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Celebrating and Cultivating a Culture of Undergraduate Research: The power of QUEUC

 Sharing Research: In their ideal form, academic conferences foster delight through the collaborative exchange of ideas. During panels, over dinner, or at a reception, we have the opportunity to learn from one another, which can lead to collisions of creativity around knowledge acquisition and knowledge creation. Sharing research – whether you are an undergraduate or a full professor – requires confidence and humility: confidence that you have something to contribute, but the humility to accept feedback. When I was an undergraduate, I presented a paper at the Atlantic English Undergraduate Conference (Acadia, 2000). This was my first experience where learning extended beyond the classroom, and the deep delight I experienced in these intellectual revels affected me profoundly. When I started my professional career, I looked for ways to offer undergraduates a similar opportunity.

Making Connections: As a full-time faculty member at Concordia (2007-2009), I made a number of contacts in Quebec’s English departments at Concordia, McGill, and the Université de Montréal. With a limited-term appointment, I was not in a position to request conference funding from the administration. When I arrived at Bishop’s in 2009 as a tenure-track professor, however, I was inspired to tap into a departmental culture that celebrates undergraduate research. In my enthusiasm, I founded QUEUC (Quebec Universities English Undergraduate Conference) in my first year at Bishop’s: never having hosted a conference before, my students and I learned a lot about event planning in our inaugural year (and laughed a lot throughout the process, especially at our foibles!). This annual conference – now in its eighth year– has grown in size and scope and now brings together undergraduate students from across Canada and the US for an annual weekend of intellectual revels.

 Undergraduate conferences such as QUEUC provide an incredibly unique opportunity for undergraduates to share their passion and enthusiasm for their studies, to engage in academic discussion beyond the classroom, and to help create a sense of a broader academic community that transcends the limits of a single university. And not only that, QUEUC was unbelievably fun too!! QUEUC was the academic highlight of my year!!

Gillian Massel, English student, McGill University

 When I came up with the acronym for QUEUC, one of my students joked that it sounded like the quacking of a duck, and our trusty mascot was born! Our noble duck as become a metaphor of what we do as students of literature: we swim underwater when we immerse ourselves in close readings of the text; we walk on land, situating ourselves in the socio-historical landscape of the text; and we fly in the air when we explore literary theory and reach new heights in thinking about the big questions that shape human existence.

Creating Spaces for Engagement: The two-day conference, usually held the second week of March, is a model of intellectual revels. We host panels on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. With a 18-22% acceptance rate, the quality of the presentations is exceptional. However, what is so remarkable is the level of discourse during the question period. Unlike some higher-level academic conferences, delegates do not look for ways to deconstruct arguments; rather, they seek to contribute to the arguments presented in the panel. The conversations unfold with a generosity of spirit that has humbled me. I initially began the conference to model academic professionalization for English students, but have in turn seen models of behavior that have transformed my thinking about the academy. If this is any sign of the future generation of academics and scholars in higher education, we are in very good hands.

When I presented, I felt a tremendous amount of respect from my colleagues and that respect was returned as I listened to their talks. For me, the best part of the conference is the Q&A following each panel--the questions asked were perceptive and challenging, and I loved engaging in discussion with a group of such intelligent individuals. The QUEUC has absolutely contributed to my professional skills by honing my public speaking, creating new contacts in my field, and pushing me to think critically; but more importantly, my participation in the conference solidified my growing love for academic creativity. The activities night was pretty fun too!

Emily Finkelstein

Fostering Deep Delight: On Friday night, we host events that set a tone of playfulness and rigor that carries through the rest of the weekend. We’ve put on the Shakespeare trial (QUEUC 2012), a reception at my farmhouse (QUEUC 2010 & 2011), and for the past several years we’ve hosted a Literary-themed Cranium game night at our campus pub (with our English departmental faculty as the enthusiastic judges). By Saturday night, delegates from across the country have become fast friends (and sometimes future graduate school colleagues), and we host a series of celebratory events – including a wine and cheese, book launch, Poetry Slam, and plenary speaker – to mark the end of a productive, engaging weekend.

