| May 21, 2019

Emmett Macfarlane, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Graduate Studies, Waterloo

Emmett Macfarlane, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Graduate Studies, Waterloo

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Emmett Macfarlane graduated with a PhD in Political Science from Queen’s University, examining the Supreme Court of Canada and the judicial role. He is now an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies.  


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

I always wanted a job that involved writing of some sort and I was very interested in politics. When I applied for the Master’s degree, it was kind of to keep options open, but it was the Master’s year at Queen’s that I really fell in love with the academic side of things in terms of research and study and reading and all of that, and I decided to pursue the PhD to stay at Queen’s. It was something I organically fell into rather than having anything resembling a grand plan. I had no idea how bad the academic job market would become.

Q: Did you feel like you were part of a community during your PhD?  

There was a real sense of community. I’ve seen other schools and sometimes they don’t get quite the same sense of community because there’s no office space or it’s a big place like Toronto. Not a lot of universities have the kind of resources Queen’s does in terms of just being able to give PhD students office space. A PhD can be kind of isolating, so the Queen’s environment was really good for me.

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

While I was finishing the dissertation in my fourth year, I applied for a SSHRC postdoc and luckily got it. I think that that’s quite literally the difference between me having a career in this versus doing something else: that two year postdoc gave me two years to publish and have a competitive CV when the job market in Canadian politics had no jobs. It’s a bit of a lottery, that’s for sure.

Q: Tell us about your current position and your work, academic and otherwise.

I’m currently an Associate Professor and the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies at the University of Waterloo. We’re currently developing a new PhD program; we have superstar faculty and interdisciplinary departments, but we also gave very serious thought to what we need, recognizing that 75 percent of social science PhDs don’t get academic jobs. We will offer a co-op option on the PhD to provide different “real world” experience and job experience to students who are interested in alternate tracks, which are in many ways more fulfilling for a lot of people.

I’ve also been involved in many other more non-academic work; I’ve written extensively for The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s more recently, and CBC’s Opinion page. I’ve also been fortunate to do some policy consulting. I’ve appeared before parliamentary committees. It’s certainly related to the expertise that I’ve developed as a result of being an academic. A lot of that non-academic policy advice work has come just because I developed a media profile.

I think it also depends very much on the research topic or topics that people are interested in. It certainly can be about timing and an opportunity and just trying to take advantage where you can. There are always going to be people studying things that aren’t in the news or aren’t on government agendas. Some academics might not get those opportunities. What you study can really determine what doors are open or closed in that respect.

In academia, we’re 40 percent teachers, 40 percent researchers, and 20 percent some form of service, so going the extra mile with things like professional development is just extra work. You get to manage your own affairs, decide what you want to research, largely decide what you want to teach and how you teach. I love my job. I actually don’t think I’d have it any other way.

Q: Do you have additional thoughts on academic engagement with the media?

As someone who’s kind of vocal politically, but non-partisan—I tend to critique all the parties—I don’t know whether that will limit my own future capacity to give advice, since it really can depend on the government of the day.

I think you should only write an op-ed if you actually have something substantive to say and something that you think should be disseminated. I do feel a general sense of professional obligation to do some form of public outreach in that respect and more so than even on-the-record media interviews.

Emmett Macfarlane describes his feelings of professional obligation regarding media interviews and disseminating correct information.

I’m taking time to do it because I think the media is really important and as political scientists we know that that’s the primary connection between state and society. We know what the media landscape looks like these days and it’s more and more important that media outlets get things right. I feel that kind of obligation, especially since if you’re a tenure track or a tenured professor you are very well paid, and you have all sorts of flexibility. We should be thinking about what we can do to give back.


Many thanks to Emmett Macfarlane for sharing his PhD narrative! You can find more about Emmett and his work at his personal or department web page.

Emmett Macfarlane graduated with a PhD in Political Science from Queen’s University, examining the Supreme Court of Canada and the judicial role. He is now an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies.  


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

I always wanted a job that involved writing of some sort and I was very interested in politics. When I applied for the Master’s degree, it was kind of to keep options open, but it was the Master’s year at Queen’s that I really fell in love with the academic side of things in terms of research and study and reading and all of that, and I decided to pursue the PhD to stay at Queen’s. It was something I organically fell into rather than having anything resembling a grand plan. I had no idea how bad the academic job market would become.

Q: Did you feel like you were part of a community during your PhD?  

There was a real sense of community. I’ve seen other schools and sometimes they don’t get quite the same sense of community because there’s no office space or it’s a big place like Toronto. Not a lot of universities have the kind of resources Queen’s does in terms of just being able to give PhD students office space. A PhD can be kind of isolating, so the Queen’s environment was really good for me.

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

While I was finishing the dissertation in my fourth year, I applied for a SSHRC postdoc and luckily got it. I think that that’s quite literally the difference between me having a career in this versus doing something else: that two year postdoc gave me two years to publish and have a competitive CV when the job market in Canadian politics had no jobs. It’s a bit of a lottery, that’s for sure.

Q: Tell us about your current position and your work, academic and otherwise.

I’m currently an Associate Professor and the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies at the University of Waterloo. We’re currently developing a new PhD program; we have superstar faculty and interdisciplinary departments, but we also gave very serious thought to what we need, recognizing that 75 percent of social science PhDs don’t get academic jobs. We will offer a co-op option on the PhD to provide different “real world” experience and job experience to students who are interested in alternate tracks, which are in many ways more fulfilling for a lot of people.

I’ve also been involved in many other more non-academic work; I’ve written extensively for The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s more recently, and CBC’s Opinion page. I’ve also been fortunate to do some policy consulting. I’ve appeared before parliamentary committees. It’s certainly related to the expertise that I’ve developed as a result of being an academic. A lot of that non-academic policy advice work has come just because I developed a media profile.

I think it also depends very much on the research topic or topics that people are interested in. It certainly can be about timing and an opportunity and just trying to take advantage where you can. There are always going to be people studying things that aren’t in the news or aren’t on government agendas. Some academics might not get those opportunities. What you study can really determine what doors are open or closed in that respect.

In academia, we’re 40 percent teachers, 40 percent researchers, and 20 percent some form of service, so going the extra mile with things like professional development is just extra work. You get to manage your own affairs, decide what you want to research, largely decide what you want to teach and how you teach. I love my job. I actually don’t think I’d have it any other way.

Q: Do you have additional thoughts on academic engagement with the media?

As someone who’s kind of vocal politically, but non-partisan—I tend to critique all the parties—I don’t know whether that will limit my own future capacity to give advice, since it really can depend on the government of the day.

I think you should only write an op-ed if you actually have something substantive to say and something that you think should be disseminated. I do feel a general sense of professional obligation to do some form of public outreach in that respect and more so than even on-the-record media interviews.

Emmett Macfarlane describes his feelings of professional obligation regarding media interviews and disseminating correct information.

I’m taking time to do it because I think the media is really important and as political scientists we know that that’s the primary connection between state and society. We know what the media landscape looks like these days and it’s more and more important that media outlets get things right. I feel that kind of obligation, especially since if you’re a tenure track or a tenured professor you are very well paid, and you have all sorts of flexibility. We should be thinking about what we can do to give back.


Many thanks to Emmett Macfarlane for sharing his PhD narrative! You can find more about Emmett and his work at his personal or department web page.

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