other students, allowed me to gain qualitative research experience by drafting literature reviews, conducting data collection and analysis, as well as co-developing an audio documentary. It provided some valuable insight into what qualitative research in criminology could be like, both the engaging aspects and the slightly more tedious parts (aka transcribing), which were very helpful when I later pursued my graduate degree. I also feel very lucky that I was able to be involved in research addressing such an important topic, which was (at the time) often overlooked. As a bonus, the friends I made in that course have stuck around and been a major source of support and friendship over the past five years. Although we’ve been in different cities (sometimes countries), master’s programs, government jobs, and whatever else life has thrown at us, you can still catch us reminiscing about the good ol’ days over a beer or two.

Field Placement

In the second term of my fourth year, I participated in a field placement with the Offender Redress division of Correctional Services Canada (CSC). For those who may not be familiar with it, CSC is responsible for the incarceration of all individuals serving a sentence of two years or more. The Offender Redress division is responsible for providing responses to grievances from any individual in CSC custody, constituting the third and final level of the grievance process. I will admit, I was initially hesitant to pursue a placement at CSC. I had taken a number of courses in which I learned about the harms of incarceration and was hesitant about contributing to a system that I viewed as being inherently problematic. Little did I know that my short placement there would lead to almost five years of employment… But before delving into that, I will say that I valued the field placement opportunity immensely, not only because it led to a job opportunity, but also because I was able to acquire experience outside the walls of uOttawa and catch a glimpse of what life after university might look like. Moreover, I was able to learn about a number of different opportunities and work being done in the community through the testimonials of my classmates, whose placements ranged from frontline support services to a charity advocating for individuals experiencing homelessness in Ottawa to a restorative justice program in Ottawa.

Real-world Insights

Janine's graduation photo. She is smiling toward the camera and holding a bouquet of red roses

Now, back to my almost-five-years at CSC. It would be a lie to say that it was an easy decision to stay at CSC; benefits aside, I still held, and continue to hold, a number of views that question the usefulness of incarceration as a response to many criminalized activities. The extreme over-representation of Indigenous persons in Canadian prisons is just one example of the need for bold and systemic changes to the system. In addition, responding to grievances can take a toll on an individual and, in some cases, reaffirm the most problematic aspects of prisons. However, my experience at CSC also gave me further insight into the complexity of incarceration and the difficulties that CSC staff can face day-to-day in a way that would not have been possible in the classroom. Additionally, I was able to learn about some of the positive work being done, and I would like to think that I was actually able to make some small positive contributions as well, whether that was by having a phone fixed on an institution’s unit or contributing to policy changes. I understand why others might not be interested in, or even support, the same career path, but I felt that the knowledge I had accrued over four years at the University of Ottawa allowed me to approach the work from a thoughtful perspective and, when necessary, a critical one. I was also very lucky to work with a group of incredibly intelligent, empathetic, and passionate individuals, many of who joined the team as field placement students from the University of Ottawa. I swear that at one point, almost a third of us were current or past field placement students!

New Beginnings

After five years and hundreds of grievances later, I decided it was time to take on a new challenge, accepting a position as a research analyst with the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (Canada Centre). Again, for those who may not be familiar with it, the Canada Centre was launched in 2017 and leads the Government of Canada’s efforts to counter radicalization to violence. Although still relatively new to the Centre, I have definitely enjoyed the challenge of learning about a new field of study. A lot of important and interesting work is being done in this field, not only by the government, but also by civil society organizations, as well as academics and researchers. My experience in studying criminology (and sociology) has undoubtedly made the transition easier and has given me a unique lens through which to approach this work. I’m super excited to continue learning and contributing to an increasingly important area of work.

Reminiscing, and Life-long Friends

Now, that just about brings me to the present day! Writing this blog post has been a lot of fun and has given me time to reflect on the nine years since I started as an undergraduate at the University of Ottawa. It would be a lie to say that those four years were perfect. They came with a number of challenges that many current and former students would find familiar, but I think that’s a post for another time. A lot has changed in those nine years, but I consider myself incredibly privileged: I was not only able to obtain an undergraduate degree, but also my experience and degree have continued to influence and shape my career path thus far. Just like when I was 18 years old, I have no idea what the future is going to bring (COVID-19 seems to be making that point clear), but I’m hopeful that I can continue to find ways to apply the knowledge I accrued at the University of Ottawa and work toward a future that is focused on addressing social inequalities and investing in communities.

 Kate and Andrea, who became friends through their directed research program. They are standing together and posing for the camera while on a camping trip this year.

"...the friends I made in that course have stuck around and been a major source of support and friendship over the past five years. Although we’ve been in different cities (sometimes countries), master’s programs, government jobs, and whatever else life has thrown at us, you can still catch us reminiscing about the good ol’ days over a beer or two."

- Janine Kiefer, BSocSc'15

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