2018 Carrie M. Derick Award for Graduate Supervision and Teaching

On this page:
Paul Kry
Brian Chen | Pia Wintermark​​ | Tamara Sussman​​

Winner

Paul Kry, School of Computer Science

“I see graduate teaching as an chance to inspire, while my primary approach in supervision is about making excellent opportunities for students”

Biography

Paul G. Kry is an associate professor at McGill University in the School of Computer Science where he heads the Computer Animation and Interaction Capture Laboratory. His research interests are in physically based animation, including deformation, contact, motion editing, and simulated control of locomotion, grasping, and balance. He received his B.Math. in computer science with electrical engineering electives in 1997 from the University of Waterloo, and his M.Sc. and Ph.D. in computer science from the University of British Columbia in 2000 and 2005. He spent time as a visitor at Rutgers during most of his Ph.D., and did postdoctoral work at INRIA Rhône Alpes and the LNRS at Université René Descartes.  He is currently a director at large on the ACM SIGGRAPH executive committee, and is the president of the Canadian Human Computer Communications Society, the organization which sponsors the annual Graphics Interface conference.

Approach to graduate supervision

Classroom teaching and supervision of students are activities that I enjoy, and the reason I choose to work as a professor at a University. I appreciate the challenge of developing and continually improving my teaching and mentoring, and I am thankful for the fantastic graduate students that I have had the opportunity to work with over the last ten years. I see graduate teaching as an chance to inspire, while my primary approach in supervision is about making excellent opportunities for students. As opposed to a graduate student supervisor, I prefer to view myself as an adviser, motivator, facilitator, and mentor. I use different styles for different students, but common to all is the importance of regular discussion and feedback. While I use co-supervision for funding or expertise with about one third of my graduate students, I consider my supervision role to be primary or equal in almost all cases. I give my PhD students a lot of independence in their research, largely helping in problem definition and motivation, high level goals, breadth in readings and references, and critical evaluation of techniques, solutions, or approximations. For students needing more structure, such as some at the MSc level, I help break down problems, and establish regular checkpoints. I take great care in providing extensive feedback and edits to written work, and help students tell “the story” of their research in a manner such that reviewers understand the importance of the contributions.

Testimonials

I have known Dr. Kry since 2009, when he began supervising me as a Ph.D. student. My success as a graduate student, and more recently as a postdoctoral researcher and assistant professor, is due in no small part to his outstanding mentorship.  His enthusiasm for the field of computer graphics and animation is infectious, and my own passion and technical prowess in this area stems from taking his course on the subject.  I continue to collaborate with Dr. Kry. I watch as he molds each new group of graduate students into computer scientists of the highest calibre. Many of them go on to find exciting and desirable careers in industry or academia. His guidance remains a positive influence on my career development, as I’m sure it will for many students for years to come. 

Sheldon Andrews, Assistant Professor at l'École de technologie supérieure, Montreal


Nominees

Brian Chen, Neurology & Neurosurgery

“My approach to graduate supervision is focused on my students seeing the process of skill development itself.”

 

Biography

I joined McGill University as an Assistant Professor in 2009.  My research focuses on understanding how the molecular instructions in the genome can hard-wire neural circuits.  I hope to uncover the different molecules and strategies that neurons in the brain use to connect with each other.  This research will help us understand how brains can essentially self-assemble and wire up, and how these wiring instructions can go awry in abnormal brain development.

Approach to graduate supervision

Graduate students occupy a unique position in science, between undergraduates and post-doctoral fellows. They are in the crucial formative years in becoming a scientist, spending more years than a post-doctoral fellow but having less knowledge and skills. One of my goals in graduate supervision is to ensure that all lab members learn a core set of skills. For example, new lab members would not only be required to learn molecular genetics (i.e., the pedagogy), but also scientific conduct and research ethics. However, the skills learned in graduate school do not necessarily have to be specific to the tasks that you are learning them for. Looking back on my graduate education, the most important thing that I learned was the skill to learn more skills. In trying to become a better scientist, I learned to approach acquiring new skills as those required to tackle any process in life, skills such as constant education, technical troubleshooting, group leadership and followership, time management, or public communication. So, my approach to graduate supervision is not necessarily focused on the skills itself that students have to learn, but on them seeing the process of skill development itself. When students leave my lab, they will be adept at learning how to learn the skills to find any solution. Earning a PhD means learning how to solve problems. Any problem.

Testimonials

Dr. Chen is the ideal combination of passion and tenacity. I still vividly remember his enthusiasm when he first described my research project to me, and his excitement was very contagious. He is always the most knowledgeable person to consult with when I need advice throughout my graduate student life, on the bench or off the bench. When things do not go as plan, he is flexible and constantly gives me words of encouragement to motivates me to learn from my mistakes and to move past the frustration and continue looking forward. Dr. Chen would help us troubleshoot the problems, no matter if it is late at night or on holidays. His commitment to scientific research and education prompts me and my colleagues to work harder and do our very best as scientists.  His enthusiasm and geniality inspire me to follow his steps and pursue a career as a neuroscientist.

Júnia Santos, current PhD Student

I was very fortunate to have Dr. Brian Chen as my graduate supervisor during some of my most formative years as a scientist. Dr. Chen is an excellent mentor, teacher, and researcher. Having him as my supervisor allowed me to learn fast and advance my career, communicate science effectively with my peers and the public, and maintain a high level of scientific integrity. Both his formal and incredibly valuable informal advice find a place in how I approach my projects and my scientific thinking. The high standards that I apply to my current work are a clear reflection of the impact he had on me. He continues to inspire me to pursue the big questions in science with rigor and curiosity.

