Intellectual climate and academic community

Go to public lectures, join a club ... discover a world of ideas on campus

Although it might not always be apparent because of disciplinary separation and the size of our campuses, McGill's intellectual climate is full of activity. Take the initiative to participate in some of the many events that gather our academic communities and inspire dialogue and debate. You can also facilitate new events; you simply need a reason, the people who'll come, and the space to welcome them.


rountable classroomSigns of a warm intellectual climate include:

  • student-led peer support groups and other student-led initiatives (e.g., events or policies);
  • presentations by students and postdocs that are attended by most of the faculty;
  • occasions for visiting speakers to be introduced to students, postdocs, and professors;
  • social activities attended by a wide range of people from the department; and

(Adapted from Gerry Mullins and Neville Marsh of the University of Adelaide, and the University of Oxford’s Intellectual climate tool.)

McGill has many opportunities to participate in such activities, resulting in a vibrant intellectual climate and a vocal academic community. Ideas abound beyond the usual departmental confines—at guest lectures and exhibitions, through conferences and clubs, and at a growing number of institutes, centres, and websites like this one. They offer many opportunities for stimulating dialogue, creating new ideas, and learning more about all the knowledge developed and brought here.

Finding the right networks to suit your particular academic interests may take some effort, but a number of initiatives, institutions, and programs are committed to fostering and enhancing intellectual exchange. If you are a graduate student, perhaps start with recommendations from your supervisor or join your peers at one or many of the exceptional events at McGill each year. While the supervisory relationship is important, graduate students can receive additional support from—and feel more integrated in—a broader community.

Examples of activities and events offered at McGill

  • Writing groups:
    Students meet on a regular basis to discuss and give feedback on their work. This can be done in person or through online communication tools like Teams.
    Graphos at the McGill Writing Centre offers peer writing groups.
  • Journal clubs or reading groups:
    Regular meetings encourage critical thinking about selected journals or other academic literature. Ask around to see if there are existing groups you can join, or consider organizing your own.
  • Conferences, lectures and student seminars:
    They offer an opportunity to learn from established academics, and to gain public speaking experience and feedback by presenting in front of an audience. Public speaking events such as the 3-minute thesis competition (3MT/ MT180) also provide opportunities to practice sharing your research with non-specialists.
  • Workshops:
    Several groups on campus organize workshops on topics such as communication skills, teaching, academic integrity, and general life skills.
    Those organized by SKILLSETS and Graphos are catered towards graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Other groups include the Wellness Hub, and campus life and engagement.

Where to find information on activities and events

  • Browse or search events across campus by logging into myInvolvement

  • SKILLSETS sends InfoBulletin emails promoting professional and academic development events.
  • Your faculty, department, program, institute, research centre or academic unit.

The importance of infrastructure and resources

Work space, collaborative space, technology and equipment are crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable work environment, as well as for the organization of the above-described events. When discussing expectations with your supervisor, be sure to ask about these items.

  • Will you have office space on campus?
  • Are there collaborative spaces within the lab, academic unit, faculty, department or program that can be used for group work or small events, like journal clubs?
  • What technology (e.g., computers, printers) will be available in these spaces?

The McGill Library, especially their spaces for graduate students, as well as IT services are useful resources on this topic.

How can supervisees work together to meet collective needs?

Even with events happening across campus, graduate students can still feel that they are isolated or that they lack the support to succeed. Some departments provide opportunities for social contact with other students, faculty, and academic staff, including research presentations. In other departments, initiatives to foster an academic community come from the students themselves.


Case study: Creating a graduate community

The two McGill graduate students writing together here developed a discussion group through conversations with their cohort to address several growing concerns:

We didn’t feel we were getting a chance to have conversations with our professors. They’re always so busy! But, they have a wealth of experience that we don’t always get to hear about in the classroom. Some of their exciting view-points may not warrant a full 13 week course; however, we wanted to learn more on these subjects and what was behind their motivation before starting our intern and job searches.

We wanted to connect with alumni, local professionals, and active community members with a focus on developing some of the professional skills we aren’t taught. We wanted to explore our future roles as professionals and community members; how to work and engage collaboratively in the field and across disciplines. We invited people we admire from the community, some responded and others sent their regrets.

Finally, we wanted to connect with our fellow students before we all disbanded; to have fun, watch cool videos or YouTube clips and discuss what we thought about them. We did this mostly to challenge ourselves to think critically about current issues.

We aimed the discussions a people in our department and connected fields, but really it was open to anyone. We’ve held three very successful Q&A sessions and hope to hold another aimed at engaging and encouraging the cohort below us to set up reading groups and other academic activities aimed at graduate students.

Regardless of the motivation, some goals of developing an academic community are to:

  • provide a forum for students, researchers, and academics to discuss projects and practise presentation skills
  • give critical yet constructive feedback
  • collaborate and develop research ideas and
  • build and support the culture of an academic environment

Questions for reflection:

  1. Does your faculty, program or department offer events like the ones described in the case study? Have you attended?
  2. If you haven’t attended, what do you think you could gain from participating in these events?
  3. If your faculty, program or department doesn’t offer such events, would you be comfortable starting one?
    • What type of event or activity do you think would be most beneficial and interesting for this group?
    • What resources are available to help organize this event (e.g., peers, professors, program administrators, space on campus, email newsletters)?

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

Back to top