Click on the photo for more information
Joel SherlockMA. Public History, 2014. Manager, Genealogical and Archival Research for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
Joel completed an MA in Public History at Western 2014. He now serves in government, in a role that he finds extremely rewarding: “I like being in a position to use my historical research and writing skills to help people overcome all kinds of real-world challenges.”
For example, his team creates letters of ancestry to support Canadian-born First Nation individuals in asserting their rights under the 1794 Jay Treaty so that they can live and work in the United States without paying expensive application fees. They also write family history letters to aid First Nation students applying for scholarships for post-secondary education, and they write proof of age letters for First Nation people who never had their births registered so that they can access the same Old Age Security benefits that other Canadians receive.
Joel says, “I also love going to work every morning and not knowing exactly what I’ll be doing. Sometimes a phone call or email will force me to dramatically change my plans for a day - that keeps it interesting!”
Joel notes that working in a group during his graduate studies in Public History really prepared him well for the workplace. In addition, he adds, “I can’t count how many presentations I have done, how much peer review I have conducted, and how many people have peer-reviewed my work. Group projects are a fact of my work life and I rarely achieve anything alone. The MA in Public History made the transition into the workplace easy.”
In part, this is because most of the assignments that Public History MA students complete are created for use in the real world. According to Sherlock, “The Western Public History MA Program does an excellent job of building community partnerships and creating projects to aid community heritage organizations. In my year, we curated a museum exhibit for Fanshawe Pioneer Village, researched heritage homes for the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and the London Heritage Council, and conducted oral history interviews for the J.P. Metras Museum on campus, and more. I also did a research assistantship at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology. Knowing that there were real-world consequences for our assignments stretched me and propelled me to do my best work.” All this work with community heritage organizations was by far his favourite aspect of living in London and studying at Western.
His advice for prospective graduate students?
Treat graduate school like a full-time job. Plan to be on campus every day for seven or eight hours even if you don’t have class. Developing that daily routine will help you dedicate the time and effort your assignments require.
Be aggressive in your job search and cast a wider net than just jobs in the heritage and history fields. I have found that there is no such thing as a bad work experience, and that all of my post-graduation jobs—heritage-related or not—have helped me be more effective in my current position. You might also find you’ll fall in love with a job you never knew existed before!
This photo of Joel was taken in July 2017, when he assisted with treaty pay events in Kashechewan, Attawapiskat, and Moose Factory, Ontario. “Participating in these events and interacting with the First Nation residents there taught me the importance of Truth and Reconciliation and that this is not just a problem to be resolved between the Federal Government and First Nations, but every person, organization, and government that calls Canada home. We are all treaty people.”
Joel completed an MA in Public History at Western 2014 Manager, Genealogical and Archival Research for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
Marise BachandPh.D. 2011 Associate Professor, American History, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Marise Bachand completed her Ph.D. in American History at Western in 2011. She is an Associate Professor of American History at the Université du Québec in Trois-Rivières, a research university of about 15,000 students. There, she loves teaching American and women’s history to undergraduate and graduate students. Most summers finds Prof. Bachand traveling throughout the United States to archives, where she continues her research on Southern white women in the nineteenth century.
Bachand notes that she chose Western “for the strength of the faculty in American Studies, which was incomparable in Canada.” She also wanted to improve her communication skills in English (French is her primary language). She is grateful that both professors and students at Western were very patient with her. “It took some time and a lot of work to master a second language, but I felt truly supported. Today, I teach and live in French, yet I do most of my daily work in English, reading and writing about the American South.”
She also valued the professional development programming that the graduate committee provided while she was completing her doctoral work: “They taught us how to give good conference papers. Or they organized seminars on writing good cover letters and CVs. Information was widely shared, examples provided. It gave me a lot of confidence to present papers in major conferences in Canada and the United States and, eventually, to apply for academic jobs.”
Bachand also appreciated support for work-life balance in the department. She shared: “Right at the end of my first year as a Ph.D. candidate, I gave birth to a little girl who is now fifteen years old. I must say that I was very well supported as a studying mother at Western in every imaginable way, from the clinic on campus to flexible research contracts. Raising a daughter changed and deepened my understanding of the women that I study.”
What did she love most about Western? “The people! Everybody was so welcoming: the faculty, the staff, the students. There was a lot of room for dialogue and exchange across a variety of fields in history. Many of the graduate students I met at Western — who came from all over Canada and abroad— are among my most precious friends today. The campus is beautiful, Weldon library is a treasure trove, and London is a very good place to socialize on a student budget. I had so much fun.”
