News | McGill addresses grad-supervisor relations

Students, ombudsperson recommend more supervisor training

As part of an ongoing initiative to improve the relationship between graduate students and supervisors, something that the University has struggled with in the past, McGill recently launched a new webpage that outlines the roles and responsibilities of the supervisory relationship.

In an interview with The Daily, Martin Kreiswirth, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and Associate Provost (Graduate Education), explained that attention to the relationship between supervisor and supervisee is relatively new.

“In graduate education in universities, [the relationship] was something that had been pretty much ignored for many years, up until the mid-1990s or even later,” said Kreiswirth. “I don’t think McGill has been particularly late [to address the relationship], but it wasn’t at the forefront. McGill has been in the middle, and I think we’re now giving it a kind of attention that other universities aren’t […] the attention that it needs.”

In December 2012 and January 2013, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) distributed a survey to both graduate students and supervisors on the state of the supervisory relationship.

In the survey, 66 per cent of students across faculties thought that McGill should train all graduate supervisors; however, only 39 per cent of surveyed supervisors agreed that this training was necessary.

“Unfortunately, […] at times one gets the impression that those supervisors who would benefit most from these resources do not use them.”

This discrepancy, according to Kreiswirth, is largely due to the importance of the relationship to the student’s career relative to the supervisor’s. Training new professors and holding workshops for supervisors has been consistently recommended by Spencer Boudreau, the student ombudsperson, in the Ombudsperson’s Annual Report since the 2010-11 academic year.

According to Kreiswirth, the GPS is acting on these recommendations despite some faculty resistance.

“We’ve improved our [supervisor] workshops, we get more people to attend. […] There’s a pretty general agreement that new professors need to get training [before becoming supervisors],” he told The Daily.

The focus on training new professors, rather than all supervisors, stems largely from concerns about the feasibility and practical concerns of such a project.

Another important change will be the explicit statement of the roles and responsibilities of both graduate students and supervisors. Kreiswirth emphasized to The Daily that “establishing and maintaining the relationship between supervisors and supervisees, and articulating expectations and agreeing upon them early,” are arguably the most important factors to improving the relationship between graduate students and their supervisors.

Jonathan Mooney, PGSS Secretary-General, agreed with Kreiswirth, adding, “PGSS wants there to be clear expectations and accountability on both sides for the students and the supervisor. We think that is the best way to build a positive solution for the relationship.”

According to Kreiswirth, expectations will be clarified through adjustments to the mandatory progress tracking system already in place at McGill.

Kreiswirth also explained that the new mechanism should not require additional Senate approval as it is simply an add-on to the system that is already in place.

Boudreau’s 2012-13 Ombudsperson’s Annual Report, released online on January 31, acknowledged the progress that has been made. “There are regularly scheduled supervision workshops, as well as a website, and resources available to all supervisors,” reads the report.

However, Boudreau also emphasized that future implementation of mandatory training will be critical to the improvement of the supervisory relationship.

“Unfortunately however, at times one gets the impression that those supervisors who would benefit most from these resources do not use them. Consequently I wish to repeat my recommendation from my [2010-11] Annual Report that all new academic hires without prior experience of graduate supervision be expected to attend a supervision workshop,” Boudreau stated in the report.

The Daily was unable to reach Boudreau for further comment before press time.

Overall, there is still work to be done on the relationship between graduate students and their supervisors. “It’s generally good, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better,” said Kreiswirth.