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Appetite for training

Program for faculty provides introduction to graduate student supervision

Teaching and Learning

By Courtenay Alcock

This fall marked the launch of a new program for Memorial’s faculty that provides an introduction to important aspects of graduate student supervision.

Developed by the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL), the Program in Graduate Student Supervision is the first training program of its kind at Memorial, and also unique among Canadian universities.

Dr. Melanie Greene stands in front of a classroom facilitating a session.
Dr. Melanie Greene, teaching consultant with CITL, facilitates the Program in Graduate Supervision.
Photo: Albert Johnson

The purpose of the program is to review literature on graduate student supervision and to help participants reflect on their practice as graduate supervisors.

“The training and mentoring of graduate students by faculty supervisors is critical to a positive university experience, timely program completion and preparedness for the world of work,” said Dr. Aimée Surprenant, dean, SGS.

“The Program in Graduate Student Supervision is part of a number of new initiatives for faculty members engaged in supervision to ensure the best possible experience and outcomes for graduate students.”

Broad view

The program content takes a broad view to the nature of graduate student supervision, covering topics such as models of supervision, the supervisory relationship, attributes of effective supervision, and issues related to cross-cultural supervision.

It is hoped the program will motivate faculty members to consider taking on graduate students, and to help faculty realize better outcomes for the graduate students they are currently supervising. Beyond that, the developers hope the program will be a mechanism with which to create a community of practice.

Share experiences

“Throughout the program we encourage faculty members to share their experiences and approaches to graduate student supervision,” explained Albert Johnson, associate director of educator development with CITL and co-developer of the program.

“Many of our faculty are doing excellent work with their graduate students, but they need to hear that in order to increase their own efficacy. Research shows that faculty who reflect on their teaching/supervision, either individually or collaboratively with other faculty, become more purposeful in their supervisor activities.”

‘Build the community’

Dr. Alison Malcolm, associate professor, Department of Earth Sciences, can attest to this.

“I would encourage others to consider the program to build the community and share experiences.” — Alison Malcolm

She participated in the program this fall to investigate the literature on graduate supervision, and also to hear from others about their experiences of advising students.

“It was beneficial to have those discussions with a variety of people from across campus and interact about how we advise students,” she said.

“I would encourage others to consider the program to build the community and share experiences on how advising works, what works and what doesn’t, and to weigh in on what the experts say.”

Filling the gap

Prior to this offering, there were no programs available to faculty to support training in, or orientation to, graduate supervision.

“We suspect most new faculty based their approach to their own experiences as a graduate student,” said Dr. Surprenant. “We know from the literature and our open meetings with faculty that there is an appetite for formal training.”

“The relationship between student and supervisor is one of the most important factors influencing graduate student retention, persistence and success.” — Dr. Aimée Surprenant

Dr. Melanie Greene, a teaching consultant with CITL and facilitator of the program, focused her doctoral dissertation on the role of support services on graduate student persistence. One of her major findings was the importance of the supervisory relationship.

“The relationship between student and supervisor is one of the most important factors influencing graduate student retention, persistence and success, yet support services for faculty on effective supervision are lacking,” she said.

“But this program offering works to fill that gap. In facilitating the program, I learned that faculty mostly want a space to voice their concerns, share their experiences and learn from their peers, while being provided with resources to guide them in being more efficient and effective in their communications with students.”

Winter 2017 semester

The program was initially piloted in spring 2016, with 15 participants, and an active wait list. Seats were filled within 24 hours. This initial offering used a blended delivery model over a four-week period, with the majority of the program being completed online and concluding with a capstone face-to-face session. Based on feedback from participants, the fall offering was extended and the format was adjusted to include more face time.

For the winter 2017 semester, the program will be offered over nine weeks in a blended format, with online content and four face-to-face sessions.

Registration for the winter offering of the Program in Graduate Student Supervision is now open. To register, or for more information, please visit here.


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