Oct. 7, 2020

UCalgary Political Science Interviews: Dr. Erica Rayment

On starting a career during COVID, 50 years of impact by elected women in Canadian Parliament, and machine learning!
Dr. Erica Rayment - Teaching
Dr. Erica Rayment, Teaching

Dr. Erica Rayment is an Instructor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary.


You have recently joined our Department from the University of Toronto. Welcome! Any advice for other new faculty members beginning their careers during this strange time of COVID-19?

It’s such a weird time to be starting a new job! My best advice would be to take new colleagues up on their offers to connect on Zoom—and reach out to people to ask for these kinds of meetings too (I’m sure it’s way less awkward to make these requests than it feels!). And honestly, it’s just so helpful to chat with folks with shared research and teaching interests—it really helps to make it feel like you’re part of the department, even if from afar!

Your work is broadly on the Canadian Parliament. How did you become interested in this area?

If you had asked me 10 years ago if I ever thought I’d become a scholar of Canadian parliaments I never would have believed it. My undergraduate degree was in Early Modern Studies, of all things! But in 2010–11 I was chosen as one of 10 interns at Queen’s Park as part of the Ontario Legislature Internship Program. The program offers exposure to the Westminster parliamentary process like nothing else, and it just sucked me in! I worked in and around Ontario politics and policy for a few years after OLIP, but eventually returned to school to explore questions that sit at the intersection of women’s representation and parliamentary processes that I first started to notice and care about when I was an intern.

Dr. Erica Rayment

In 2020, you completed your PhD from the University of Toronto. Can you tell us about it?

My dissertation project examined the impact of elected women on parliamentary debate and policymaking in Canada. There’s lots of great research on women in Canadian politics, but we still don’t know very much about what the women who get elected actually do once they’re there. Do they represent women? Do they advocate for women’s equality issues? What kinds of impacts do they have? These are the big questions I’m interested in. For the dissertation, I analyzed nearly 50 years of digitized parliamentary debate transcripts using computational text analysis and machine learning tools and dug into a couple of specific case studies. I found that the presence of women in parliament matters for the substantive representation of women—particularly during moments of political threat to women’s equality.

What’s the next big thing you are hoping to work on?

The next big thing will be to get all that dissertation research published! I’m obviously biased, but I think there are some really interesting and important findings that need to get out there in the world! There are also a couple of findings that emerged from my dissertation research that I’d like to dig into in a bit more detail—looking at the role parliamentary committees and conservative parties play in women’s substantive representation. I’ve also had preliminary conversations with colleagues in the department about some of the larger research projects they have on the go, and it seems like there could be some great opportunities to collaborate. Perhaps the real next big thing will be deciding where to start!

Finally, any upcoming conference plans?

I’m presenting at the Canadian Study of Parliament Group’s virtual conference on October 14, 2020. I’ll be talking about a really cool part of my dissertation research that uses machine learning techniques to identify the issues MPs focus on when they speak about women in parliament. I’m excited to be presenting on a panel with other scholars who study parliament from a gender perspective and to hear what other parliamentary researchers are up to.


Thanks to Dr. Erica Rayment sharing with us.

Follow Dr. Erica Rayment on Twitter at @EricaRayment

To learn more, visit Dr. Erica Rayment’s profile