Interview by Lara Bulger, October 18, 2022
Edited by Laura Murray
Lara: Golam, it’s so lovely to meet you! I’d love to hear about your experience at Queen’s and in Cultural Studies specifically - when did you begin your PhD and when did you finish?
Golam: I came as an international student in September 2016, and my partner, Tanzina Tahereen, came in September 2017. The first year was pretty exciting – that was when research creation, which stands apart from traditional research, seemed to be really coming up. That was a huge learning phase for me. And the issues of diversity and inclusion were being increasingly addressed. I completed my PhD in October 2021, and my partner completed in February 2022. Tanzina’s PhD research examined the colonial approaches to education for Indigenous students in Bangladesh. She studied and analyzed the high-stakes testing for Adivasi students in the country. Before coming to Canada, both me and my partner taught and continued research in universities in Bangladesh for several years and both of us studied and received our second MA in Belgium. I had the opportunity to teach in Belgium as well.
When I look back now, I think that conversations in classes and in other academic spaces in first year were enlightening and life changing, especially for a first-generation immigrant to Canada.
Lara: Wow, so you’ve had experiences at universities in three different countries! Do you enjoy academia here in Canada, overall?
Golam: In CUST [Cultural Studies] yes, because of its focus on non-western critical discourses, and its appreciation of those discourses — unlike my experience before where it was very Eurocentric. Whenever you’re thinking about the process of decolonization, there can also be a focus on South Asian, African, Eastern European, non-North American cultures. The equitable approach that CUST attempts to incorporate is commendable.
Lara: What was the focus of your thesis?
Golam: My research examined the changes of literature and music of Baul communities who are spiritualists from Bengal, especially from Bangladesh – they have a centuries-old philosophy which is relevant to the whole world and by extension to human life in general. And I examined how contemporary consumer culture is contributing to changing their music, and how those changes are having an impact on those communities and their society in general — how those changes are taking away or establishing the agency of Baul communities.
Lara: Did the focus of your research change from where you started?
Golam: It remained consistent, and my supervisor, Professor Margaret Walker, was very helpful in the process – not just with academia but also with helping my whole family, [including] looking for resources for my son who is six now. The GREB [Ethics Review] workshops and the Three Minute Thesis and SSHRC funding applications helped me to refine the research proposal and that contributed to my doing the research in a very structured way, which contributed to me getting SSHRC funding. I received a tremendous amount of help.
My tips: show your proposal to as many professors as possible and to your student colleagues who succeeded in getting funding. It’s all about putting aside your ego and learning. I got the best feedback on my proposal, apart from professors, from first year students who were far younger than me, who were novices - compared to myself, who had been teaching in academia for a long time. Every colleague is going to give you some pointers that will eventually help.
Lara: What was it like being a parent and a student at the same time?
Golam: That’s a conversation of struggles, because my son was 1.5 years old when he came to Canada, and my partner was a first year PhD student. During that time, there was no day care support for international students. We were not permanent residents yet. Sometimes [our] schedules conflicted and that conflict meant that one of us was not attending our daily responsibilities properly. My partner [was not] able to apply for SSHRC grants and other projects. There were sacrifices. We were completely house-bound and we weren’t able to take leisure time and that was a huge blow to our mental health. That issue expanded during COVID and especially the horrible year of 2020. Our son was at home, schools were closed, we were struggling hard, borrowing money, hiring a nanny for 3-4 hours a day so we could study and write during that time. It was a hectic time. But the support I got from the professors was amazing and allowed us to send our son to daycare three days a week.
And I was able to sit with my supervisor 2 or 3 days a week online during COVID; I wrote my chapters while she wrote her articles. That helped a lot - and virtual writing camps, dissertation boot camps, those were really helpful for me and my partner. Those helped as a lifeline during COVID. You have people to talk to about your struggles, that helped with mental health.
I want to mention the Ban Righ Centre – I think the people involved there should be revered more, especially their initiatives in improving the lives of those who identify as women at Queen’s. My wife received a number of supports and an award from the Centre, and it helped our family in many ways. I think there should be more support for the Ban Righ Centre because people don’t get how extensively it is changing lives.
Lara: What are you doing now, after graduation?
Golam: I have a contractual full time teaching appointment as Assistant Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University. I left Kingston three weeks ago and it’s a lot – it’s a big transition because we used to live in the students’ housing with other student parents and families, it’s a big transition for our son. But I’m teaching exciting courses. I’m working on an Insight grant from SSHRC. I’m also working on a book proposal on music and commerce, and a project with my colleagues in the US with the society of ethnomusicology, focused on creative industries and economic ethnomusicology. And I’m also revising my PhD dissertation for publication.
Beyond written research, I am in conversation with two musical groups in Toronto to work on a musical initiative that represents the identities of newcomers, especially the racialized identities of newcomers coming from Africa and South Asia. We’re discussing how spiritual music is operating with their identity formation.
Thank you so much for your time and insights Golam! Congratulations on completing your PhD and your recent position at Toronto Metropolitan University.