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Carmen Poulin


Training Location(s):

PhD, Queen’s University, (1989)

MA, Queen’s University, (1982)

BA, University of New Brunswick, (1980)

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of New Brunswick, (1999 – Present)

Media Links:
Professional Website

Carmen Poulin at the University of New Brunswick


Psychology’s Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript



Career Focus: Female sexuality and arousal; physiological psychology; women’s studies; same-sex relationships and discrimination.


Carmen Poulin was born August 1, 1958 in Henryville, Quebec. She was the youngest child in what she describes as a matriarchal home; her father and eldest sibling were the only two males in her family of nine. With such a strong female presence, it is not surprising that Poulin’s earliest views on women were shaped by her mother and five older sisters. Throughout her early life these women were strong role models. Although her father supported her desire for an education, it was the women in her family and those whom she met during her academic career who largely influenced her feminist identity.

Despite their very modest educational background, Poulin’s parents worked hard to instill the value of education in their children. Her father particularly believed that the English language held much power, which, in turn, led Poulin to attend an Anglophone high school at the age of 14 despite her support for the Quiet Revolution, a period during the 1960s of rapid secularization in Quebec society that saw the emergence of the Quebec nationalist movement. Upon graduating from secondary school, Poulin continued her education at University of New Brunswick (UNB) with the intention of becoming a practicing psychologist. Fascinated by the visual and sensory mechanisms of the human body, Poulin’s interests led her to work with Dr. H. H. Mikaelian, who encouraged her to delve deeper into the male-dominated area of sensation-perception psychology. With his support and supervision she completed her undergraduate thesis entitled A Measure of the Centre-Surround Perceptive-Field Antagonism, and graduated from UNB with an honours BA, double majoring in psychology and biology.

As Poulin embarked on the second leg of her academic journey, she began developing a stronger association with feminism. Her first formal introduction to feminist theory came long before she entered university in the form of a book given to her by her older sister, Le Deuxième Sexe by French feminist Simone de Beauvoir, which chronicled women’s oppression throughout history. However, it was during 1976 -1982, as an undergraduate student at UNB and as a master’s student at Queen’s University in Ontario that her identity as a feminist became more concrete. As an undergraduate student she volunteered at the Rape Crisis Centre and was also a member of an organizational committee that coordinated International Women’s Day celebrations on campus. She continued her volunteerism as a master’s student, often organizing activities and support groups that empowered women and other self-identified feminists. These same groups helped to spark her interest in female sexuality and led her to re-evaluate her research career in physiological psychology.

Following the completion of her master’s degree, Poulin accepted an internship in the area of physiological psychology at the Max Planck Institut für Biologishe Kybernetic in Germany, hoping to renew her interest in this male-dominated field. However, Poulin’s internship only served to confirm her dissatisfaction with her current research. After returning from Germany, Poulin decided to change her research focus to female sexuality, a field burdened with technological challenges and scientific biases. Dr. W. Marshall agreed to supervise her PhD dissertation, A multiple measurement approach to physiological and psychological female sexual arousal, in which she used her background knowledge in sensation and perception to develop a method that measured physiological arousal in women.

Poulin’s post-doctoral years were filled with self discovery. By the time Poulin completed her PhD in 1989, she was living openly as a lesbian and residing with her partner in Kingston, Ontario. That same year Poulin received her licence to become a practicing psychologist in Quebec and was offered a full time position as a clinical researcher in the women’s unit of Université de Montréal, Institut Philippe Pinel, a maximum security hospital for those living with psychiatric problems. Several factors influenced Poulin’s decision to accept the job, but re-entering a Francophone environment after so many years away from Quebec was the most significant factor. However, after two and a half years of research, she soon realized that she could not envision further growth in clinical work and decided to resign from Institut Philippe Pinel. After much persuasion from her long time friend and mentor, Dr. Mikaelian, Poulin decided to apply for a tenure-track position with the University of New Brunswick and with her diverse background in women’s studies and physiology she became an assistant professor. She has since been promoted to Full Professor and appointed as Director of Graduate Studies within the Psychology Department at UNB. She was also ranked twice as UNB’s most popular professor in Maclean’s special on Canadian universities.

Poulin has dedicated a great deal of time to working with organizations and research initiatives that serve to empower women, queer individuals, and feminists. From 1991 to 2000, Poulin was an elected member of the administrative board of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), the only organization in Canada devoted exclusively to feminist research. Additionally, Poulin was a member of the advisory board for the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, and has been closely involved with the Section on Women and Psychology (SWAP), most recently as Coordinator. In 2011, she was presented the Mentorship Award from SWAP in recognition of her contributions to feminist mentoring. Currently, Poulin has been conducting research on the experiences of lesbians in the military with her partner Lynne Gouliquer, a sociologist and retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Although it is still a work in progress, they have received federal funding for their project and have conducted over 80 interviews with self identified lesbians in the Canadian Armed Forces, and over 20 interviews with the partners of these women.


Through her research, teaching, and advocacy, Carmen Poulin has dedicated her career to the advancement of women and other marginalized groups. Her early experiences in a matriarchal home and her struggle for acceptance within a male-dominated subfield of psychology only strengthened her desire to purse feminist research. When asked about her academic career, Poulin replies: “I don’t know if I can think about research and include women without it being feminist. But that illustrates how much feminism is part of my way of thinking. I can’t think of the world outside of feminism.”


by Jeahlisa Bridgeman (2013)

To cite this article, see Credits


Selected Works:


Poulin, M.B.C. (1992). Towards a multidimensional and multidirectional model of female sexual arousal. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 1(3), 129-132.


Poulin, C. (2007). It made us think differently:  Unger’s 'Toward a Redefinition of Sex and Gender.' Feminism & Psychology, 17, 435-441.


Poulin, C., & Gouliquer, L. (2012). Clandestine existences and secret research: Eliminating official discrimination in the Canadian military and going public in academia. Journal of Lesbian Studies,16:1, 54-64.


Poulin, C., von Grunau, M.W., & Rauschecker, J.P. (1984). Receptive field properties of single units in suprasysvian visual cortex (PMLS) suggest the processing of optical flow fields.  Supplement to Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, 25(3), 33.


Moore, J. A., Poulin, C., & Gouliquer, L. (2008). Banned from serving:  The affect of anti-homosexual laws on Canadian military women. Canadian Psychology / Psychologie Canadienne, 49(2a), 270 – 271.