Taylor Richardson (BA 2010)

What is your favourite memory of English at uWaterloo?

I'd have to say that one of my favourite memories of studying English at uWaterloo is my all-day reading session of Jane Austen's "Emma." I got to the part where Emma is riding in a carriage at Christmas and it is snowing outside--then I looked out of my window and it had started to snow, delicately and beautifully. I think that scene shows how links can be drawn between the material you study and the world that surrounds you, and how literature is easily something held in the heart.

What was your favourite English class?

One of favourite English classes was 18th-century literature with Professor Tierney-Hynes. She has a way of making texts from the 18th century seem like so many things at once: hilarious, ironic, tragic and relevant. It felt like I suddenly saw sides of particular works I could have never seen beforehand, and some of the lectures made the texts seem so hilarious I was in tears.

Who was your favourite English professor?

I'd have to say Professor Tristanne Connolly. Not only is her passion for her focus material readily apparent, but she taught many interesting and innovate sides of literature study, such as the transfer into digital media, the importance of studying texts as they exist in different media and forms, and things such as audience reception and why they make a difference. I felt confident learning alongside a professor who shared an interest in the taught material. She is also a kind and patient professor.

If you had to describe Waterloo (the university or the city) to a Martian on his/her first trip to earth, what's the first thing you'd tell them?

To spend a year at Waterloo is to experience the extremes of all four seasons!

What lessons did you take away from your experience in English at uWaterloo?

One of the major lessons I took away from my time as an English major at uWaterloo was that you are the ultimate judicator of what you learn. And I don't mean this in the stereotypical "you'll only learn if you pay attention" way--I mean to say that everyone takes different experiences away from the same lesson. Like readings of a text, nobody reads the same thing. Being aware of your own unique learning experience, and the notion that it differs from every other student you meet, is a realisation that enlightens your experience as precious and personal to you. And this in itself is the lesson; my interpretations and life experience are things ultimately tempered by my own heart and soul, and they are inextricable components of my being.

Where do you imagine yourself in 50 years?

Hopefully, in the same position as am now--a person readily and consistently learning about the world.

James Saliba (BA 2010)

James Saliba

What is your favourite memory of English at uWaterloo?

My favourite memory of English at Waterloo would be during Tristanne Connolly's Romantics class where I realised that English really was what I wanted to do with my degree, that I had made the right choice for my major subject.

What was your favourite English class?

Though I really enjoyed my more "traditional" English classes, taking Creative Writing (ENGL 335 & 336) was one of the most powerful class experiences in my undergraduate career. The fresh new experience of being in a workshop class with other talented and like-minded students, exploring creative processes, and developing our own styles all came together to give me such a valuable experience.

Who was your favourite English professor?

Tristanne Connolly, hands down. Her teaching style and expertise, coupled with her interest in contemporary topics such as feminist and queer theory, made her an invaluable part of my undergrad. It was because of her that I really learned how to improve my essays, and it's also because of her that I entered my Masters of English program here at uWaterloo.

If you had to describe Waterloo (the university or the city) to a Martian on his/her first trip to earth, what’s the first thing you’d tell them?

Waterloo is a great city, full of promise and life because of the two world-class universities, and the University of Waterloo holds fantastic promise for the future as a place of forward-thinking and learning innovation, as long as it remembers to keep students before corporations and to be ready to embrace change in old social paradigms such as human rights on campus.

What lessons did you take away from your experience in English at uWaterloo?

I learned to try to examine everything critically and objectively, to take strong positions on things I believe in, and to defend my positions with strong coherent arguments. I also learned that English extends beyond the classroom into so many facets of daily life.

Where do you imagine yourself in 50 years?

Still alive hopefully! I imagine myself alive, well, and thankful for where I am, and how uWaterloo got me where I wanted to go.

Kris Singh (MA 2010)


What is your favourite memory of English at uWaterloo?

My favourite memories of English at uWaterloo are my one on one experiences with the many intelligent English professors in the department, who take the time to help their students in any way they can.

What was your favourite English class?

