Alumni Profile – Nadège Compaoré, MA’10, PhD’16

Nadège Compaoré, MA'10, PhD'16

Nadège Compaoré is an incoming Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Toronto (2021), where she is completing a Provost Postdoctoral Fellowship.  Her current research is concerned with claims of sovereignty by African states and communities affected by resource extraction. Nadège’s work lies at the intersection of international relations theory, global resource/environmental politics, as well as gender and race in global politics. She is co-editor of New Approaches to the Governance of Natural Resources: Insights from Africa (Palgrave), and her work has also been published in journals such as International Studies Review, Etudes Internationales and Contemporary Politics. She received her PhD in Political Studies from Queen’s University, where her research was informed by fieldwork in Gabon, Ghana, and South Africa, and was funded by SSHRC, CIGI, and CIDA. Nadège is a board member of Women in International Security Canada and the Canadian Association of African Studies.

Why did you choose Political Studies as a discipline?

I think I’ve been curious about politics for a long time, and I have recently traced it back to when I became obsessed with following news about politics. I am taking it back to when I was growing up in the 1990s in Burkina Faso. In 1994, the Franc CFA, which is the currency used by francophone African countries and was pegged to the French Franc, was heavily devalued. I didn’t know the term devaluation at the time. Didn’t understand any of it. I was still a little schoolgirl in Ouaga. But what I knew was that everyone was talking about this devaluation, and every bad thing was blamed on it, including the budget at home suddenly becoming super tight. I kept pestering my mom with questions and she offered to let me join her in reading the papers so we could find out more. So, reading the papers became a habit, when we were home from work/school. What I remembered was understanding that our government and other francophone African countries, along with France, were involved in leading to this state of devaluation. It was weird to me that France could be so involved in our daily lives, so I kept reading what we could find. I like to think this is when I became interested in Political Studies. I think I now understand why I am particularly interested in postcolonial international relations, especially thinking of the continued role of France in francophone Africa. My undergraduate and graduate diplomas are all in Political Studies, and I seem to be constantly examining North-South dynamics --especially how African actors operate in the international system.

Why did you choose Political Studies at Queen’s for both your MA and PhD?

When I was applying to the Master’s program, I reached out to professors in a handful of universities in Canada to inquire about their potential interest in supervising my work, as is customary. When it came to Queen’s, Dr. J. Andrew Grant, was the most genuinely interested in my prospective research and profile and was just so incredibly supportive that the choice was very clear to me. The Queen’s Political Studies Department was my top choice because of its reputation of excellence and especially because I was very keen on the relatively small size of the program. I had done my undergrad in a small-size university at Trent and benefited so much from it that I was more excited about a smaller size program as well. But I would say that it was the prospect of working with such a welcoming supervisor who was so enthusiastic about my work and who believed in me from the beginning that led to my choice to come to Queen’s. I stayed for my PhD for the same reasons, and for the great support I received from other professors, and staff, which I think was really facilitated by the tight-knit feel of the department. Being able to just go and knock at the door of a prof (who is not your supervisor) without an appointment, have a substantial chat about a piece of research, and get back to your office is not something that happens that easily elsewhere.

What was the focus of your research as a graduate student?

My PhD thesis examined North-South dynamics within the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global governance initiative aimed at improving transparency in the oil, gas, and mining industries. Given the overwhelming representation of the African continent in the EITI relative to any other region, my research asked why some oil-rich African states chose to join and even comply with the initiative, while others did not. I was ultimately interested in investigating the motivations, discourses, and practices of these African-based actors vis-à-vis the EITI, and their significance for global norm-making.

How did your experience as a graduate student in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s inform your career path?

