“I see my role as a combination of teacher, supervisor and mentor.”
I am the Co-director of the Reasoning and Learning Lab in the School of Computer Science. My research centres on developing new models and algorithms that allow computers to learn to make good decisions in complex real-world domains, even in circumstances where there is incomplete or incorrect information. I also work on applying these algorithms to complex problems in robotics and health care. In 2016, I was named a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and was awarded the McGill Principal’s Prize for Outstanding Emerging Researchers.
Approach to graduate supervision
I have chosen to work with a large number of MSc students, in addition to PhD students, primarily because of the fantastic quality of the candidates; many have already completed 1-2 summer research internships, and arrive in graduate school with substantial knowledge, experience and maturity. I meet with each student weekly, individually or in small groups, to discuss their research progress. This takes significant time, but it is time that I value greatly and prioritize. I see my role as a combination of teacher, supervisor, and mentor. As a teacher, I aim to share knowledge of the basic methods of our research field, as well as recent discoveries and interesting papers. As a supervisor, my goal is to help them learn how to ask the right questions, develop a sound methodology to tackle their research topic, acquire the critical skills to analyze the results, and have many opportunities to present their research. Through our research in AI, machine learning and robotics, we develop rich mathematical and computational solutions for complex problems. We also explore applications of these to real-world problems with social and human impact, for example via the development of a robotic wheelchair, and innovative adaptive treatment design strategies. Thus my students learn the importance of pursuing work that is both intellectually stimulating and socially relevant.
A good advisor knows how to grow a student out of being a student. Joelle has certainly perfected that process over the years. I started to work under her detailed supervision and gradually moved to working with her as a colleague. She has a great way of making her students care for and, perhaps more importantly, own their work. Her publication record in top conferences and journals testifies to the quality of research being done under her supervision. Joelle is very organized and meticulous, planning most of her work ahead of time and holding weekly meetings with her students. Focusing on steady and consistent progress, every single student of Joelle has been successful in one way or another, many of them at high-end industry jobs or with successful academic careers. I certainly owe much of my career accomplishments to her masterful supervision of my graduate studies.
Dr. Mahdi Milani Fard, Google Research
While Professor Pineau is a strong professor, she is a phenomenal supervisor, simultaneously giving good advice for research projects and ideas, being flexible to accommodate changes in research interest, and constantly searching for opportunities to aid my professional development, whether through personal contacts or conference attendance. She’s always available for discussion about my career path, whether for course selection or deciding where to apply for my PhD.
Ryan Lowe, current graduate student
“I aim to establish relationships of trust and unconditional support.”
I am the Grierson Chair in Communication Studies at McGill University. I studied at Simon Fraser University and the University of Toronto, where I trained in political theory and received a Ph.D. in 1999. From 2005-2015, I was Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship at McGill, where I have also served as Director of Graduate Programs and Chair of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies, a McGill Senator and McGill Governor. My research focuses on materialist approaches to media and communication, infrastructure and radical politics. I am the author or editor of several scholarly works and have supervised multiple graduate theses in these areas.
Approach to graduate supervision
My approach to the teaching and supervision of graduate students centers on the priority of setting an example – in the seminar room, in research supervision, in mentorship, in my own research, in service and in scholarly conduct. That said, what matters about an example is not the fact of it, but its content, which raises the question: what are the examples I try to set in my graduate teaching and supervision? In research supervision, my aim is to establish relationships of trust and unconditional support. Support means affirmation, encouragement and recognition of the unique contribution represented by every student’s path of inquiry. It also sometimes requires criticism, challenge, correction and limitation. Each of these demand deliberate, sustained, individual attention, the sort that requires more listening than talking. This is the experience of the graduate supervisor: your students are before you. They stand before you and this means they also come before you (otherwise, you are not their teacher). Along with intellectual training and guidance, it is my responsibility as their teacher to establish and maintain conditions in which they can thrive and prosper as scholars. This includes securing funding with and for them, helping them to compete for honours, opportunities and recognition, providing opportunities for collaboration, preparing them professionally, sustaining them in their work with my confidence in them, and promoting them, for as long as it takes.
Throughout my graduate studies prof. Barney has been a constant source of support, encouragement and guidance. I have grown enormously as a scholar thanks to his exemplary supervision. I can always count on him to offer insight into all matters with a candour that inspires trust. This has resulted in the most engaging conversations I have been lucky enough to have in graduate school. My exchanges with prof. Barney have not only lent me great insight into contemporary theory but have also instilled a confidence in my own ability to grapple with this material. This is undoubtedly due to the respect that he affords all of his students and that is evident in how carefully he listens and how thoughtfully he responds to any interlocutor. He is invested in his students and in education as a transformative practice and this is evident in all that he says and does.
Cayley Sorochan, current PhD candidate
Darin’s supervision was, by all measures of the word, exemplary. One often hears those (hopefully) urban-university myths of disastrous supervisor-supervisee relationships, and Darin’s concern, vigilance, and supervisory attention made me hope that these myths are just that. Every McGill graduate student should be so lucky to have a supervisor of Darin’s caliber: sixty page chapters returned to you within the week with careful and precise comments and editing; e-mails returned within the hour or (on occasion!) the minute; a genuine sense of optimism and encouragement for research to be done and the next steps in the academic career trajectory. Darin not only helped keep me on time in the Ph.D. timeline, he helped me understand what it means to be in that timeline; in other words, what learning means and why we undertake it. He very generously continues to share his genuine investment in rural politics, public space, and alternative economic models. To learn from someone who not only loves his work, but truly lives it was and is a really remarkable experience, and something I have sought to bring forward with me beyond the Ph.D.
Dr. Rafico Ruiz, SSHRC Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta; Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies, Dartmouth College
“I encourage students to be honest about their life demands so we can plan a successful graduate career.”
