By Deborah Melman-Clement
Jillian Burford-Grinnell is no stranger to Queen's University.
Not only does she have strong family ties to the school - her parents and her sister are alumni - she started her academic career here after graduating from high school in the mid-1990s. While her original stay at Queen's only lasted for one year, she found her way back 14 years later.
After a 12-year career as a legal assistant, Burford-Grinnell was ready to resume her studies. "As an undergrad I didn't really have a major," she recalls. "I was interested in so many subjects. I liked psychology and sociology, and I would have been happy studying either of them."
Her eventual course of study was influenced as much by her personal life as by her academic life. A married mother of three, Burford-Grinnell lives with her family in Tamworth, just north of Kingston. "A lot of the situations that I've encountered living in a small town with my kids in the public school system are the subjects I was interested in exploring in grad school," she explains. Her observations about poverty and funding for school lunch programs inspired her to pursue a Master's degree in Gender Studies.
The fact that her two oldest children are girls was part of her inspiration, but, she says, it's more complex than that. "Having two daughters was a starting point, but it doesn't stop there," she says. "My son is getting older and he's starting to ask more questions. The questions he asks me are the ones with no answers - about class, able bodies and gender issues."
Burford-Grinnell considered the Universities of Toronto and Ottawa, but ultimately chose Queen's for practical reasons - "it's close to home". It's a decision she's glad she made. "It's been absolutely amazing," she says. In addition to the thrill of being part of the Gender Studies Department's pioneer Master's cohort, she holds a Teaching Assistantship and does additional work with professors in the Gender Studies and Music departments. ("I study music from a feminist perspective.") And if that isn't enough, she also serves on the Society of Graduate & Professional Students, as the Mature Student Representative in her first year and as Vice-President, Finance & Services in her second.
And while balancing all of that with the demands of her young family is daunting, it's no less daunting than the task of writing her thesis. "The thesis is a big undertaking," she says, "but the great thing about Queen's is that I've had so much support with it. The profs in my department have been phenomenal, and I've had additional help beyond that. I took a seminar called How to Prepare and Tackle Your Thesis. It was incredibly helpful."
Amid her hectic schedule, Burford-Grinnell has managed to make time for many of the other activities that make the grad school experience such a rich and fulfilling one. "It's academically exciting for sure," she says, "but it's also exciting because of the other opportunities. The interdisciplinary discussions and events I've taken part in have been wonderful. And the Ban Righ Foundation has been incredibly supportive as well. When I reflect on all of the things I've done in my life, I'd have to say this is the most exciting experience so far."