Extraordinary and continuous change is a hallmark of the 21st century. Changes are happening in our societies and natural world, in learner needs and opportunities, in learning approaches and technologies, and in the ways that our most highly educated people contribute to the world.

UBC is at the forefront of responding to and building on these changes, through reimagining approaches to research graduate education, promoting innovative forms and outputs of graduate scholarship and exploring flexible methodologies for learners to develop needed expertise.

Key initiatives and areas of support

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Graduate education is critical to the development of individuals who have the ideas, capabilities and knowledge that are needed to address the enormously complex challenges of the 21st century -- from climate change to Indigenous reconciliation to pandemics to the rampant flow of misinformation. 

The inquiry and scholarship undertaken by graduate students and the academy broadly is evolving to meet this period of challenge and transformation. The development of holistic understanding and effective approaches to address these complex issues requires more capacious approaches to scholarship, incorporating more diverse perspectives, collaborations, motivations, and ways of thinking than have traditionally been the norm in graduate education.  

It also often means that the products of graduate scholarship need to have broader purposes than solely communication to academic peers or passive dissemination of knowledge.

Graduate students need to learn to work, or improve how they work, in diverse ways, across subject and social sector boundaries. They need to be attentive to and be able to incorporate different methodological paradigms and perspectives, and skilled in translating knowledge for impact. 

We believe that such changed ways of generating and implementing knowledge are ideally learned as part of the core of research graduate education, assessed and integrated with their deepest scholarly learning.

UBC is a leader in shaping the evolution of graduate education along these lines. Some of the actions we have taken (or are planning) include:

  • Supporting doctoral students to engage in public and partnered scholarship as the core of their dissertation research via our Public Scholars and Collaborative PhD Initiatives.
  • Expanding thesis preparation and content instructions to pointedly permit the inclusion of non-traditional content and products.
  • Embracing emergent dissertation designs aligned with new modes of inquiry and expression
  • Modifying instructions to external dissertation examiners that alert them to UBC’s support of non-traditional dissertations, providing the work continues to demonstrate the necessary rigour of a doctoral degree.
  • Expanding the eligibility of non-academic experts and knowledge-keepers to serve on graduate student supervisory committees to enhance the relevance and scope of their work
  • Developing a new transdisciplinary research methodology course open to any student
  • Offering a microcredential in “Design for Transformation” geared for graduate students who want to build competency in systems and design thinking and to bring this perspective into their scholarly projects 

Public Scholars Initiative

The Public Scholars Initiative is a pioneering program to encourage and support doctoral students to broaden their dissertation research to encompass new perspectives, to collaborate with those outside the academy (or in alternate streams within the academy), and to embrace methodologies and scholarly outputs outside their disciplinary traditions. The goals of the PSI include direct contributions of the academy to the public good, enhanced readiness of doctoral students to contribute effectively to society after graduation, whether inside or outside the academy, and demonstration of the enormous breadth and depth of PhD graduates’ abilities. Launched in 2015, the multiple award-winning initiative has been recognized as 'revolutionary' and 'transformative', and is cited in UBC's strategic plan as a key component of the University’s goal to ‘deepen the relevance and public impact of UBC research and education’. In its eighth year in 2022/23, the PSI has provided funding and scholarly support for more than 300 doctoral students who address complex question and challenges through collaborative scholarship and public engagement. PSI scholars have come from nearly every UBC faculty and have worked with more than 150 different partners, in all societal sectors, in more than 40 countries. 

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Killam Connection

The Killam Connection is a program that provides financial support to faculty members to design and implement innovative, interdisciplinary, and intersectoral graduate courses on matters of general interest and public importance. The faculty invite prominent scholars and public leaders to give public talks and to help teach the course, and students from many disciplines learn together and complete scholarly projects oriented to public impact.

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Career trajectories of PhD graduates are much more diverse than in the past, with less than half being employed as research-intensive faculty. If we are to ensure that our educational approaches are relevant to our graduates’ futures, we need to understand what these are. Prospective students considering the significant commitment involved in undertaking a PhD also need to appreciate the range of possibilities for their future careers. 

To meet these needs, G+PS undertook a systematic tracking project in 2016 to determine the career paths of all 3805 UBC PhD students graduating between 2005 and 2013. Using a combination of survey and internet searches, information was obtained for 91% of these graduates. The analysis will be updated in the 2023-24 timeframe. This approach, and the ability to link the outcomes to student data, allowed a more comprehensive and richer analysis of student outcomes than most studies of this kind. The data have been distributed to all programs, and summaries posted for all prospective students.

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Graduate students and alumni are increasingly expanding the scope and arenas in which they work, and are seeking to develop a broad set of competencies to complement their academic preparation and advance their careers.  We are thus exploring the development of non-degree credentials for both current graduate students and scholarly professionals as advanced learning opportunities in subjects such as data science, design thinking, working with complex systems, knowledge mobilization, management, policy development, and public scholarship.