July 20, 2020

Visiting PhD scholar solves ‘knot of the problem’ in Calgary

Despite pandemic shutdown, researcher made great progress in his work on Indigenous law

Holed up in his room, a black cat asleep on the bed next to him, Cristóbal Carmona wonders what will happen now. He just spent 48 hours flying home to Chile from Calgary, where he spent the winter semester as a visiting PhD scholar in the Faculty of Law. If he has learned anything from the experience, it’s how to adapt quickly.

“About a month after I arrived in Calgary, the university shut down because of the pandemic,” explains Carmona. “I was just getting settled in and meeting faculty members at the law school when everything suddenly went online.”

Carmona is a student at the Universidad Diego Portales in Chile. His research focuses on Indigenous law issues in Chile, but involves some comparison of the Chilean and Canadian experiences. He explains that because of the different legal frameworks in both countries, the ways in which Canadian law looks at the duty to consult and Indigenous rights simply wouldn’t work in his home country.

Connection with UCalgary began several years ago

Several years ago, Carmona met law prof Nigel Bankes at a conference in San Diego (although Bankes doesn’t recall the meeting). At that time, Carmona was planning on pursuing his PhD abroad and was initially looking at the University of Toronto to advance his research. When he met Bankes, he knew that Calgary was a better option for his area of research, and explored ways he could spend time at the University of Calgary.

“Nigel really made an impression on me that day in San Diego. I started following his work, and was impressed at his unique way of looking at legal problems," says Carmona.

I’m so grateful to have been able to spend time with the amazing scholars at UCalgary Law, especially Nigel. He was so generous with his time, and was able to help me with my research and review drafts of my paper.

“I really enjoyed having Cristóbal as a visiting student and it was my privilege to help supervise his work,” says Bankes. “Cristóbal is a very careful scholar and we had a good number of interesting and mutually thought-provoking discussions on his research involving the International Labour Organization Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

"Once the university went into lockdown, all these discussions took place over Skype or Zoom, but I also invited Cristóbal to join some more social end-of-daily-Zoom chats with my colleagues.”

Carmona solved the ‘knot of the problem’

Judith Schönsteiner, Carmona’s supervisor in Chile was impressed with the progress he was able to make during his time in Calgary.

“During his time at UCalgary Law, Cristóbal managed to perform the leap every PhD student needs at some point, and solve the ‘knot of the problem,’” explains Schönsteiner. “I was very happy to see that leap in the paper he produced during this time, and I am sure that it is to a great extent due to the conversations Nigel had with him.”

Chile has been hard hit by the pandemic, and the university is currently closed. As a result, Carmona’s research has been limited since he returned home.

“I’m not able to access any of my books or documents that are sitting in my office on campus, but at least I have online access to my university database,” he says. “I’m looking forward to when things start to get better and I can dive back into my work, and to finish my thesis by the end of 2020. But right now, I’m being flexible and taking it day by day.”

Aware of the difficulties faced by Carmona both in Calgary and back at home, Bankes sees the positives in sharing the experience with him.

“I know that the shutdown was very hard on Cristóbal with very little contact with others, the lost opportunities to work on his English, and worries about family back home in Chile,” he says. “But the experience also showed me that once you have developed a good working relationship with a research student it is possible to continue it virtually and produce good outcomes.

"This was a good news story despite the pandemic and it shows the value and importance of continuing international collaboration.”

Cristóbal Carmona

Cristóbal Carmona is now back home in Chile after spending the winter semester as a visiting PhD scholar in the Faculty of Law.

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.