Blog post

Is there such a thing as an “engaged” scholar on vacation?

August 5, 2021
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By Geneviève Grégoire-Labrecque

Mural of colourful hands holding each other Mural of colourful hands holding each other. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

Have you ever been in the situation where you scheduled well-deserved time off, but then, a community organization you have been partnering with is reaching out for support? Of course, you do it with pleasure because that’s the spirit of collaboration and partnership in engaged research with the community.

Then, when you think you can finally rest, you are solicited to take part in a unique event that espouse a cause you have been working hard for in your research. You ponder what to do. On the one side, you really need to rest, but on the other side, it seems there’s a momentum to really change things. On top of that, if you’re not doing it, it seems like you will let people down. So, you gladly join in, and volunteer where your help is needed. It could be informal translation, facilitating discussions, prepping a presentation, being on a wellbeing squad, or (duh!) all of the above.

Your vacation falls flat, you are exhausted, but you have helped people and lived up to the high standards you set for yourself as an engaged citizen and scholar.

Yet, you are confused: is that your role? Have you done too much? Who are you doing this for?

Trying to make a difference

A splash of red and blue ink in water, getting blurred A splash of red and blue ink in water, getting blurred. Photo by Bilal O. on Unsplash.

As I move forward in my PhD journey and as I explore the depths of the entanglement of both engagement and research, I must admit that I’m faced with many questions pertaining to the blurred boundaries between the two worlds.

My work rests on developing genuine relationships with young people and the community, to co-create and give back, the overall goal being to participate in building a fairer world. As you may imagine, this ethical stance takes time, and it is definitely not a linear process!

Patience is key as, sometimes, I have to take what seems to be detours in order to cultivate trusting relationships with young people and adults. But to what extent? In addition, the daily experiences of sharing through personal interactions convey a sense of responsibility and reciprocity that sets the basis for collaboration, but also engagement.

The superposition of one’s own values as citizen towards a cause and a scholar’s work on social justice blurs the line between personal life and work. In that sense, it seems that engaged scholars are always “on”, either through research, activism, policymaking, advocacy, facilitation, education, and communication. And all of them entail working closely with and for the community.

It is definitely not easy to know what is enough and when it is too much, as the task encompasses one’s own life to make a difference, even a small one.

What is an “engaged” scholar?

Step by step, a person tries to find their balance. Step by step, a person tries to find their balance. Photo by Raphael Renter on Unsplash.

Although the process is highly rewarding in terms of quality and humanizing research, in trying to make meaningful change, in learning experiences, it feeds on energy.

While learning to rest is an integral part of a healthy work-life balance and that we actually need to recharge our batteries I.e. to take a break after a prolonged cognitive effort, the very concept of “engaged scholar” needs to be examined in more detail, because activism fatigue is real --even though privileges reduce the costs of vulnerability. Yes, even in rest and self-care, there is engagement, activism and advocacy: who has the privilege of resting? I do.

As naïve as it may sound because I’m clearly not the first one to reflect on the matter, I see this questioning phase I’m into as an opportunity to deepen the roles, privileges, boundaries, benefits, dilemmas and challenges of being an engaged scholar. All of that to reflect on the kind of life I want to lead and the kind of scholar I want to be to fuel my future work and life with a big L. And this experience, my positionality and current and future discussions with fellow scholars (Hi! 😊) are part of the reflection process. Stay tuned.

But first, I’ll go back to bed to catch up on those missing sleep hours, I’m on vacation after all.


About the author

Photo of Geneviève Grégoire-Labrecque

Geneviève Grégoire-Labrecque is a PhD candidate in the Individualized Program (INDI). Her research examines the ways youth participation is understood, practiced, and experienced by youth and school staff in a youth-led and an adult-led school initiative on environment and climate change in two high schools in Montreal.

Recipient of a Nelson Mandela Award, her research is also supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and Concordia University. Prior to her PhD, she has worked on diversity, inclusion and on knowledge mobilization in education and in health care and social services and holds both a BSc (2010) and a MSc (2013) in Anthropology from Université de Montréal.

Geneviève is a member of the Child Rights Academic Network, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, a student member of the Centre de recherche en éducation et formation relatives à l’environnement et à l’écocitoyenneté, and an academic member for the North American Regional Children’s Environmental Rights Consultations for the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment


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