This past Wednesday, the University of Toronto Mississauga’s English and Drama Student Society hosted a research symposium, where many undergraduate English students shared their literary research. Participating students were given opportunity to discuss their research with both the students and faculty present at the event. The keynote speaker at the event was Dr. Jacqueline Cowan who is not only a UTM alumni, but also one of the founding members of the EDSS.
Cowan received her bachelor’s degree in history and english from UTM where she discovered her passion for 17th-century literature. She said, “I was very quickly able to find my niche. I fell in love with one of the survey courses and a particular aspect of it,” and this, according to her, is when her career began. She was enrolled in the course during her second year of university, when it was instructed by Dr. Leslie Thompson, who was the chair of the English department at that time.
Describing the inspiration behind her journey into literary research, Cowan shares with The Medium, “[Thompson] recommended I do an independent study with one of the faculty members at the downtown campus.” Cowan also explained how she came to enter her field of research on the languages of literature, science, and religion by describing how after taking part in the independent study at St. George, she became familiar with her passion and continued on that path with the guidance of the faculty at that time. With the faculty’s encouragement, Cowan eventually started her graduate studies at Duke University.
When asked about her interest in her field and why she found it to be a crucial area of inquiry, Cowan explained, “I find the most useful questions to be asked when we start talking about the more disciplinary works, like when you start talking about the relationship between science and religion.” Cowan also spoke to students about the importance of having a network of people you feel safe with, especially when transitioning from undergraduate to graduate studies.
In addition, Cowan said she came away with certain realizations about literature itself. “What I learned here, though, is that it is important not to just say ‘Literature is neat’ because it talks about science, but that we can still understand literature as a very invigorating and viable study in and of itself even when it’s in conversation with everything else under the sun,” she said.
According to Cowan, it is these lessons that her UTM journey taught her, as well as her research experience that became an inspiration to her last publication “The Imagination’s Arts: Poetry and Natural Philosophy in Shakespeare and Bacon.” She explained, “That was a chapter in my dissertation and I was very lucky to put it up in the right journal at the right time. It is based on Francis Bacon, who I started researching here at UTM in my second year, and that passion has carried through for the last 11 years.”