PhD graduate | Philosophy

For many, teaching involves ensuring students understand the content and its real-world application. For Philosophy PhD graduate Vanessa Correia, teaching extends far beyond the content she delivers—she’s motivated by the connections she develops with her students. She says, “I work hard to earn my students’ trust, and I try to ensure they have the resources and support they need as individuals in order to be successful.”

student headshotIn winter 2019, Vanessa taught Business Ethics to undergraduate students. With her academic background, it seemed like the perfect fit—her research interests are centred on harm reduction for corporations, which examines how a company can reduce its impact on the environment and society while still being profitable. Vanessa hails from the Ivey Business School at Western University where she completed her undergraduate degree before completing her Master’s in Philosophy and embarking on her PhD, both at Waterloo. For Vanessa, investing in her students also meant an investment in their mental health and well-being.

Having encountered her own difficulties as an undergraduate, Vanessa always wanted to support others in the way she felt she would have benefitted at the time. “I’m trained in mental health first aid and I have my own experiences with mental health,” she explains. “I know exams get difficult, and it’s hard to stay motivated when the weather is cold. I wanted to do something to let my students know that I see them, and that if they are struggling, I can provide them with resources.” Even as the course came to its end, Vanessa wanted her students to feel they could reach out to her.

Vanessa regards her teaching as being based on two pillars – compassion and practical application. Her approach to teaching involves reflecting on her understanding of the challenges students face, and relating them back to herself — because she too encounterd many of those challenges as a graduate student. Being able to relate so closely to her students motivates Vanessa to help them overcome those key challenges.

On the academic side, she tries to help her students apply the concepts learned in her class to real-world scenarios, along with teaching them to write better essays and tests on their own. Vanessa constantly refers back to this key question: how can I, and the campus community, help you academically and support you personally?

On the last day of classes, when Vanessa sent her students on their way, she imparted a lasting gift. Each student was given a note containing an inspirational or motivational quote, an image of her cat whom she referred to from time to time in her class for levity, a packet of tea and one of her business cards in case her student wants to get in touch. “I wanted my students to continue to persevere, even in the face of hardship, and I wanted my students to continue to stretch their understanding and to think critically about the application of my course concepts to enhance their real-world understanding.” Vanessa's note to a student

One of the notes Vanessa gave to her students reads: "Change doesn't come in nickels and dimes. It comes in dedication and sweat." I hope this class helped you think more deeply about business. All the best in your future! 

To say the reception of her gesture was positive would be an understatement. While some students came up to thank her right away, it was later that Vanessa realized the full impact of her gesture. One of the students took to Reddit to post about the thoughtful message she received. The student shared that the gesture was timely given her own mental health crisis during the term. Vanessa then reached out to the student on Reddit to offer additional resources and support, should the student need assistance.

Vanessa says, “Writing these notes was important to me because, for me, teaching is about helping other people. When it comes to teaching, my mantra is ‘if I can effect one student’s life, if I can change one student’s life for the better, then it will make it all worth it, and I try to stand by that.”

Vanessa also regards her teaching relationships with undergraduates as reciprocal. “With undergraduate students, they’re great for helping with your own ideas, developing your prose and writing better, thinking better, researching better. I benefit a lot from these interactions, too, and I’m grateful for them.”