In a nutshell
I'm a native Torontonian from the 'burbs with a love for gin, eating in industrial-themed settings (and eating in general), the artistic stylings of Robert Rauschenberg and Keith Haring, and the Detroit Red Wings. And cool baseball caps. I love speed running (I'd like to think I had a short career as the slowest sprinter to have qualified in junior track and field) and discovering new indie music with retro '80s beats.
Down the academic rabbit hole
I sort of stumbled into academia fortuitously. Over the years, I thought I'd be a painter or a writer, maybe a nutritionist, a high school teacher, or a policy consultant. Or maybe even a playwright. But I never thought I'd actually do a PhD or want to enter academia.
I did my undergrad at the University of Toronto, specialising in Canadian Studies with minors in Sexual Diversity Studies (SDS) and English Literature. It was in these programs where I cultivated interests in academic research and interests in LGBT activism, identities, and sexualities, though from queer theory, postmodern, and sociocultural angles: I did my BA thesis on underlying anti-LGBT sentiment in the contemporary Canadian nation state, and a senior independent study on cultural representations of HIV/AIDS in Canada. In freshman year, I got into the student theatre scene by accident and spent my undergrad thinking I could really cut it off-Broadway as a playwright in New York City (it wasn't until later that I realised that all the plays I had been writing really just used theatre as a vehicle for pondering the research questions I was interested in). When I applied for a policy masters in my senior year, I was ready for the high octane life as a policy consultant by day and underground playwright by night/weekend.
But as luck would have it, I ended up doing my masters in Social Policy at the London School of Economics (LSE) on a fluke application. My time at the University of Toronto had sparked my interest in research, but I was beginning to feel like postmodernism and queer theory had taken me as far as they could go in my thinking. It was at the LSE that I began to take my research interests in the unexpected direction of political economy, which opened up exciting new avenues of inquiry that pointed to a potential path towards academia.
Before flying out to London, I scrolled through the Social Policy departmental directory to find a potential masters supervisor. I found that there was only one scholar I wanted to work with, whose cutting-edge research and political economy approach to LGBT issues was something I hadn't seen before as a trained postmodernist. An interdisciplinary political scientist and China scholar, he was based in Social Policy and Development, outside of my masters program research cluster, and cross-cluster supervision wasn't possible... and I knew nothing about development studies.
But I figured that even if I never ended up using this new knowledge I would gain in development, it would be worth it just to learn from this person who was carving out his own innovative sub-field. So I made the switch from my Social Policy and Planning program to Social Policy and Development. And under the masters supervision of this scholar, I cultivated the political economy analytical approach that has been central to my work in studying NGOs and LGBT issues. I also gained a new regional specialty on China for the program (reading everything available on Chinese history and politics on Wikipedia before my first supervisory meeting - and then transitioning to actual academic scholarship on the subject, of course). The fascinating unresolved questions I engaged with in my masters program around survival strategies (and their effects) of development NGOs and third sector organisations shaped my current PhD research interests on organisational survival. And with my longtime interest in LGBT activism, these thorny puzzling questions became a PhD doctoral project.
I graduated at the top of my masters class with a dissertation on the effect of Christian international NGOs on LGBT activism in China. Dr. Tim Hildebrandt, my long-suffering masters supervisor (and later research boss/teaching boss/coauthor), is now one half of my PhD supervisory team, co-supervising my PhD with the brilliant NGOs expert Professor David Lewis at the LSE.