| April 3, 2019

Shea Wood, Girl Engagement Specialist and Coordinator of Girls First Program Development at Girl Guides of Canada

Shea Wood, Girl Engagement Specialist and Coordinator of Girls First Program Development at Girl Guides of Canada

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A profile image of Shea Wood

Shea Wood graduated with a PhD in the Individualized Program (INDI) from Concordia University. She is currently working at Girl Guides of Canada as the Girl Engagement Specialist and Coordinator of Girls First Program Development.


Q: What led you to enroll at the INDI PhD at Concordia?

My training in my master’s degree was as a drama therapist. Our training includes theoretical training, but we also do frontline practice work and we train as clinicians. After I finished my master’s program, I worked for two years as a drama therapist in an outreach alternative high school. I loved the work I was doing on the front lines, but it was difficult for me to treat one individual—one spoke in the wheel—without looking at other aspects of working with disenfranchised or underserviced youth, considering the other systemic barriers that they face.

I realized I was drawn to psycho-education and doing the preventative work that helps individuals equip themselves with the skills and resiliency that they might need to pursue life, potentially reducing the need for therapy.

I was thinking about how we could help adults within the family context, combining family life education, drama therapy, psychology.  This drew me to the INDI program, because I could combine all of those areas and connect with experts in those fields to assemble my committee.

Q: Can you speak more about your mentorship and your program?

Because you need to put together your committee before even applying to the program, my committee members acted as mentors from before I was accepted, all the way to my defence and beyond. They helped to guide me along the way; they pushed me to be critical of concepts, refine my ideas, and make innovative connections in my work.

I did a full year in the program before I ever applied for my SSHRC because I really wanted to fine-tune my research idea. As I was teaching for members of my committee and taking my courses, they obviously got to know me and my work. When it came time for my SSHRC application, that mentorship brought out a level of endorsement when they could actually speak to it from a knowing place.

Along the way, they also coached me in terms of readings on the best practices and research-based knowledge being generated in the field.

Q: Did you feel like part of a community?

One of the most difficult things about being in an independent program was having a community. In a way, we’re not really a cohort—we all are studying in different departments. Instead, I found my community in the Creative Arts Therapies Department and the Applied Human Sciences Department where I taught. I still feel rooted in Concordia, both through my relationships and through some of research work I continue to do for one of my mentors.

Q: Did you teach while at Concordia?

My first year of the PhD when I was doing courses on my own, I was also TAing. Then, the professors who taught those courses went on sabbatical or transitioned into an administrative role, so I was able to teach the courses as the full professor, which gave me access to future courses. I did revise the classes to make sure that they fit with my teaching style and philosophy, current readings, and the students in my class.

Q: How did funding play into your PhD experience? You took one year to apply, right?

Yes, after my first year, I had funding for the rest of my degree. If I would have gotten the funding earlier, it would have ran out before I was done my writing and I would have had to work full time, so it was such a gift that I was able to have days where I just hunkered down in a cafe and wrote. I also applied for a couple small travel grants for research and some smaller grants within the department, which was good practice for the big grants.

Q: How long did it take you to finish? Was it the right amount of time?

I think almost five years. I loved every step of it, so I didn’t necessarily want to rush it. I wanted to engage meaningfully in each stage: course work, teaching, research, and dissertation writing. I took one year for my entire course load, which is shorter than most people, but I really wanted to teach in my second year.

Q: Were there any obstacles?

I think external factors are sort of always an obstacle, like communicating not just with your own committee, but with ethics review boards and granting agencies. You have to wait for that information before you can keep moving forward sometimes. But no major obstacles other than that natural progression of time that it takes to communicate with many of different people.

Q: Can you tell us about the jobs you’ve had since graduating?

I knew I wanted to be on the preventative side of mental health, but I wasn’t sure what that exactly looked like in the field and how my qualifications as a therapist fit in. Then, I came across a job for Girl Guides of Canada, and it ticked a lot of boxes for me. I wrote the actual content for the new program that Girl Guides released this fall, which is based on conversations we had with girls all around Canada on what they want to see in the program. I wanted all the programming that I wrote to be research-based and to be forward-facing, so I did a ton of research on each topic. Just like how I loved every stage of my PhD, I have enjoyed every step of this process—the writing, but also the background research and making the activities accessible for youth. After my contract to create the program last year, I am now on permanently, writing their future programs. I have also taken on the role of Girl Engagement Specialist, helping to ensure that the organization is truly girl-driven, and girls have a voice on governance and experiences they have within Girl Guides.

Shea Wood describes the connection between her PhD and her current position.

I would love to keep a toe in academia, and over time I’ve been going to workshops and conferences and building my networks. I like both sides—front-line work, and academic research.

Q: Any other reflections on your career path?

I’m not doing the exact thing I studied, but I’m definitely bringing the diversity of my skills and knowledge that came through the PhD to my work. I am able to bring a lot of my training as a therapist to working with a diverse group of youth and creating programming for those youth.

I wish I would have known how sort of isolating it can be to do a PhD, especially in an interdisciplinary program where everyone has their own track; maybe I would have developed other types of working groups or volunteered, to connect with others. At the same time, the program was such a benefit because even if at times you feel very alone in the work, you’re able to really pursue what you’re passionate about.


