When I was a little girl (growing up in a semi-rural area near Windsor, Ontario, Canada), I didn’t like to play house; I liked to play teacher. I would have been ok with being the student, but my friends typically wanted me to be the teacher. I would prepare lessons and assign homework. My friends weren’t usually too impressed because I expected them to complete their homework and hand it in to be graded during our next playdate! So I guess you could say that I knew at a young age that I wanted to become an academic.
In high school, I developed an interest in people and language. A career matching test I took in high school told me I should become a physician or psychologist, so I pursued psychology as an undergrad (at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada). However, I wanted to keep as many doors open as possible, so I did a double honors major: in Psychology and in French (and minored in social sciences). I was an excellent student, so graduate school was a topic that was often brought up by my teachers or parents. It wasn’t until my 3rd year, then I started thinking about my thesis, that I realized I could combine my love of language with my love of psychology: psycholinguistics was an actual field that I could pursue (and there was a MA/Ph.D. psycholinguistics program just across the river in Detroit, Michigan! But I didn’t know if I could find a job in that field or whether I would be accepted into the PhD program (I have long-suffered from the imposter syndrome!), so I had to have a (or many) back-up plans. Plan A was a Ph.D. in psycholinguistics in Detroit. Plan B was to become a high school teacher. Plan C was to become a translator (French is my native language, so that could work out well), Plan D was an MA in French and Plan E was an MA in some other area of psychology.
Fast forward to the end of my 4th year of undergrad, and I got into my Ph.D. program (Plan A, if you’re following!) As an international student, I crossed the border from Windsor to Detroit every day for class. I worked hard. I learned a lot. I taught 1st and 3rd year courses. I made a lot of great friends. Then, as I prepared to propose my Ph.D., I knew it was time to start looking for work! With the whole world open to me (or at the very least, two entire countries), where would I start? Somewhere warm, maybe? That would be a nice change. But I hesitated leaving Canada because of certain things I was accustomed to (e.g., socialized healthcare, 1-year of paid maternity leave when we decided to start a family, etc). I focused my search on teaching-focused positions. I interviewed at 3 American schools (where I chose to turn down the 2 positions that I was offered). Turning down the positions was so difficult because I didn’t know if I would receive any offers. And in Canada, with a much smaller population, there are far fewer schools, so there is a lot of competition. Finally, I saw it: the perfect job for me…in Canada! Sure, it was 4 hours from home, but it was in Canada. Did I mention it was in Canada? It was a college, which, in Canada means something a little different than it does in America. In the US, colleges and universities both offer 4-year degrees, but universities also offer graduate degrees. In Canada, both of these types of institutions are called universities. Colleges are a little different: they offer 1, 2, or 3 year certificates and diplomas in varied fields such as early childhood education, computer programming, practical nursing, chemical lab technician, paramedics, and welding (among many, many others). There is no research expectation and no lab space (usually). Only recently have Canadian colleges been allowed to apply to offer degrees, and very few of them do (for example, my school had its first one approved for September 2018, and a second on the way for September 2019). And we have over 10,000 students. So that’s the difference between a college and a university in Canada (at least, that’s the case in my province of Ontario; education is a provincial matter, so it can vary from province to province): colleges are more like community colleges + technical/trade schools in the US.
Now back to my journey! Long story short, I interviewed for the position, got an offer, and accepted it right away! Then I defended my dissertation and moved to Oshawa, Ontario where I began my career at Durham College. Unlike a tenure system that Canadian universities have, Canadian colleges have a 2-year probationary period, after which time you become a permanent (tenure-like employee). I love my job, and my school. I love the people I work with and the students. I teach anywhere between 3-5 courses per semester and I am off for 2 months in the summer. I had my first child after my 2nd year of teaching (yay for 12-month maternity leave) and I am pregnant with baby number 2 right now (and again, yay for 12-month maternity leave!))
So, that’s my journey into academia. You might be interested in knowing what it’s like to teach at a Canadian college, including some of the unique challenges that I have encountered as I transitions from teaching 3rd year undergraduate students at an R1 institution (as a graduate student in Detroit) to certificate and diploma programs at a Canadian college. Well, you’re in luck because I have been invited to blog about that very topic in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!