Her advice for student entering the Ph.D. program? “Doing a Ph.D. in History is a tough ride, both intellectually and personally. You have to give it all you have in terms of time, energy, and material resources. It’s like climbing the Himalayas or running a series of ultramarathons. Most of us are exhausted at the end. But it is a wonderful and meaningful ride if you are well supported and surrounded by good colleagues and mentors. My years at Western were among the happiest in my life.”
Marise Bachand completed her Ph.D. in American History at Western in 2011. She is an Associate Professor of American History at the Université du Québec in Trois-Rivières, a research university of about 15,000 students. There, she loves teaching American and women’s history to undergraduate and graduate students.
Michelle Hutchinson GrondinSenior Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) Advisor, Government of Alberta
Michelle Hutchinson Grondin completed her Ph.D. in women’s and gender history at Western in 2016. Since 2017, she has served as a Senior Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) Advisor for the Status of Women with the Government of Alberta. In her role, Michelle analyzes policies and public facing documents to assess how diverse groups will be affected differently based on their income, culture, gender identity, location, income, education, and abilities. She also facilitates GBA+ training for government staff and trains others to deliver the training for their ministries. She is also responsible for implementing gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting in the Government of Alberta. “My current position provides a lot of challenges as well as opportunities for supporting many initiatives across government.”
How did her graduate program prepare her for this role? “The writing and communication skills that I gained during my graduate program led to my first full-time, permanent position as a Writer/Editor for the Ministry of Advanced Education in Alberta, where I edited briefing notes and letters. In my current position, I use my research skills to support policy development, and my writing and communication skills to draft reports and build relationships with stakeholders. My experiences as a Teaching Assistant helped prepare me to facilitate GBA+ trainings and give presentations across government. Also, having a History degree helps me explore and explain the root causes and historical context of policies and initiatives.”
Hutchinson Grondin notes that “a History degree provided me with marketable skills, and it was also an opportunity to explore subjects and issues that I was passionate about. Often, I encounter the perception that History graduates can only become professors. In my experience, a History Ph.D. prepares people for a plethora of roles and career opportunities that are challenging and rewarding. When researching careers, focus on the skills that you learned and can bring to a position such as writing, researching, networking, stakeholder engagement, facilitating, and project management. After graduating, it was these skills that led to my first job (which I liked), and my knowledge of women and gender history, and my research skills that led to my second position (which I love).”
What were her favourite things about Western and London? “I grew up at Western -- I was a Western summer camp kid, attended classes as an undergrad, completed a Ph.D., worked multiple jobs on campus, and met my husband there. Western for me was a place where I grew, learned, worked, and found my life partner. While I enjoy living in Alberta, there are many things I miss about London and Western, such as walking and biking around campus, being close to the Great Lakes, and the incredible professors and colleagues that I was fortunate to work with.”
What advice would she give prospective History students?
1. Find an advisor who is efficient and collaborative, will help you network, will support you no matter the obstacle, and finds you opportunities for research and funding.
2. Choose a thesis topic that you are excited and passionate about, because you will be dedicating 4-7 years to this subject. Really enjoying what you are doing will make those challenging days easier.
3. A school’s library is your best asset. Western Libraries is one of the largest in the country, which makes finding or requesting resources easy. Also the staff work very hard to get the materials you need to be successful.
Michelle Hutchinson Grondin completed her Ph.D. in women’s and gender history at Western in 2016. Since 2017, she has served as a Senior Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) Advisor for the Status of Women with the Government of Alberta.
Selina Gao and Jeff McLaughlinSelina - Assistant Professor, History, Murray State University
Jeff - Director of Special Collections and Exhibits for the University Libraries
Selina Gao and Jeff McLaughlin entered Western’s PhD program in 2004, married in 2006, and graduated in 2010. Selina’s research focuses on Modern China and International Relations, and Jeff specialises in US foreign policy and 20th Century International Relations.
Gao and McLaughlin are fortunate to have landed great jobs at Murray State University in western Kentucky. Selina is thriving as an Assistant Professor of History and she will apply for promotion and tenure soon. Jeff is busy acting as Director of Special Collections and Exhibits for the University Libraries. Both will publish books based on their dissertation research soon: look for Selina’s Saving the Nation through Culture: The Folklore Movement in Republican China in February 2019 from UBC Press, and Jeff’s Ignoring ‘Nosey Charlie’: the Kennedy Administration’s Rejection of French Efforts to Broker Peace in Vietnam, 1961-1963 from The University Press of Kentucky in late 2019.
