Why are, or were, you in academia?
I have always loved research, even as a child. When I realized that a career in research was a possibility, I knew it was what I wanted and I have persisted thus far.
How much of your work life is devoted to research, teaching, or other professional activities? How do you feel about those proportions?
I am a lecturer at a research university in Canada. I spend the overwhelming majority of my time teaching; I try to write as much as I can but finding that kind of time when teaching five days a week some semesters is challenging. I genuinely love research and try to keep a research profile while teaching a substantial course load.
If you do research, what’s it about, and why should people care about it?
I’m largely interested in finance, law, and crime. My research looks at the practices and policies developed around combatting money laundering and terrorist financing. I’ve studied banking and I’m currently studying the real estate industry in this context. People should care about economic crime in general because the impacts of financial wrongdoing can be quite severe and because ignoring economic crime can perpetuate social injustice and inequality. At the same time, we also need to be attuned to the way we go about detecting, policing, or preventing these activities, because ineffective techniques or practices can be quite harmful to people who are unfairly targeted.
What do you hope your research will achieve? How do you think your work contributes to the world?
I hope my research will help us understand how the political and economic systems we are in can have adverse and unintended consequences for the people who are caught up in the metaphorical undertow. I work in the area of financial crime and political economy, in particular, on the implementation of counter-terrorist financing legislation and its use in the private sector. Most people aren’t aware that their personal financial transactions are routinely evaluated for suspicious activity and can be reported to a designated governmental body, or that private citizens are responsible for policing those transactions. My work sheds light on the ways we are policed by private citizens, and how effective, equitable, and worthwhile this type of policing might be for preventing terrorism.
If you teach, what do you learn from your students, and what do you hope they learn from you?
I learn a lot from my students. I have so many creative, insightful, funny people in my classes; often they bring in examples that I hadn’t considered, or provide counterpoints that make for great discussion. I have enjoyed every class I’ve taught, and when you teach as much as I do, that is a real joy.
What’s your favorite thing to teach, and what kinds of things happen in your classroom?
I like to teach using popular culture. We might apply the tenets of strain theory to hip hop songs, we might analyze Top 40 songs to see how they reflect legal and social issues (Maroon 5 was a surprise there), and we critiqued 50 Shades of Grey and South Park in class this year. I teach in sociology and it’s important to me to use the analytical tools our discipline offers to unpack cultural products of our time.
What’s a common myth about your field?
Many people think that sociology is easy, or that it explains things have everyone already knows. I think that sociology’s real contribution to society is demystifying things that we take for granted or believe are true even when they are not. For example, my students are often surprised to find that the crime rate overall is at a historic low, and that we are statistically living in the safest period in human history. This is at odds with media representations of crime, which they’ve internalized their whole lives. We unpack why this myth exists, and what its existence tells us about what our society thinks is important. Sociology isn’t easy, and good sociological inquiry can generate solid data and provoke important analyses that show us what is really happening in our society.
What do you hope for your students?
I’ve told them that I hope one day that I’ll be watching television and I’ll see one of them on the news for a wonderful achievement, being recognized for their work as lawyers, judges, teachers, policy makers…. I want them to do good in the world and be good to others.
What are the perks or rewards of your job?
Creating real, meaningful relationships with students is a huge perk. I have students with whom I’ve developed great relationships and that is infinitely rewarding. When a student asks what else you are teaching and whether they can take that course, there is no higher compliment.
In what ways do you, as part of your job, help your institution or discipline?
I try to be a good citizen. I am conscientious about teaching and I really want my lectures to be clear and engaging. I also try to engage in public outreach, which I think is a meaningful way to make a direct impact in society in a short period of time. I’ve written different kinds of outreach materials for people to use when dealing with complicated custodial issues, for example, and that kind of outreach can have a real and meaningful impact on people’s lives.
What have you sacrificed to get where you are?
I have moved far from my friends, my family, and my partner. It is very hard to move thousands of kilometres away from your support system and the people you love, all by yourself. One of the things that is great about academic life is that almost everyone experiences this and consequently I have been fortunate to make new, genuine friends in different places.
If you are an aspiring academic, what are your hopes and fears about the future?
My hope is that one day, I will secure a research-stream position, where i can continue to teach, but where I can also contribute to the production of knowledge.