2017 Carrie M. Derick Award for Graduate Supervision and Teaching

On this page:
Jean-Christophe Nave
Sara AhmedNiladri Basu | Nathan Hall | Jérôme Waldispühl

Winner

Jean-Christophe Nave, Mathematics and Statistics

“Supervision is nurturing the student’s growing capability as an independent researcher.”

Biography

I am originally from the south of France, and moved to the United States to attend University. In 2004, I obtained a Ph.D. from the University of California in Santa Barbara.  After a short time working for a startup company in California, in 2005, I joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology department of mathematics as an instructor of applied mathematics. In 2010, I moved to Canada and joined the department of mathematics and statistics at McGill University where I was tenured in 2015. I have been funded by the NSF and NSERC, and am the recipient of an NSERC accelerator award.

Approach to graduate supervision

When I start supervising a new graduate student, I first engage him or her in general scientific conversations. I guide and focus our discussions toward specific problems that may be best tuned to the student’s interest and capability. I devote generous time and efforts to this initial phase. I may have one-on-one meetings with the student every day for several months. This process eventually converges to choosing an original problem, which then becomes the student’s thesis topic. I then follow closely the progress of the research project while nurturing the student’s growing capability as an independent researcher. This capability culminates in a student possessing enough technical knowledge to allow for creativity. This combination is essential for becoming a successful mathematician, and often signals that a student is ready for graduation. Throughout the time that a student is under my supervision, I encourage him or her to give lectures to peers as often as possible, and to present research results at conferences. Part of my role as a supervisor is to ensure my students acquire not only good writing and oral skills, but also are outstanding teachers. Mathematics is the basic language of many other fields of science and I see it as one of my duties that my students be not only skilled at presenting their research but also take pride in teaching mathematics at every level.

Testimonials

Under the supervision of Dr. Nave, I am not only getting guidance for how to become a better researcher, but also developing the skills I need to eventually work in academia. I have learned from him to value mathematical discussion over coffee as much as hammering away at the chalkboard and that coming up with new ideas to solve problems is just as important as having the technical skills required to work on those problems. Professor Nave believes deeply that communication among colleagues is important and that ideas should be shared. These values are evident by the weekly informal math seminars, adored by many graduate students, which he is the driving force behind. 

Geoff MacGregor, current PhD candidate


Nominees

Sara Ahmed, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy

“Graduate supervision requires a respect for students, as partners in exploring and learning.”

 

Biography

I am an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, and an FRSQ senior research scholar.  Supported by federal, provincial, and private industry funds, my research includes studies that 1) develop and evaluate the impact of chronic disease computer-enabled self-management interventions integrated into electronic personal health records (e.g. web-based asthma self-management) in chronic disease management programs; 2) evaluate knowledge exchange and transfer interventions related to best practices for chronic disease management; and 3) address the challenges of using patient reported outcomes (e.g. health-related quality of life) using advanced psychometric approaches for improving the precision and efficiency of outcome evaluations.   

Approach to graduate supervision

My role as a supervisor is to provide students with the support, environment, and infrastructure needed for them to learn and complete a project that will contribute to the field of rehabilitation. My goal is to provide the necessary direction and encouragement for students to meet the milestones of the program such as developing their study protocol, data collection, and conference presentations. I was fortunate to have had two excellent supervisors who shaped my experience in the graduate program, Dr. Nancy Mayo and Dr. Sharon Wood-Dauphinee. Both provided me with exceptional graduate training and taught me the value of ongoing feedback and input from external experts in the area I was studying. I have started and plan to continue applying these lessons learned with my students to ensure they complete their projects in a timely fashion and further enrich their learning experience through contact with external experts whenever possible and appropriate. To accomplish this, I rely on a number of methods and approaches I have 'collected' over the years from teachers who taught me. In working to achieve these aims I myself expect to engage in the reflective process in identifying which tools and teaching styles ‘work’ or ‘don’t work’ in different circumstances. The following approaches are aimed at achieving my graduate supervision and teaching goals: 1. A respect for students, as partners in exploring and learning. 2. A commitment to encourage students to be active participants in the learning process. 3. An emphasis that with knowledge there is also uncertainty and therefore a need for balanced and continuing education.

Testimonials

Dr. Sara Ahmed was my supervisor for my PhD and Master’s from 2010–2017. During that time, I also worked as a research assistant with Dr. Ahmed. Throughout my academic and professional journey, Dr. Ahmed gave me the tools required to achieve excellence in research. Dr. Ahmed has continuously supported me and guided me on the right track to improve my research skills; she taught me the basics of advanced statistical approaches: Structural Equation Modeling and Item Response Theory; explained me the Knowledge Translation concept; suggested courses to learn qualitative analysis and meta-analysis; and helped me in data analysis and writing. Dr. Ahmed has also given me the opportunity to meet individuals with a variety of expertise to maximize my knowledge in research. Given my experience with Dr. Ahmed, I have the opportunity to assist my peers, which has improved my skills in teamwork, and to become a strong independent researcher who is able to work on different kind of research design, methodology, and statistical analyses.

