Convocation Profile: Merissa Daborn

22 June 2021


Why did you choose to study Native Studies?

When I decided to apply for a PhD program, the PhD in the Faculty of Native Studies had yet to be officially approved, so I actually applied (and was accepted) to do my PhD in History. History worked with me to have a co-supervisor in FNS, and to take some of my courses in FNS. Even with these accommodations in History, after my first semester I made the decision to transition into the now approved PhD program in FNS. During that first semester of my PhD I was taking courses in History and FNS, and quickly realized that the research I wanted to do, the conversations I wanted to be having, and the analytics I wanted to be engaging were all situated in FNS. 

Why did you choose to study at the University of Alberta?

I minored in Native Studies during my undergrad, and completed my MA in FNS, so I knew that coming back to FNS for my PhD would be a continuation of those previous experiences. As a graduate student, FNS grew exponentially and there were several new faculty members that I was excited to engage with and learn from as a graduate student. As my research shifted and developed, I was able to engage with different faculty members than I had learned from in my previous degrees. With my research focus in the areas of policy and Indigenous STS, FNS was without a doubt the best institution to do my PhD at to be able to work alongside Chris Andersen, Kim TallBear, and Jessica Kolopenuk. Aside from FNS being one of the best Indigenous Studies units in the world, other factors that made the decision to be in FNS were the extensive support in the form of funding opportunities, and an incredible cohort of peers in the graduate program. 

What was one of the most memorable experiences during your degree?

The comprehensive exam process was one of my favourite parts of the degree. I had an incredible cohort, and we had a group dinner the weekend before the writing week to go over what we had read, what we loved, and what we struggled with. A few of us also did the writing process together with copious amounts of espresso and French pastries, which made the process less isolating and anxiety inducing. Attending NAISA 2019 in Aotearoa was also memorable — especially because FNS’ former Dean, Brendan Hokowhitu, hosted David Parent and I at the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato for two months following NAISA. Everyone at FMIS was incredibly welcoming and made my visit unforgettable. And finally — working alongside Chris Andersen as the editorial assistant for aboriginal policy studies was a great experience and I would encourage any students interested in academic publishing to consider working for aps. 

What advice do you have for future Native Studies students?

Connect with and rely on your cohort. Once you begin your comprehensive exams, it can quickly become a really isolating experience, but having your cohort to connect with and think through the material with will make the experience so much better. Also, be sure to attend the Dean’s student drop in meetings! It’s a great chance to chat with Chris and other students at different points in the program. 

What does the future hold for you?

I have already started a position in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, and following my convocation on June 25th, my position converts to Assistant Professor beginning on July 1st. I’m really grateful to be working in a Native Studies department to be able to continue to research in the areas of urban Indigenous policy, critical Indigenous studies, and Indigenous STS, as well as to be able to foster and create an environment for students at the University of Manitoba that reflects the experiences I had at FNS.

Merissa Daborn convocates with a PhD in Indigenous Studies on June 25, 2021.