When I decided to pursue my PhD, I was growing more and more committed to the goal of becoming an academic after graduation. I was also very lucky to be able to have a non-academic experience while in grad school thanks to my supervisor, who, in addition to his academic work, was also involved in policy work both in Canada and internationally. He involved his graduate students equally in the academic work (for example, I coedited a book with him and another graduate student while at Queen’s) but also invited us to participate in valuable non-academic work (such as consulting for key policy institutions). This exposed me to different work cultures outside the university, and also helped me build professional networks beyond academia. I think this was my biggest advantage when I graduated, as it seemed I could have options in and outside academia with the profile I built in grad school. For example, I think I was able to apply for a non-academic job in between my academic positions because of this diverse experience.    

What was your experience of being on the job market?

My experience on the job market was definitely not linear, and not one I could have anticipated! It was chaotic and uncertain. I was told many times that if one decides to pursue an academic path, nothing about it is predictable and you have to buckle up. So, I tried to keep my options open to alternatives for if/when things didn’t go as planned, and to always just focus on my own circumstances instead of making comparisons with where others were. When I graduated, I was lucky to secure a two-year SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship at York University. But the options for a tenure-track position remained limited, especially since I wanted to stay in Canada and live in specific cities, which we know is not advised because one is expected to go where the job is. So in the last four years since I graduated, my first postdoc was followed with a full time non-academic job for just over a year at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, where I gained valuable professional experiences, nurtured new networks, and had a whole new perspective about why I may still want to be in academia. So, I attempted a return to academia through a short-term postdoc at the University of Waterloo, followed by my current provost postdoc fellowship at the University of Toronto, and finally got a tenure-track position here at UofT. The outcome could have certainly been different, and I could have still ended up without a tenure-track position. I know way too many people who are putting in the work and more, and yet the market remains closed to them. So, there is definitely a lot of luck and random factors to account for along the way, and I don’t think anyone can give a magic formula about what to do. What I do want to acknowledge from all of this experience are the PEOPLE who supported me along the way. And it’s a lot! My PhD supervisor, postdoc supervisors, and many mentors who wrote endless references, provided advice, my peers who were sounding boards and reviewers on job dossiers, my family and friends who put up with the uncertainty and chaos of my life during many searches and life changes. Nothing about being in this job market would happen without this support. The academic job market is just wild. I think in the end, it’s important to make decisions that can keep you mentally, physically, and financially safe.

What advice would you give to students who have recently completed graduate work? 

I would say speaking to people working in fields you are interested in joining in order to learn more about their paths is certainly a productive thing to do. But I would also add that it’s a great idea to reach out to those working in other fields, to expand your horizons and test your interests and skills. I say this because I think it’s really important to keep your options open, and you may surprise yourself in discovering things you love but wouldn’t have pursued if you didn’t try them. Ask people not just how they got to where they are, but also ask them what they like about their work and what they do not like. I think it’s very important to go into your chosen path with your eyes wide open. Knowing that no matter what path you choose, it is not going to be a bed of roses, especially if you are committed to doing good work. So, it makes sense to only pursue a path if you are truly excited about it. Our skills from grad school are so transferrable that we do ourselves a disservice to not remember that and use that. It’s okay to diverge from your initial path, to stay off it entirely, or to try something new and come back. If you are one of the few people who are 100% certain about what they want from the beginning, and who are lucky enough to get to where they have always wanted to go, that’s great, embrace that. What makes you fulfilled and makes sense to you is all that matters. Just run your own race and don’t worry about where you were “supposed to be” and when. Try to enjoy the ride with all the bumps along the way, it could make for great stories later!

What are your best memories from your time in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s?

I think my best memories often happened outside of the classroom, mostly in the hallways, the lunchroom, and our graduate offices on campus. My favorite thing was when friends would pop by my office or I would pop by theirs. Someone would go into another’s office to say hi and see how they were doing, and inevitably you would share thoughts on what you were working on, upcoming applications, life challenges, and often walk away with a word of advice, a new strategy, or simply just feeling better that you got things off your chest. I am still friends with many of my peers from my graduate student days. The spontaneity and the solidarity that came with it is what I appreciated the most, and I really hope that current students are able to benefit from similar experiences.