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

A profile image of Shea Wood

Shea Wood graduated with a PhD in the Individualized Program (INDI) from Concordia University. She is currently working at Girl Guides of Canada as the Girl Engagement Specialist and Coordinator of Girls First Program Development.


Q: What led you to enroll at the INDI PhD at Concordia?

My training in my master’s degree was as a drama therapist. Our training includes theoretical training, but we also do frontline practice work and we train as clinicians. After I finished my master’s program, I worked for two years as a drama therapist in an outreach alternative high school. I loved the work I was doing on the front lines, but it was difficult for me to treat one individual—one spoke in the wheel—without looking at other aspects of working with disenfranchised or underserviced youth, considering the other systemic barriers that they face.

I realized I was drawn to psycho-education and doing the preventative work that helps individuals equip themselves with the skills and resiliency that they might need to pursue life, potentially reducing the need for therapy.

I was thinking about how we could help adults within the family context, combining family life education, drama therapy, psychology.  This drew me to the INDI program, because I could combine all of those areas and connect with experts in those fields to assemble my committee.

Q: Can you speak more about your mentorship and your program?

Because you need to put together your committee before even applying to the program, my committee members acted as mentors from before I was accepted, all the way to my defence and beyond. They helped to guide me along the way; they pushed me to be critical of concepts, refine my ideas, and make innovative connections in my work.

I did a full year in the program before I ever applied for my SSHRC because I really wanted to fine-tune my research idea. As I was teaching for members of my committee and taking my courses, they obviously got to know me and my work. When it came time for my SSHRC application, that mentorship brought out a level of endorsement when they could actually speak to it from a knowing place.

Along the way, they also coached me in terms of readings on the best practices and research-based knowledge being generated in the field.

Q: Did you feel like part of a community?

One of the most difficult things about being in an independent program was having a community. In a way, we’re not really a cohort—we all are studying in different departments. Instead, I found my community in the Creative Arts Therapies Department and the Applied Human Sciences Department where I taught. I still feel rooted in Concordia, both through my relationships and through some of research work I continue to do for one of my mentors.

Q: Did you teach while at Concordia?

My first year of the PhD when I was doing courses on my own, I was also TAing. Then, the professors who taught those courses went on sabbatical or transitioned into an administrative role, so I was able to teach the courses as the full professor, which gave me access to future courses. I did revise the classes to make sure that they fit with my teaching style and philosophy, current readings, and the students in my class.

Q: How did funding play into your PhD experience? You took one year to apply, right?

Yes, after my first year, I had funding for the rest of my degree. If I would have gotten the funding earlier, it would have ran out before I was done my writing and I would have had to work full time, so it was such a gift that I was able to have days where I just hunkered down in a cafe and wrote. I also applied for a couple small travel grants for research and some smaller grants within the department, which was good practice for the big grants.

Q: How long did it take you to finish? Was it the right amount of time?

I think almost five years. I loved every step of it, so I didn’t necessarily want to rush it. I wanted to engage meaningfully in each stage: course work, teaching, research, and dissertation writing. I took one year for my entire course load, which is shorter than most people, but I really wanted to teach in my second year.

Q: Were there any obstacles?

I think external factors are sort of always an obstacle, like communicating not just with your own committee, but with ethics review boards and granting agencies. You have to wait for that information before you can keep moving forward sometimes. But no major obstacles other than that natural progression of time that it takes to communicate with many of different people.

Q: Can you tell us about the jobs you’ve had since graduating?

I knew I wanted to be on the preventative side of mental health, but I wasn’t sure what that exactly looked like in the field and how my qualifications as a therapist fit in. Then, I came across a job for Girl Guides of Canada, and it ticked a lot of boxes for me. I wrote the actual content for the new program that Girl Guides released this fall, which is based on conversations we had with girls all around Canada on what they want to see in the program. I wanted all the programming that I wrote to be research-based and to be forward-facing, so I did a ton of research on each topic. Just like how I loved every stage of my PhD, I have enjoyed every step of this process—the writing, but also the background research and making the activities accessible for youth. After my contract to create the program last year, I am now on permanently, writing their future programs. I have also taken on the role of Girl Engagement Specialist, helping to ensure that the organization is truly girl-driven, and girls have a voice on governance and experiences they have within Girl Guides.

Shea Wood describes the connection between her PhD and her current position.

I would love to keep a toe in academia, and over time I’ve been going to workshops and conferences and building my networks. I like both sides—front-line work, and academic research.

Q: Any other reflections on your career path?

I’m not doing the exact thing I studied, but I’m definitely bringing the diversity of my skills and knowledge that came through the PhD to my work. I am able to bring a lot of my training as a therapist to working with a diverse group of youth and creating programming for those youth.

I wish I would have known how sort of isolating it can be to do a PhD, especially in an interdisciplinary program where everyone has their own track; maybe I would have developed other types of working groups or volunteered, to connect with others. At the same time, the program was such a benefit because even if at times you feel very alone in the work, you’re able to really pursue what you’re passionate about.


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

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