QUEUC linked me up with many like-minded English-lovers. At one gathering, we took turns reading in Old English. It was bliss!

Grace Szucs, English student, Dalhousie University,

Disseminating Undergraduate Research: After the revelers return to their respective institutions, a new quest begins: for the past six years, the student editorial board has selected the highest quality papers from QUEUC and published conference proceedings. This peer-reviewed publication offers students a unique opportunity to edit, revise, and publish undergraduate research. We’ve sought guidance from editors and publishers to help us navigate the world of academic publishing. Our edited collections provide exemplary models of undergraduate research for students seeking to improve their essay writing skills: I often refer students to the conference proceedings so they can see what to strive towards in their own writing development.

Being on the QUEUC vetting committee was one of the best hands-on writing exercises I participated in during my undergraduate career. Editing, critiquing, and giving feedback on the submitted essays helped me to not only understand what truly makes an excellent research essay, but also taught me how to apply the same critical lens to my own work. A similar experience applied to the conference itself, as I was able to learn how to analyze others' work in a manner that led to productive discussion.

Caitlin Miller, English student, Bishop’s University,

New focus on Editing and Publishing: ENG459

This year we have added an exciting academic dimension to the vetting and publication process. As an acknowledgment of the incredible amount of work editors do to prepare for the conference and the edited collection of essays, and in response to the growing interest our students have expressed about the editing and publishing industry, I have designed a 3 credit course – ENG459 – that takes senior students through an experiential learning adventure. In fact, I am so thrilled to work with our amazing students that I am teaching the course for free (testament to how inspiring the students in the English department are!). Email me for a copy of the syllabus!

 Celebrating Community: QUEUC presenters, participants, and contributors have demonstrated intelligence, enthusiasm, professionalism, and a desire for collaboration that encapsulates the heart of life-long learning. Organizing an international undergraduate conference with students as colleagues and collaborators has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my scholarly life.

By sitting on various organizing subcommittees over the four years of my undergrad, I acquired some of my most valuable skills for the job market such as marketing, graphics design, event coordination, and publishing. With many social gatherings, the conference is also a tremendous amount of fun. The combination of the professional and the celebratory makes QUEUC the most valuable professional experience available at Bishop’s University for English Department students.

Alexis Chouan, English student, Bishop’s University,



A Biography of Dr. Riddell's work


 From left to right: Evan Buck, Dr. Gregory Brophy, Dr. Jessica Riddell (baby Henry) and Samantha Maliszewski

From left to right: Evan Buck, Dr. Gregory Brophy, Dr. Jessica Riddell (baby Henry) and Samantha Maliszewski

Dr. Jessica Riddell

Chair, Department of English, Bishop's University

3M National Teaching Fellow (2015)

Chair, Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC)

A. Training and Expertise

Dr. Riddell received her PhD in 2009 from Queen’s University and is an Associate Professor in English Literature at Bishop’s University, specializing in late medieval and early modern literature. Her disciplinary research theorizes that sixteenth- century drama provides well documented intersections between politics, performance, and power. She has held a SSHRC Insight Development Grant to investigate how technologies in the sixteenth century (the printing press, illuminated manuscripts, heraldic scrolls, portraits) recorded and shaped identity and gender, especially pertaining to political leadership in Elizabeth I’s court. She believes that there are remarkable parallels between the 16th and 21st centuries: in both periods new technologies create and critique political spectacles, and both periods see women taking on increasingly powerful roles. Many of the images and narratives circulating around Elizabeth I’s gender and leadership have strong resonances for female politicians in the 21st century, most notably Theresa May (in the UK) and Hilary Clinton (in the US).


Dr. Riddell is a passionate advocate for teaching, learning, research and educational leadership in higher education. Over the last decade she has endeavoured to be a leader in teaching excellence and innovation. Over the past five years Dr. Riddell has taken an increasingly active leadership role in the teaching and learning portfolio at Bishop’s University. She has developed a series of initiatives designed to enhance a culture of educational leadership, pedagogical excellence, and research related to higher education both within the Bishop's campus community and farther afield through interuniversity collaborations with Acadia, Mount Allison and St. Francis Xavier Universities and other Canadian institutions.


