2018 David Thomson Award for Graduate Supervision and Teaching

On this page:
Juliet Johnson
Ahmed El-Geneidy | Allan Hepburn | David Wolfson | Gregory Dudek | Karsten Steinhauer 

 

Winner

Juliet Johnson, Political Science


“I aim to combine high expectations with meaningful encouragement to bring out the best in my students.”

Biography

I am Professor of Political Science and McGill Director of the Jean Monnet Centre Montreal. My research focuses on the politics of money and identity, as reflected in my books Priests of Prosperity: How Central Bankers Transformed the Postcommunist World (Cornell 2016) and A Fistful of Rubles: The Rise and Fall of the Russian Banking System (Cornell 2000), as well as in my academic and policy-oriented articles. I served on the McGill Board of Governors and as Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies) for the Faculty of Arts, and won the Faculty’s Noel Fieldhouse award for Distinguished Teaching in 2007.

Approach to graduate supervision

At the graduate level, our main responsibility as supervisors and course instructors is to help students evolve from passive consumers into active producers of high-level scholarship. As a graduate supervisor, I work to help guide my students through every phase of their degree programs, from their initial coursework and adjustment to graduate school through thesis writing and the job market. This includes not only advancing students' research and encouraging their professional development through conference participation and publication, but also ensuring that they have appropriate teaching opportunities and as much fellowship funding as possible. I strive to create a rigorous, intellectually challenging, and non-intimidating atmosphere for our graduate students at McGill, because I believe that combining high expectations with meaningful encouragement brings out the best in people. One professor can fundamentally transform a student’s life, for good or for ill. I try never to forget this.

Testimonials

Professor Johnson's commitment to me as a graduate student made a huge difference over the course of my PhD experience. Her support and respect were always apparent, and I was consistently inspired by her contagious enthusiasm for the discipline. I have no doubt that she read every line of my dissertation, and her passion for my topic was obvious. Moreover, her guidance helped me to publish two single-author articles and one book chapter during my PhD. As I was transitioning from a PhD student to a candidate on the job market, she then provided support for writing my successful SSHRC postdoctoral application and helped me to develop a strategy for job applications and future publications. Working with Professor Johnson has proved to me that one can be both an exceptional teacher, always ready to help and support students, and a successful and influential scholar.

Virginie Lasnier, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for International Studies (CÉRIUM), Université de Montréal

It is no exaggeration to say that Professor Juliet Johnson played a very important and informative role in my career. After finishing my PhD (June 2011) I very quickly got my first academic job as an Assistant Professor at Leiden University (July 2011) and since 2015 I have been working as a Lecturer at King’s College London. Juliet played a pivot role in these successes, commenting on draft cover letters, CVs, and carefully working though my job talk presentations with me. Juliet was also available to provide guidance on other job opportunities and crucial career decisions. Her experience and advice were always welcome and helpful. Perhaps more importantly, Juliet’s careful guidance as my PhD supervisor and advice at every step of the dissertation writing process positioned me to be competitive on a very tough job market. I own a great debt of gratitude to Juliet in this respect.

Adam Chalmers, Lecturer of European Political Economy at King’s College London


Nominees

Ahmed El-Geneidy, School of Urban Planning

“I run my lab with a collaborative and fun approach, encouraging senior students and junior students to work together as a team.”

Biography

Ahmed El-Geneidy is a Professor at the School of Urban Planning, McGill University. He is currently serving on the board of the new Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM) in Montreal. He is also the elected chair of the World Society on Land use and Transport Research (WSTLUR). He is the group leader of the Transportation Research at McGill (TRAM) group. He is currently the editor of the Journal of Transport and Land use (JTLU) and he is serving on the editorial board of several the Journal of Transport Geography and Transportation. Ahmed's research interests include land use and transportation planning, transit operations and planning, travel behavior analysis concentrating on the use of motorized and non-motorized modes of transportation, and measurements of accessibility and mobility in urban contexts. Ahmed has a special interest in measuring and understanding the transportation needs of the disadvantaged populations. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from the Department of Architectural Engineering at the University of Alexandria, Egypt, and continued his academic work at Nohad A. Toulan Scool of Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University, USA, where he received a Ph.D. in Urban Studies.

