| April 3, 2019

Chantal Clément, Coordinator

Chantal Clément, Coordinator

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Chantal Clément graduated with a PhD in political science from Carleton University. Her dissertation focused on sustainable food systems in Canada and the European Union. She is currently the coordinator for an expert panel working on sustainable food system reform.

(February 2019)


Q: Tell us about your current position.

I’m the coordinator of an expert panel working on sustainable food system reform. The organization itself started in 2015 and it’s an interesting interface between research and academia, focusing on direct policy engagement, including working with both civil society and government actors. We do two things: write reports on specific food system issues and convene processes that lead to policy reforms in different regions around the world. Right now, we’re focusing on the EU and West Africa.

I co-coordinate the organization’s Secretariat, which is based in Brussels. This essentially means managing the panel’s various activities and projects, making sure everything is going smoothly both in terms of our staff and the panel’s work overall.

Q: Why did you enroll in a PhD program in the first place?

I’ve always loved research due to intellectual curiosity. After my undergraduate degree, and then my Master’s thesis, I realized that I really liked the idea of trying to answer a specific concrete question that hadn’t been answered yet. There were still things I wanted to learn in the field that I was in. I also wanted to teach, as I had very inspiring professors and supervisors during my previous degrees that made me want to give back in a similar way. A PhD seemed to be the best avenues for doing both those things.

I chose Carleton because of my supervisor. I was always told that the supervisor you pick is probably the most important thing in a PhD. I completely agree with that statement. And so it was almost as though the university or the program weren’t quite as important as the person who would be following my work.

Q: What kinds of teaching experience did you get in your program?

Beginning in my third year, I was able to directly teach my subject matter – a politics of food course for second- and third-year undergrads. I felt fortunate that I was able to go straight into teaching the topics that I was most interested in. I was only able to have access those courses because I applied for the contract positions with the recommendation my supervisor. I’m an international student, and the year I joined, international students were no longer guaranteed TA positions, so I had to apply.

Q: Did that affect your funding?

At the time, that was a huge financial disadvantage for international students in my program, as well as a career disadvantage, so I had to seek out those opportunities.

For funding, even if you get domestic tuition rates as an international student, you still can’t apply for many Canadian grants. I always had to work alongside my degree to be able to make ends meet. I also applied for a travel grants for my fieldwork; there were specific grants for research done in the EU, which I was fortunately able to receive twice.

I think everyone can say quite openly that tuition fees are pretty outrageous for international students, especially given that they don’t have the support structures that domestic students do. It’s not just a question of funding but even in terms of building new social circles, knowing where they’re going once their degrees are done, or just dealing with the realities of being in a new country, like taxes or visas and such.

Q: You mentioned that your supervisor was an important part of your experience?

Definitely. We had a very good working relationship. I think the most important thing is being able to read each other in terms of how much support the student needs, and also what kind of dynamic the supervisor needs, because it’s also a large time commitment for them. I’m a relatively independent worker, so we saw each other as much as I think we both felt we needed to, but I was definitely pushed to do my work or communicate more during critical points of my research and writing process.

Q: Did you feel like you were part of a community during your PhD? Or that you are still part of a community?

I didn’t seek to be that active in the Carleton community because of other things going on in my life that were happening at the time, but I still keep in touch with a few of the people in my program.

My strongest network was through the Canadian Association for Food Studies, which has lasted through to today. It allowed me to meet a few mentors that really helped me through various stages of my doctorate, especially guiding me through various research opportunities, answering questions I had about teaching, and allowing me to apply for the job I’m currently in.

Q: How long did your program take? Did it feel like the right amount of time?

My PhD took from September 2010 to January 2017. It was longer than I had hoped for, of course, but I think that was because I was working a lot during that and for personal reasons. From my second year onwards, I was always working part-time in addition to research assistantships and teaching.

Q: How did you end up in your current position?

Starting in my sixth year, my supervisor and I had started thinking about what I would be doing after, since my PhD was coming to an end. I actually saw the job posting through the Canadian Association for Food Studies and I applied for it. For me, it was the perfect mix of research and practice and at that point I wanted to step outside of academia a bit and try other things, but leave a foot in the door.

Although I appreciate many aspects of academic work, I knew many people in contract positions, chasing down multiple contracts per term just to stay afloat. I was apprehensive about the instability, as well as the huge amount of motivation and energy needed to do that not just for a term, but over multiple years.

Additionally, one of the reasons I shied away from academia was because I was very engaged in participatory research—community-based data collection and things like that. I also did some qualitative fieldwork for my own research. While those methods are valued within specific circles and some fields, overall, I was frustrated by how it is taking time for certain methodologies to be considered legitimate or relevant in academia, whereas they are given greater value in work being done on the ground.

Q: Do you feel like your doctoral work is relevant to the work you’re doing now?

Definitely; the nature of the work I did for my PhD and the nature of this job are a perfect fit.

Q: Is there something that you wish you knew before starting the PhD?

I think it’s about coming to terms with those things that you hear that you don’t think will apply to you, but invariably they do. You hear, “It’s going to take longer than four years.” But you tell yourself “I’m the person who can absolutely finish in four years,” and then… you’re not done yet.

One thing that I think I would not have been able to finish without was my writing group. I joined an informal writing group in my fourth year, and having that support structure was something that was incredibly helpful for all of us.


