Governor General’s Medal winner’s work was interdisciplinary

For Governor General’s Medal recipient Danielle Wiley, interdisciplinary research is like cross-pollination. After working in architecture firms for a few years, Wiley decided to apply to Carleton’s doctoral program at the Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture (ICSLAC), because it brings together students from a variety of disciplines, including history, film and Canadian studies.

“When I applied,” recalls the 37-year-old Wiley, “I was craving more engagement with other fields. Interdisciplinary research really enriches your learning.”

Before she graduated in June, Wiley had already landed a job as an urban planner for the City of Vancouver.

“I got this position when I was about 80 per cent through my dissertation. I don’t think I would have been a contender if I hadn’t been a PhD candidate, and specifically researching urbanism in Vancouver. I feel lucky.”

Wiley’s study compares two master-planned neighbourhoods in downtown Vancouver, one built in the 1970s and the other in the 1990s.

“I look at how the different housing models represent changing ideas of home, public space, community and a ‘liveable’ city. On one site, the housing is arranged as clusters of row houses that circle shared little gardens. On the other, there are glass towers set in large public parks.”

Wiley admits it wasn’t always easy to stay on task during the preparation of her thesis.

“Writing a dissertation can be very lonely. I reached points when I felt I was working in isolation (and) it was difficult to stay connected to the process.”

Fortunately, Wiley found her ICSLAC professors supportive, in spite of the fact her research was a departure from her peers’ academic pursuits in history, art history, film and media.

“They were very good about trying to connect me with professors and teaching and studying opportunities in other schools, including (Carleton’s) School of Architecture.”

Wiley’s supervisors, Steve Fai and Marco Frascari of the School of Architecture and Urbanism, were cross-appointed to ICSLAC in order to work with her.

Earning the Governor General’s Medal comes as a complete surprise to Wiley.

“I feel incredibly honoured. I hadn’t known that my committee nominated me, so I had no idea I was even a candidate. To be honest, the winning of an award was not a goal or a motivator for me. I just wanted to do my best work and, most importantly, finish. So I did my best to get through, to engage in research that interests me and hold myself to a standard I could be proud of.”

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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