Career file: Linda McMullen

Linda at Lake Louise

Linda McMullen is Professor Emerita at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, having recently retired after 38.5 years in the department of psychology. She is presently enjoying the sense of liberation that comes from not having to set an alarm clock in the morning, being able to work from home, not having more than one (or sometimes any) appointments in her calendar, and having her golden retriever by her side and a cup of tea at the ready.

How did you embark on an academic career? What prompted this path? It was a consequence of being in the right (actually, unexpected) place at the right time. When I was in graduate school in clinical psychology, I assumed that, upon graduation, I would become a clinician. However, during my pre-doctoral internship at the University of Washington in Seattle, I realized that I was actually interested in research and didn’t want to be a full-time clinician or, perhaps, a clinician at all. At the same time, my home department of psychology at the University of Saskatchewan announced a one-year faculty vacancy in the clinical stream. The director of clinical training encouraged me to apply and I got the position, despite never having imagined myself as an academic. The following year a permanent, tenure-track position opened up and I was successful in securing it.

What have been the highlights of your career so far? Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Securing my first, and very small, research grant from one of the major research granting councils in Canada and being able to pursue a curiosity-driven project on the use of metaphor in psychotherapy; this foot-in-the-door enabled me to establish an independent program of research and to be successful with future grant applications;
  • Learning on my first sabbatical leave in 1987-88 that a set of practices called ‘qualitative research’ existed; introducing qualitative inquiry into our department’s graduate and then undergraduate curricula; seeing so many students embrace these forms of research; knowing that some of my junior colleagues (and a few senior ones) will carry on this focus now that I have retired from my academic appointment;
  • Being presented with the 2012 Distinguished Member Award from the Section on Women and Psychology of the Canadian Psychological Association for my work on women and depression;
  • Becoming involved with communities around the globe that engage in qualitative and critical research (e.g., ISCHP, the Qualitative Research on Mental Health conference, the Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP) of the American Psychological Association); meeting many outstanding people through these contacts; and being able to travel the world;
  • Walking the picket line in support of striking non-faculty employees of my University during the time that I was also serving as the sole faculty member on our University’s Board of Governors (this action resulted in my being unofficially censured by the Board, but recognized with the Academic Freedom Award from the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association);
  • Oddly enough (see my answer to the next question), deciding as a junior faculty member to engage in committee and administrative work in addition to teaching and research, and continuing to do so over my career.

Can you tell us about any career challenges and how you have you tackled these? When I was hired into a faculty position in 1980, I was the only woman in a department of approximately 23 members. At that time, only 12% of the faculty of the University of Saskatchewan were women. Shortly after this time, members of our senior administration decided that women should be more visible in the academy, and, in particular, should be part of all collegial committees. Given that there were so few women faculty members, I got asked very early on in my career to participate at many levels of collegial decision-making.

Often I was the only woman on a committee, and the experience of being a young, female faculty member in a room filled with senior men was daunting. Because I identified as a feminist, I decided that I had to persevere and be a part of trying to change the culture of the University. I brought this early experience to all of my subsequent positions, including director of clinical training, department head, member of the Board of Governors, acting vice-dean for social sciences, and vice-chair of the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and experiences in ISCHP? I first heard of ISCHP from my friend, Hank Stam (University of Calgary, Canada) who, I think, was a participant in the inaugural conference. Hank told me many times that I should go to the ISCHP conferences, but I am a relatively recent attendee, having been at the ones held in Adelaide, Bradford, and Grahamstown. All three conferences are memorable for me, particularly the one in Adelaide as I was able to bring three of my graduate students with me.         

Because I identified as a feminist, I decided that I had to persevere and be a part of trying to change the culture of the University.

What are you currently working on? The American Psychological Association is launching a series of short books on qualitative   methodologies (11 in the works so far), and I am writing one on discursive psychology. I’m also continuing my involvement with the Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP) of APA by serving as the liaison between SQIP and the executive committee of Division 5 (Quantitative and Qualitative Methods) of APA. And then, of course, there are a handful of conference presentations, mainly focused on my work on how the use and prescribing of antidepressants is constructed by those who use (and do not use) them, by healthcare professionals, and by persons in media, that need to be turned into manuscripts.

Who/what inspires you and why? I find it easy to be discouraged these days by the divisive and hateful rhetoric that pervades much of the world. However, I’m also inspired by my Gen-X and Millennial children, their spouses, partners, and friends who are keenly attuned to the pressing need to reverse environmental degradation, who engage in actions that promote social justice, and who provide proof of Roxane Gay’s contention that being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t watch reality TV.

Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch

What is the piece of work you would like to accomplish and be remembered for by the academic community? I think the answer to this question is that I might already have accomplished the academic work I would like to be remembered for. A number of years ago, I published a not particularly well cited article on what I saw as the state of qualitative research in Canadian psychology curricula. [1] This piece enabled me to think through what is at stake when we, as academic psychologists, do not educate our students in the intricacies of both quantitative and qualitative research.

More recently, I co-edited a special issue on teaching qualitative research in the discipline of psychology [2] in which my co-editor and I drew together a set of articles that show how such teaching can be accomplished in different contexts. My hope is that these works, in some small way, will provide guidance, perhaps even encouragement, to those who are new to qualitative inquiry and wondering whether learning, doing, and teaching these forms of inquiry is really worth the effort.

[1] McMullen, L.M. (2002). Learning the languages of research: Illiteracy and indifference as powerful resistance. Canadian Psychology, 43, 195-204

[2] McMullen, L.M., & Winston-Proctor, C.E. (Eds.). (2018). Special Issue. Qualitative Psychology, 5(2).

One thought on “Career file: Linda McMullen

  1. John Conway February 26, 2023 / 12:04 pm

    What a lovely photo of you Linda.

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