My favourite English class was ENGL 301H with Prof. Murray McArthur in which we spent most of the semester studying The Odyssey. This was while I was still an undergraduate student and Prof. McArthur's class reinforced my love for studying literature. He is a brilliant academic and in every class he allowed for a relaxed yet stimulating discussion about this text.

Who was your favourite English professor?

My favourite professor at uWaterloo was Prof. Victoria Lamont. She truly tries to help her students in any way she can, often going above and beyond what is required of her. Her graduate seminar was one of the most enjoyable and informative academic experiences I had. And she has often provided me with the guidance necessary to further my academic career.

If you had to describe Waterloo (the university or the city) to a Martian on his/her first trip to earth, what's the first thing you'd tell them?

The University of Waterloo is a gathering of many minds from a diversity of backgrounds in which knowledge of all types is widely shared and built upon.

What lessons did you take away from your experience in English at uWaterloo?

From my experience in English at uWaterloo, I have learnt to keep an open mind while not being afraid to develop and defend my own original ideas. I have learnt that everyone, including myself, should be always aware that he/she is any one's equal and no one's superior.

Where do you imagine yourself in 50 years?

In 50 years, I optimistically imagine myself to be a professor of English Literature.

Johnathan Wells (BA 2010)

What is your favourite memory of English at uWaterloo?

My favourite memory is realizing in first year that what I really wanted to do was take English Literature. I took two English classes on a whim, not really expecting to like them, and enjoyed both of them so much. Shakespeare came alive in a way that nothing ever had for me before.

What was your favourite English class?

My favourite English class was Creative Writing (335 & 336) with Jacqui Smyth. These classes opened up to me the possibility that I could be a writer, a path that I am now pursuing. I had so much fun reading and critiquing my fellow students' work, and by handing in my own work steadily over the classes, I gained so much more confidence in myself. I've never had a class before or after where I looked forward to classes so much and didn't want them to end, or where there was so much laughing and discussing with fellow students.

Who was your favourite English professor?

My favourite professor was Katherine Acheson, who taught 350B, Seventeenth Century Literature. This class is solely responsible for developing my great love for Milton. Professor Acheson's classes were so well structured, and the class discussions were fun and interesting. Her PowerPoint presentations were wonderful, because she displayed art of the period on the slides to complement the literature that we were reading. Her enthusiasm for the material was evident, and it infected the rest of us with a desire to truly understand and enjoy seventeenth century literature.

If you had to describe Waterloo (the university or the city) to a Martian on his/her first trip to earth, what's the first thing you'd tell them?

The buildings might be ugly, but this is not representative of what we do inside of them (or of what buildings look like at other campuses).

What lessons did you take away from your experience in English at uWaterloo?

Too many to count. One major one would be that uWaterloo English taught me to be confident in my own abilities and to develop my own informed opinion on any issue, instead of just believing what someone else will tell you is true.

Where do you imagine yourself in 50 years?

Having many books published, some of which will be read in Contemporary Canadian Literature courses on the futuristic uWaterloo campus of tomorrow.

Amberly West (BA 2010)


What is your favourite memory of English at uWaterloo?

One event that is more prominent than others in my memory is the Ice Cream Social, hosted by the English Society during the Spring 2007 term. The ice cream was delicious. Aside from that, this was the point in my academic career at which I began thinking about graduate studies. At this event, Professor Randall and I talked about the graduate course he was teaching, “Jackson’s Tolkien.” I was very interested in the course, and received an invitation to sit in on a few classes. I never attended the class, but it did make me think about my future studies.

What was your favourite English class?

My favourite class was ENGL 392B The Rhetoric of Text and Image with Professor O’Gorman. I found the class to be challenging. It also provided me with a foundation in the theory and practice of design that I have continually drawn upon in other classes and during co-op placements. This class also provided me with one of my favourite texts, The Elements of Graphic Design by Alexander White.

Who was your favourite English professor?

The most influential Professors during my undergraduate degree were Professor Hulan and Professor Randall. Both of them helped me on the road to becoming a MA student this coming fall.

What lessons did you take away from your experience in English at uWaterloo?

I learned very early in my studies that good writing takes time and that you should start your assignments well in advance of the deadline.

Where do you imagine yourself in 50 years?

