Compounded Isolations: Graduate School, the Pandemic, and the Social Nature of Historical Work

Emily B. Kaliel, PhD Candidate, History Dept, University of Guelph @UGuelphHist, Arrell Scholar @ArrellFoodInst

#PandemicMethodologies #CdnHist @CndHistAssoc @PMTC2021
Completing my MA at @usaskhist was a very fulfilling time of my life. A gracious, thoughtful & engaged cohort supported me while I pursued my research. Discussions about our fields & the work we wanted our scholarship to do kept me excited & motivated.
My colleagues helped me navigate grad school (as a woman, too). They became my closest friends. They accepted, understood, & validated my choices when many outside of grad school could not. I grew as a person & a scholar, and to them I am forever grateful.
The push of unwritten academic rules to conduct PhD research at a different institution than the MA & the pull of a supportive advisor & competitive funding convinced me to move across the country away from my support network to pursue a PhD @UGuelphHist.
I was the only incoming PhD student that year. Immediately beginning comps meant I had limited time to make friends. The move, small program, and course work immediately isolated me. Then Covid-19 struck, and my small world was reduced even further.
I say this not to degrade UofG but to take seriously my experience of isolation in grad school exacerbated by the pandemic. It made clear that academic work is a social process. I am the scholar I am only because of the communities that support me.
Isolation taught me that to be meaningful, my work must be done in a slow, social way that allows me to democratize knowledge and build relationships with experts and new learners alike, both inside and outside of academia.
It has taught me to eschew productivity benchmarks & instead work towards building a just world where I am responsible for and attentive to my social relations. And to do that, I must take the time and have the capacity to thoughtfully engage with others.
Isolation pushed me to prioritize building grad student support networks & working to make academic institutions recognize that labour in real ways. I want to acknowledge the work colleagues contribute to the research that I will ultimately put my name on.
Isolation should not be the toll grad students pay to be successful. We should not be asked to constantly move away from our communities in order to be competitive on the job market or to forfeit a year of our social lives to the workload of comps.
The compounded isolations of grad school & the pandemic made me reevaluate my relationship with academia. I moved home. A 4- or 5-year PhD & CV lines have become negotiable. Doing my work in a social & sustainable way takes precedent. Family takes precedent
To finish: I’m buoyed by new groups that have lessened the feeling of isolation during the pandemic. As the @cshm_schm grad student rep, I organized the New Scholars Writing Group (with inspiration from @NiCHE_NS). See more here:…

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