Renewing my Scholarship: Journeys Away — Nicola Simmons

I’m just returning from the Congress of the Humanities and Social Science in Montreal, where (as at last year’s Congress) I bumped into a few Waterloo colleagues there for their own disciplinary conferences. I was there for the Canadian Society for Studies in Higher Education meeting, running a session with a colleague in which papers addressed the changing demographic of post-secondary students in the future based on population and economic trends. We posed troubling questions about what re-framing is needed in higher education at all levels (individual educators, departments, institutions, and national and international policies) to anticipate the particular needs of these students. In a second presentation, I discussed the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in Canada and the ways we consider the impact of that work. I used our activities at the University of Waterloo as a model of what supports can be provided proposed a framework for assessing impact and considering how to move SoTL forward.

I’ve been thinking about why we find these events so valuable: valuable enough to make time in our very busy schedules. I think of the benefits of presenting our work to a wider audience, in getting feedback on our developing ideas, in making connections with colleagues, and in considering how our ideas compare and contrast as they bump up against the ideas of others. In part, this may be about publications and cv lines and developing their career path; for me, however, it’s about intellectual community and reinvigorating my scholarship.

Why do we need to leave home to get this? After all, we work in an intellectual community where discussions about our scholarship already happen. At the same time, we tend not to duplicate ourselves in our departments in lean academic times. We are hired for our particular focus, and we may well be the only person in a department with the unique lens that lends power to our work. The richness of this is the quality of the conversations that happen with those who bring diverse perspectives, but at times it can also leave us isolated, in that other colleagues who have read a different body of literature or whose research is in different areas may not necessarily be the best “critical friends”(a notion from research literature) for our work and emerging ideas.

The Congress highlights for me were not, in fact, the sessions – though those were interesting enough and I learned a lot about Concordia’s SoTL program. They were the beer shared with a co-presenter, when we discussed the limitations of papers that considered only the Canadian context and how though we continually hear about a global knowledge economy, we aren’t always quite there yet in our own practice. We also talked about the highly autobiographical nature of research, where we learned much about our colleagues because of the types of questions they research (we both study and teach aspects of adult development and role/identity formation). There was also the lunch with another colleague, in which we talked about the future of SoTL in Canada and what kinds of local initiatives as well as national advocacy would be helpful.

I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly, and I mean nothing against my wonderful Waterloo colleagues with whom I enjoy many deeply philosophical discussions, but I return from Congress both reinvigorated in my work and thinking and also a tiny bit saddened that I have to travel so far for the experience. On the other hand, journeying on is what the intellectual life is about. Happy adventures!


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

Published by

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.

Leave a Reply