By Olivia Fava, Contributor
Two of McMaster’s professors, Chandrima Chakraborty and James MacKillop, have recently been named to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.
Founded in 2014 and based in Ottawa, the College of New Scholars aims to gather the “emerging generation of Canadian intellectual leadership” from a broad range of disciplines. Recipients of the College’s title must have demonstrated exceptional achievement in the early stages of their career. By pooling together award recipients, irrespective of their disciplines, their goal is to encourage a dialogue between intellectuals with diverse perspectives, and hopefully inspire new insights.
The College acknowledges five aspects of the current academic landscape that inform their mandate: the increasing use of new media in research communication; the emergence of interdisciplinary research; the majority of Canadian professors being recently hired; greater female representation in academia; and greater First Nations and visible minority representation in academia.
A clinical psychologist by training, MacKillop’s award-winning research focuses on addiction — the factors causing it, how it sustains itself and how it can be treated. He is currently the director of McMaster’s Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, and co-director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. He studies both cannabis addiction and the potential risks of prescribing cannabis medically. He is a member of the department of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour. MacKillop was not available for comment.
Chakraborty, on the other hand, is part of the department of English & cultural studies. In the past, her work has focused on the relationship between religion, masculinity and nationalism in India, with an analysis of media and literature. Currently, she is focused on the 1985 Air India bombings and the post-9/11 targeting of South Asian populations.
Chakraborty was nominated by McMaster to become a member of the College. According to her, the nomination was formally initiated by the previous president, Patrick Deane. She considers the nomination not only personally significant to her, but also significant in its recognition of the value of research that engages the community.
“Much of my work straddles a number of different fields. History, memory studies, trauma studies, nationalism, masculinity … For me, this nomination is a recognition of that kind of work that crosses those kinds of disciplinary boundaries. I also think this recognition is important because my work is very much situated in the community,” she said.
Specifically, Chakraborty referenced her current work on the Air India bombings, through which she has interviewed families of victims and collecting photographs. She has been learning from the community and recognizing them, in her own words, as “carriers of knowledge”. She works as a mediator to bring a seldom-recognized tragedy into the realm of public consciousness.
Chakraborty’s efforts have resulted in the first-ever public archive on the Air India tragedy. She emphasizes that this project is not simply about researchers writing about the tragedy but also about families sharing their stories on their own terms. The archive also engages questions of race, Canadian citizenship and public mourning.
“Why is it that if 329 people were on that plane, and about 280 of them were Canadian citizens or permanent residents, why do Canadians of [student] age, for instance, not know about this tragedy? How do certain griefs become part of the public realm and part of the national consciousness whereas certain other kinds are seen as local? … Is it ignorance, is it apathy, is it racism, what is it?” she asked.
When asked what she would attribute her personal success in terms of this recognition, Chakraborty named her childhood experiences as a child of refugees as well as her experiences as an immigrant in Canada.
“I might be an English literature prof, but I don’t speak like white Canadians — accent and gender and race and all of those things. You learn to work harder than others … you always feel like ‘I really have to prove myself, because nothing is given to me,” said Chakraborty.
She also expressed gratitude to her teachers and family, her colleagues at McMaster for their support and the students who have expressed interest in her work.
The College of New Scholars summarizes its membership criteria as “excellence.” Congratulations to these two researchers for demonstrating the excellence of the McMaster community in a range of disciplines on the federal level.