If a flood or a wildfire threatens your home, what would you try to save or take with you? How people prepare for and respond to disasters reflects the values that they hold as a society and, as such, my research examines what recovery could look like when heritage professionals and affected communities consider the importance of people's tangible connections to place.
Do you have an earthquake survival kit tucked away in a closet in case "the Big One" strikes? If a flood or a wildfire threatens your home, what would you try to save or take with you? Have you participated in public discussions about what aspects of your city or your neighbourhood should be preserved? My PhD dissertation project seeks to understand the complex interplay between people and heritage resources (including, among others, museums, historical sites, family heirlooms, and traditional crafts) within the space of disaster preparedness and recovery in Vancouver and the interior of British Columbia. How people prepare for and respond to disasters reflects the values that they hold as a society and, as such, my research examines what recovery could look like when heritage professionals and affected communities consider the importance of people's tangible connections to place.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
Being a Public Scholar means understanding the relevance of your research and its implications for people and then acting ethically based on that knowledge. While it is important for all scholars to communicate the results of research in a meaningful way, public scholarship also means designing research projects alongside community partners, so that the work can speak to real needs and issues in society.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
Doctoral students, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, are often perceived as lonely researchers, reaching breakthroughs in the solitude of the lamplit night. What the PSI highlights is the communal nature of a PhD the fact that research always involves multiple voices, perspectives, and sources of support, some of which have not always been acknowledged. Along with the recognition that the PhD experience is not a solitary pursuit, the PSI also connects research to everyday life and, in the process, expands the definition of academic work. Academic productivity is typically measured in the number of scientific articles published, but the PSI rewards scholars for taking the time to build projects collaboratively and nurture connections with those that are touched by, participating, or interested in the research process itself.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
Work at the cross-section of heritage and disasters is not exactly a career that exists in the strictest sense. However, there is a small, dedicated, and growing network of people who are making it such. For all of us, one of the great challenges will be to professionalize our own field with evidence-based action while making a strong case for the value of people-based qualitative research to aid disaster recovery. I see my work as an opportunity to contribute to this emerging field by bridging the studies of heritage and disasters.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
A large part of my research involves working directly with both collections stewards and emergency responders in BC. By collaborating with community partners to explore the role of heritage within disaster response and recovery strategies, I hope that together we can co-produce practical solutions attuned to the needs of local heritage professionals while developing relevant policies for decision-makers and disaster planners.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
Over the past decade, I have met and worked with many inspiring people, who have shaped me personally and professionally and informed my decision to pursue a graduate degree. Prior to coming to UBC, I spent more than 7 years living in Albania, first with a Fulbright scholarship and then working for the non-profit organization Cultural Heritage without Borders. Inspired by the organization’s mission to restore and build relations in countries affected by conflict and disaster, I joined an international group of ‘cultural first aiders’, which helps people respond to threats to their cultural heritage. Given that this is such a new and developing field, I saw the need for further research on the relationship between people and heritage within post-disaster recovery. I framed my research to address this need and contribute to this growing field by placing people-focused, heritage-based research into conversation with disaster research.=
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
What drew me to UBC was the university’s reputation for relevant and engaged research, my advisor Sara Shneiderman’s work on post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal, and the ability to be a bit closer to my family based in this part of the world. The Anthropology Department at UBC reflects the very best of the kind of community-engaged research that the university aspires to a type of research that seeks to be collaborative, rather than extractive, and to benefit all involved. That focus, along with the support and care of my advisor and fellow graduate students, was what attracted me to this program. I have also appreciated the chance to be back in the Pacific Northwest, near the places where I grew up.
For you, what was the best surprise about graduate life, about UBC or life in Vancouver?
I am constantly and delightfully surprised by how many people in Vancouver have dogs and take them everywhere.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
The flexibility of both my program and UBC has allowed me to put my own perspective as an anthropologist into conversation with engineers, planners, geographers, earth scientists and others who are broadening my perspectives while being open to challenging their own.
Do you have any tips for students from your home country coming to Canada / to UBC Grad School?
Schedule down time and recreation time. Everything in your life will be making demands on your time, and as a graduate student, it’s often difficult to make time for the people and activities that are important to you. For graduate students, work is never limited to 9-5, Monday-Friday – it quickly fills any and all voids. It may sound counterintuitive that you can feel more relaxed (and more comfortable about relaxing) by scheduling even your down time. But being aware of your work load and making attempts to limit it to healthy levels will make you more productive when it matters, and to keep your energies focused on what is important to you. And after all, when the campus is surrounded by a forest, take advantage of it. Trees help you think!
Being a Public Scholar means understanding the relevance of your research and its implications for people and then acting ethically based on that knowledge.