Approach to graduate supervision

"Let Knowledge Serve the City” is a phrase that I learned during during my time as a PhD student and has influenced my philosophy and approach to research, teaching and academic supervision. I work closely with graduate students, meeting with them on daily basis to discuss ideas and research projects that can be of benefit to a city or a region. I help students in solving variety of technical issues in data manipulation, statistics, and GIS through a hands-on approach. This approach has enabled me to have a close relationship with my students, as I run my lab with a collaborative and fun approach, where all students work together as a team, senior students help supervise junior ones, and we all work on papers and projects together with the goal of generating policy relevant research. This approach helps in fostering a high-quality educational environment for students and provides them with collaborative and leadership skills, which are key to a successful career. 

Testimonials

As I continue to build and develop my own academic career, Ahmed provides an inspiring role-model of how to interact with students, run a world-class research lab, and undertake and publish high quality research. He has successfully instilled an approach to scholarship that is at once pragmatic and wide-reaching, rooted in past theory while breaking new ground. Ahmed’s guidance, support, trust, and encouragement have been absolutely fundamental to my success both during my studies and now, as a tenure-track faculty member at McGill.

Kevin Manaugh, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography & McGill School of Environment


Allan Hepburn, English

“I strive to create independence of mind in my students by allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them.”

Biography

Allan Hepburn is James McGill Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature in the Department of English. He is the author of Intrigue: Espionage and Culture (2005) and Enchanted Objects: Visual Art in Contemporary Fiction (2010). To date, he has edited six books, including four volumes of works by the Anglo-Irish novelist, Elizabeth Bowen. In addition to co-editing the MQUP poetry series, he co-edits the Oxford Mid-Century Studies series. His next monograph, entitled A Grain of Faith: Religion in Mid-Century British Literature, is in press and will appear in late 2018.  

Approach to graduate supervision

In order to create independence of mind in my students, I approach graduate teaching and supervision as a form of custody. “Custody” means benevolent stewardship or guardianship. A custodial relation implies that students must be allowed to make mistakes. As John Locke points out in Some Thoughts on Education (1693), an essay on the responsibilities of tutors to their charges, students have to err in order to learn. Whether facing dead ends or new vectors of inquiry, students must learn to worry productively, for solutions arise from confronting obstacles and thinking through them. No student who has not faced adversity can advance; in this regard, adversity and obstacles define the nature of the problems to be solved. A supervisor’s timely intervention is indispensable to a custodial relation. More often than not, the custodial relation with students transforms from direct supervision into mentorship. In many cases, after an MA or PhD has been completed, I continue to advise students about their intellectual pursuits, ambitions, and careers. In the end, teaching and supervising at the graduate level should produce scholars who are good supervisors of their own ideas. Learning from one’s mistakes is one thing, but learning to identify and correct one’s mistakes is quite another.

Testimonials

In every aspect of Professor Allan Hepburn’s engagement with graduate students, he models an integrity, intellectual clarity, attentiveness, and zeal that remain vivid goals for me as a new professor. As a seminar leader, he is a dynamic presence, building effortlessly on student contributions and in the process leading them to realize that they are all capable of brilliance. As my thesis and dissertation supervisor, he could often see the stakes of an argument well before I could, but would always allow me to find my own way to a resolution rather than dictate the path he saw. Above all, Allan Hepburn models good academic citizenship: his service to scholarly societies, his editorial contributions, and his support of young researchers collectively model an approach based not on reaching for the next rung on the ladder, but on building communities that sustain us all and that help to lift others up.

Ian Whittington, Assistant Professor of English, University of Mississippi


David Wolfson, Mathematics and Statistics

“I endeavour to allow students the freedom to add their own brush strokes to the canvass.”

Biography

I completed my undergraduate training and Master's degree in Statistics in South Africa at the University of Natal, and my Ph.D., also in Statistics, at Purdue University, Indiana, in 1974. My first appointment as a Visiting Assistant Professor was at McGill in the Department of Mathematics (now the Department of Mathematics and Statistics), where I have been since 1974. I was Department Chair between 2005 and 2009. My research focus has evolved from applied probability in the early days, to survival analysis, with side interests in change-point problems and optimal design, particularly applied to medicine.

