2020 Carrie M. Derick Award for Graduate Supervision and Teaching

On this page:
James Richard Forbes


James Richard Forbes, Mechanical Engineering

“I am proud to have had the opportunity to mentor so many exceptionally talented people, helping them grow into independent researchers that are able to effectively communicate.”


James Richard Forbes received the B.A.Sc. degree in Mechanical Engineering (Honours, Co-op) from the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada, and the M.A.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Aerospace Science and Engineering from the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), Toronto, ON, Canada, in 2008 and 2011, respectively. James is currently Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada. James is an Associate Member of the Centre for Intelligent Machines (CIM), and a Member of the Group for Research in Decision Analysis (GERAD). James is the recipient of a William Dawson Scholar award. James was awarded the McGill Associate for Mechanical Engineering (MAME) Professor of the Year Award in 2016, and the Engineering Class of 1944 Outstanding Teaching Award in 2018. The focus of James’ research is dynamics, estimation, and control of robotic and aerospace systems.

Approach to graduate supervision

"I do not “supervise” Ph.D. and M.Eng. (thesis) students. I mentor them. I am deliberately using the word “mentor” as opposed to “supervise” in order to convey my student supervision methodology: at a graduate level a professor should help shape a student into an independent, capable, knowledgeable researcher who is able to identify research gaps, is armed with a set of tools they can use to solve research problems, and can clearly share and explain his/her ideas. Over time, I gradually let the student take more of a lead on their research, while still providing guidance and oversight. By the end of a student’s graduate studies, they shouldn’t really have a need for me anymore, which means I have successfully helped to shaped a student into an independent, capable, knowledgeable researcher. I am proud, as well as fortunate, to have had the opportunity to mentor so many exceptionally talented people, helping them grow into independent researchers that are able to effectively communicate. I look forward to continuing to do so over the course of my career."


James’ most obvious assets as a mentor are his passion for research and his ability to inspire that same passion in others. He is also an exceptional teacher. He seeks out points of commonality with new students and builds out a scaffolding of knowledge, interest, and technical tools from there. As a student’s scaffolding strengthens, he allows them increasing autonomy to explore their interests and challenge their abilities. I must also mention that James is exceptional in his support for me, a female engineer. The ability to recognize and support talented women should by now be a given, but it is not. And without James’ encouragement, I would never have gone on to become a professor. His ability to notice and encourage women to be exceptional is itself exceptional and critical to the success of women engineers at McGill.

Leila Bridgeman, Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Duke

Professor Forbes has been my graduate supervisor and mentor during my Master’s. His incredible passion for the fields of control engineering and state estimation is contagious, and it was his enthusiasm that inspired me to pursue research in this field. Professor Forbes has a graduate supervision style that makes research exciting, and he constantly challenges his students to surpass expectations and achieve their potential. One of my favourite aspects of working with Professor Forbes is his rigour and his thorough attention to detail. His meticulousness pushes and motivates me and my fellow students to be better and to uphold ourselves to high standards as researchers. Professor Forbes truly cares about providing his students with the necessary tools, skills, and knowledge to achieve success in their careers, and his dedication, drive, and passion for teaching and research inspire his students to excel.

Mitchell Cohen, Master's Student, Department of Mechanical Engineering

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

Back to top