Provoking Curriculum Conference 2017: IHDW Panel: With a Flourish! Our teaching/Our research/Our well-being

PHOTO: Hani Sadati

With a Flourish! Our teaching/Our research/Our well-being

panel presented at the Provoking Curriculum Conference 2017 
by the McGill Institute of Human Development and Well-being (IHDW)

The recent burgeoning of studies on the academic workplace and especially in relation to mental health and well-being highlight the various challenges of an academic life, and to some of the ebbs and flows that we might need to pay attention to from time to time. Considering The Slow Professor (2016) by Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, along with recent work from researchers at the University of Laval, this panel drew together academics at various points of our careers, from someone just starting out as a postdoc, to those of us in mid-career and beyond. These stories are typically not spoken about, but as a recent departmental retreat at McGill focusing on this very topic highlighted, perhaps the unleashing of these stories can help to shape a curriculum of humanity in and beyond the academy. This is what the With a Flourish! panelists think about what it means to flourish in the academy:

Claudia Eppert (U Alberta)
“What does flourishing in the academy mean to me and what is critical to talk about? For me, it’s attending to time and balance, and diversity; in other words, supporting multiple ways of being and ‘inter-being’ (Nhat Hanh 1987) and in ways that invite, facilitate and structurally and resourcefully support a plurality of relationships with goodness, equanimity and joy. This includes faithfully and integrally attending to the flourishing of children, animals and the earth; in fact, all sentient and non-sentient life. And, in this sense, it means also recognizing that my own flourishing is dependent upon the flourishing of the whole. And so, flourishing as undoing not only the duality between academic and non-academic, but also between self and other.”

Ingrid Johnston (U Alberta)
“It’s really hard to say no to all these [professional expectations], but it does make sense to be selective because, realistically, we can’t take up on all those challenges and we cannot live well if we do not actually think about what really matters to us personally and the things that give us the most enjoyment."

“Probably, I think the most challenging aspect –I’m sure you will share this- is that our jobs are never done. We could work 24 hours a day and still not complete all the expectations. We constantly prioritize what needs to be done by the next day or next week, and in the process, we may ignore aspects about the job that actually gave us the most satisfaction.”

Bronwen Low (McGill U)
“I wanted just leave us with this idea that at whatever stage of the game we are at, inside or outside of academia, to continue to take risks, and for those of us who do have the great gift of tenure, to see this as an opportunity to embark on things that we are curious about, things that make us uncomfortable, or frighten, because we might not know that much about them.”

Adrian McKerracher (Columbia)
“My hope is that my silence and my voice nurture each other; that there is a kind of symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship between the two; that I am not just silent or that I am not just talking my head off; that there is some way of moving between those two in a fluid way. So, when asked what’s the meaning of flourishing in the academy, I hope it’s very similar to other aspects of flourishing in my life: a space for meaningful relationships, a commitment to high-quality work, a sense of impact and positive change, and a growing community of support. Most of all, though, something I want to make a lot more room for, is safe spaces to say ‘I don’t know’. I think there can be a lot of fear around that, but I think that the more comfortable we can become with saying I don’t know, and then feeling that it is a safe thing to say and that there is room for different ways of knowing, I think we’ll feel a lot less alone. I think that that’s part of what isolates me, is that feeling that I have to know before I can engage.”

Nicholas Ng-A-Fook (U Ottawa)
“Flourishing in terms of academia for me is cyclical. There are times when I feel tired, really stressed because of all the different demands, and there’s other times where I feel that we do one of the most privileged jobs in the world, and reminding myself in terms of the work that I do with Indigenous communities, so the Kitigan Zibi territories that McGill University, Ottawa University, these places in our work, we wouldn’t be able to do it if Canada wasn’t colonized. So, how can we acknowledge that our work comes out of a systemic process of historical colonialization? And, so, what are our roles and responsibilities to that, in terms of truth and reconciliation; and Cindy Blackstock's work in terms of the ongoing segregation and inequities for young First Nations children. And so, when I see those issues going on, that kind of reminds me of the importance of the work that we are trying to do, and the small steps that we are taking at the University of Ottawa, and that kind of pushes me in terms of the energy to flourish in that way, even though there often seems that there is not a lot happening.”

Lisa Starr (McGill U)
“For me flourishing has kind of three themes or ideas. There has to be some element of imagination or creativity, and I discovered that, about myself later in life, is that having some kind of creativity will improve the way you view everything, the type of work I engage in; that to me is an essential feature; If I can’t do that, then I feel quite lost. I couldn’t recognize that about myself earlier in my career, but I certainly do now.”

“We are all trying to find our spaces, but to find a space in which you can plant your feet and feel good, is the challenge for all of us; is to be able to find where we can plant your feet and feel as if we are able to flourish. I think we all owe that to ourselves.”

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[visit event page for Provoking Curriculum 2017: IHDW PANEL: With a Flourish! Our teaching/Our research/Our well-being]