Grad profile: 'Squeeze academia for everything it's worth'

Benjamin Andrews, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

- October 16, 2020

(Provided photo)
(Provided photo)

This article is part of a series focusing on the fall grads of the Dalhousie Class of 2020. Visit our Class of 2020 virtual space to share in the excitement with our newest graduates.

When Benjamin Andrews was in high school and was first weighing his post-secondary options, he had two disciplines in mind: kinesiology and journalism. Unsure at the time of which path would suit him best, he made the pragmatic decision to begin by studying kinesiology at the University of Windsor, as it was in his hometown, he had an interest in kinesiology, and his father worked at the university.

When he completed his BA in Kinesiology, his interest in pursuing journalism remained, but he had an aversion to sports journalism. He decided that studying political science would be a smart move to better prepare him for a future career in journalism.

“At the time, I felt my academic record limited the kinds of reporting jobs I qualified for and the kinds of stories I felt qualified to tell,” explains Ben. “In a media environment where journalism is .. . . or should be . . . shifting from an emphasis on speed to an emphasis on accuracy and contextualization, I felt subject expertise in political science would help my chances of employment and, once employed, my ability to provide better, fairer coverage.”

Expanding expertise

This self-awareness resulted in Ben applying to grad school to pursue a Master of Arts degree in political science. He decided that studying political science would be a great stepping-stone toward getting the most out of a Master of Journalism degree, and whatever career would follow. He says he decided to go to Dalhousie University for his MA for several reasons: he was interested in living in Halifax, it was possible to complete the program in one year, he was awarded funding by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and because of the kind and informative communication he received from Dalhousie’s Department of Political Science.

“David Black, chair of the political science department, was far and away the most welcoming voice from any school I reached out to,” Ben says.

Ben’s MA research intertwined his interest in politics and journalism. His thesis was a quantitative study that examined the relationship between local newspaper health (the amount and frequency of newspaper publication per capita) and voter turnout in Canadian municipal elections.

“Turns out healthier local newspapers are . . . at least a little . . . related to higher municipal turnout,” says Ben. “I chose the topic because I have a vested interest in the outcome — Don’t tell ethics…”

Entering a different era of journalism

This fall, Ben began the Master of Journalism (MJ) program at Carleton University in Ottawa. He is realizing that in this current political climate, studying journalism poses a unique set of challenges to studying political science.

“Studying and practicing journalism requires constant attention to the news cycle, which feels like a special kind of masochism — especially in a fractured media landscape where truth is actively undermined and fact is as malleable as opinion.”

He adds that the COVID-19 pandemic may complicate the delivery of journalism courses, but beyond that, it is drastically altering the foundations of journalism itself.

“That is fundamentally different than how it impacted my studies at Dal, which amounted to a shift out of the classroom and into the home office. Our understanding of politics may be irreversibly changed by recent global events, but because political science focuses on studying rather than practicing politics, the foundations of political science do not seem challenged the same way as the foundations of journalism.”

Ben’s unique combination of education in kinesiology, political science, and now journalism is preparing him for a career where he can knowledgeably report on health and politics.

“As the pandemic has highlighted, quality factual reporting on health and politics is integral to public safety. Done poorly, it can also be incredibly damaging. I hope that my education will show itself indirectly through the stories I pursue professionally."

It's okay to get lost

Ben says he learned an enormous amount at Dal and as he graduates from the Political Science department’s graduate studies program, receiving his parchment as part of the fall convocation celebration activities, he has a fully different outlook to the one he entered with.

His advice for students that have decided to pursue a range of studies, as he’s done, is to embrace discomfort and accept that you will make mistakes, but to be sure to prioritize your mental health and meaningful personal relationships.

“You will often say the wrong thing. You will often feel lost. Eventually, you will become more comfortable, but if you are sacrificing too much of yourself to get there, walk. Take care of yourself.”

He encourages current and future university students to “squeeze academia for everything it’s worth.”

“That means recognizing that universities are full of talented people who care and have enormous knowledge to offer. It also means being realistic about the basic transactional relationship between a university and its students. Always be aware of that tension. Do not fall victim to path dependence. You always have agency — if not over your situation then over your response.”


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