50 years from now, I hope to be at the University of Waterloo celebrating the English Department’s 100th Anniversary!

Mark Carter (BA 2011, MA 2012)

Mark carter

Can you tell me a bit about your position with the Sudbury Film Festival?

Since September 2012, I’ve worked with the Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival, one of the 5 major film festivals in Canada, as Marketing & Partnerships Coordinator. About 75% of my work was grant writing, but I also put in a lot of hours organizing events and arranging guests for the film festival in September and a comedy festival in April. I got to pick up Cheech and Chong from the airport. I also got involved with a lot of community arts groups in Sudbury, and helped put together a presentation asking for increased municipal arts spending from City Council.

How long did it take you to find that job after graduating? What do you think made you a good candidate?

I was really lucky, I interviewed for the job about a week after submitting my thesis (I didn't even know if I’d passed yet), went to Boston for a week's vacation, and came back to learn I was moving to Sudbury. I didn’t really know it at the time, but I've since learned exactly how important grant writing is to any not-for-profit, charity, and arts organization (hint: it's really, really important, and somewhere there is an arts group that really needs your help).

You're returning to Waterloo. Can you say a bit about your new position?

While I totally loved my job at Cinéfest, I’m a southern Ontario kind of guy at heart–with the help of a lot of luck and a bit of fortuitous networking, I was recently offered a permanent position as Development Coordinator at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener. While I’m sticking around in Sudbury for a few more weeks in anticipation of the upcoming 25th Anniversary Festival (September 14th-22nd–can I plug it?), I do know that my new job will also have its roots firmly planted in NFP management and finances;and, of course, grant writing.

At Waterloo we always see co-op students on their way to interviews. What is the effect of having been surrounded by that culture when you actually start interviewing?

I was actually a co-op dropout when I decided I wanted to do an M.A., I got impatient and didn't want to spend an extra year finishing my first degree. That said, I was already used to interviewing for part-time and summer jobs; whether it was writing for web sites, tutoring at Centennial College in Scarborough for the summer, or putting up drywall. To be honest and I think a lot of students in the English department might agree; the co-op culture at Waterloo always seemed a little out of reach, like it was just another perk for engineers-to-be. I definitely know other English grads who made the co-op system work for them, but I waited to acclimate myself to the professional world after school was done. To be honest, I still don&'t think I’m there–I’ve only worked with arts and culture groups, which are kind of their own world.

I'm intrigued by the interview uniform; people here seem to have. Does that matter as much in the positions you have interviewed for, do you think?

I think I’ve managed to get away with a lot, interviewing primarily in the arts and culture sector. Jeans, a flannel shirt, and a beard can be as much of a uniform as a suit and tie for someone in my position. I’ve also interviewed for writing gigs with startups and found the same thing–I’ve definitely been interviewed by a few executives in shorts and t-shirts. At the same time, I’ve had my share of meetings with corporate and government funders, so I haven’t totally forgotten how to tie a half-Windsor.

What's the first thing you'll do once you're back?

The Princess Cinema is showing a Peter Gabriel concert documentary on the 29th, and I’m going to be the first in line. After that, I’ll probably look for an apartment.

Gaurav Pokharel (BA 2012)

Gaurav Pokharel

Its not easy choosing a university: what other schools did you consider and why? What made you finally decide on Waterloo?

While looking into universities, I applied to almost all of the major ones within Ontario (Queens, University of Toronto, etc.). My reasoning at the time was that I wanted to explore each of my choices to see what they individually offered in terms of things like scholarships, co-op programs, atmosphere, reputation, etc.   For me, it was between UofT – Scarborough and Waterloo. UofT was closer to home, and also offered co-op for their English program. At the time, all I kept hearing from friends/acquaintances was the good old “What are you going to do with an English degree?” line of concern, so I almost had a chip on my shoulder to prove to them that you can do plenty with it. This is partially why entering a co-op program was extremely important to me at the time.  I ultimately chose Waterloo because in addition to the co-op program, they also offered me a generous entrance scholarship, as well as the opportunity to experience living independently.

Going into the co-op interview process, did you take advantage of on-campus resources? Or did you find yourself mostly asking your friends for advice?

