Kait Pinder graduated with a PhD in English in 2015 with a focus on Canadian literature. She is now an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
Q: What made you interested in doing a PhD in the first place?
I always wanted to be a writer and I always loved literature, but I’m not a very good creative writer. Once I realized that there was the option of having a life that would really engage with literature and that included a lot of writing, but not creative writing, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Q: How did you end up in your current position as an assistant professor in the English Department at Acadia University?
Before I even finished my dissertation, I got a position at the University of King’s College in Halifax as a tutor in their Foundation Year Program, which is a Great Books program. So, I was working full-time in a three-year position. I finished my PhD and defended during those three years and then I had a bit of teaching time. From there, I got a two-year postdoc at Mount Allison in Canadian Studies and I only did one year in that position because I got this tenure track position starting in the summer of 2018.
Q: How many jobs would you say you applied for?
I applied for fewer jobs than people in other fields. I probably only applied for ten tenure-track positions because there are not a lot of jobs in Canadian literature. There’s not an international pool of jobs to apply to.
Q: Did you ever consider a career path outside of academia?
It was always in the back of my mind, but I never got to the point of considering it seriously or taking extra training steps to apply for other jobs. I had done a lot of union work at McGill and other institutions, and I saw that as a way of pivoting my skills and developing other skills if necessary. I think that’s the best way of pivoting from academia to other careers: use the work you’ve been doing in your graduate school life, whether it’s in your research, teaching, or service.
Q: Would you say that funding had any impact on your research or on your career path?
Yes, definitely. At the beginning, I was a fully-funded student and had TAships and RAships. But the reason I took a job before I finished my PhD was because I needed money and I was anxious about finding employment. That definitely worked out really well for me, but it changed the nature of my research because when you’re working full time, you just can’t do the same amount of research.
Q: What do you value most about your time in graduate school?
I value the commitment to research at McGill and the group of people that I got to know, both professors and students, who really valued researching Canadian literature. Now I am the only Canadianist in my department, and I miss regularly chatting about research with my professors and friends.
Q: Are there any experiences that you had during graduate school, either inside or outside the program that have been particularly valuable to you since you graduated?
Working as a TA for my supervisor who is a really rigorous scholar and an exceptional teacher. He transformed the way I teach. I still use the advice that he gave me on how to mark a paper; I still grade every paper like he does.
Q: What would you say were the biggest challenges for you during the PhD? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was that I was working full-time and I overcame that by writing for two hours every morning before work, which is difficult. I just had to get through that year of finding my way in a new job and finishing my dissertation. In retrospect, I should have taken a leave of absence for a semester, just to give myself more time. Another challenge was the PhD can be insular and even your friendships can take on a competitive aspect. You start to measure your progress against someone else’s. And I think that can be a real psychological challenge.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges since you graduated?
It’s a combination of things. Not having a tenure-track position was challenging until I got one. I’m very thankful for that. Another challenge I have now is that I wish my research profile was better than it is. The combination of working full-time as a teacher and instructor and trying to maintain a research profile is a real challenge.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is currently working on their PhD?
Try to balance knowing who you are and being strategic with how you’re spending your time. The work gets really hard if you’re trying to do something that you’re not interested in. On the other hand, if you don’t have some awareness of what is required or needed in your field that can cause anxiety and make it more difficult to find a job after you’re done. Find that balance by pursuing a project that you care about and that you can undertake in a way that is positive for you as a whole. Frame it in a strategic way so that people in your wider field can easily recognize its merits.
Q: If there was something you wish you knew before you started, what would that be?
I wish I would have known to make the most of that research community I was talking about. I would have gotten involved in more of McGill’s research groups and institutions and expanded my network even more.
Many thanks to Kait for sharing her PhD narrative!
This interview took place in April 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.