PhD grad translates lifelong love of languages into academic career

Sofia Monzón Rodríguez's unlikely journey from a Spanish farm to scholarly heights

Caitlin Crawshaw - 17 November 2023

Growing up in a monolingual, farming family in small-town Spain, no one expected Sofia Monzón Rodríguez to become fascinated with languages at a young age. It all began with the language of music.

“I was four or five when I started learning to play the flute,” says Monzón Rodríguez, who will receive her PhD at the upcoming University of Alberta’s Fall Convocation. “And from music, I went to languages.” The polyglot-in-the-making began taking extracurricular English classes at just five years old, progressing to English summer camps as a pre-teen, and then entire summers in England as a teenager. She began learning French and German in high school.

At the same time, Monzón Rodríguez continued developing as a flutist at the local music conservatory.  

An avid learner, Monzón Rodríguez wasn’t keen on working in the family business — producing olive oil and wine from the family’s olive groves and vineyards — and decided to go to university instead. Besides one uncle, no one else in her family had ever gone to university and not having role models made things tricky. “I had to figure it out on my own without really knowing what I was doing,” she says.

When the time came to go to university, Monzón Rodríguez made the difficult decision not to pursue music at the post-secondary level, but she says her musical ear was a boon to language learning. At The University of Alcalá, just outside of Madrid, she studied modern languages and translation and spent a year studying abroad in Germany. She continued on to graduate school, studying public service translation and interpreting at the same university, before heading to North America.

She’d spotted a poster on campus advertising a United State’s program that would allow her to teach Spanish while earning a master’s of arts degree in a small city in Alabama. As much as she was enjoying her time in the U.S., Monzón Rodríguez didn't plan to stay in North America until an academic conference brought her to Toronto. Curious about Canada, Monzón Rodríguez began researching doctoral options and came across the PhD program in comparative and translational literatures at the U of A, offered by the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies. “Combining modern languages and culture studies seemed so unique — so diverse and interdisciplinary,” she says.

It took some time to get used to the chilly climate, but Monzón Rodríguez says the warm community she found in Edmonton — and within the Faculty of Arts — made her feel at home. During her five years on campus, Monzón Rodríguez earned a prestigious Killam Trust Scholarship (the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship) worth almost $100,000 and a number of other accolades and awards. With the guidance of her supervisor, Professor Victoria Ruetalo, her dissertation explored the translation, censorship and circulation of English-language novels in the Spanish-speaking world between 1960 and 1980.

Recently, Monzón Rodríguez accepted a tenure track position at Utah State University, where she continues to conduct research at the intersections of translation, censorship and affect, with a focus on the production and circulation of censored materials. She also continues her work as a Spanish-language poet and literary translator for which she’s earned numerous awards over the last several years.

Although separate pursuits, she explains that her poetry and academic work in literary translation are strongly linked. “Reading both poetry and literature inspires me,” she says.