In terms of the interview process, I found myself mostly relying on Google searches and books, mixed with advice from friends/family. Ultimately however, it was a combination of preparation and learning from my own interview mistakes that led to me landing my first co-op job. In hindsight however, I would have used our co-op services more frequently. Specifically, partaking in a mock interview critique would have been very beneficial.

You tailored your English degree so that it was quite professional ,what did that mean in terms of courses people generally consider part of a standard English degree, focusing on novels, poetry, and drama?

I was never a fan of “standard” English degree courses, and didn’t particularly enjoy analyzing classic literature and poetry. However, the RPW degree is flexible in that there’s a certain amount of literary courses that are mandatory. This encourages students to step outside of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in a variety of courses, including “standard” ones. While I didn’t enjoy all of my mandatory literary courses (British Literature is a prime example), I learned a lot from them in terms of developing critical thinking skills and learning to write effective essays. This skill of persuasive communication translated very well in professional settings.

Can you say a little bit about how your experiences of co-op led to your current job?

Once I got into the co-op program, my goal was to figure out the types of roles I enjoyed doing, and what I excelled at skill-wise. As a result, I experimented with different positions, and discovered that certain job skills were not for me (e.g., tutoring/teaching, project coordination). During my final two co-op terms, I learned that I really enjoyed the challenge of deciphering and repurposing technical content, and that I wouldn’t mind doing it for a living. However, I also learned that I didn't like working in isolated environments, and preferred a collaborative environment instead. Currently, I work as a Proposal Writer at Desire2Learn Incorporated, a position I’ve held for over a year. This position pretty much combines everything I enjoyed doing during my co-op terms; it is a deadline-driven environment that allows me to write and manage technical documents while working cross functionally with others.     The beauty of co-op is that it allows you to discover your preferences before you graduate so that when you are ready to hit the workforce, you are less likely to feel miserable or inadequate in a position that may not match your unique skills and personality.

And sometimes it's just nice to ask English graduates: what are you currently reading for fun?

I've finally gotten around to reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I had always heard that it was a great book, and was fascinated with the story behind it. Highly recommended!

This profile was originally published on November 2013.

Ashna Bhagwanani (Ph.D. 2013)

Ashna Bhagwanani

What made you choose Waterloo’s Ph.D. program?

I chose Waterloo’s Ph.D. program because the Department was extremely receptive to my interdisciplinary project.  After visiting the campus, I knew immediately that Waterloo was the place where my proposed research would flourish.

In your Ph.D. defense you opened by talking a bit about your interdisciplinary background; how did that influence your research?

My interdisciplinary training influenced me immensely.  The rough idea for my dissertation came to me during my undergraduate studies.  At the time I was pursuing a Specialist in English and a Major in Criminology at the University of Toronto.  I was taking an American Literature course alongside one entitled Deviance – two courses which initially seemed to be polar opposites.  After a couple of weeks though, I began to notices similarities and intersections between the two materials. It occurred to me that in some way, each of the fictional characters I had become so intimately acquainted with after studying them in my American Literature course could be classified as a deviant.  It struck me that characters like Huck Finn, Henry David Thoreau, Hester Prynne, Holden Caufield, Jay Gatsby – all of them were deemed deviants for different reasons by the American community.  What became clear to me then was that classic American works permitted an understanding of human subjectivity that sociological data could never provide.

Looking back now, did you know the dissertation was going to take the shape it did?

I didn't realize that the project would take the shape that it did at all.&The National Police Gazette, which is a large component of the dissertation, was actually something I inadvertently stumbled upon while doing completely unrelated research for Dr. Lamont's (my supervisor) course on American Literary Recovery. The research I conducted on the Police Gazette at the New York Public Library was by far the most interesting of all the research I did for this dissertation. The chapter on the Police Gazette really helped provide me with a clearer picture of the type of arguments I wanted to make going forth in the dissertation.

Your defense was unusual, in that your external examiner (Dr. Christiana Gregoriou) was really interested in talking about your future research. Did you anticipate this? Was there anything that surprised you about the process?

