Using Social Network Analysis, Francois’ Relational Academia project strives to show the development of specific networks of PhDs exchange between domestic and foreign universities over the last 40 years. Such work will allow the critical assessment of the various forms of internationalization displayed by Canadian universities. 

Research Description

The current research project, the Relational Academia [RA] project created the largest dataset detailing the trajectories of full-time faculty employed in social science disciplines at Canada’s 15 top research-intensive universities (U15) between 1978 and 2015. The objective are three-fold: (1) Longitudinal documentation of attributes (e.g. education, gender, publication record, mobility, promotion patterns, etc.) of PhDs who “make it” on the tenure track in Canadian academia. (2) Network maps showing the active and passive ties between Canadian and international PhD-granting universities. (3) Critical and theory-driven engagement with broader narratives around Canadian universities’ positions within global social science fields beyond the core-periphery framework. The second project examines intellectual life in China since the 1990s—chiefly the efforts by public intellectuals to rethink China’s past, present, and future in light of the failures of Mao’s revolution, the challenges emerging from reform, and the rise of China to the status of world economic power.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

My working definition of public scholar is strongly influenced by Michael Burawoy's public sociology. Public sociologists recognize the need to engage with 'non-academic', with a variety of publics. Sociology arises with civil society and public sociology can play an important role against the classic models of social scientists and public intellectuals as either objective and disengaged actors or the top-down approach where 'we' speak confidently for the public and the people.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

For the PSI, the main task in re-imagining the PhD experience is to recognize the plurality of employment avenues for Canadian PhDs. In other words, PSI need to help construct and disseminate (widely and repetitively) a new narrative where 'a career outside academia is not a failure but a success'. With less than 20% of Canadian PhD graduates becoming full-time faculty in 2015 (Edge & Munro 2015), establishing an empowering narrative for the non-academic PhD career path in Canada is vital. In the meantime, the dream of tenured academic employment remains alive as it guides the occupational aspiration of nearly 60% of Canadian PhDs (Edge et al.).

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

My PhD work constitutes the first step towards launching an educational start-up (namely, Relational Academia) with my research partner Patrick John Burnett. The post-graduation plan is to turn the [RA] project into a successful start-up venture by expanding our vision to a global universities network ranking system including at the first stage 350 universities from 55 countries. Promising signs of non-academic interest in our project also came recently as I landed a research manager position in a local educational start-up eager to gather data on B.C. undergraduates and graduates’ career trajectory.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

At the interaction of higher education and the sociology of scientific field, the Relational Academia project engage with what could be called the broader academic and general public, from educational policy-maker, professor, administrative personnel, to doctoral student themselves. By showing networks of PhDs exchange between specific schools, our research will allow for instance certain departments and schools less successful in PhDs placement to reform their own curriculum. Also, our research have important implication for an in-depth debate about the efficiency of policies such as the Canadian First Policy.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

The training of PhD students-especially in STEM disciplines-represents a central building block in the contemporary global competition between developed nations to sustain and advanced their own position in the so-called knowledge economy. Perfectly aligned with this logic of national competition, the [RA] relational ranking system will be able to show the extent of Canadian PhD-granting schools' success at home and in other countries' universities.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Life is about learning a bunch of skills, and the pursuit of a doctoral degree in Canada's top university is without a doubt the best way to hone my skills in order to be part of the country's next generation of leading social scientists.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

UBC has one of the best research programs for the study of China and sociology in Canada. Timothy Cheek, director of the Centre for Chinese Research is the world foremost expert of Mao Zedong and Chinese modern intellectual history. Thomas Kemple, professor of sociology, is one of the most original sociologist of knowledge and historian of social sciences in the country. Their own works intersects perfectly for my research interests.


Public sociology can play an important role against the classic models of social scientists and public intellectuals as either objective and disengaged actors [using a] top-down approach".