FAQ / Contact

For PSI-related questions, and guidance on integrating a public scholarship component into your doctoral work, please contact:

Dr. Serbulent Turan
Public Scholarship Coordinator
Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies
The University of British Columbia | Vancouver Campus
170-6371 Crescent Road
Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z2
Phone 604-827-2472



Public Scholars Initiative FAQ

What is a Public Scholar?

We wish to define 'public scholar' broadly, to capture the breadth of scholarship possible at the doctoral level. Public scholars may be said to engage in scholarship that entails mutually beneficial partnerships of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to contribute to the public good through: enriching knowledge, scholarship, creative activity, intellectual curiosity, and wonder; enhancing curriculum, teaching and learning; preparing educated, engaged citizens; and/or addressing and helping solve critical problems.

Examples of a publicly engaged scholarship in the context of dissertation research may include:

  • Collaboration with a government office to carry out research in an area of mutual interest. A policy paper may be a chapter of the dissertation, as may communication material for specific audiences.
  • Collaboration with a performing arts organization, gallery, museum, archive, library or literary magazine in the preparation of a festival, exhibition or special issue. Artefacts from these activities, and their evaluation, could comprise part of the dissertation.
  • Collaboration with a teaching faculty member (at UBC or elsewhere) to develop and implement course material in the student’s area of study. A chapter of the dissertation could include a syllabus and student assessment results, with relevant scholarly background and reflection.
  • Translation of basic research to a relevant external audience. This may involve development of intellectual property in an industrial context, or knowledge mobilization to the media, communities, or other groups standing to benefit from the research. The processes, methodologies, and end products of these activities, with their evaluation, could comprise part of the dissertation.
What are the goals of the Public Scholar initiative (PSI) for doctoral students?

The Public Scholar initiative grew out of a university-wide conversation over the last year, and was developed by a 28-member advisory group on ‘Reimagining the PhD’.  The conversation and initiative were grounded in an acknowledgment of the many different contexts and ways in which PhD graduates carry out their scholarly activities in the world, and the different forms of scholarship and ways of thinking that are needed to address today’s pressing issues.  There was an acknowledgment too of the strong desire of many students to make tangible and immediate contributions to the public good. The university, government, and granting agencies also have vested interests in the innovation and positive social gains generated from research activity.

The objectives for the initiative are to enable and encourage a broadened conception of the PhD degree for those interested in these types of pathways, and to enable students to gain experience in non-academic (or alternative academic) environments as part of their scholarly work leading to the PhD degree.  It is not intended to replace the traditional modes of PhD research for whom that continues to be relevant and desirable.

The goals for this broadened conception of the PhD include the following:

  • students gain experience in the environments and types of scholarship they may productively engage in post-graduation.
  • students' work is evaluated as part of the dissertation, ensuring it is of the highest quality, and signaling that the university considers these diverse forms of scholarship worthy of recognition.
  • non-academic partners appreciate first-hand the value of PhD-level thinking and scholarship – contributing to enhanced career opportunities for students and enhanced public perception of the value of the PhD.
  • students can contribute directly to the public good in diverse ways through rigorous scholarship.
Are other universities doing the same thing?

A number of universities have initiatives that promote public scholarship, and many universities, including UBC, have doctoral programs that are quite applied in orientation (e.g. industry-connected, or practice-based). We are not aware of other universities with a pan-university goal of encouraging public scholarship and inclusion of related scholarly artifacts as part of the doctoral dissertation.

Can I participate in the initiative if I don’t need (or get) funding?

Yes. To be included as a ‘participant’ in the initiative, you must apply, whether or not you need funding. A 'participant' (without funding) is invited to participate in and present at the networking and professional development events, and can expect a proactive level of academic support from the G+PS Dean's office.

Does my research qualify me for participation in this initiative?

We would consider all research that is deemed ‘public scholarship’, broadly defined as:
Creating and circulating knowledge for and with publics and communities, often involving mutually beneficial partnerships of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to contribute to the public good through:

  • enriching knowledge, practice, scholarship, creative activity, intellectual curiosity and wonder;
  • enhancing curriculum, teaching and learning;
  • preparing educated, engaged citizens; and/or
  • addressing and helping solve critical problems

As a pilot program, we expect to learn through the submission of proposals what the range of potential “public scholarship” projects can be.  As such, we are not offering in advance highly detailed criteria for inclusion, and won’t determine in advance which specific research “qualifies”.  Attributes of strong candidate proposals include true partnerships with a non-academic or alternative academic (e.g. teaching, administration, or service) bodies or individuals, addressing issues of mutual interest and potential for positive social contribution; and a high quality of research with important and clearly defined goals.

