Meet the Faculty: Kelly Anthony

Our “Meet the Faculty” interviews provide a window into the work lives of faculty across the University of Waterloo. Faculty members talk about the day-to-day joys and struggles, and share tips for getting the work done and staying mentally and physically healthy in academia.

Kelly Anthony is a continuing lecturer in the School of Public Health and Health Systems.

What do you teach and research?

The influence of poverty and inequity on people’s health. Health Sciences students tend to expect that there are biomedical explanations for health outcomes; I show them how social factors are involved in why some people are more likely to develop certain conditions than others. I don’t push any specific political belief system, but the conversation gets political very quickly! Students should leave my classroom angry and wanting to change stuff.

What else do you do on campus or in the community?

I’m fortunate that my director understands the significance of service in the community. I do more external service than internal. I’ve been on the board of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council for the last four years; I’m currently on the executive and also two subcommittees, one on high risk youth, the other on cannabis legislation. These committees include representation from all kinds of sectors; we’re trying to ensure that people don’t end up in the criminal justice system.

What is it about your work that you’re really passionate about?

I try to bring the community into the classroom, and send my students into the community. Even something as simple as suggesting that they go into an emergency room and really look at the demographics of who’s there—who doesn’t have access to a regular family doctor or other health care options. They come back with a whole new understanding of the issues. I feel incredibly privileged to be doing what I’m doing, in a situation where I can be both angry and effective. The second I think my students aren’t leaving my class angry enough to change things, I’ll leave here.

What’s your biggest struggle at work?

The lines between vocation, avocation, and family are incredibly blurry. I’ve taken on foster kids and adopted children as a result of my work with community councils. Because I’m so personally invested in the issues, I constantly feel pulled in many directions. I’m also not great at saying “no”—combine that with being passionate about so many things, I end up saying “yes” more than I should, and then I worry about spreading myself too thin and letting people down. I should probably think more strategically instead of saying “yes” to things that don’t benefit me and “no” to things that do.

I’m less involved in department business than I used to be—I need to be quieter and not have too much influence on the future of the department because it’s not really my future anymore.

When were you last surprised about something at work?

Our department has grown a lot, and I was surprised to realize I’m now an “old dog”—and that I’m ok with that. If you think in terms of a career arc, I’m past the top of the curve. So I’m less involved in the new hires and other department business than I used to be—I need to be quieter and not have too much influence on the future of the department because it’s not really my future anymore. I don’t need to be the person who knows everything anymore!

When I was a teaching fellow, I was surprised that there was no plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the program—that says a lot about how seriously the institution really took it. Shannon Dea and I wrote a report about it anyway. I felt that the teaching fellows were effective with colleagues who care, but didn’t necessarily alter the climate around the university as far as teaching goes. It’s frustrating to me that teaching is not on equal footing with research.

What does a good day at work look like?

I’m in one of my busier terms (teaching two or three courses) and my large second-year class would just have finished a quiz that they take once by themselves, then again in small groups. I hear them arguing, laughing, debating, and trying to persuade each other. I get to hear how they understand the material and make the case for their best answer. It is so fun to listen in—they are alive, engaged, and enthusiastic about class material. Then I might go to my office and have a discussion with an honors thesis student or independent studies student or two on community-based projects they are working on to address inequities in our community.

When and where do you do your best work?

I do my best work at work, in my comfy old chair next to a live orchid I always keep in my office. 

It’s important to work well with TAs—you can develop incredibly productive partnerships when you give them intellectual ownership and mentor them to be future instructors. It’s a productivity win for everybody.

How do you stay healthy?

I stay healthy—both mentally and physically—by working out at a small, un-fancy warehouse gym. I lift weights, jump rope, and push a giant ‘sled.’ I feel great after, and I do it mostly for the mental health benefits. I also do two-minute yoga or Qi Gong or meditation minutes in my office. I walk a lot—I live right in town, and when the weather is good, I walk or bike everywhere. I also work really hard to practice work-life balance and spend loads of time with my husband, son, and toddler grandson—the last one keeps me younger than anything else ever could!

Are there any productivity tools or practices you find essential?

The first is self-care: yoga and Qi Gong exercises—deep breathing and movement to centre and find breath. Or a quick walk to clear my head and connect with colleagues instead of isolating myself, which I’m prone to do.

It’s also important to understand how to work well with TAs—you can develop incredibly productive partnerships when you give them intellectual ownership, get them to test drive questions, and mentor them to be future instructors. It’s a productivity win for everybody.

What do you wish you’d known when you started your academic career?

I wish I’d known to have more confidence in storytelling. I heard other instructors I admire say that content is necessary but not sufficient: telling is not teaching. As humans we learn through stories: they’re how information stays with us, resonates, and lets us make sense of it. We connect with each other through stories, and teaching is so much about connections and relationships. Really, I wish I’d known it was okay to tell more stories.

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