Sarah Shaughnessy

sarah.jpgGraduated 2017

Double Major in English Language and Literature and the School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities

Hometown: Brantford, ON

After SASAH: MA in Classics at Western; PhD Candidate in Classics at the University of Toronto

What attracted you to this program?

When I started SASAH, it was a completely new program - there were no students to talk to or previous syllabi to look over. But the vision of an interdisciplinary degree that focussed on community engagement and experiential learning drew me to SASAH, and Dr. Faflak’s passion in our conversations led me to take the leap and give SASAH a try even though it wasn’t established at the time. 

"Being in a community of engaged, motivated, and immensely creative students was inspirational and made my own work more productive."

What are your thoughts about life as a SASAH student? What makes it unique?

One thing I’ve found impacts my life significantly having graduated SASAH is my ability to think and engage in an interdisciplinary way. I’ve stayed in academia, and I’ve noticed that my approach to my work is always informed by my SASAH training, and I’m always looking for ways to approach traditional Classics subjects in an interdisciplinary way. 

How did your relationships with other SASAH students positively affect your experience at Western overall?

One of the most valuable things about the SASAH program for me was my exposure to the vastly different perspectives from my fellow students. Discussions in those classes were always the most engaging across my degree, because everyone came from such different sets of interests and expertise that there was always something that came up that I never would have thought of. Being in a community of engaged, motivated, and immensely creative students was inspirational and made my own work more productive. A professor could give us all the same instructions and we would come out with such vastly different projects that you couldn’t even tell that we were given the same assignment: that’s SASAH, and the student community made it that way. 

How has SASAH prepared you for the job market and/or graduate school?

SASAH allows so much flexibility that allowed me to tailor my degree to suit what experiences I needed to prepare for my own career goals, and it provides access to resources - professors, internships, etc - that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. The most significant impact was sort of happenstance - SASAH forced me to do what I never would have done on my own, enrol in Latin to fulfil the language requirement, and I’m now headed into a phD program in Classics because of that. At the same time, it isn’t all accidental: SASAH is designed to get you out of your comfort zone, to open you up to experiences you wouldn’t even know existed, and all the success I’ve had since I started university is thanks to that. It also honed my independent research skills, vital for grad school, gave me a passion for community engagement with the Arts, vital for applying an Arts degree to the “real world”, and taught me how to work in an interdisciplinary way, vital to the work I do in particular. 

How did your relationships with other SASAH students positively affect your experience at Western overall?

I’m going to have to repeat myself here. My research, which has gained a lot of traction for my stage, depends on the interdisciplinary thinking that SASAH taught me. Its focus on community engagement drew me to more projects in that vein that made me stand out on grad school applications (and also just make my life better). Perhaps most importantly SASAH taught me how much I love being an academic and being surrounded by passionate and engaged scholars, which is why I’m headed into a PhD. 

As an experienced graduate, do you have any advice for current SASAH students?

Study broadly, because though you think you know exactly where you’re headed, you might be blinded to a new interest that will shape the rest of your life. Take foreign languages - we are so privileged to be able to go our entire lives without doing that, because English has taken over so much of the world, but we are also limited by it, and you have no idea by how much until you get into it. Most of all, hang in there. You’re in SASAH for a reason - because you are talented and creative, yes, but the most important part of the SASAH equation is passion. Don’t ever lose that - don’t forget that you love this stuff, even when finals are upon you and you have five exams to write in a week and three essays on the go - and love it enough to walk away from it (whether “it” is your interest, your program, or academia in general) if you start to lose that love. That passion is what’s going to change the world, so preserve it.