Previous Research

Primary Investigator

Not all who want to, can—Not all who can, will: Extending notions of unconventional dissertations (2019-2022)

Supervised by Dr. Guillaume Gentil. Defended January 2023. School of Linguistics and Language Studies. Carleton University, Ontario.

This project was reviewed and cleared by the Carleton University Research Ethics Board.

Description. This research focused on highlighting a range of doctoral dissertations that, seemingly against all odds, manage to diverge from well-worn epistemic, methodological, and textual paths. Guided by textographic approaches to studies of writing and knowledge making practices, I gathered and analysed a mixture of data that included dissertation policies and guidelines from every PhD granting university in Canada, responses to a questionnaire that consisted of a mixture of open and closed ended questions, over 50 unconventional dissertations, and transcripts from nine interviews with authors and/or supervisors of unconventional dissertations. Findings indicated that tendencies to conflate ‘doctoral dissertations’ with conceptions of legacy forms of scholarly communication continue to prevail. At the same time, I demonstrated how some dissertations may appear conventional on the surface in order to belie the unconventionality lurking below, which led me to suggest that even entrenched forms of scholarship can be shifted to suit a broader range of writers and purposes. In addition, while findings from this study reinforced widespread views that not all who want to create an unconventional dissertation can, findings also highlight several reasons for why, even in cases where dissertators can create unconventional dissertations, they may still choose to refrain. My dissertation was accepted without revisions and has been nominated for Carleton University’s Senate Medal.

Link to project page:

Gotta Write! Doctoral Students’ Experiences with Writing & Writing Supports (2017)

Supervised by Dr. Janna Fox and Dr. Natasha Artemeva. School of Linguistics and Language Studies. Carleton University, Ontario.

This project was reviewed and cleared by the Carleton University Research Ethics Board.

Description. This exploratory mixed methods study explored the different obstacles doctoral writers encountered while writing for the doctorate, as well as the strategies they used to navigate these obstacles. Data collected included responses from 66 doctoral students to a survey (comprised of 18 Likert-scale and six short answer questions), notes and recordings from two focus groups (with three participants in each), focus group collages, responses and images (sketches, collages, photos) from four doctoral students to a structured interview, and a transcript and collage from an in-depth semi-structured interview with one doctoral student. Unsurprisingly, I found that writers encountered a variety of obstacles, some of which exposed the rhetorical complexity of learning to write for their particular disciplines and purposes. While far from conclusive, it seemed that doctoral writers who were set up with supports at the departmental and institutional level (be it mentoring from peers and supervisors) also felt they were better equipped to navigate the obstacles they encountered.

A Mixed Methods Impact Assessment of Teaching and Learning Services (2016-2017)

Supervised by Dr. Joy Mighty (Associate Vice-President of Teaching and Learning). Teaching and Learning Services [TLS]. Carleton University, Ontario

This project was reviewed and cleared by the Carleton University Research Ethics Board.

Description. This study unfolded in three stages. First, employees of TLS were invited (via survey) to provide suggestions for what to focus on in terms of developing questions for a larger impact survey. Eleven employees responded. Next, a survey consisting of 64 Likert scale and nine short answer questions was developed. This survey was distributed to individuals who accessed TLS’ programs or services during the previous 12 months. Three hundred and thirty individuals responded to the survey (N=330). Finally, a focus group consisting of faculty and contract instructors (N= 4) and teaching assistants (N=2) was conducted. Data were analysed using a mixture of descriptive statistics and qualitative coding. The main findings that emerged clustered around three areas: Communication, Access, and Diversity. Several areas of strength and opportunities were identified and presented, along with a number of recommendations.

“The first [draft] was a lot of me… but the second one is what they want”: A multiple-case study of four indigenous students’ experiences with academic writing.

Supervised by Dr. Guillaume Gentil and Dr. Graham Smart. School of Linguistics and Language Studies. Carleton University, Ontario.

This project was reviewed and cleared by the Carleton University Research Ethics Board

Figure 1. “. . . and the roof is a book.” One participant’s sketch of an experience with academic writing (from Amell, 2016, p. 113).

Description. I conducted a research study for my master’s thesis. I aimed to better understand Indigenous students’ accounts of their experiences with writing for academic purposes in a settler colonial university located in Eastern Ontario. Informed by qualitative and Indigenous-based approaches to inquiry, as well as critical and socio-political approaches to literacies and writing, I conducted several in-depth interviews with four students who self-identified as Indigenous (two in their first year of undergraduate studies, one in their third year, and one in the final year of their PhD). I centered students’ identities and stories alongside an unflinching discussion of settler colonialism in Canada, including its relationship to academic writing and Canadian higher education institutions, demonstrating how considerations of writers, writing and texts cannot be de-linked from readers contexts, or socio-rhetorical histories of contact with written words. I learned that no text is too mundane when it comes to alienating students’ from their cultural backgrounds and that, in order to succeed in a settler colonial university, Indigenous students’ may feel pressured to distance themselves from their identities. I learned that this pressure can be oppressive, but when students genuinely have a choice in the matter, enacting distance on purpose can, paradoxically, be a protective move for them I also witnessed the creativity of students when it came to resisting and subverting the alienating effects of writing in settler colonial academic spaces.

Figure 1 depicts one participant’s sketch of their writing experiences. Describing the sketch to me in an interview, they shared how writing for academic purposes sometimes felt like being trapped inside a cabin (with a book for a roof). While they can look through a window and a nice chair outside waiting for them, and they haven’t lost sight of who they are/where they are from (mountains and tipis in the background), the door to the cabin is barred from the outside. How claustrophobic! I remarked, noting at the time the similarities between experiences with claustrophobic spaces and oppression. Remembering that doors open inwards, I asked if that meant they could escape—only time will tell, they responded. My M.A. thesis was passed with distinction and nominated for a Senate Medal from Carleton University in 2016, and in 2017, the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies acknowledged my work by honouring me with the Cynthia Chambers Award for outstanding research at the master’s level.


Imposter Syndrome as a public feeling (2020)

This project was reviewed and cleared by the Carleton University Research Ethics Board. 

Description. This project examined “imposter syndrome” and the ways it circulates in and structures experiences of academic spaces and practices on Carleton’s campus. We were interested in exploring some of the assumptions that commonly underpin conceptions of imposter syndrome. In addition, we were interested in how we might reframe imposter syndrome in order to better consider alternative dimensions that go beyond individuals and their private experiences. Typically speaking, the literature tends to mask structural or systemic factors that may produce or amplify experiences of imposter syndrome. Finally, we were interested in exploring the “uses” of imposter syndrome, as well what function(s) it might be fulfilling, if any.

Link to project page:

Research Team

Dr. Sophie Tamas (Principal Investigator), Geography & Canadian Studies

Brittany Amell (Co-Investigator), School of Linguistics & Language Studies

Maria Dabboussy (Co-Investigator), Department of Sociology & Anthropology