Approach to graduate supervision

As a graduate student research supervisor I endeavour to allow students the freedom to add their own brush strokes to the canvass. Overly close supervision risks evolving into meeting-by-meeting instruction on what should be the next step and I find that I constantly need to remind myself of this. I advise students to, “Start with a problem. If you make no progress, then try to solve an easier form of the problem. If this does not work then retreat to a yet easier form, until you are able to solve something and feel good about yourself. Then, use the sequence of backward steps hopefully, to help you move forward, this time with new insight.” I tell graduate students that they should expect periods (sometimes months) when they will make no progress, and that one’s ability to withstand such adversity is as stern a test as the test of one’s originality. My students are encouraged to try to achieve a little each day-even if it is by reading a paper or writing part of their literature review. I drive my supervisees crazy with my “red” pen as I insist on just the right sentence, just the right order of presentation, and precision, precision, precision when they are describing their research.

Testimonials

I was supervised by David Wolfson both at the MSc and PhD levels. It was David who originally suggested I pursue an MSc degree while I was still an undergraduate student, and it was only because of his superb teaching during my last class as an undergrad that I began to truly appreciate statistics as a potential field of further study. His classes on the subject went beyond what was normally taught, and included both philosophical discussions and more practical advice. He encouraged students to read widely outside of their particular thesis topics, creating well rounded graduates ready for further work. He accomplished all of this with an obvious concern for his students, not to mention a great sense of humour. It is impossible to imagine anything that he could have done to improve my time spent as a graduate student at McGill, a true role model for my eventual career in academics.

Lawrence Joseph, Professor, Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University

Professor David Wolfson is an excellent supervisor who has mentored me through my MSc and current PhD degree.  He is one of the most supportive members in the department who has not only provided me with meaningful direction on research questions but has provided me with professional advice with regards to working as a future academic. His enthusiasm and ability to convey the importance of survival analysis research has not only provided me with an area in which to conduct my graduate research but more so has given me the passion to work in this area after the completion of my formal studies. Professor Wolfson sets a high standard for the quality of supervision and teaching that is required in higher education. 

James McVittie, current Doctoral candidate


Gregory Dudek, School of Computer Science

“I tailor my style, expectations a problem section to my students' specific capacities and interests.”

Biography

I’ve been a faculty member at McGill for over 25 years doing research on robotics, computer vision, human-robot interaction, and machine learning.  In addition to supervising graduate student and teaching, I am former Director of the Center for Intelligent Machines and former Director of the School of Computer Science. Somehow along the way I seem to have published some 250-refereed papers and a few books, was a member of Senate, and helped establish a national-scale robotics program.  I am General Chair for the 2019 International Conference on Robotic and Automation, which I brought to Montreal.  

Approach to graduate supervision

I believe that for faculty at McGill, graduate supervision is the most rewarding and the most important of the many roles we play.  Working with then is a great part of my job! This is because of the enormous impact we can have on our supervisees and the enormous impact they, in turn, can have on the world. I seek to instill in my trainees a sense of the impact they can have; an awareness that has become natural as our field has become rather in vogue. My own approach is to tailor my style, expectations and problem selection to the specific capacities and interests of the students I work with. This has had the benefit for me of leading to a diverse and stimulating research portfolio. Not all students are cut from the same cloth, and luckily our research domain can accommodate diverse work styles and proficiencies. There are numerous ways to excel and have a positive impact and I work to find the combination of factors that allow each student to succeed.  I feel that in my field, while technical excellence is obviously paramount, it is also important to be aware of the social and personal skills that need to be developed in each student. In addition, the life of a graduate student can be emotionally challenging and I try to build a supportive environment (where being supportive includes both a healthy laboratory atmosphere, a student-specific selection of technical challenges, and an open-door policy).

Testimonials

Greg encourages his students to get involved with the research process early through assisting more senior students with their project and participate in broadly focused lab papers, which summarize the ongoing lab efforts. These initial opportunities to get involved in writing papers has been crucial to jump start my scientific career, as well as for many others in the lab. The annual field trials in Barbados organized by Greg is perhaps the most unique, challenging, and rewarding experience from being part of the Dudek lab. These 1-2 week long field trials have prepared me to deal with the most stressful and challenging situations. Working together with other lab members in the field during such stressful times have has helped forge the kind of strong life-long camaraderie, which I think would not have been possible in a more traditional lab. 

