On Congress, research and ideas, oh my! – Nicola Simmons

button_congress2009Last week I was in Ottawa at the Canadian Society for Studies in Higher Education conference, part of the much larger Congress for the Social Sciences and Humanities. I wasn’t the only Waterloo attendee, and it was great to see colleagues who were there for their own disciplinary conferences.
It was a fantastic week: not only was the CSSHE a very good conference this year, with lots of opportunities to connect with other scholars of post-secondary education research and practice, but the overall Congress was buzzing. You know you’re at Congress when you overhear academics from two different disciplines in conversation at a Tim Horton’s line, “Have you read Hegel? I think you might find an interesting lens for your work.”
Gary Poole was a keynote speaker at CSSHE, and gave an iteration of the session he did at our Opportunities and New Directions conference – but one that was a clear indication that Gary’s thinking never stands still. Brian Little, who talks about optimal levels of cognitive arousal (cognitive, ok?) spoke engagingly about introverts and extroverts in the classroom – on both sides of the podium (there’s a psychological reason some need their caffeine before starting the day!)

I spent some of the train ride home reflecting on what I had personally gained by going to Congress. Time away means a backlog of catch up when I return (in addition to rising early and staying up late to keep caught up with email and other tasks.) I heard David Foot speak at a Congress breakfast about demographics – here, province by province, and a national comparison to a few countries, and why Turkey, Mexico, and Muslim countries were the most likely sources for students in the coming years (assuming universities don’t try to attract the older population that is seriously outnumbering the typical age entry group.) I met the person who supports the Ministers of Education across Canada whose area of responsibility is all things post-secondary. He will be a fantastic contact for me in my role at UW, and we’ve already exchanged information on a few issues and have plans to meet in the summer. I wrote a paper for my session at CSSHE, but revised it based on papers by the other panel members. I found myself in a session one day that didn’t quite live up to its promise (and it was truly the only one of the conference), and began synthesising something I’d been working on for a while with threads from other sessions. I left the conference with a paper half written, and I believe it’s going to be a good one.

If asked whether it was worth the time and money to go, I will respond that for me, it was an opportunity to be immersed in the kind of thinking I was trained to do, with few other distractions, and the result was a lot of good work and a renewed sense of mental vigour. I was intellectually stimulated by the sessions and conversations, and reminded that I have a theoretical, conceptual, and creative mind that doesn’t get to play often enough.

If you are in the social sciences or humanities, I strongly encourage you to consider attending Congress next year in Montreal (May 28- June 4, 2010).

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Nicola Simmons

As Research and Evaluation Consultant, Nicola Simmons supports the design and implementation of research about teaching and learning at UW. In addition to co-ordinating the Teaching-based Research Group (TBRG) and LIF/PIF grants program, she assists faculty members with research-related activities: grant proposals, ethics proposals, conference proposals, and publications. Nicola pursues her own research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), doctoral student and new faculty identity development, reflective practice, and qualitative research methods and ethics, and holds a number of research grants related to program evaluation. Nicola is also a graduate advisor and teaches part-time in the Faculty of Education at Brock University, where she received her PhD for her study What’s different under the gown: New professors’ constructions of their teaching roles. Nicola and her husband, who live in Burlington, have a musical son and a horse-crazy daughter. Her hobbies include making willow furniture and judging science fairs.

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