If Taylor Blais (BA '23) has a superpower, it could very well be their abilities as an action-oriented social justice researcher.

So it’s little surprise the women and gender studies graduate thrived during their eight-month co-op as a research assistant with Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), combining real-world work experience with their academic studies.

“The act of working at somewhere like CIRNAC before graduating taught me so much about what I want and don’t want out of a career. I do believe that the only way to learn is to try something out. You don’t learn much by just observing, you learn way more by doing,” Blais says.

Every new experience brings new perspectives and that’s definitely what happened for me. It made me see how nuance exists in the workplace. Plus, I got to see the planning process of a large-scale project that I would never have otherwise seen. There’s a big difference between reading about something and actually being a part of it.

Research in Action

Blais’ love of research was put to good use during their co-op program, during which she studied intersectionality, conducting a comprehensive literature review that examined intersectionality’s various definitions.

“I studied intersectional theory in many of my classes but the framework the government uses is different than what I’d learned. This led me to be more interested in the difference between intersectional theory studied in academia and the intersectionality that was being applied in government and bureaucratic spaces,” she says.

“It’s important to be critical of all theories and how they’re implicated within people’s lived experiences. It takes a long time for change to be made, and I wholeheartedly believe that we have to be intentionally nuanced to do so. No more building frameworks and systems that only work for one very specific demographic. The more intersectional you are, the less people will be left out.”

Award-Winning Placement

Beyond their super-honed research abilities, Blais also gained other key learnings from their co-op placement.

“Sometimes the bureaucratic systems feel like you’re walking through molasses. It can feel slow, painful and extremely tiring. But I learned you have to focus on the small things. The personal connections that are made. The people you meet who want to see the same changes you do. Standing up for or against a co-worker. Knowing that even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time, you may be changing people’s minds in those very moments.”

Blais’ hard work didn’t go unnoticed: they’re the first recipient of the Jasminn Berteotti Award for Work-Integrated Learning, awarded to students who demonstrate outstanding achievements in their placement.

“It’s easy to get intimidated in academia and think your voice doesn’t matter, but it absolutely does. Students should always remember that they have more power than they think they do and there is strength in numbers. Collective action is extremely powerful.”