Dr. Owis Eilayyan, Physiotherapist, Postdoc, McGill University


Niladri Basu, Natural Resource Sciences

“I aim to help students take a self-directed approach towards problem solving and learning.”

 

Biography

I hold a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Environmental Health Sciences and am an Associate Professor at McGill University.  My group is based in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The goal of my research is to take an ecosystem approach to community, occupational, and environmental health whereby evidence is collected, scrutinized, and compared from both humans and ecological organisms.  This work has supported over 70 trainees, resulted in over 130 peer-reviewed papers, and been supported by more than 45 grants totaling over $35 million.

Approach to graduate supervision

Student learning is the beating heart of McGill, and the most rewarding aspect of my career is witnessing (and manipulating!) such hearts to beat faster with anticipation, or slower with self-scrutiny, or sporadic with bewilderment.  At the core of my teaching philosophy is that the classroom and the research team should be a place: a) of critical, open, and respectful dialogue; and b) where students can see the world through alternate viewpoints, lenses, and hypotheses.  In graduate student mentoring, the strategy that underlies my core philosophy involves four key aspects.  First, I strive to help students relate to material on a personal level.  I use examples that are relevant to their own lives and interests, and draw upon my own.  Second, I aim to help students to think critically and systematically, and take a self-directed approach towards problem solving and learning. As opposed to answering questions, students are encouraged to be active, ask questions, and seek explanations.  Students are encouraged to be creative and bold in their endeavors.  Students are pushed to challenge the status quo and explain variances.  Third, I recognize that a variety of learning styles exist, and thus I focus on identifying, incorporating, and fine-tuning a range of methods into my mentoring to be able to reach the majority of my students. Fourth, I take feedback seriously.  Surveys exist in our graduate courses, and I have developed an anonymous survey scheme within my research group.  In both cases, I always summarize the findings and return to the students a proposition for improvement. I do not take my opportunity as a mentor for granted and always seek out ways to improve.

Testimonials

Creativity, passion for discovery, and a sense of social justice are all crucial elements for a successful scientist. Dr. Niladri Basu not only embodies these characteristics, his excellent communication skills allow him to share them with others. Nil, as we call him, superbly balances his excitement to teach with his focus on scientific rigour. His relaxed presence made training with him a true privilege. One of the most memorable ways Nil had an impact on my learning was by asking me, throughout the stages of my study, to reflect on my experiences and see how my work fits into a broader picture. He also made it clear that his door was always open. In brief, Nil is a dedicated leader who is committed to the success of his trainees and has an eagerness to make a substantial contribution to society as a whole. 

Maia Siedlikowski, current graduate student

Dr. Basu’s passion for his areas of research, approachability, positive attitude, patience and enthusiasm make him an ideal mentor to students. This combined with his professional connections within the environmental and toxicological community, and his skill at multitasking and managing lab resources to the best extent possible make him a great supervisor. I have had the opportunity to work on several cutting-edge research projects under his guidance. Nil is a phenomenal writer and I have learnt a lot from his edits and suggestions in writing my proposal and manuscript drafts. His comments are always constructive and have helped me become a better writer.  In the lab, he always encourages us to ask for help whenever needed. And it’s always given. This is a testament to the environment forged under Nil’s mentorship. Even in choosing members to add to our group, other than their abilities in the lab, he also pays attention to how they would fit in with other members. This makes for a lab that is helpful and collaborative, with a supportive group of members. In conclusion, I feel fortunate to be studying under a supportive and fair supervisor and have had a great graduate experience thus far!

Krittika Mittal, current PhD candidate

I was the first member of Dr. Basu (Nil’s) research group at the University of Michigan in 2008. I started out as a Master’s student but switched to the toxicology doctoral program due to my interactions with Nil. He was willing to give a student a large role in designing and executing a new project. The knowledge and skills I gained throughout this process encompass the foundation that my career has been built upon. My writing and presentation skills improved drastically under Nil, a prolific writer and excellent teacher. I presented results at meetings from local to international with Nil’s support and published nine papers. Nil’s passion for toxicology, approachability, knowledge, and connections enabled me to have a successful doctoral training and academic career beyond. I truly enjoyed my graduate training due to the positive influence and guidance Nil provided me with as well as the camaraderie and collaborative spirit he fostered in our research group. 

Dr. Jaclyn Goodrich, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health


Nathan Hall, Educational and Counselling Psychology

“I set clear expectations and build relationships based on honesty and mutual respect.”

 

Biography

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, Vice-President Communications for MAUT, and Director of the Achievement Motivation and Emotion research group (www.ame1.net). My research is funded by provincial, federal, and international grants and examines the structure, effects, and self-regulation of motivation and emotions in educational settings (students, teachers, faculty) and the utility of motivational interventions for improving performance, persistence, and psychological health as facilitated by digital/social media. I presently supervise 9 graduate students, including 3 CGS doctoral fellowship awardees, and have since 2009 coordinated a graduate exchange program with institutions in Germany and Hong Kong.

