Meet Michael Rooyakkers, PhD candidate

Supervisor: Lorraine Davies

Area of research:  Heteronormativity, Stress, and Gay Men’s Mental Health and Well-Being

What influenced your research path?

In my undergrad at Western, I took a Medical Sociology course, which was my first foray into this area of sociology. I found the course compelling, and it challenged our common sense assumptions about health and illness, opening my eyes to the ways that health and illness are patterned by gender, race, SES, and so on, and thus shaped by our position in the social structure.

I discovered that there was literature that looked at the mental health outcomes of gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals, and so for my paper for the course, I decided to write on this body of literature. This learning experience, combined with my broader intellectual interest in gender and sexuality, influenced the research I am doing today.

Why did you choose Western for your studies?

There were a few reasons, but the most important factor was the faculty in the Sociology department. By the latter years of my undergrad, I had gotten to know many of the faculty and felt supported and encouraged by them, and I knew who I wanted my supervisor to be.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone considering applying to your graduate program?

Make sure this is something you want to do, and that you have something you are passionate about that you could explore through research.

Where’s your favourite place on campus to work/study/research? Why?

My office – it gives me a good, quiet space to get work done.

What is it about your grad program that enables you to thrive and be successful?

  • The guidance and support of my supervisor, who treats me as a whole human being.
  • The support of my friends in graduate school, and faculty who take time to provide their mentorship.
  • My life outside of graduate school – including my involvement in theatre – is important too. It helps to keep my academic life in perspective, and reminds me that I am not just defined by my successes (and failures) as a graduate student.

What is your "dream" career?

Teaching - I derive a great deal of fulfillment from my teaching and would like to pursue a full-time teaching position at a university.

However, theatre/acting is also a passion of mine. In a way, theatre allows us to understand the social world and learn something new about the human experience. When I step into the shoes of a character, I must be able to understand that character - one who could have any kind of background and history. And those of us involved in theatre usually hope that we are leaving the audience with something to think about, something that they didn’t know or feel before.

What idea, suggestion, or comment would you like to share with the Western graduate community?

There are all kinds of expectations about what a graduate student should be – avoid them and be true to your self. Don’t let others make you feel inadequate. Everyone’s path is different, and everyone gets something different out of their experience in graduate school. Surround yourself with people who are interested in the world rather than competition and careerism.

Have you worked as a TA or RA? If so, how did this benefit your academic career?

I have worked as a TA, and it has significantly benefitted my career! I was a TA for a professor who ended up becoming my friend and mentor. She has helped me in so many ways, but as her TA I was able to learn how to teach through observation. I attended all of her lectures, and she included me as a team member in helping to make the course a success.

Today, I teach in a contract faculty position, and have been successful doing so largely because of the mentorship this professor has provided to me, and because of what I have learned by example.

Do you engage in volunteer activities? If yes, what activities?

I am a Big Brother at ‘Big Brothers Big Sisters of London and Area’. I’ve been matched with my Little Brother for over 3 years now, and it has been a wonderful experience. My Little Brother reminds me what is important in life.

What are you most passionate about?

Dramatic arts/theatre, film, teaching, being a good friend and colleague, being a Big Brother.

Hobbies, special talent(s), interests outside academia

Theatre/acting, reading, nerdy stuff like movie box office sales.