Living in Murray, Kentucky, a town once named “America’s Friendliest Small Town,” offers a stark contrast to the big cities in China Selina knows well. While she enjoys the tranquillity, Jeff enjoys the extended baseball season living farther south allows. Working on a mid-sized campus of 10,000 students in a town of only 20,000 residents, both have found a strong sense of community, and they appreciate how easy it is to reach out to colleagues and off-campus groups to collaborate.
Reflecting on their experiences at Western, Gao and McLaughlin cite their mentoring relationships with their supervisors, Professors James Flath and Brock Millman, as the most important key to their success. Forging strong connections with mentors who offered insight, posed intellectual challenges, and remained unfailingly patient helped both to develop the ideas and research that would go on to inform their upcoming books.
When asked about the study of history and its possible place in a larger career or life path, Jeff can’t help but stress the importance of considering history’s impact beyond the classroom. Rather than assuming that a degree in history leads only to teaching history, he actively encourages students to think about other history-related careers that emerge in our present climate, and find their own niche in public history, policy, or administration.
Their advice to new and prospective students?
• Cultivating relationships with professors is key, yes; but also reach out and network with those in history-adjacent fields such as law, government, university administration and elsewhere. Start developing interest in other potential career paths - and do this earlier rather than later!
• Be a Swiss Army Knife! Don’t be rigid in your thinking: if you get a chance to teach, take whatever comes, do your best, and embrace being outside of your comfort zone
Selina Gao and Jeff McLaughlin entered Western’s PhD program in 2004, married in 2006, and graduated in 2010. Selina’s research focuses on Modern China and International Relations, and Jeff specialises in US foreign policy and 20th Century International Relations. Gao and McLaughlin are fortunate to have landed great jobs at Murray State University in western Kentucky. Selina is thriving as an Assistant Professor of History and she will apply for promotion and tenure soon.
Kit Frost SinclairLibrary of Parliament Ottawa, Chief of Virtual Experience
Kit Frost completed an Honours BA in History in 2000 and an MA in Public History in 2001 at Western University. Since 2003, Kit has worked at the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, where she now serves as the Chief of Virtual Experience. She is leading a cutting edge project to develop three different virtual experiences of the iconic “Centre Block,” which will be closing for a period of 10 years. The work of Parliament since Confederation has shaped the direction for Canada`s democracy, and decisions made here impact people. It is Kit’s mission to engage people with this institution. Kit feels fortunate to have the opportunity, and the privilege, to connect Canadians to their Parliament using digital media, while at the same time developing interpretive material for a national outreach program that millions of people will access.
Kit remembers Western’s History Department fondly, and notes that faculty there nurtured her interest in Canadian political history. Course work helped her develop skills in critical thinking, research, oral communication and especially writing. The MA in Public History program helped her understand how to communicate to target audiences: how to engage people and get them interested in history – how to really engage them. These skills, she affirms, have given her a wonderful toolkit for the type of work she has gone on to perform for Parliament for over 15 years. Kit notes that the most useful experience at Western was the applied work in the Public History program. Completing an internship with the City of London Heritage Department allowed her to build connections, and develop a network of museum professionals. The work included research, evaluation, report writing, presenting and promotions. This hands-on experience allowed her to put into practice all of the knowledge she gained while studying for her BA and MA.
During her studies, she was often reproached: “What are you actually going to do with a history degree?” Dispelling any scepticism others might have had of the promise of long term employment in the historical or museum field, Kit has proved naysayers completely wrong. She has been “gainfully” employed since leaving Western and has always remained in the field. Although beginning her career in museums, her portfolio has expanded to include a number positions and skills that followed naturally from what she learned in the program – project management, evaluation, heritage interpretation, marketing and promotions, program development, exhibition design, and digital design. She has been in leadership and management positions for years, and has a knack for perceiving the opportunities that arise if you are open to looking “outside the box.”
Her advice to new and prospective students?
- Take summer jobs in the field to gain practical experience.
- Network, network, network!
Kit Frost completed an Honours BA in History in 2000 and an MA in Public History in 2001 at Western University. Since 2003, Kit has worked at the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, where she now serves as the Chief of Virtual Experience. She is leading a cutting edge project to develop three different virtual experiences of the iconic “Centre Block”.