Many thanks to Chantal for sharing her PhD narrative! You can find more about Chantal and her work here.

Chantal Clément graduated with a PhD in political science from Carleton University. Her dissertation focused on sustainable food systems in Canada and the European Union. She is currently the coordinator for an expert panel working on sustainable food system reform.

(February 2019)


Q: Tell us about your current position.

I’m the coordinator of an expert panel working on sustainable food system reform. The organization itself started in 2015 and it’s an interesting interface between research and academia, focusing on direct policy engagement, including working with both civil society and government actors. We do two things: write reports on specific food system issues and convene processes that lead to policy reforms in different regions around the world. Right now, we’re focusing on the EU and West Africa.

I co-coordinate the organization’s Secretariat, which is based in Brussels. This essentially means managing the panel’s various activities and projects, making sure everything is going smoothly both in terms of our staff and the panel’s work overall.

Q: Why did you enroll in a PhD program in the first place?

I’ve always loved research due to intellectual curiosity. After my undergraduate degree, and then my Master’s thesis, I realized that I really liked the idea of trying to answer a specific concrete question that hadn’t been answered yet. There were still things I wanted to learn in the field that I was in. I also wanted to teach, as I had very inspiring professors and supervisors during my previous degrees that made me want to give back in a similar way. A PhD seemed to be the best avenues for doing both those things.

I chose Carleton because of my supervisor. I was always told that the supervisor you pick is probably the most important thing in a PhD. I completely agree with that statement. And so it was almost as though the university or the program weren’t quite as important as the person who would be following my work.

Q: What kinds of teaching experience did you get in your program?

Beginning in my third year, I was able to directly teach my subject matter – a politics of food course for second- and third-year undergrads. I felt fortunate that I was able to go straight into teaching the topics that I was most interested in. I was only able to have access those courses because I applied for the contract positions with the recommendation my supervisor. I’m an international student, and the year I joined, international students were no longer guaranteed TA positions, so I had to apply.

Q: Did that affect your funding?

At the time, that was a huge financial disadvantage for international students in my program, as well as a career disadvantage, so I had to seek out those opportunities.

For funding, even if you get domestic tuition rates as an international student, you still can’t apply for many Canadian grants. I always had to work alongside my degree to be able to make ends meet. I also applied for a travel grants for my fieldwork; there were specific grants for research done in the EU, which I was fortunately able to receive twice.

I think everyone can say quite openly that tuition fees are pretty outrageous for international students, especially given that they don’t have the support structures that domestic students do. It’s not just a question of funding but even in terms of building new social circles, knowing where they’re going once their degrees are done, or just dealing with the realities of being in a new country, like taxes or visas and such.

Q: You mentioned that your supervisor was an important part of your experience?

Definitely. We had a very good working relationship. I think the most important thing is being able to read each other in terms of how much support the student needs, and also what kind of dynamic the supervisor needs, because it’s also a large time commitment for them. I’m a relatively independent worker, so we saw each other as much as I think we both felt we needed to, but I was definitely pushed to do my work or communicate more during critical points of my research and writing process.

Q: Did you feel like you were part of a community during your PhD? Or that you are still part of a community?

I didn’t seek to be that active in the Carleton community because of other things going on in my life that were happening at the time, but I still keep in touch with a few of the people in my program.

My strongest network was through the Canadian Association for Food Studies, which has lasted through to today. It allowed me to meet a few mentors that really helped me through various stages of my doctorate, especially guiding me through various research opportunities, answering questions I had about teaching, and allowing me to apply for the job I’m currently in.

Q: How long did your program take? Did it feel like the right amount of time?

My PhD took from September 2010 to January 2017. It was longer than I had hoped for, of course, but I think that was because I was working a lot during that and for personal reasons. From my second year onwards, I was always working part-time in addition to research assistantships and teaching.

Q: How did you end up in your current position?

Starting in my sixth year, my supervisor and I had started thinking about what I would be doing after, since my PhD was coming to an end. I actually saw the job posting through the Canadian Association for Food Studies and I applied for it. For me, it was the perfect mix of research and practice and at that point I wanted to step outside of academia a bit and try other things, but leave a foot in the door.

Although I appreciate many aspects of academic work, I knew many people in contract positions, chasing down multiple contracts per term just to stay afloat. I was apprehensive about the instability, as well as the huge amount of motivation and energy needed to do that not just for a term, but over multiple years.

Additionally, one of the reasons I shied away from academia was because I was very engaged in participatory research—community-based data collection and things like that. I also did some qualitative fieldwork for my own research. While those methods are valued within specific circles and some fields, overall, I was frustrated by how it is taking time for certain methodologies to be considered legitimate or relevant in academia, whereas they are given greater value in work being done on the ground.

Q: Do you feel like your doctoral work is relevant to the work you’re doing now?

Definitely; the nature of the work I did for my PhD and the nature of this job are a perfect fit.

Q: Is there something that you wish you knew before starting the PhD?

I think it’s about coming to terms with those things that you hear that you don’t think will apply to you, but invariably they do. You hear, “It’s going to take longer than four years.” But you tell yourself “I’m the person who can absolutely finish in four years,” and then… you’re not done yet.

One thing that I think I would not have been able to finish without was my writing group. I joined an informal writing group in my fourth year, and having that support structure was something that was incredibly helpful for all of us.


Many thanks to Chantal for sharing her PhD narrative! You can find more about Chantal and her work here.

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