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Dr. Todd Pettigrew (PhD 1998)

     For Dr. Todd Pettigrew (PhD, 1998), a PhD in English from the University of Waterloo helped secure his current job as an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Todd chose UW for his post-graduate studies because he was impressed that a faculty member at the university took time to personally call and invite him into the program. He says that studying at UW allowed him to develop specific skills that he might not have been able to hone in a more traditional English department. At the same time, English at UW gave him a “very good grounding in the [English] discipline,” preparing him to pursue advanced research in the field of English literature.

     During his time at UW, Todd was actively engaged in community theatre, which gave him an opportunity to meet many creative and talented people. He worked with the Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre, several improvisational comedy groups, a musical theatre company, and was the Artistic Director of Raven Black Theatre which staged Shakespeare plays in Waterloo Park. The Elizabethan Theatre Conference held at UW complemented his local theatre work with exposure to the professional world of English theatre scholarship as practiced by some of the top scholars in the field.

     Todd’s favourite class was a course with Professor Lynne Magnusson in discourse analysis, “which was especially interesting because it took theoretical models around discourse and applied them to all kinds of texts depending on what you were interested in.” An important lesson he learned as an English student at UW was that it is okay to be on the minority side of an argument. During his graduate seminars, he found he was usually against 80% of the class. Ultimately it helped him hone his skills as a “skeptic, iconoclast and critical thinker.” He explains, “it helped me get used to the idea of not backing down if I had a different position than other people in the room.” He found the classes to be exciting and provocative, as Waterloo was home to “a lot of people with different ideas and perspectives.”

     After graduation, Todd worked for the publishing company W.W. Norton. Two years later, he began teaching English at Cape Breton University, N.S., where he works today as an Associate Professor. For a time, he served as chair of the CBU’s Department of English Language and Literature. Today, he often draws on the technical and professional writing courses he took at UW to help him in teaching courses such as his department’s business and scientific writing class, which no other faculty member was qualified to take on. Of his experience as a UW English student, Todd says “it gave me a very good grounding in the discipline; this is really what any PhD program ought to do.”