Olen Gunnlaugson

Université Laval
Associate Professor in Leadership and Organizational Development
Vancouver, Canada
Montreal, Canada
Presencing as a Contemplative Framework for Group Inquiry
Daniel Vokey

What are your main responsibilities or activities in your current position?

I serve as an Associate Professor in Leadership and Organizational Development in the Department of Management and Faculty of Business at Université Laval (Canada). Over the past decade, I have been exploring the human dimensions of business with my international students through MBA courses in leadership, management skills, and group communications.

How does your current work relate to your graduate degree?

My UBC research provided a rich eclectic cross-disciplinary background in leadership growth, development, and consciousness-based approaches to transformation, as well as contemplative and generative practices of communication. These areas of inquiry and scholarship have solidly prepared the foundation for my current research and work as a professor.

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?

I love setting and developing my own research agenda, pursuing areas of professional practice and scholarship that I'm most passionate about as well as designing my classrooms to serve as spaces of deep learning and transformation for my students. I find motivation in the ongoing challenges of contributing both innovative research as well as a teaching practice that makes a real difference to practitioners and inspires my students to reach the next summit of their learning and development.

Is your current career path as you originally intended?

It came unexpectedly by following what I was most passionate about with my life first and then my work. I've been a strong advocate of living one's personal truth professionally and have been uncompromising about this since my early twenties. This deep commitment helped me steer around some of the later and current hazards of my profession (i.e. brownout, burnout, etc.)

What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?

With my research, it was the interdisciplinary interests of my supervisor and his openness to supporting research that is consciousness-based and dealing with the subtle inner dimensions of human experience, what is traditionally viewed as an esoteric area of philosophical inquiry. This combined with my love for the west coast and the world-class learning environment that UBC provides made the decision clear for me.

What did you enjoy the most about your time as a graduate student at UBC?

As both a master's and doctoral student, I appreciated having the opportunity to live on campus at St. John's College, which served as ground zero for designing a lifestyle at UBC that was structured around building optimal learning and living conditions for thriving as a student. Between 2001 and 2009, UBC was an ideal home that supporting my research, offered in-depth opportunities for mentoring from faculty, building an inspiring social network with colleagues, and finding the right balance with my overall lifestyle.

What key things did you do, or what attitudes or approaches did you have, that contributed to your success?

In retrospect, being highly committed to following my own inner voice of wisdom in thinking, writing, communication, and teaching helped me access deeper unforeseen levels of motivation, meaning, and purpose in my life and work. As my voice grew and became more integrated into daily life, the research interests and way of approaching my studies followed from this place of deep passion and insight. Retrospectively, cultivating this deeper degree of self-awareness and self-knowledge had numerous benefits. In the arena of success, there is no question that this helped me connect with the friends, colleagues, and community that ended up playing key roles in my life and work currently.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?

Follow what makes you come alive in your life and work and be uncompromising about this.

Did you have any breaks in your education?

I took a break between my undergraduate studies at SFU and my Master's degree at UBC. In retrospect, this decision opened an exploratory space where I could pursue my undergraduate interests in dialogue in greater depth and in practice, setting the overall trajectory for my graduate and current research as a faculty. This self-chosen gap year provided an opportunity to go abroad, where I enrolled in progressive leadership education at a small college in the countryside of Sweden. Looking back, this experience offered a transformative context to grow both personally and professionally, where I joined the faculty in coordinating a change in the college's vision from a Holistic to Integral College. I later wrote an article about this experience, published in the Journal of Transformative Education: "Toward an Integral Education for the Ecozoic Era: A Case Study in Transforming the Glocal Learning Community of Holma College of Integral Studies, Sweden". So yes, this gap year break was absolutely essential to exposing me to practical forms of knowledge and lived experience that matured my scholarship and awareness as a researcher and educator.

What challenges did you face in your graduate degree, or in launching your career?

As a graduate student, my initial challenge was finding the funding to support my research so that I wouldn't have to take employment that wasn't aligned with my research interests. Once I found out the available avenues for funding my research early on, I made this a serious priority. After landing my first SSHRC-funded scholarship as a Master's student, this set the trajectory for the rest of my graduate and post-graduate studies. For those graduate students who wish to go on to become faculty in higher education contexts, having an established research funding track record as a graduate student is a wise move.


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