Our “Meet the Faculty” interviews provide a window into the work lives of faculty across the University of Waterloo—and how much that work differs from person to person. We’ll talk about the day-to-day joys and struggles of academia and share tips for getting the work done and staying mentally and physically healthy in academia.
We’re starting with Kim Hong Nguyen. Kim Hong is an assistant professor in Communication Arts and a faculty representative for Waterloo Women’s Wednesdays.
Kim, what do you teach and research?
My research and teaching explore the relationship between equity, power, and identity in public controversies related to communication practices. I teach students how our communicative practices and interpretative frameworks intersect with race, gender/sexuality, class, and other visible identity markers. I write about controversies that raise new questions about how to perform and talk about identity. Controversies that interest me are ones that focus on the use of one word, a trope, an expression, or a cultural practice and create questions about who can say, do, and perform them.
What are you passionate about in your work?
Though I might not be the best public speaker, I am passionate about communicating well and all that that entails. This means I want all of my students to communicate well, but also learn how to be good, forgiving listeners. I hope my teaching provides them a space to explore what that means and a space to practice. This also means that my research explores how the public communication practices of visible minorities are interpreted and tries to identify the different frameworks that allow for that public communication to be seen as effective and not effective.
What does being a faculty rep for Waterloo Women’s Wednesdays involve and why you do it?
W3 is an organization created by Shannon Dea that provides a gathering place for women-identified and non-binary people on campus. We host faculty research lectures, social opportunities (yoga, knitting), and workshops on an array of topics (from microaggressions to home organization to healthy eating).
At first, I volunteered to become Faculty Rep mostly out of curiosity. I have read about feminist consciousness-raising circles, but I hadn’t seen this kind of organization at my previous institutions. During her leadership, Dea invited me to share my own research with W3 and I found that to be a really rewarding and affirming experience that I wanted other researchers on campus to experience.
In this role, I hope for at least two things: that W3 provides a place of relational, intellectual, and professional connection for all women-identified and non-binary people on campus, not just faculty. Second, but not secondarily, that W3 engages with the experiences and research of women of colour on campus.
What does a good day at work look like?
My favourite days at work are the days when I am off my computer, and not isolated, and I am teaching, talking to colleagues, or in meetings. I like feeling part of a community, so being on campus is an important part of doing work. When I have to be behind my computer and can be off campus, I try to be mindful of my fuel consumption and work at a coffee shop close to my daughter’s school or at home.
What’s been your biggest struggle at work?
I have the usual struggles with work-life balance and the demanding pace of academic work, but being a woman of colour on top of all this adds another layer. I’d say my biggest struggle is negotiating between my professional role and being situated as a visible minority who is a first-generation university graduate and postsecondary degree holder.
There is a lot that I can and want to contribute in terms of being part of conversations about equity or identifying a different way of doing things, but I also am a probationary faculty member and still finding my own voice and my own point of view on organizational culture in the academy. When these two roles come into conflict, I’d say this is when the days feel long and work feels like work. But, when these two roles work in harmony, work outside of the classroom feels like an extension of work inside the classroom. It feels like passion.
What do you do to stay healthy—mentally or physically?
I keep up with an active six-year-old. Done. Just joking. I go to the gym two-to-three times a week. I journal, go to therapy, meditate/pray, and sleep as much as I can. I also try to stay away from social media. Being in the north since 2011 (Oregon before here), I take vitamin D and put on a light therapy box in the morning so the gray skies don’t bother me. I go to acupuncture, osteopathy, or massage therapy when I am not feeling well enough to exercise.
What’s your favourite family activity in this area?
The arcade at Bingemans is fun. Tubing/tobogganing at Westvale park is adventurous enough for me. Stork YMCA has a saltwater pool and the Lions Park pool in Kitchener has slides, which we like. We also like to go five-pin bowling. On other days, we garden and plant trees, bake or cook together, play board games, or construct something out of Legos.
What productivity tools or practices are essential for you?
A tangible tool I use is a computer desktop background that allows me to organize files into colour-coded categories. Mine has quadrants entitled “teaching,” “research,” “service,” and “to file.” You can find others for free online, or download one like mine here. For me, this is really helpful because I prefer to work off of my desktop, rather than doing the added step of locating the file off of the drive.
Because I analyze media, public controversies, and cultural practices, I always feel like I am working and consequently feel quite guilty about having leisure time. When I was writing my dissertation, I started logging or documenting my time to ensure that I was not working more than 35-40 hours a week and to manage my feelings of guilt and desires for overachievement. I try to not work after hours and over weekends unless the work clutters my mental space and ability to be mentally present for my family—and sometimes I make exceptions for student emails or teaching. This means that I don’t accomplish as much research during the teaching terms, but I am less stressed and more emotionally present. I worry about burnout, and I want to be able to work at UWaterloo until I am of retirement age.