Yogesh Girdhar, Assistant Scientist, Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

One of the reasons why Greg is an outstanding supervisor, on top of being a world-renowned expert in robotics, is that he sees his students as what they can become and not as what they currently are. Whenever I enter Greg's office feeling stuck, I leave full of enthusiasm, energy, and notably, with a number of future research ideas. He has helped me on multiple occasions to refine my sense of what good research and good teaching should be, and he has helped me grow from a student to an independent researcher, able to take ownership of my work and research trajectory. He has created a lab environment unlike anything else I have experienced in terms of research excellence, camaraderie, and collaboration. I was always surrounded by labmates who were extremely good and passionate about they did. It is a privilege to be supervised by him and to work in his lab.

Florian Shkurti, Computer Science PhD Student 


Karsten Steinhauer, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders

“Graduate supervision is a means to making lasting contribution to science.”

Biography

I am a full professor and the Director of the Neurocognition of Language Lab at McGill’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (Faculty of Medicine). I completed my PhD in neurobiology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Free University of Berlin in 2000, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship and a research professorship at Georgetown University (2000-2003). My students and I study the brain’s electrical activity (EEG) to uncover how the human mind/brain processes language in real-time, and what changes when we learn a second language. Our research has been supported by CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC grants, by the CRC program, and by many prestigious studentships (e.g., Tomlinson, Vanier, PBEEE, and Fulbright).

Approach to graduate supervision

I believe that graduate supervision and teaching are as essential to my academic mission as scientific research. I have always found that supporting trainees towards becoming high-achieving, independent researchers and clinicians is one of the most, if not the most, rewarding and meaningful parts of my professional life. I see graduate supervision as a means to making a lasting contribution to science. My job is to share a passion for scientific inquiry with early-stage researchers, to ensure their transformation into dedicated, rigorous, responsible, and innovative scientists who make meaningful contributions to the field. Good supervision is hands-on. I meet with my students at least once a week, for one hour each, to discuss their progress and obstacles they encounter. I do my best to always know where my students are in their projects, not only in order to meet deadlines, but also to provide consistent mentorship at all stages of the process. I thoroughly enjoy encouraging their creativity, and I have found that supporting their ideas and acting as an engaged critic rather than telling them what to do leads to involved PhD students and successful projects. I strive to create a truly collaborative setting between me and my students. Thanks to them, my research has extended into directions that I would not have otherwise considered. I know that I have made a stronger contribution to the research community because of my students, and I measure my own success through theirs.

Testimonials

Having been supervised by Dr. Karsten Steinhauer for the past four years, I have experienced first-hand his everlasting dedication to the professional success of his trainees. He meets with each of his students at least once a week and is highly responsive. He often “checks in” with us regarding our general well-being. He secures ample funding for his students for the length of their PhDs, while also emphasizing the importance of us learning to write fellowship applications. His constructive and actionable criticism of my work and his pursuit of the highest possible quality of our research have made my PhD the most significant learning experience in my scientific career so far. Dr. Steinhauer provides to his students an open space for creativity in their projects and encourages our engagement with the scientific community (at conferences and otherwise), supporting our development as independent researchers.

Anastasia Glushko, current PhD Candidate

Dr. Steinhauer stands out in his commitment to his students’ excellence, his contagious passion for the field, his talent for imparting knowledge and his professional and personal guidance that transcends supervision of any graduate project. He has a passion for teaching, especially one-on-one, and his receptiveness to his students' needs is above the norm for graduate student supervision. Dr. Steinhauer offers personalized rigorous training while still allowing his students to develop their independence as researchers. Dr. Steinhauer has high demands from his students in terms of work ethic, integrity, academic and research excellence, teamwork, communication and leadership, but is also kind, supportive and fair. The balance between challenging and supporting his students makes him an exemplary supervisor.

Kristina Kasparian, PhD, Research associate, Owner of Veni Etiam Photography, Team leader and social media manager of Etsy Montreal