It’s official: Dr. Brent Snook is a great mentor.
The professor of psychology in the Faculty of Science was recently recognized by the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS) with the Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award, given for outstanding support of a graduate student or students from course completion through research and placement.
Dr. Snook was selected over nominations from other NAGS member organizations from Central and Eastern Canada, and the Northeastern United States, including prestigious universities such as Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton and Columbia.
This marks the second time in three years a faculty member from Memorial University has won this award. Dr. Lisa Rankin, Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, received it in 2016.
So what makes him so different? Dr. Snook, who previously received Memorial’s President’s Award for Outstanding Graduate and Post-graduate Supervision, says he starts by providing a safe learning environment.
As soon as students enter his lab, he tells them they are free to say and be whoever they want to be.
“I don’t dictate what they research,” he said. “I guide them, but I don’t dictate. The second key part is immersive learning. When I was a graduate student, I often had no idea what professors did or what the role entailed. I felt like I was in the dark.
“I thought If I was ever a supervisor, I wouldn’t do that,” he continued. “I would be completely transparent and open. I try to think, if I was in their shoes, what would I want? Sometimes I know, but if I don’t, I ask them.”
Dr. Snook explains his process as an apprenticeship model – everything he does, he gives students an opportunity to be involved.
“He believes that reflected glory is warmer than the direct beam.”
If he has to write a grant, he shows them what he is doing and asks for advice. If he has to give a keynote speech at a conference, he asks them to review it and make comments. If he is teaching a class, he invites them to give a guest lecture.
“I feel if they get exposed to all of that, it increases their breadth of knowledge and makes them more well-rounded, and their input is valuable to me.”
Much like in a family, Dr. Snook also strives for equality: making sure everyone is given the same opportunities to have input and participate.
“I’m not at the end of my career, by any means, but I feel I have accomplished a lot of the things I wanted,” he said. “I’m a full professor and I’ve got a solid program of research. Now my interest is in watching my students grow, get published and develop their own areas of research. I’ve been coaching sports my whole life and I guess part of it is enjoying seeing other people doing well, especially if they can do better than me.”
One of the things that stood out to the award committee was Dr. Snook’s continued relationship with his students after they graduate. He stays in regular contact with them, both on a research and personal level.
Improving graduate student experience
“Dr. Snook demands performance out of his team by motivating them to work toward a common goal, but gives them the freedom to be creative and innovate,” said Dr. Aimée Surprenant, dean, School of Graduate Studies at Memorial.
“He is compassionate, enthusiastic, inspiring, generous, collaborative, intellectual, and accessible. He believes that reflected glory is warmer than the direct beam and searches out ways to help his students succeed. He is truly deserving of this award.”
Memorial’s Program in Graduate Student Supervision is designed to provide an introduction for faculty to the various aspects of this important role. Approximately 60 faculty have been trained in it so far; the course is so popular there’s a wait list every time it’s offered.
“To our knowledge, no university in Canada offers a full, blended learning, cohort-based model like we do,” said Andrew Kim, director, graduate enrolment services, School of Graduate Studies. “Memorial is making deliberate efforts to improve graduate student experience in places that matter most — for research students, faculty supervisors are above and beyond the most important.”
Recently, the university expanded the program so educators across Canada can take advantage of this unique offering. Dr. Snook has been asked to co-facilitate the nine-week online course, and he hopes to add his unique experiences and methods to the mix.