Alisa Webb, Associate Dean of Students, University of the Fraser Valley

Alisa Webb, Associate Dean of Students, University of the Fraser Valley

BY: Alisa Webb

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Alisa WebbI didn’t particularly enjoy History in high school, but decided to try again in university. There I encountered professors who told amazing stories and who challenged my idea of “History.” I was hooked and set my sights on becoming a high school teacher. During my third year, two professors began mentoring me and encouraged me to consider graduate school. A first-generation university student with no understanding of what graduate school was, but a desire to keep learning, I decided to take the plunge. My husband and daughters came along for the ride!

I completed an MA (2003) and a PhD (2008) in History, focusing on late-Victorian and Edwardian British girls’ magazines. Through both, financial support—first in the form of TA positions and stipends and then through a PhD entrance scholarship and a SSHRC—was important to my success, allowing me to stop taking student loans and to contribute more financial support to our household.

My MA was an amazing experience largely because of engaged professors and a stellar cohort. I took advantage of opportunities offered to me, including completing a Post-Secondary Teaching Certificate, teaching workshops at TA/TM day, working 4 of my 5 semesters as a teaching assistant, and guest lecturing when asked.

My PhD, in contrast, was a rather lonely experience, at least initially. With no cohort, I relied on my supervisors to provide the engagement I needed. Sadly, one of these supervisors—a strong mentor through my MA—passed away part way through my PhD. I keenly felt his loss. Overall, however, I received solid support from my supervisory committee as well as the larger network I built as an MA student.

I found a “home” again when I was hired as a sessional instructor at the start of my second year just after defending my comprehensive exams (2004). Initially offered the opportunity to teach the occasional course, I quickly found myself teaching the equivalent of a full-time load as two professors in the department left. I took every course offered, developed my own courses, and immersed myself in the department and in service—all while working on my PhD. My colleagues provided a sounding board for my research and my development as a teacher and I hoped that a permanent position was in my future. It was: two positions were posted and I was the successful applicant for one (2006). A condition of my hire was to complete my PhD by the end of my 2-year probationary period. I met my deadline, defending my dissertation 5 years after I started the degree. I later became an Associate Professor, served as the academic chair of two departments, worked on various institutional committees and initiatives, and continued to teach and mentor many students.

Two years ago I made the decision, after 10 years in the classroom, to apply for an administrative position. I was successful, becoming an Associate Dean in the College of Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley (2014). I’ve found the position very rewarding and my History background incredibly useful in fulfilling my new responsibilities.

I think the Humanities have a bright future, despite media messages. Students learn valuable skills applicable to a range of positions and sectors. Often missing, however, is an understanding of the need for holistic development. Emphasizing research over teaching and service and individual intellectual pursuit over collaboration, along with an almost total lack of engagement with non-academic audiences, I’m not sure that Humanities programs at the PhD level are adequately preparing students for the academy or the non-academic sector. At every turn, I attempted to ensure my own holistic development, even when this went against the advice of my supervisors. I continue this still, regularly participating in professional development opportunities to build on and expand my skills and knowledge. I would encourage all PhD students to do the same.

Alisa WebbI didn’t particularly enjoy History in high school, but decided to try again in university. There I encountered professors who told amazing stories and who challenged my idea of “History.” I was hooked and set my sights on becoming a high school teacher. During my third year, two professors began mentoring me and encouraged me to consider graduate school. A first-generation university student with no understanding of what graduate school was, but a desire to keep learning, I decided to take the plunge. My husband and daughters came along for the ride!

I completed an MA (2003) and a PhD (2008) in History, focusing on late-Victorian and Edwardian British girls’ magazines. Through both, financial support—first in the form of TA positions and stipends and then through a PhD entrance scholarship and a SSHRC—was important to my success, allowing me to stop taking student loans and to contribute more financial support to our household.

My MA was an amazing experience largely because of engaged professors and a stellar cohort. I took advantage of opportunities offered to me, including completing a Post-Secondary Teaching Certificate, teaching workshops at TA/TM day, working 4 of my 5 semesters as a teaching assistant, and guest lecturing when asked.

My PhD, in contrast, was a rather lonely experience, at least initially. With no cohort, I relied on my supervisors to provide the engagement I needed. Sadly, one of these supervisors—a strong mentor through my MA—passed away part way through my PhD. I keenly felt his loss. Overall, however, I received solid support from my supervisory committee as well as the larger network I built as an MA student.

I found a “home” again when I was hired as a sessional instructor at the start of my second year just after defending my comprehensive exams (2004). Initially offered the opportunity to teach the occasional course, I quickly found myself teaching the equivalent of a full-time load as two professors in the department left. I took every course offered, developed my own courses, and immersed myself in the department and in service—all while working on my PhD. My colleagues provided a sounding board for my research and my development as a teacher and I hoped that a permanent position was in my future. It was: two positions were posted and I was the successful applicant for one (2006). A condition of my hire was to complete my PhD by the end of my 2-year probationary period. I met my deadline, defending my dissertation 5 years after I started the degree. I later became an Associate Professor, served as the academic chair of two departments, worked on various institutional committees and initiatives, and continued to teach and mentor many students.

Two years ago I made the decision, after 10 years in the classroom, to apply for an administrative position. I was successful, becoming an Associate Dean in the College of Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley (2014). I’ve found the position very rewarding and my History background incredibly useful in fulfilling my new responsibilities.

I think the Humanities have a bright future, despite media messages. Students learn valuable skills applicable to a range of positions and sectors. Often missing, however, is an understanding of the need for holistic development. Emphasizing research over teaching and service and individual intellectual pursuit over collaboration, along with an almost total lack of engagement with non-academic audiences, I’m not sure that Humanities programs at the PhD level are adequately preparing students for the academy or the non-academic sector. At every turn, I attempted to ensure my own holistic development, even when this went against the advice of my supervisors. I continue this still, regularly participating in professional development opportunities to build on and expand my skills and knowledge. I would encourage all PhD students to do the same.

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