| September 13, 2016

Chris Gainor, Writer and Historian

Chris Gainor, Writer and Historian

BY: as told by Chris Gainor / as written by Catherine Nygren

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When I was in undergrad, I wanted to become a history professor, but started working as a journalist. When I graduated, I had a journalism job in a newspaper already waiting for me, so I took that route instead. Journalism led to a job in communications, and then one in communications within government. When a change of government took place and I lost that job, though, I decided that if I ever wanted to enter grad school, it was then or never—so I returned to school as a mature student.

I did an online Master’s program in space studies offered by the University of North Dakota. Much of what I learned in that programme was in the history of space exploration, and by then, I was already writing books that were based on my own research in that topic area.

After that, I started looking for a suitable PhD program. I considered Toronto, but it was based more on philosophy and required proficiency in the German language, and the weak loonie and border crossings made the United States unattractive. Then, after hearing about Professor Robert Smith at Alberta, a leading historian of astronomy who wrote the history of the  Hubble Space Telescope, I decided that Edmonton—my hometown—would be a good fit.

I received no scholarship during my doctoral program; instead, I relied on my savings, support from my family, TA assignments, and other odd jobs, including assisting Dr. Smith on research for the Canadian Space Agency. My dissertation dealt with the United States Air Force and the emergence of the intercontinental ballistic missile from 1945 to 1954, a topic which I settled on with the help of a former head historian at NASA.

My supervisor was an excellent mentor, who helped me not only with my dissertation but also with teaching and obtaining jobs. We still help each other with our academic work. Although I spent most of my time at home in Victoria with my partner instead of at my home institution, I felt like I was part of a community, and I keep in touch with many of my former classmates, professors, and administrative staff.

I finished my degree in seven years. I would have been happier if it had taken less time, but I decided to spend several months in the middle of my program earning money in a full-time job. Following graduation, a friend helped me get a position teaching history in Victoria, but the program was eventually eliminated. Various odd jobs in the political world followed, until I became part of a team with Foresight Science and Technology that won a contract with NASA to write a book on the history of Hubble Space Telescope operations and compile resources on that topic that will be placed in an archive for future researchers.

The training I received during my PhD studies in researching and writing has been helpful to my work since graduation. In general, however, I am critical of the growth of credential inflation, where even basic jobs require candidates to have post-secondary education. I also believe that the current trend amongst governments to direct educational resources to ‘practical’ subjects and away from the humanities is taking something away from our society, and we’ll eventually pay a price for the resulting loss of critical perspectives.

 


 

POLL: Time to completion

When I was in undergrad, I wanted to become a history professor, but started working as a journalist. When I graduated, I had a journalism job in a newspaper already waiting for me, so I took that route instead. Journalism led to a job in communications, and then one in communications within government. When a change of government took place and I lost that job, though, I decided that if I ever wanted to enter grad school, it was then or never—so I returned to school as a mature student.

I did an online Master’s program in space studies offered by the University of North Dakota. Much of what I learned in that programme was in the history of space exploration, and by then, I was already writing books that were based on my own research in that topic area.

After that, I started looking for a suitable PhD program. I considered Toronto, but it was based more on philosophy and required proficiency in the German language, and the weak loonie and border crossings made the United States unattractive. Then, after hearing about Professor Robert Smith at Alberta, a leading historian of astronomy who wrote the history of the  Hubble Space Telescope, I decided that Edmonton—my hometown—would be a good fit.

I received no scholarship during my doctoral program; instead, I relied on my savings, support from my family, TA assignments, and other odd jobs, including assisting Dr. Smith on research for the Canadian Space Agency. My dissertation dealt with the United States Air Force and the emergence of the intercontinental ballistic missile from 1945 to 1954, a topic which I settled on with the help of a former head historian at NASA.

My supervisor was an excellent mentor, who helped me not only with my dissertation but also with teaching and obtaining jobs. We still help each other with our academic work. Although I spent most of my time at home in Victoria with my partner instead of at my home institution, I felt like I was part of a community, and I keep in touch with many of my former classmates, professors, and administrative staff.

I finished my degree in seven years. I would have been happier if it had taken less time, but I decided to spend several months in the middle of my program earning money in a full-time job. Following graduation, a friend helped me get a position teaching history in Victoria, but the program was eventually eliminated. Various odd jobs in the political world followed, until I became part of a team with Foresight Science and Technology that won a contract with NASA to write a book on the history of Hubble Space Telescope operations and compile resources on that topic that will be placed in an archive for future researchers.

The training I received during my PhD studies in researching and writing has been helpful to my work since graduation. In general, however, I am critical of the growth of credential inflation, where even basic jobs require candidates to have post-secondary education. I also believe that the current trend amongst governments to direct educational resources to ‘practical’ subjects and away from the humanities is taking something away from our society, and we’ll eventually pay a price for the resulting loss of critical perspectives.

 


 

POLL: Time to completion

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