I had actually anticipated these types of questions after reading a number of Dr. Gregoriou’s publications.  Her work was inspiring and made me think about how I might incorporate quantitative methods of analysis into my work since it does use the social sciences as its theoretical framework.

I have no recollection of what I did between submitting the completed dissertation and defending it,it's all a haze. I know one of your colleagues who has just submitted is going camping; some people crash, others throw themselves into sending things out for publication. What did you do?

My husband and I are board game fanatics! My relaxation time between studying included multiple rounds of Catan and Dominion.  And of course, some mindless television!

A slew of my publications have developed out of tangents a luxury you don't have when writing and thinking about tuition. Did you hit anything that made you think okay, I HAVE to come back to this?

Again, it would have to be The National Police Gazette.  There’s a very interesting weekly segment in the magazine entitled Lives of the Felons which reveals the exploits of the week’s most wanted criminal in detail. This section still exists in today’s online version of the Police Gazette and is updated yearly. I'm particularly interested in looking at previous and modern “Lives of the Felons” columns and using some of the corpus linguistic tools that Dr. Gregoriou suggested like the “cadence” tool (which examines the frequency with which certain words are used) or a keyword tool (which populates a list of words that characterizes a text).

Any post-dissertation reading plans?

I plan on reading Will Ferguson’s 419 which was the 2012 recipient of the Giller Prize – it’s been sitting on my desk for ages.I also want to go back and re-read some of the American classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby.  Although I didn’t discuss these in the dissertation, each of these was inspirational in its own special way.

Heidi Ebert (MA 2013)

Heidi user-testing a locative game

Why did you decide on Waterloo?

I didn't consider any other options! When I finished my BA, I knew I had gone as far as I wanted to go with literary studies. I loved it, but I wasn’t excited or committed enough to a particular topic to continue. I didn’t think I could add anything new to the conversation. And while my interests and goals had changed, I couldn’t see a way to pursue them without starting from scratch. So I quite happily took my leave of academia. I spent a year teaching in France, then started working in book publishing. I hadn’t completely abandoned the idea of continuing my studies, but I was looking for a way to combine the theoretical tools I’d gathered so far with something more hands-on, which I didn’t think existed. Then I heard about XDM—on Twitter, fittingly and I couldn't pass it up.

Can you tell us a bit about your research project?

I was exploring what we do with digital objects, specifically Facebook profiles, after the people who create them die. I tried to situate Facebook on an expanding continuum of memorial practice and to show that while a profile may temporarily transform into a space for mourning and a memorial object, it becomes an autobiographical tool again quite quickly. Because some visitors to a dead person’s profile will write self-narratives as though the intended recipient is still alive, the profile’s subject shifts: the original content—the story the dead person created but can no longer add to—is gradually overwritten.

This was a research-creation project, which means I designed a digital object-to-think-with—an animated, online memorial space—as a means of thinking through these ideas. It didn’t end up being feasible to build the site, but I mapped out many of the technical details and learned some of the software I would need to produce it. The site design was the frame I needed to shape my research.

What surprised you most in your research?

This idea that people continue to post on a dead person’s profile as though nothing has changed. I noticed this on the page I used as a case study, which is what inspired the project in the first place. Barring the mourning-specific Rest in Peace–type posts, it can be really difficult to recognize that a Facebook user has died, since very little actually changes in terms of the behaviour that takes place there. Some visitors will post narratives of everything from major life events to mundane details. In some ways I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, because one of the qualities of text-based online communication is that there isn’t necessarily an expectation of immediate reply. That’s one of the reasons the experience of using Facebook doesn’t actually change much if you are writing to a dead person. It may also partly be because (some scholars have argued recently) that it's because people truly believe their loved ones live online; for them, the Internet is the new afterlife. That was a shocking discovery for me!

Given the topic, were you relieved to finally step away from the research?

I was. I didn’t realize how much emotional work I was doing in addition to the scholarly work. I spent almost two full years thinking deeply about death, mourning and memorial and about what will happen to the digital objects I’ve created when I die. When I submitted the project, I was well and truly ready to take a rest from studying death. And from Facebook.

When you tell people about this project, does everyone have a story?

