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Observations From The Front Lines


Dr. Eric Weissman came to his PhD a little later in life. His work with marginalized communities and his methods of presentation didn’t fit into to traditional pathways. That created some academic obstacles for him. He overcame those obstacles with a bullish persistence that led him to the Individualized Graduate Student Program (INDI) at Montreal’s Concordia University. His work won him Canada’s Distinguished Dissertation Award in 2014. His experience has strengthened his view about ReThinking the PhD.

My academic career has given me some new insights about graduate education. My observations come from experience as a mature student, as a scholar using new media, and as a PhD candidate searching for an interdisciplinary context to research my subject.

Winning Canada’s Distinguished Dissertation Award from CAGS has given my work an additional level of relevance. I think it provides some inspiration for others who want to help think our way out of the messes our society has created. I honestly feel, that since so many of the problems we face in the social and physical world have been constructed by us, that we ought to set our focus and our collective drive to constructing solutions.

That means taking chances.

In other words, academics should feel safe to produce research and say things that are unpopular, because popular reason falls short of changing things.

It is a story of the ages that powerful interest groups want safe academics who will protect an intellectual status quo that falls short of really shaking things up. As academics, we often experience intense anxiety over funding, job security and peer pressures. Those realities can compromise our intellectual fidelity and our commitment to social change.

Many of us in academia today, especially newly graduated academics, are shocked by how higher education has become so commoditized. Swamped by concerns with revenues and budgets, it sometimes seems that we forget the currency and value of genuine and original thought or action.

The payoff from higher education should not simply be in the form of profitable institutions, where students are the consumers of a commodity. As teachers and researchers we must invest in the encouragement of profitable thinking and the manufacture, if you will, of graduates with the potential to contribute to necessary social change.

CAGS, honours work that makes such contributions, and in my case, where my research had been rejected by key national research funds, three times, the CAGS recognition has shown me that critical work has significant relevance amongst discerning minds.

CAGS, and other organizations that recognize the merit of solid and edgy scholarly work are a sort of frontline in the battle for sound higher education.

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