The relationship between a research graduate student and his/her supervisor has been described as 'the most important channel of intellectual inheritance between one generation and the next'.
The graduate student-supervisor relationship is central to students’ academic progress, their student experience, their potential as future scholars, and their wellbeing. Supervision is a complex form of pedagogy, one made even more complicated by the changing nature of the university, the increasing diversity of our students, and the expanding modes of scholarship in many areas. Within this evolving context, we are committed to supporting the highest quality graduate supervision practices in the context of strong graduate programming consistent with our world-class research university.
Key initiatives and areas of support
Below are initiatives that Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies has been leading to promote excellent supervision. A holistic approach has been taken, which includes disseminating knowledge and encouraging reflection on principles and best practices, and promoting a culture that values and expects excellence.
Principles of Excellent Graduate Supervision
We believe that graduate supervision has not received the scholarly attention it deserves as a complex form of pedagogy. To help focus attention on this, G+PS spearheaded the establishment of program on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as it relates to graduate supervision. Faculty leaders from across UBC participated in the program, and several later nucleated a Graduate Supervision Leadership Group, with a goal of enhancing understanding, reflection, and practices of excellent supervision across the campus. Working from available evidence and scholarship in the area, the group developed a set of Principles of Excellent Graduate Supervision along with related practices and resources, which were subsequently endorsed by the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee. The Leadership Group has since expanded to include key staff and student representatives on campus and continues to work on promoting high quality graduate supervision pedagogy. Related initiatives include an Equity Fund project on intercultural competency and supervision, a working group on mentoring Indigenous graduate students, and a report and recommendations related to graduate supervision and student wellbeing.
Forum on Mentoring Indigenous Graduate Students
In 2017, the Graduate Supervision Leadership Group and other key stakeholders from across campus sponsored a Forum on Mentoring Indigenous Graduate Students. Supported by the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, the forum drew over 70 faculty, staff, and students to listen to international and local Indigenous scholars and students share exemplary programming and practices as well as institutional barriers and challenges Indigenous students face at UBC. The Forum resulted in a working group to compile a set of recommendations (e.g. developing a Welcoming Event for all new Indigenous graduate students in collaboration with the First Nations House of Learning, expanding the SAGE program, and considering new funding initiatives). These recommendations are currently being implemented.
Celebrating Excellent Mentoring: Killam Mentoring Award and Great Supervisor Week
Funded by the Killam Trust, G+PS holds a competition each year for two faculty awards (senior and mid-career) acknowledging excellence in graduate mentorship. Citations for the awardees are read at Convocation each year, and videos of selected recipients are created and posted.
Starting in 2017, G+PS also organizes a #GreatSupervisor Week each year in May. UBC graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to outstanding supervisors on social media using #GreatSupervisor and #UBC, especially noting how they embody the Principles of Excellent Supervision. Over the two years, more than 40 (2017), 80 (2018), 120 (2019) and supervisors respectively were recognized by one or more of their students. We celebrate these faculty members at an event in the fall, where they receive a #GreatSupervisor mug. All #GreatSupervisor mentions are integrated into our supervisor profiles.
The initiative was paused in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Workshops and online Resources for Faculty
New and continuing faculty are invited to participate in workshops on supervision offered periodically throughout the year. In these workshops, we share and discuss principles and practices of excellent supervision, with some devoted to particular topics such as helping students with their writing, or supervision in an intercultural context and, most recently, supervision during teh COVID-19 pandemic.
Online resources include a template document for the articulation of mutual (student and supervisor) expectations, guidelines for assisting students in distress, an outline of supervisor and student responsibilities, and advice on helping students through the various stages of academic progression. Students are also offered workshops on the student-supervisory relationship through Graduate Pathways to Success and Orientation.
In addition, G+PS offers workshops for graduate advisors twice a year, as well as provides support to students and supervisors who are experiencing conflict.
Valuing and evaluating Supervision in Promotion and Tenure Reviews
The Graduate Supervision Leadership Group is currently developing a set of recommendations for documenting and further valuing and evaluating graduate supervision in promotion and tenure materials and reviews. These recommendations include: full documentation of graduate student progress, accomplishments and outcomes; narrative evaluations of mentoring philosophy, practices, and key collaborations; peer review; and student feedback. We are consulting on these recommendations with key stakeholders across campus and planning to work with programs to pilot processes they have identified as promising.
Intercultural Fluency Project
With key funding from the Equity Enhancement Fund, a cross-campus initiative to explore the role of intercultural understanding in the graduate student-supervisor relationship was launched in 2017, and included a symposium on Intercultural Fluency in May 2018.
Currently over 35% of UBC Vancouver’s graduate student population is international and diversity within that group and among other graduate students, faculty and staff continues to grow.
This project addresses the many benefits as well as complex challenges to the graduate supervisory relationship, for both students and supervisors.