Yes! It was a great topic for cocktail parties, if a bit morbid, because everyone always wanted to add a piece to the narrative I was trying to build. A few people had “ghost stories” about a spouse or a child taking over a dead person’s profile without making the action explicit. I’d say the majority of people I spoke with about the project had at least one dead Facebook friend. And that experience will only become more common.

What are you doing now?

I'm the copy editor at Toronto Life magazine, and a freelance editor and researcher.

And because I can't help myself, what are you currently reading?

I'm reading a book called Here We Are Among the Living: A Memoir in Emails. It’s by Samantha Bernstein, who is one of Irving Layton’s daughters.

Jennifer Pepper (BA 2014)

Jennifer Pepper

Can you tell readers a bit about your current position?

Sure, I work at Vidyard as a Content Marketing Manager. Here I get to combine my two favourite parts of the marketing world: brand positioning and video production. I manage the blog and editorial calendar, produce video scripts and interviews, content guides, press release copy, and other media resources. I get to work with fun, talented creatives and I’d really recommend the content marketing avenue for other English grads.

What made you decide on Waterloo for your undergrad?

I chose Waterloo based on a presentation I’d seen at a high school exhibit in grade 12. uWaterloo had a student discuss her experience and I went away thinking I should look into Waterloo and what it had to offer. Some later research revealed that Waterloo had both an arts & business option and was also the only Canadian school to offer rhetoric as a field of study. Because I wanted to get into advertising or marketing in some capacity, I saw the program as a means to be creative and practical (co-op was a terrific practical add on).

What was your experience of the co-op program?

I found the co-op program really valuable. The job market can be tough and having nearly two years of job experience under your belt ensures that you stand out in the right way when you need to. My time in my co-op positions – as well as the interviews that brought me to each – taught me a ton about what to expect upon graduation, what sectors interest me, and what it takes to impress an employer. Tech and product meetings are much different than literature midterms and it’s good to learn how to handle both.

Did you find there was always a connection between your class time and your co-op time?

Not always but, depending on the class, sure. After working in technical documentation, for example, it was very cool to take a class in information design. I had spent my whole co-op term learning why tech companies structure information in a particular way and when I came back to campus I was far more interested in what we were talking about because I’d encountered it out in the wild. It was interesting because I could apply the subject to real use cases from my co-op term and I felt like I could legitimately add value to our in-class discussions.

What advice do you have for current students?

I have two main pieces of advice and both are a bit career oriented, but that seems to be important to folks, so here goes:

1. Use your co-op to accomplish real goals: If you use your co-op terms wisely you can demonstrate a clear contribution to your workplace and that, hands down, is what will get you a job when you graduate. Accomplish a major project for your department, learn three new pieces of design software, read a book a month during your term related to your industry, or – better yet – find a problem your department doesn’t know they have yet and solve it.

2. Look up the job descriptions of the positions you’d like to have and learn the hard skills listed. When you graduate, you’ll sigh a big heavy sigh when you realize every entry-level job listed “requires” 3-5 years of experience, but you can be tricky and get an interview anyway. My ultimate piece of advice is to create an amazing portfolio or website featuring your copy, design work, or projects (not school projects, real projects you make just because you want to make things), and these personal projects will get you a job when you graduate because they showcase what you care about and – most importantly – how you think. A cover letter explaining why you’re eager and even an interview sometimes won’t cut it. You’ve gotta go the extra mile or else the neighbour who babysat the kids of the hiring manager is totally getting that PR job you want.

and one, non-job related piece of advice…

3. Experiment in a course you’re not sure you’ll enjoy: I wasn’t sure I’d like Canadian literature, but it fit my schedule and I thought, ah why not. Whenever I even thought about what made a novel Canadian I figured it contained a farm, old people, a few young boring people, farmers, and mostly described flat landscapes for pages and pages. While tiny parts of that assumption are a tiny bit right (authors love landscapes), I learned that I actually really like Canadian literature and that it’s not boring at all once you learn how it functions and the history that drives it. In any case, challenge yourself with a few courses you feel you don’t really know anything about. If the prof is really excited about the material, chances are there's something cool they are trying to show you and you might really surprise yourself with what you learn.

This profile was originally published on October 2013.