Objective 3

Ensure innovation in graduate studies based on research strengths and competitive funding 

Overall strategy 3.1:
McGill will attract, retain and better support graduate students through enhanced funding, improved supervision, and reduced time to completion. (Budget Book FY 2013; GPS)

Strategy 3.2: McGill will implement a dynamic on-line application process, including the collection and storage of electronic supporting documentation. (Provost mandate) 

Strategy 3.3: McGill will ensure that graduate student support packages, especially at the doctoral level, are even more competitive to help Faculties attract the best students, both domestic and international. (Strengths and Aspirations; GPS)

Rationale: In order to be successful as a world-class research-intensive university, McGill must remain competitive in Canada and internationally in the recruitment, enrolment and retention of talented graduate students. Further to fulfil our commitment to be the premier graduate school in the nation and among our peers around the world, we must find ways and means to fund graduate education at levels commensurate with comparable institutions.

Strengths: Thanks to the implementation plan that accompanied Strengths and Aspirations (2006), in recent years McGill has increased graduate student recruitment efforts significantly. Indeed, practices including student-authored blogs, a social media presence and a network of links on departmental sites have made the graduate recruitment website one of the most visited at McGill. Enrolments of domestic and international graduate students in research-based programs was planned and based on Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) targets for Faculties and specific programs have achieved significant increases. At the same time, graduate student support derived from the operating budget of the University has increased considerably over the period since Strengths and Aspirations was presented to Senate some six years ago. Recent consolidation of relevant support services for graduate and undergraduate students, recently introduced, are expected to streamline services, making them more accessible and efficient.

Strategy 3.4: McGill will build on the success of the well-respected graduate student program development support (SKILLSETS) program. (GPS) 

Action 3.4.1: Develop and implement plans to expand graduate professional development programming to address unmet needs.

Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) has launched a number of initiatives, including the nationally and internationally recognized SKILLSETS workshops,1

to enhance graduate education. There are beginning efforts to track graduate career outcomes. The interdisciplinary doctoral program in neurosciences, and the creation of the Institute for Public Life of Arts and Ideas (iPLAI), enhances interdisciplinary research and educational opportunities. An Outcome Tracking Survey (2009) polled graduates who received degrees between 2003 and 2009 about their preparation and post-graduation experience. (GPS)


Challenges: The Graduate Admissions Project (GAP) was designed to streamline processes, to improve efficiency, and to reduce bureaucracy. While progress has been made, much still needs to be done to turn this project into our regular practice. Online and paperless procedures remain incomplete, and paper-driven support services are still far too cumbersome and slow. Results from a survey of students who did not enrol at McGill indicated that the delays in receiving their firm offers was a primary reason for choosing to go elsewhere, even when McGill was their first choice.

Action 3.4.2: Ensure that research grants in relevant disciplines provide support for graduate students and increase success rates in provincial, federal, and international competitions.

Graduate aid increases, as noted above, now comes close to at least the mid-point of competitor peer universities in Canada. Our goal is to make McGill comparable to the top peers and not just with the average of the U15 reference group. This, of course, requires diversification of revenue streams and a considerable increase in the total amount of funding available for this purpose.

Action 3.4.3: Develop well-defined and transparent processes, including electronic procedures for recruitment, retention, and for the tracking, monitoring of graduate student milestones and time to completion.

Strategy 3.5: McGill will establish processes and practices for improving times to completion for graduate students.

Action 3.5.1: Enforce times to completion commensurate with disciplinary norms.

Improving times to completion for graduate programs remains is a core challenge, and even though it is not unique to McGill, we must find home-grown solutions because this variable is intertwined with every other issue that affects the graduate student experience. (GPS)  Various efforts have been identified for helping to reduce time to completion have been identified but more work needs to be done, particularly related to the  effective monitoring of progress towards the degree.  Local level implementation of specific strategies and a search for and broad implementation of best practices will be a major, early effort in the coming years. (GPS, SEM)

There is also a need for better integration of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows into the McGill and Montreal communities. Together with appropriate preparation for academic staff who supervise graduate students or serve as advisors, and expanded programming in course design and teaching, the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the Deans of the Faculties must work with departments, centres, and institutes to address these matters forthrightly.

Space issues continue to create problems for some Faculties who indicate that chronic shortages of offices and study halls for graduate students limits their ability to increase enrolments and provide satisfactory environments for those in the second and third cycles of higher education. Our physical planning efforts will be more tightly integrated with enrolment targets, especially for graduate students in research programs.

Strategy 3.6: McGill will develop and create interdisciplinary graduate programs and programs in emerging disciplines. (GPS submission, (Also fulfils Objective 1, Objective 4)

Action 3.6.1: Identify and develop areas where programs in emerging disciplines and interdisciplinary programs should be implemented to ensure McGill’s academic success and reputation.

Although McGill has had some success in developing interdisciplinary graduate programs, there are many challenges (e.g., faculty workload issues, credit for supervision and teaching, availability of teaching assistantships and research assistantships for students with interdisciplinary interests or assignments; Complex channels of communication between and among units and unit enrolment targets may inhibit expanded development of interdisciplinary programs. Further, the level and type of data to support current and new initiatives for both programs in emerging disciplines and interdisciplinary programs and ready access to that data is limited. (GPS ) This is a theme that has been indicated in other areas of this strategic paper as well, and one that must and will be addressed at the earliest possible moment in the implementation phase.

Strategy 3.7: McGill will implement, in partnership with units across the University, a program to enhance all aspects of graduate supervision. (Provost mandate)

Action 3.7.1. Implement enhanced programs for both supervisors and supervisees for improving the supervisor-supervisee relationship. (GPS )

Action 3.7.2: Implement requirements that ensure graduate students, regardless of funding, become directly involved with faculty research. (GPS)

Action 3.7.3: Use the “Outcome Tracking Survey” of McGill graduate student degree holders to enhance student recruitment and to create graduate development support mechanisms. (GPS)

1 SKILLSETS Professional Development Workshops for Graduate Students http://www.mcgill.ca/ipn/continuing/events/skillsets