Amarnath Amarasingam is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies whose research is focused on the Canadian Tamil community.
TamilCulture: What inspired you to pursue your career?
Amar: I don’t want to pretend like my love for reading and writing is somehow unique to me or even unique to other academics. It’s not. It’s so obviously not. In that sense, I don’t know when my interest in it “first developed”. That’s kind of like asking when I first developed an interest in cool breezes.
But, the idea that I could actually do it as a career can be traced to my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto. It was here that I met the professors and read the books and wrote the papers that got me thinking about doing it as a profession. Until then, graduate school was the farthest thing from my mind. It was a professor of religious studies, Robert A. Campbell, who is now teaching in Cape Breton, who initially encouraged me to go to graduate school, and encouraged me to write original research papers.
You write a lot of papers in undergrad, but most of it isn’t your work. Most papers are recycled and often badly paraphrased versions of other peoples’ ideas. While Dr. Campbell’s encouragement was taking place, I also opportunistically sat in on a class by Garry Leonard at UofT Scarborough, who teaches in the English department. During his lecture, he said something, a kind of throw-away line, which went something like: “A lot of people like to read and write and think all day – I just found a way to get paid doing it.” The class laughed and everyone moved on with their lives. But, the statement stuck with me.
TC: What would you consider milestones in your career so far?
AA: Successfully completing the PhD is definitely a milestone. Finishing the dissertation, while exhausting, was also an important milestone. Turning the dissertation into a book and getting it published is the next short-term goal. My dissertation, called “Pain, Pride, and Politics: Social Movement Activism and the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in Canada”, should hopefully be released as a book in 2014, and it is something I am quite proud of.
I’m proud of it, because even though the Tamil community has been in Canada for over 30 years, it is actually the first book on the community. It has its limitations, of course. I don’t want to pretend like there’s nothing left to be done in terms of research. But, I’m proud of the book nevertheless. It’s like a five-year-old’s model paper airplane. One wing may be shorter than the other. It’s definitely not going to fly. But, once the book is released, you better believe I’m going to frame it and carry it around. I may even tuck it into bed with me for a year or so – provided my wife doesn’t mind.
TC: Is there an ultimate goal, or measure of success that you aspire to?
AA: Not really. I don’t really know what success means. For academics, getting a tenure-track job and then getting tenure will probably be on the list of things to do. Writing a few good books and articles is also on the list. We all want to do important work. The joy of doing research, for me, is finding new things out and passing it on to people. It’s as simple as that. Doing that well and doing it consistently is the goal.
TC: What advice can you share with those who are considering a similar career?
AA: What’s the big deal? Just do it. If you enjoy teaching and if you enjoy research, then it’s a good career choice.