“Earned, not given”

New Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Recognizes Research Excellence of Black and Indigenous Scholars

This spring, seven researchers made U of T history by becoming the first recipients of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program. Coming from universities across Canada as well as within the University of Toronto, they represent a wide range of disciplines: political science, law, women and gender studies, geography, and education. They bring expertise and innovative ideas to U of T’s classrooms, labs, and research hubs. And for two years, they will have the funding to develop their research and build their professional profiles.

A three-year pilot program that recognizes excellence in scholarship by Black and Indigenous researchers, the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program was officially launched last spring and will be announcing a second cohort in early 2020. Provost Cheryl Regehr describes the impetus for developing the fellowship. “This fellowship program goes far in helping the University of Toronto to attract top researchers who are asking tough questions in their research and who are prepared to push the boundaries of academic discussion. U of T’s strength lies in the collective contributions of many worldviews and perspectives.”

Nadège Compaoré (Political Science) began her Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship
in July 2019

Nadège Compaoré, a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Political Science department, says she holds the fellowship “proudly.” She describes it as a “fantastic opportunity” to “gain visibility” and to cultivate a sense of “belonging,” two goals that have been especially challenging to attain throughout her own academic career. Moving from Burkina Faso to Canada to pursue post-secondary education, she successfully adapted to the challenges of being an international student, but struggled to find a sense of community. “These were not easy experiences at all,” Compaoré recalls. She quickly realized that her chosen field of political science was, at least within the Canadian postsecondary landscape, “predominantly white.” And although she herself was often called upon to mentor Black students, she found “there were rarely Black faculty to look up to in [her] discipline,” especially within her chosen institutions. 

Compaoré emphasizes that, in focusing on Black and Indigenous researchers, the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship recognizes the unique struggles that racialized scholars face throughout their training and as they prepare to launch their professional careers. With two years of stable funding now ahead of her, she is looking forward to strengthening her research by presenting her research work at national and international conferences, publishing her findings, working on grants and developing her research community. She is also eager to start conversations with U of T faculty and administration who are “listening”—and are acknowledging the need to hire more Black and Indigenous faculty. With her sights set on an academic career, Compaoré plans to continue expanding her investigations into the concepts of responsibility and sovereignty in the global governance of extractive industries, and further develop her emerging research on gender and race in International Relations. Her observations about the intersections of politics and power are urgently needed as extractive companies in Canada and other “home states” continue to be linked to environmental rights abuses in Africa and Latin America.

Having already completed a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship at York University and a short-term fellowship at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo, Compaoré has keen insights, too, into what it means to be a postdoctoral fellow. She praises the value of the Independent Development Plan (IDP) that is required of all recipients of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at U of T. Sitting down last July with her supervisor, Professor Steven Bernstein, she mapped out her activities, milestones, and goals for the next two years. This exercise has allowed her to identify what she can “say yes or no to”: which conferences, which publishing and speaking opportunities, and which additional commitments she will fulfill. In this way, she is able to “maximize [her] time and resources.” She also identified a plan to build relationships (a term Compaoré prefers to “networking”). In her view, this skill is often learned early by researchers interested in working in industry, but it is not always learned by those seeking an academic path. These postdoctoral fellows may find that it is “very easy to concentrate on research and not socialize and get out there,” Compaoré says.

Most importantly, Compaoré gave herself a timeline in which to achieve her career goal of landing a tenure-track position, a process that involved exploring non-academic opportunities in a tough academic job market. She feels that this exploration is a valuable strategy that should not be seen as a plan B, but rather as a way to seek out whether and how one may be fulfilled outside of academia. Compaoré points to the position of Research Analyst at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)—a role that she herself fulfilled after her York postdoc—as one of many viable paths for researchers with similar credentials.

Understanding the employment outcomes of postdoctoral fellows is a priority of the School of Graduate Studies. At an October luncheon celebrating the recipients of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, Dean Joshua Barker noted that SGS is currently analyzing the employment outcomes of researchers who held a U of T postdoc during a ten-year period (2008-18). Dean Barker also praised the important contributions that postdoctoral fellows make while they are at U of T. “At any given time, we have about 1,000 postdoctoral fellows . . . [and] what an impact those 1,000 individuals make every single day. Many teach and mentor our graduate and undergraduate students. They help develop grant proposals, publish articles, and earn awards and recognition within and beyond U of T. They do excellent research, and ask important questions, sharing the knowledge and expertise they have gained not only from years of study in their chosen field, but also from their lived experiences.”

Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship recipients at the Faculty Club luncheon, October 2019. (L to R: Nadège Compaoré, Debby Danard, Ahmed Ilmi, and Nikoli Attai). Other recipients include Nemoy Lewis (FAS, Geography, supervisor Prof. Deborah Cowen), Jorge Luis Fabra-Zamora (Faculty of Law, supervisor Prof. Jutta Brunnée), and Kilian Nasung Atuoye (UTM, Geography, supervisor Prof. Vincent Z. Kuuire).

Joining Ahmed Ilmi (OISE, Social Justice Education, supervisor Prof. Njoki Wane), Nikoli Attai (FAS, Women & Gender Studies, supervisor Prof. Alissa Trotz), and Debby Danard (FAS, Women & Gender Studies, supervisor Prof. Bonnie McElhinny) at the luncheon, Compaoré welcomed the supportive atmosphere she felt amidst such a gathering of University leadership, faculty, and SGS representatives.

This new fellowship is “earned, not given,” Compaoré affirms. Both individually and collectively, the recipients of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship are poised to make a tremendous impact in their fields—and on the many people they will engage with during this exciting time in their lives and careers.

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