The PSI reimagines doctoral education in ways that facilitate purposeful social contribution, the production of new and creative forms of scholarship and dissertations, and support graduate students' broader career perspectives.


Multiple sources have underpinned the governing philosophy of the PSI. The 2008 Carnegie Foundation book, The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the 21st Century was seminal, as were the findings of several other large US projects, including The Responsive PhD, and Re-envisioning the PhD. More recently, McGill’s White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities, and much of the public discourse on doctoral education more generally, are consistent with our commitment to encourage a broadened view of doctoral scholarship and education.

Our own initiatives at UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) have sought to join the ongoing dialogue, and add to the existing debates and practices. In 2014 we held a Re-imagining the PhD Symposium at UBC, and established an advisory group to explore the issues further. This 30-member group, including representatives of all disciplinary faculties, approved the launch of this initiative as one mechanism to further the goals of ‘reimagined’ PhD pathways. A journal article titled Beyond Skills (co-authored by Dr. Susan Porter and  Dr. Jenny Phelps), places these ideas in a theoretical framework and explores their pragmatic implications.

In 2017, The Public Scholars Initiative published its first comprehensive report, detailing the achievements of the program, the evaluation of its first year by scholars, supervisors, and community partners, as well as the recognitions extended to it by various entities.   


PSI has two interrelated goals:

1. Contributing more overtly to the public good through extending and deepening doctoral students’ engagement with multiple sectors, fostering innovation and enhancing understanding within the public and the academy.

2. Diversifying potential PhD pathways through embracing broadened concepts of scholarship and scholarly outputs; and deliberately preparing scholars for a wide range of career pathways.

Components of the Initiative

1. Public Scholars Network: We are building a network of students, faculty members and participants from a variety of disciplines and employment sectors to engage in dialogue, mentorship and collaboration on endeavours that use rigorous scholarship in non- or alternative academic settings. PhD students will benefit from interacting with like-minded others across disciplines and sectors and building networks of scholarly and professional contacts. Professional development opportunities will be offered to enhance understanding and competencies in publicly-engaged scholarship.

2. Academic support for broad forms of scholarship: Ideally, students' publicly-engaged scholarship will form an integral part of their PhD dissertations. Students may incorporate in their dissertations non-traditional products of scholarly work such as policy papers, business plans, teaching syllabi, and interactive websites. Support will be available to ensure students and supervisors understand and are able to navigate the standards of scholarly rigour for these kinds of work and to facilitate the appropriate supervision, assessment and examination of such work.

3. Funding: Up to $20,000 per student is available to support innovative dissertation scholarship which the student would otherwise be unable to pursue.

what is public scholarship? 

For the purposes of our Initiative, we define Public Scholarship with the language used by Imagine America. As such, by Public Scholarship we understand diverse modes of creating and circulating knowledge for and with publics and communities, often involving mutually-beneficial partnerships between higher education and organizations in the public and private sectors. Its goals include enriching research, creative activity, and public knowledge; enhancing curriculum, teaching and learning; preparing educated and engaged citizens; strengthening democratic values and civic responsibility; addressing and helping to solve critical social problems; and contributing to the public good.