Approach to graduate supervision

I prefer a direct and hands-on approach to graduate supervision, working intensively with students in weekly lab and individual meetings to develop ideas, review analyses, develop writing, and strategize dissemination. The success of my students - whether it be thesis completion, publishing, external funding, or landing a post-doctoral fellowship or job upon graduation - is critical to not only my own academic success and reputation, but also lab productivity. So in addition to setting clear expectations and challenging my students to improve their abilities and critically evaluate all aspects of academic life (e.g., publishing, engagement, work-life balance), I try my best to provide timely and meaningful support in terms of logistics (e.g., equipment, immigration, childcare), funding (e.g., research assistantships, conferences, workshops), and feedback (e.g., findings, applications, manuscripts). I have found that by investing time in students, building relationships based on honesty and mutual respect, and securing the resources necessary to support their progress (e.g., funding, data, partnerships) that my students are better able to compete academically, think critically about various academic and research issues, and produce research of quality and value. I have also found this approach to require me to continually improve my own content knowledge as well as research and supervision abilities just to keep up; a continual learning process that keeps me focused, relevant, and engaged. I appreciate my students, I learn something new from them every day, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to participate in this phase of their academic career.

Testimonials

In reflecting on my personal and professional relationship with Nathan, what stands out most is how selfless he has been with his time. I cannot stress enough how important this has been for my development and success as a researcher, writer, and teacher. On countless occasions, no matter how seemingly trivial my request or concern, Nathan has made himself available to provide guidance, restore confidence, and encourage persistence. Whether it be an unscheduled meeting lasting three hours or a last-minute phone call at an unruly hour before a conference submission is due, Nathan has put my well-being and success ahead of his own. Speaking with many of my fellow graduate students inside and outside McGill, I have come to appreciate how rare this quality is in a supervisor and how fortunate I have been. 

Kyle Hubbard, current PhD candidate


Jérôme Waldispühl, School of Computer Science

“I aim to help students become independent researchers.” 

 

Biography

I lead the Computer Science and Biology Group at McGill. I conduct research in computational molecular biology with a strong emphasis on RNA sequence/structure analysis and protein folding prediction. I am also interested in applications of crowdsourcing and human-computing techniques in bioinformatics. I received a PhD in Computer Science from École Polytechnnique (France) in 2004 and then did a postdoc at Boston College. In 2006, I moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I was an instructor in applied mathematics. I came to McGill in 2009. I received the Tomlinson Scientist Award in 2012 and the Fessenden Professorship in Science Innovation in 2013.

Approach to graduate supervision

As a supervisor, I aim to develop the critical thinking of my students, and help them become independent researchers. To so this, I hold weekly group meetings with the members in my group. At the beginning of each semester, they share their research with the group. We discuss the challenges, bottlenecks, and research opportunities. This exercise is important because it helps students communicate and expose their ideas, helps them get feedback on their research, and fosters collaboration between students in the group and create a team spirit. In other meetings, we discuss seminal or recent papers that we choose collectively. Each student is responsible for following a journal and reporting on the most significant contributions. Later in the year, we invited guest speakers from other labs, which expands the research horizons of my students. I also meet my students individually on a weekly basis to discuss their progress. I consider that it is essential to keep this strict discipline because it shows the students that I actively follow them and it helps me to be more reactive in the case of a problem. Finally, I emphasize the importance of celebrating achievements of my students. This helps them become more confident in themselves and to stimulate the group.

Testimonials

Working with Professor Waldispühl has represented for me a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to learn from a very motivated, innovative, and supportive person. He always struck me as being a recursive, creative, and brilliant person. I have found him to be dedicated and passionate about his work. Even if he already has a position as Professor, he is still very enthusiastic and keen to learn. Professor Waldispühl focuses on consolidating the academic and personal formation of his students. He challenges his students to take the risk of ‘thinking out of the box’ and explore novel methodological avenues. More to his technical knowledge, his strength of character and professionalism make him a respectful and reliable person. Professor Waldispühl has been a research and personal model for me and other students. He has inspired many computer scientists to perform research of quality with social and health impact. He has also taught us novel strategies to face daily-life problems from a more positive perspective.  

David Becerra Romero, current PhD candidate

Graduate studies is a unique adventure and I feel incredibly lucky to have spent six years as a Master’s and a PhD student under the supervision of Jérôme. His ability to articulate complex challenges of the field while infecting me with his relentless enthusiasm towards the discovery of the unknown, has left a deep impact on me. Jérôme always pushed me to publish and present my work as often as possible and was diligent in introducing me to others in the field. Those experiences and contacts, with their myriad of point of views and interests, were crucial to expanding my vision and understanding of science. I feel that he deeply cares for his students. This, combined with his intellectual honesty created for me, a fertile environment for growth and research.

Dr. Vladimir Reinharz, postdoc at Ben-Gurion University, Israel

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

Back to top