Vedrana Cvetkovska, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia


Pia Wintermark, Pediatrics

“Every student is different in their way to learn, their way to be effective, and their way to progress and grow.”

Biography

Dr. Pia Wintermark is a pediatrician and neonatologist, with a research interest in neonatal neurology, currently working at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, McGill University. Before joining the Montreal Children's Hospital in July 2010, Dr. Pia Wintermark trained at the Children’s Hospital Boston (Harvard Medical School) in Boston, USA, and at the Lausanne University Hospital (University of Lausanne) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Dr. Pia Wintermark founded the NeoBrainLab (www.neobrainlab.org) in 2010. The NeoBrainLab is devoted to the understanding of the causes and consequences of brain and eyes damages in sick babies. The main goals of the lab are to develop innovative strategies to prevent or repair these brain and eyes damages, and thus to improve the future of these babies.

Approach to graduate supervision

One of my preferred activities, if not my favorite, is to mentor students and trainees, insufflating them with an interest for academic research, and helping them start their research endeavors. I have helped several trainees/students fine-tune their career plans, and have advised them on the best ways to reach their goals. Over time, I have learnt that every student is different in their way to learn, their way to be effective, and their way to progress and grow. I have learnt the same expectations may not be requested from all students. I have also noticed that some students have incredible capacities, and are just waiting for this “little push” to flourish into great minds. I have learnt that teaching methods should probably be adjusted somewhat to each student if time allows it, so that each of them benefits from it to their best capacity. I am very proud to see the students that I supervised grow and succeed. When they receive an award or a grant, when they present their first abstract, and/or when they get their first manuscript published, I can see this spark in their eyes, they feel proud of themselves and about their accomplishments that some never thought they could ever do. It always makes me happy to see that, and gives me this feeling that I have accomplished something good.

Testimonials

Dr. Pia Wintermark is an incredibly intelligent and strong person with a big heart who is a role model to her students, and I am grateful to have her as my Master’s and PhD supervisor in the Integrated Program in Neuroscience. Pia provided me with enriching learning environment, where I was part of both basic science and clinical research. This allowed me to appreciate the relevance and importance of the research I was doing, and potential impact it can have on patients. Pia also helped me stay motivated and productive by giving me constructive and timely feedback and guidance. Moreover, Pia has been extremely supportive and caring throughout my graduate studies, during which I experienced academic and personal growth. Pia’s dedication and perseverance to pursue her research goals in an effort to improve the lives of patients have been and will continue to inspire me. 

Suna Jung, Western University

Throughout my two years as a graduate student with Pia, I have learned a multitude of different skills. Not only was Pia very supportive and available in helping her students thrive in their projects, she encouraged us to pursue extra-curricular activities, and she always challenged us to think critically and step out of our comfort zones. As a supervisor, Pia was fair and encouraging; as a mentor, she was knowledgeable and kind. It is incredible that Pia has been able to achieve what she has achieved in the short period of time that she has set up the NeoBrain lab. Her achievements, her students’ achievements, and the outpour of support from her students and colleagues is a testament to the high quality supervision and research that she continues to uphold.

Annie Poon, past MSc student


Tamara Sussman, School of Social Work

“I hope to spark an interest in life-long learning .”

Biography

Tamara Sussman is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at McGill University. She completed a Ph.D. in Social Work, from the University of Toronto in 2006 and a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program at the University of Waterloo in 2007. Drawing on over twenty years of experience working with adults and families managing health related issues, Dr. Sussman’s program of research focuses on how health services and systems impact older adults and their family members. Her research projects include spousal carers’ experiences with home care; older adults’ and family members’ experiences with the transition into long-term care; barriers and facilitators to the delivery of effective interventions for depressed older adults and their care partners; and most recently improving end-of-life care in long-term care and for persons with dementia. Motivated to improve health policies, processes and practices for older adults and families, Dr. Sussman works closely with community partners, decision-makers, and practitioners at all stages of her research projects to maximize uptake.

Approach to graduate supervision

Since joining McGill, I have provided mentorship to over fifty graduate and undergraduate students by involving them in my research projects, connecting them to students or researchers with shared interests, taking the time to get to know them and their passions, and inviting them to participate in unique opportunities such as writing retreats, knowledge exchange events, webinars, and specialized research meetings. By reaching out to students and meaningfully involving them in the production and dissemination of research, I hope to spark an interest in life-long learning for all Social Work graduates, including those re-entering Social Work practice and those pursuing academic careers.

Testimonials

Dr. Sussman was my Master of Social Work (MSW) and PhD supervisor (2011-2015). I am indebted to Tamara for these achievements, which would not have been possible without the guidance she generously offered to me throughout my studies. I realize how fortunate I was to have a supervisor who mastered the careful balance between professionalism and interpersonal kindness. She went beyond the call of duty as she was readily available to provide feedback and direction. Tamara is also incredibly humble, honest, and diplomatic — throughout my studies at McGill I knew she always had my best interest at heart. I am currently working as an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary and model my own supervision and teaching off of Tamara’s. I think I will always consider her as a mentor but am also proud to have her in my life today as a colleague and friend.

Dr. Victoria Burns, University of Calgary

Professor Sussman is a wonderful teacher. Her passion for her field of work is evident in the classroom. Her choice of readings and discussion topics aroused my interest in areas that I had not previously considered. As her student, I felt that the development of my critical thinking skills and my ability to practice as an informed professional were central to her every step. She is respectful of her students, confident in our abilities, and genuinely curious about our contributions to the field of social work. She challenged us to think critically while encouraging our academic autonomy. I felt that she engaged with us, not only as students, but also as future colleagues.

Jocelyn Porter, Research Assistant & MSW Candidate, McGill University

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

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