The UBC Public Scholars Initiative (PSI) is an innovative pilot program intended to explore how a top-tier university can support doctoral pathways that encourage purposeful social contribution, innovative forms of collaborative scholarship, and broader career readiness for students.

The fundamental approach to doctoral education has not changed significantly since it was instituted in the early 19th century as a means to regenerate the professoriate, yet most PhD graduates now pursue careers outside of the academy, where they contribute immeasurably to the public good through diverse forms and outputs of scholarship. To address these changing realities, many institutions around the world, including UBC, offer PhD students workshops and courses designed to enhance non-academic career skills.

As a pan-university undertaking, the PSI is one of the first of its kind in Canada in moving beyond both generic skills training and extracurricular experience, to an integrative approach that supports diverse forms of collaborative scholarship and scholarly products as part of the PhD experience itself. In encouraging this approach, we are attesting that these forms of knowledge generation and dissemination should be rigorously assessed for their merit, and that UBC values them as integral components of the work required for its highest degree.

Combining purposeful social contribution with broader career readiness, the PSI is a pilot initiative seeking to build connections, community, and capacity for PhD students who are interested in explicitly linking their doctoral work to an arena of public benefit and integrating broader and more career-relevant forms of scholarship into their doctoral education process.

With these goals in mind, a call for applicants was issued in early 2015 for PhD students at UBC. From 98 applicants, 39 PhD students have been selected from across the full range of disciplines as the first cohort (and pioneers) of the Public Scholars Initiative. In 2016, 40 new students were added to the PSI Network, and in 2017, 36 new scholars joined their colleagues bringing the total number of scholars to 115.