What could I include in the dissertation?

Work stemming from the Public Scholar Initiative can be embedded throughout the dissertation, or could comprise a separate chapter (s).  It is up to you, your supervisor, and your supervisory committee to determine what is appropriately included in the dissertation, and a rationale for their scholarly merit and relevance is expected.  The G+PS Dean’s office allows a broad spectrum of scholarly artifacts in addition to academic papers, including policy papers, syllabi, communication material to non-academic audiences, films, patent applications, etc.  Students should note that their dissertation will be publicly available, with exceptions made for limited-term embargos for well-justified reasons.

Would students only be eligible if they are doing collaborative work?

It depends on the project. Collaboration and partnership are highly valued aspects of most public scholarship, but may not always be central elements.

How will 'public good' be assessed in the application? Would activism count?

We do not have set criteria at this point to assess public good, but look to the applicants to make a case for the need for and likely impact of the work.  If the goals and methods of a project are scholarly, then it would likely be considered  as eligible “public scholarship”.

Can I have non-academic mentors?

Yes. Non-academic collaborators may be appropriate mentors for the dissertation. If they contribute substantial guidance for the project, and are well-qualified to assess the work, they could (or perhaps, should) be included on your supervisory committee. You will need to have a UBC faculty member as a supervisor or co-supervisor. Your supervisor, program director, and the G+PS Dean's office would need to approve non-academic committee members, based on an appropriate rationale.

Could the travel allowance be used to bring someone to Vancouver, perhaps as a research partner?

It’s possible such a use could be considered as a research allowance.

Can funding be used to help launch a start-up company?

If the start-up is a required to accomplish the goals of the research, it’s possible the funding could be used for that purpose.

I am nearing completion – do I qualify?

If your research is completed, you would not qualify for funding. If you wish to participate in the network, or to receive academic support with your dissertation, you should apply.

I’m concerned that the university or external examiners of my dissertation might not agree that the type of scholarship and content of my dissertation are appropriate for a PhD degree. Is there anything that can be done to lessen that risk?

If that is a concern, it would be important for you and your supervisor to keep the G+PS Dean’s office informed of the progress of your research and plans for its inclusion in the dissertation, so that advice could be provided throughout the dissertation work, rather than just at the final submission stage. The G+PS Dean's office can provide a rationale for and description of the program to the examiners if necessary.

It is also – always – important to provide a rationale for the merit of the work more generally within the body of the dissertation.

Does current scholarship funding support make a difference in how applications are ranked?

No, the criteria for ranking are first and foremost about the quality of work and student potential; in terms of funding, the degree to which the funding is needed is taken into account.  Students on full scholarships would not normally be eligible for stipend support.

Might doing this type of work negatively impact my application for academic jobs or Tri-council scholarships?

These types of scholarship are increasingly recognized as valuable within academia and by granting agencies, but it would be important for candidates themselves to articulate why they should be considered so. In terms of Tri-council applications, applicants should ensure that the proposed research fits within the relevant Tri-council area.

Information on the initiative, including its goals and rationale, will be publicly available, and can be referred to in applications. The Dean's office can also provide a rationale for and description of the program if necessary. It is possible that embarking on these pathways does entail some risk as well as provide opportunities.

What if my supervisor doesn't want to consider alternative forms or content of a dissertation?

For inclusion in the program, your supervisor must support your proposal. Supervisors or graduate program directors are most welcome to discuss their questions or concerns about the initiative or about potential risks of alternative dissertation models with the G+PS Dean's office.

Could I spread the funding over multiple years?

Yes, if there is a valid rationale for that.

I’m very interested in the concept, but don’t have a formal proposal yet. Can I still apply?

No, a proposal is an eligibility requirement for being selected as a PSI participant. Note that there are some opportunities for interested students (who haven't applied or been accepted to the initiative) to participate in networking and professional development events.

Are postdocs eligible?

No, they are not eligible for this pilot. We will evaluate the pilot for consideration of broader eligibility in the future.

Where is the funding coming from?

It comes from a G+PS pool of accumulated funds from Tri-council scholarships that were terminated early, general scholarship endowments, and a small amount of G+PS operating funds.