Melanee Thomas PhD

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Erin Brooke Burns. Photographed at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.

Age: 35

Job title: Assistant professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary

Why she’s a 2016 Top 40:

Through her research in gender inequality in politics at the U of C, Thomas is working to create an even playing field in government.

When the provincial organizer for the federal NDP told Melanee Thomas she would make an excellent candidate for the 2004 election, she had two things to say: “I think that you are on something and I think that’s a terrible idea.”

She ran anyway.

Just 22, and between her undergrad and masters degrees (both in political science), Thomas saw the campaign as a way out of doing the education policy work she was doing at the time. Ultimately, both would become detours on Thomas’ route to her current position as an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of Calgary.

“I don’t think people get told this often enough, that figuring out what you don’t want to do is as important as figuring out what you want to do,” Thomas says. “I learned very quickly over the course of that campaign that electoral politics and me were not a good fit.”

Thomas went on to complete her Ph.D. at McGill University and was a post-doctoral fellow at Queen’s before being hired by the U of C as a gender scholar through an international competition. She was made an assistant professor in 2012.

Thomas’ research focuses on gender inequality in politics, and primarily how men and women gauge their confidence in understanding politics. Her goal is to figure out why women are less confident in their political abilities than men. Although surveys are often used in political science, Thomas is taking a different approach, conducting face-to-face and online experiments to distill how stereotyped language affects interest and engagement in politics for women. She plans to use physiological responses to measure how negative stereotypes affect confidence levels and political engagement between genders.

Thomas is the only scholar to receive the Jill Vickers Prize for best paper on gender and politics at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association twice. She also regularly provides non-partisan political analysis for outlets such as the CBC, Global News and Maclean’s.

Her focus on equity issues also extends into community work as an academic advisor for Apathy Is Boring, a group targeting low voter turnout amongst youth aged 18 to 25.

“I want to be able to look at my government and be able to see myself reflected in it,” Thomas says. “I think that is something that everyone should be able to see. It’s straight-up equity.” – Fraser Tripp

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