Larry Walker earned his PhD at the University of Toronto and has been at UBC since 1979 as a professor in the Department of Psychology. His research focuses on the psychology of moral development—moral reasoning, personality, motivation, and identity; with a particular interest in moral heroes. A fellow of both the Canadian and American Psychological Associations, he is also the recipient of a Killam Research Prize, the Knox Master Teaching Award, and the Kuhmerker Career Award. Before joining the leadership team at Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, he served for almost two decades as the director of the graduate program in Psychology.
Why did you become an Associate Dean in G+PS?
My portfolio at G+PS involves the development of policies regarding graduate education and the oversight of processes for periodic reviews of academic units. My responsibilities further include issues around theses, doctoral exams, scholarly integrity, and exceptions to policy. I’ve been drawn to the challenge of making policies that enhance student success, improve the quality of scholarship, and foster well-functioning graduate programs. What I find most fulfilling at this point in my career is meaningfully impacting graduate education and research across the campus.
What have you learned from the experience?
My primary observation might seem mundane, but I feel it profoundly on a daily basis: There is an incredible diversity of scholarship across the campus. It’s difficult to formulate policies that enhance quality while, at the same time, respect disciplinary differences. Across campus, there is a range of worldviews, styles of thinking and writing, research methodologies, types of publications, authorship norms, supervisory practices, funding opportunities, public engagement, and so on. Few people on campus have to deal with this complex diversity of scholarship, but I’ve found the experience enriching.
What makes UBC an exciting place for graduate study and for postdoctoral fellows?
A couple of factors make UBC a particularly exciting place for graduate study. One is that the considerable size of most graduate programs ensures the depth and breadth of faculty expertise on many research topics. The other factor is the widely shared value on interdisciplinarity that encourages collaborations across programs in an attempt to generate new knowledge and push the boundaries of scholarly work.
What should students know about G+PS?
Students should know that G+PS exists to promote student success and that the leadership team and staff work diligently to make that happen. Often, students don’t contact G+PS until things have really run off the rails, but we do have much experience in dealing with potential issues in graduate student life. We welcome the opportunity to advise and support early in the process.
What should UBC faculty members know about G+PS?
Faculty members should know that we at G+PS appreciate that their scholarly productivity and job satisfaction pivots, to a considerable extent, on the quality of their grad students and the supervisory experience. Our policies and practices exist to support effective supervision. We welcome the involvement of G+PS faculty members in informing those policies and practices.
What is one crucial next step in advancing graduate education at UBC?
We need to collaboratively expand the range of scholarly work that is considered appropriate for the doctoral degree. The majority of PhD graduates do not end up in tenure-track faculty positions, but yet, faculty supervisors tend to try to produce academic clones. This practice may restrict students’ career prospects and their potential contribution to the public good. A collaborative effort is required to rethink the scholarly enterprise, both for graduate education and for the academy, more generally.