B. Professional Highlights Related to Teaching and Learning, 2015 – 2016

  •  Awarded the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, the first recipient of the Fellowship at Bishop’s University and the youngest fellow in the award’s 30-year history (February 2015).
  •  Representative of students and faculty for the Learning Commons Project at Bishop’s University. She is responsible for facilitating the integrative design process amongst members of the project's steering committee, stakeholder groups, and the project architects (May 2016 – present).
  •  As Chair of the Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC), she has facilitated a strategic orientation exercise, steered the TLC through the process of becoming a Senate committee, and worked with the TLC team to deliver rigorous programming to the campus community (January 2015 – present).
  •  Collaborated with Dr. Robert (Squee) Gordon (former Chair of the Board of Governors) and the Advancement Office to establish the Robert Gordon Educational Leadership Fund (April 2015).
  •  Built networks and collaborated with scholars at an international level on how to enhance teaching within and across institutions. For instance, she has consulted with Torgny Roxa and Katerina Martennson at Lund University in Sweden. (A focus of their research is the premise that professors improve their teaching capabilities when there are informal and formal connections between faculty to discuss their teaching strategies, and that when a university has an institutional culture that supports these informal and formal practices, student learning outcomes dramatically improve.)
  •  Organized Public Scholarship Events, including the 7th Annual Quebec Universities English Undergraduate Conference (an internationally recognized peer-reviewed undergraduate research conference), the 4th Annual “Up for Debate” Weekend at Bishop's University, Research Flash Talks, teaching talks and workshops, and retreats on the scholarship of teaching and learning and student success., etc.
  •  Delivered presentations on teaching at international forums such as the International Society of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) and the Quebec Universities English Undergraduate Conference (QUEUC), an annual international research conference for undergraduate students in the Humanities. Undergraduate scholars present their research essays on critical and literary theory in thematic panels. (QUEUC has already had delegates from the rest of Canada and the United States, and expects representatives from the United Kingdom and The Netherlands in 2017.)
  •  Faculty Columnist, University Affairs Magazine, with her own column titled “Adventures in Academe”. Topics to date include the importance of delight in teaching, the gender bias in academia, evaluation of faculty performance, and the importance of research in topics related to higher education (Fall 2015 – Fall 2017: contract for 10 issues). Also a contributor to The Globe and Mail (most recently May 5, 2016)
  •  Designed and revised academic programming: explored potential for a certificate in pre- law, created a spring experiential course called “Shakesperience,” designed a new team- taught course called “The Art of Rhetoric,” and participated in a program review with members of the English Department.
  •  In 2015 – 2016 alone, she published two peer-reviewed journal articles as single author or lead author in the field of teaching and learning in higher education, and conducted preliminary research on four additional research papers in various stages of development.
  •  Presented five peer-reviewed conference papers at international conferences in 2015 – 2016.
  •  Dr. Riddell's YouTube Channel (with almost 50 videos that support undergraduate learning) has almost 700 subscribers from around the world and 150,000 views. These videos have been used in universities and organizations internationally: for example, she has shared the videos with an NGO in southern Africa through a creative commons license since access to the internet in rural areas is inconsistent; she has worked with a university in Taiwan to share content with its students; and recently has delivered Skype seminars for faculty at the University of Idaho on developing writing skills in undergraduate English classes.
  •  While these are merely some of her professional highlights of 2015 – 2016, Dr. Riddell has demonstrated a sustained commitment to, and exemplary track record in, excellence in undergraduate teaching since her arrival at Bishop’s. Her approach combines creativity, innovation, and rigorous research in the classroom and beyond. For example, in 2012 she launched a mock trial project in which Shakespeare was accused of not being the author of his plays. In order to do so, Dr. Riddell forged collaborative ties between her Elizabethan Shakespeare class, members of faculty, Bishop’s alumni, and the student body across disciplines (such as Business, Political Science, Drama, and Education).