Meet Cameron Fioret:
Cameron Fioret is a recent U of G grad, having defended his Philosophy PhD thesis in 2021. While at U of G, Cameron was immersed in several experiential learning opportunities that helped him develop critical skills, knowledge, and attitudes required in his field. He was involved with OXFAM at Guelph, worked as a TA, taught a course of his own on Food, Water, & Environmental Ethics and Justice, conducted research abroad in Scotland, and worked for both the Arrell Food Institute and the UN in various interdisciplinary capacities. Cameron shares more about his experiences, his biggest takeaways, the skills he developed, and how each experience lead to the next, ultimately leading him to his current positions as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Michigan, as well as Program Assistant at SSHRC.
What was your PhD research on?
“I studied social and political philosophy, environmental philosophy, and democratic studies. Specifically, it was looking at identifying what I take to be water injustices including water commodification and privatization of water. I was arguing how commodification of water is fundamentally undemocratic and can lead to domination in a political and epistemological sense where people don’t know where their water is from, how it’s treated, where the waste is going, or where it’s being sold for pennies. I was influenced to study this back in 2014 because there were people in Detroit who couldn’t pay for, and were denied, their water. I thought that was absurd and wanted to investigate why that was.”
“The dissertation is an argument against commodification and water injustices, and identifies how water can be made a communal resource through communal control as opposed to a top-down approach of corporations or the larger state controlling it.”
What experiential learning were you involved in while at U of G?
“The main student club I was a part of was OXFAM at Guelph. I was there for the first three years out of my 5-year program and I really enjoyed it. We ran a lot of collaborative events and I met a lot of really cool people. I really appreciated my time at OXFAM because I think we were doing valuable work, and I made great friendships that are still maintained to this day.”
“I was a TA for four years and I enjoyed that because I loved working with the students. I liked seeing their progress, how they worked to understand the material, and how they applied it to the world or to their own situations. That’s what I see the power of philosophy being. I also ran a course as part of my program, and was a graduate research assistant at the Arrell Food Institute, which then lead me to working at the UN.”
Tell us more about the course you taught! What was the value for you and your students?
“I was a professor for a third year course called Food, Water, & Environmental Ethics and Justice. I created the syllabus, lectured, marked, and was responsible for over 30 students. It was a wonderful experience and it validated my decision in pursuing my PhD. The students were quite impressive. There was a lot of engagement and collaboration in the course which was great to see. It was three years ago, but the climate change and food insecurity issues that we were talking about back then are really being exacerbated now during the pandemic. That philosophical material that we covered helps students look through a different lens that complements the social sciences and hard sciences to help them think about the issues in a different way.”
What was your biggest takeaway from teaching the class?
“Seeing the enthusiasm that many of the students had for the material, and how they identified with the material. I tried to make the syllabus as diverse as possible with historical and contemporary authors who have real-world experience working “on-the-ground” in the industry, which I think helped the students think about food, water, environmental justice & ethics in a grounded way as opposed to an abstract way.”
What was your work at the Arrell Food Institute?
“I was a graduate research assistant (GRA) at the Arrell Food Institute through their Food from Thought program. Having that experience opened up a ton of opportunities for me and I learned a bunch of skills. There were about 15 – 20 people in the cohort, and after discussing what we were interested in researching, I found three other graduate research students interested in similar things. I wanted to research ecological farming, and it was great to get an interdisciplinary group for this! The other students were a PhD in Public Health, a Master’s student in Water Engineering, and a then Master’s (now PhD) student in Plant Agriculture. We partnered with a community organization, the Ecological Farmers’ Association of Ontario (EFAO), to evaluate their farmer-led research program. I was doing qualitative research and interviewing farmers, and we were all working together to put together an evaluation which was published on EFAO’s website as well as Action Research. The interdisciplinarity of the project spoke to where the work and academia worlds are going now. No one is siloed in their discipline or “expertise” anymore, so we all needed to work to understand each other's fields."
What skills did you gain from the Arrell Food Institute position?
“Working under deadlines to publish, while maintaining and compartmentalizing my projects. Philosophy itself is always teaching you critical thinking skills, but these experiences also honed my qualitative research and data management skills which compliment my critical reasoning and thinking skills that my courses were fostering. I was also able to grow my presentation skills through conferences and interviews.”
What did you do at the UN? How did you find that experience?
“I have to thank my doctoral supervisor, Monique Deveaux, who encouraged me to seek something outside of my comfort zone for the UN experience. My experience with the UN helped me write my dissertation, and at the time it was kind of a question mark of whether or not to do it, but I’m so glad that I did. I was at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Hamilton. Those four months were pretty intense; I was reading a lot of literature, working on their online course module for water security, while also meeting so many professionals and other interns, who I still maintain friendships and professional relationships with. It was super valuable. Since then, my former supervisor at the UN and I co-published some book chapters on water security and migration, and SDG16. The skills I gained are invaluable. I got to work with large interdisciplinary groups of professionals and researchers and coordinated research from across fields. Water is inherently interdisciplinary so you have to try your best to get a lay of the land through different fields of study, and my experience at the Arrell Food Institute and UNU really honed those skills.”
Did each experience role into the next or help you gain the next experience?
“It absolutely did have that ‘snowball effect’. I’ve always wanted my work to be engaged, meaning it has applicability to the world and challenges how the world can be faced by the philosophy being developing. That was really starting to take shape when I was TAing but especially when working for the Arrell Food Institute. I met so many new contacts, developed so many new skills, and published with my group, which then led to my experiences at the UN.”
“After UNU, I was fortunate enough to use SSHRC funding to travel overseas in Scotland to study and do research, which was probably the best four months of my life. I worked with my external supervisor to write the first chapter of my dissertation there, which put down the groundwork for the next 5 chapters. That snowballed into Winter 2019 semesters when I taught the course which gave me the confidence in my PhD decision. Then, after finishing my PhD, all these experiences led to my current job as Program Assistant at SSHRC doing higher education policy evaluation, including a lot of qualitative research, which are skills I gained at AFI and UNU. All these experiences helped me get the Visiting Scholar research experience at University of Michigan right now, and who knows where that will take me!”
“These experiences also gave me the confidence, knowledge, and ability to be part of the co-founding team of Shake Up The Establishment, a youth-led nonprofit promoting climate justice & political action.”
"You never know where your experiences will lead. I couldn't have worked my way to my current positions without experiential learning at University of Guelph."
What’s your advice to current students?
“Be as involved as possible. Join clubs that you’re interested in because at the very least, you’ll meet a lot of cool people and some friends that you could have for a long time. That itself enriches your life. Be involved in the community off-campus as well!”
“Treat your extra-curriculars as complimentary to your studies, but also as a break from your studies. I could not have just focused on my dissertation writing for five years, so having these other projects that were building on one another helped me make friends, and helped me write the dissertation itself. Being involved has so many professional, personal, and mental health benefits.”
“Don’t take for granted the fact that University allows you to make connections with friends, professionals, and grow a network that you can use to your benefit. Learning is not meant to be individual. You should make time for that and take advantage of it!”
What’s your favourite U of G memory?
“I had a great time at U of G. Going to Scotland for my research was my most memorable, and I never would have had that opportunity if it weren’t for the support of my supervisor and the department. I also really loved teaching the course and working with those students.”