CultureWorks Academic Director thrilled to earn her PhD, hours of research and a 200-page dissertation later

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CultureWorks Academic Director Meredith McGregor enjoys a drink at the Grad Club soon after earning her doctorate degree at Western. (Photo courtesy of Paul Mayne/Western News)

Meredith McGregor grew up on a horse farm in Lambton County, west of London, Ontario; began her undergrad at Western University in 2000 after finishing high school in Petrolia, Ontario; taught English in Mexico for a year; returned to Western to garner her Masters in Hispanic cultural studies; travelled extensively; worked on a Japanese cruise ship, teaching Spanish and dance; taught aerobics at GoodLife fitness club; tutored students.

Tired yet? Not Meredith McGregor.

Meredith’s journey

After all that time spent criss-crossing the world, Meredith began life as an ESL teacher at CultureWorks in 2010 and continues to do so with her current role as Academic Director. And she has the added support of her husband, Sam, and her young daughter, Stella.

Fellow CW teacher Karen Preston helps out with Meredith and her daughter, Stella.
Fellow CW teacher Karen Preston helps out with Meredith and her daughter, Stella.

And in recent weeks, she successfully completed her defence of her doctorate degree in linguistics, the final stage of a degree she began working on in 2014.

“I always wanted to do it, so while I was doing it – especially when I got started to write the dissertation I was so excited that I got to that point. It was like ‘I am writing my thesis to get my PhD as a teacher.’ I was so excited to be to that point.”

The research Meredith completed

Meredith, now 37, said her thesis was in language acquisition and study abroad.

“Basically what my research says is that we send these students on study abroad and then we don’t really support them that much. We just think ‘oh you’re going off to a place … you are going to be able to talk to all these people and you’re going to come back speaking the language.’ That’s just kind of the myth that we perpetuate.

“What I learned a lot from my research and take from it is that they need the support. So you can make the experience so much more meaningful, so much better to have support. You just don’t send them out and say goodbye, learn the language and see you in six months. You maintain a relationship with them, you help them reflect, mentor them, help them through the process of learning.”

Meredith said students don’t always have the awareness of what they are learning and how they are learning it. Her research was looking about how you can help students rather than “leaving them to their own devices.”

How our ESL school supports students

She sees the connection with CultureWorks when they play host to students from many parts of the world.

“We (CultureWorks) do a good job of that. Our students who come in, we support them a lot, we provide them with advisory meetings with our teachers, we set goals with them, we do academic support, they do activities through student services that go places.

“We try to foster that. I think we do a really good job of supporting the students. Maybe more than other situations the students might be in where they are just sent off to figure it out.”

Meredith said our ESL school was “really flexible” when it came to her schedule for PhD course work time. Her time did not involve traditional comprehensive exams. Instead, she was required to develop courses, university-level course credits and then defend them to a panel.

Celebrating a wonderful achievement

The defence included four examiners, with the 200-page dissertation; and a public lecture (with about 20 people on hand this day, including her husband, Sam, and CW principal Derek Martin). The final successful decision followed.

And one final stop that day on the Western campus, a traditional drink for successful PhD grads at the Grad Club.

“So I didn’t really care too much about going, but my husband said ‘you’ve got to drink from that cup.’ He thought that was so cool. So just he and I went over and then just had a drink.”

And what about that doctor title?

“Generally speaking, I think that (the doctor title) would be a little bit weird,” Meredith said. “Day to day, I don’t see a lot of reason for it, but maybe at a conference being introduced this way is kind of a nice thing.”

Fair enough, Dr. McGregor.

For more information on Meredith’s road to her PhD, see this story in Western News.

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