Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Examined Life Lab launches at StFX

April 20th, 2018
Pictured, standing, l-r, are Keegan Currie, Kaleigh Weickert, Rebekah Wood, Erin MacKinnon, Hanna Bergman, Renee Proctor, and Tyler Wilson. Seated, l-r, are Alejandra Torres, Alexandrea Guye and Emma Hofland-Burry

The Examined Life Lab, a unique new online lab research project led by English professor Dr. Mathias Nilges, just launched at StFX and will offer an ongoing student-led analysis and critique of daily life to better understand pressing problems of our time. 

Through research projects, StFX students will look at how problems, from society to politics, are connected to culture and everyday life. 

“Indeed, our research clusters are designed as one-stop-shops for people who are interested in complex topics such as the alt-right but find it difficult to know where to start researching such a vast issue. What we do is gather all information in one place—from a variety of perspectives, academic research and mainstream commentary, cultural objects, and so on,” Dr. Nilges says. 

“Our hope is that we can therefore also serve the public: we gather and produce information and analysis that allows us all to better understand a set of complex, pressing topics of our time.”

Dr. Nilges says the idea for the humanities lab emerged as a result of wondering how he might be able to provide students with additional research opportunities. 

“In the humanities, this is not always easy. Research in literary and cultural analysis and critique is often solitary work. One reads, thinks, and writes. This means in turn that it is not always easy to imagine how students may be able to assist in the research process,” Dr. Nilges says. 

“But, I thought, if students cannot help me with my work, then could I not still find ways to offer them research experience?”

He says his thoughts turned to the sciences where the model of running experiments is a very effective way of integrating students into research. One has a lab with running experiments and can then plug new generations of students into such running experiments, which help with skill training and knowledge acquisition. 

“What would a humanities version of such a lab look like, I wondered? Our lab tries to provide an answer to that question.”

OFFERS OPPORTUNITIES

“What excites me about the project is that it offers students opportunities to develop research projects that they consider timely and important, it helps them practice key skills that they will need after graduation, information analysis, various forms of content creation, strategic writing for a variety of audiences and projects, a variety of research and analytical skills, and so on,” he says. 

“Most importantly, maybe, the lab allows students to create projects about which they can be excited, about which they care, and into which they put a lot of work, but it advertises these projects. These projects don’t end up on a pile of graded papers at the end of the year. Instead, they are added to a growing set of work that together helps us understand complex research clusters better.”

Dr. Nilges says the projects can be read and consulted by future generations of students, by students at other universities, and by the general public. 

The work continues to live on in the lab, he says, and it is wonderful to see how excited students get when they are able to put their energy into projects that matter to them and that contribute to an ongoing, collective effort. 

Additionally, Dr. Nilges says students build professional portfolios of work that they can use for future applications, a portfolio or professionally produced work that showcases a variety of skills that are in demand and that displays their abilities.

The April 19th launch rolled out the initial version of the lab. A first set of students used it and produced content for it as part of Dr. Nilges’ ENGL 318 “Cultural Theory” course. 

Dr. Nilges built the lab and website with the help of two student assistants over the past two semesters. 

“My wonderful assistants, Emma Hofland-Burry and Keegan Currie, were really my co-workers. We taught ourselves web design, we discussed how to present and archive information in a user-friendly way, we worked out the design together, and so on,” he says. 

In addition, each assistant worked on one research cluster, so that students who would use the lab would have a beginning set of information ready to study, analyze, and expand. Mr. Currie researched and gathered information on a cluster called “The New Culture Wars: Neo-Masculinity, Populism, and the New Right-Wing Movements,” while Ms. Hofland-Burry’s research cluster is called “Nature's Futures: The Cultures of Climate, Environment, and Conservation.” 

“Both students gathered an immense amount of information that future generations of students can use as their starting point for projects, projects that will further add to each cluster, making for a growing set of resources and analyses that together help us better understand complex topics of our time,” he says. 

Dr. Nigles says they were funded $2,000 as a pilot project for the year by Dr. Richard Isnor, StFX Associate Vice-President Research. He also just received a UCR grant for the lab so will be able to hire student assistants again and continue to grow the project. 

“I am immensely proud of the great set of initial projects that my students put together this semester. We are very fortunate at StFX to get to teach and work with students like this,” he says.

“We have lots of ideas, and we’re excited for the next steps.”



This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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