Susan Porter is a molecular biologist by trade. Originally from Montreal, she came to UBC in 1980 to complete her PhD and was appointed as Assistant Professor in 1991.
She left basic research six years later to lead the molecular diagnostic work for the microbiology laboratory at Vancouver General Hospital. With an interest in graduate education, she became increasingly involved in administration, culminating in her appointment in 2011 as interim Dean of Graduate Studies, and as Dean and Vice-Provost in 2013. She was reappointed in 2018 for another five-year term. In her role, she leads the charge in championing graduate education and postdoctoral studies at UBC, and helping to ensure they are the best they can be.
What inspires you to lead?
Being part of a community that is able to make a difference. It’s truly a privilege to have the opportunity to help address the needs and ambitions of this great institution. Seeing a positive impact in the lives of graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff–and to many beyond, through the work they do–is what motivates me to come in every day.
What makes UBC an exciting place for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows?
We have great faculty, graduate programs, and facilities in one of the most beautiful locations in the world! We collaborate with partners around the world and have a growing reputation for being innovative and at the same time, respectful and inclusive. Our graduate students and postdocs themselves are smart, creative, and collegial, which makes for a wonderful scholarly community.
What achievement related to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are you most proud of?
Well, I’m very proud of the fact that our doctoral students have the highest per capita federal scholarship success in Canada, and that so many of our students and postdocs are already making significant contributions to the academy and society through their scholarship. I’ve been inspired by the countless students and postdocs I meet who sincerely want to make the world better.
I’m also very proud of how our students and postdocs are contributing after graduation–from starting their own companies, to holding a myriad of leadership positions in government, industry, society, and higher education.
What do you consider is most needed to further advance graduate and postdoctoral education at UBC?
More student funding is always needed to appropriately support and attract students. I would also love to see more opportunities for students and postdocs to build community, a heightened awareness of the importance of and attention to graduate supervision, and a further spreading of a culture that values and promotes broadened graduate and postdoctoral research and graduate theses, and holistic learner development.
What are your priorities for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows?
Our strategic plan outlines our priorities for the coming years, covering all the areas I just mentioned. In addition, we are committed to supporting the design and implementation of the Integrated Renewal Project, and helping to ensure that the new systems meet the needs of the graduate community. We’re also focusing on reducing barriers to interdisciplinary research and teaching, and on a fuller realization of an inclusive and supportive environment for Indigenous students.
How do you envision UBC graduate and postdoctoral alumni will contribute to society? How is their preparation helping them to do that?
Globally, we know most about what our PhD students could be, and are, doing after graduation because we've systematically tracked their careers. They (and hopefully all graduate and postdoc alumni) are bringing knowledge, skill, and wisdom to all sectors of society, and are among today’s and tomorrow’s leaders in business, health, government, higher education, and the non-profit sector.
The acquisition of knowledge is certainly important in their preparation, but equally important is their intellectual growth in critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, as well as a more holistic development that provides them with broadened outlooks, understanding, motivation, and skill. The 21st century is one of complexity and change, and we are committed to supporting the growth of adaptability and wisdom for all our learners.