As a James McGill Professor in Educational Counselling and Psychology and Director of the Development and Intrapersonal Resilience (DAIR) Research Team, my research focuses on resilience and adaptive functioning in youth. In 22 years at McGill, I have had the pleasure of supervising 28 PhD and 42 Masters’ students. Together, we have published and presented extensively on mental health and resilience in educational settings, always working in collaboration with schools. In 2011, I received the Canadian Committee of Graduate Students in Education’s Mentorship Award, in recognition of “outstanding support for graduate students in education”. Importantly, I am also the proud mother of two.
Approach to graduate supervision
I believe the student-supervisor relationship is essentially a personality and work style match. I expect excellence both from my students and myself. In addition, my team has a values-based approach to all our research and outreach, consisting of 1) respect and empowerment of those with mental health challenges and 2) meaningfully contributing to the enhancement of mental health resilience in educational settings. This results in a demanding graduate experience for my students; however, our collaborative team model offers tremendous support in achieving these goals. At any one time, I supervise approximately 10-15 graduate students; thus, teamwork is an important factor in my students’ sense of belonging and ability to succeed. As a supervisor, I enjoy my students and am enthusiastic about discussing different topics with them. I devote substantial energy to mentoring them, ensuring that they succeed exceptionally well in obtaining scholarships, internships, and employment. Furthermore, as a researcher and professor who is also happily married and the mother of two, I have a life outside academia (!), and understand that my students do too. I encourage students to be honest about their life demands so we can plan a successful graduate career allowing them to balance academic and other life demands realistically. Graduate studies by their very nature pose tremendous challenges to work-life balance, as a team we address this explicitly. Supervision is a critically important part of my professional life (as well as being great fun!), and is central to all I do.
Dr. Heath has been a true mentor and inspirational throughout my doctoral degree as a supervisor and presently within my professional career. As my doctoral supervisor, Dr. Heath was instrumental in providing me with encouragement and boosting my confidence to stay focused. She was consistently available to answer my questions and provided me with guidance and constructive criticism to improve my work. Her patience and supportive nature throughout my dissertation was significant to its completion. In addition to her extraordinary supervisory skills, Dr. Heath is a skillful teacher. She has a natural way of fostering student`s interest and excitement in research, while teaching them to critically examine their own and other’s results. She has a unique ability in knowing when a student needs to be challenged and when they require additional support. She creates a welcoming atmosphere that allows for all types of discussion, whether academic, clinical or personal. I feel extremely privileged to have had Dr. Heath as my doctoral supervisor and mentor.
Dr. Elana Bloom, Psychologist, Coordinator Center of Excellence for Mental Health, Coordinator Family, School & Support Treatment Team, Lester B. Pearson School Board
“I help my students dig deep.”
I am a Professor of Hispanic Studies in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. I got my BA in Barcelona and my Ph.D. at University of Pennsylvania. My research fields include the Culture of the Spanish Enlightenment, the Origins of Modernity, as well as the Spanish Cinema. I have published extensively on these topics, including my recent books on Calderón (2011) and Cervantes (2015), as well as a number of editions and co-editions of Spanish writers. I have been awarded several grants from FCAR, SSHRC and McGill University, and have been member of international research teams in the Americas and Europe.
Approach to graduate supervision
My first step as supervisor is always to grasp where the students’ interest lies, and help them to dig deep in to find out what their actual feelings are, and where their abilities may be better developed. My main objective has always been help students to build up their individual responsibility as forthcoming professionals no matter what career they may choose. That is why I have had graduate students as part of my research grants and provided them with an experience that has been helpful for building up their own research careers. I have designed and organized workshops on a variety of professional issues such as writing compelling CVs, submitting articles to academic journals, online or in paper, drafting convincing cover letters in search for jobs, writing grant applications, and so forth. In addition, I encouraged graduate students to read papers at professional gatherings, as well as to take part at informal potluck parties wherein collegiality, intellectual sharing and even friendship ties became crucial components. An informal environment turned out to be an ideal space for enhancing a critical thinking as well as discussing issues linked to their scholarly training and their professional expectations.
Sans aucun doute, le professeur Pérez-Magallón eut accompli l’une des choses les plus extraordinaires jamais croisées en tant qu’étudiant, tout autant qu’en tant que professeur : faire émaner le bonheur de la découverte de chaque texte, et semer dans chacune des pages la possibilité de nous retrouver nous-mêmes étudiants, aussi bien que dans notre condition humaine. J’eus l’occasion de le connaitre profondément aux fil des années: chaque article que j’écrivais, chaque chapitre que je rédigeais de ma dissertation doctorale, chaque congrès ou conférence menées étaient devenus pour lui fondamentaux, comme s’il s’agissait de sa propre personne. Son exemple de travail et sa grande condition humaine représentent dans mon histoire la différence et le pont créés entre l’être étudiant et le devenir enseignant. En d’autres mots, ma vision de l’éducation s’est enrichie, est devenue plus complète et plus joyeuse grâce à la sensibilité et a l’intelligence du professeur Pérez-Magallón.
Dr. Javier Vargas de Luna, Full professor, Université Laval
That first interview – professional, rigorous, warm, charming – in which Professor Pérez-Magallón determined whether he would support my application to McGill, was the beginning of a long lasting mentoring process that has made possible what I consider a very successful career in Canada. Simply put, it would have been completely impossible for me to achieve this level of professional success without the continuous guidance, support and collaboration of Prof. Pérez-Magallón. Now, I am the director of my own lab –CulturePlex Lab– and I direct several international and multidisciplinary research initiatives. Professor Pérez-Magallón has always been a champion of excellence in research and this idea has permeated my own career since I went to McGill. I have built my career on both the skills that I first saw in my supervisor – emphasis on publishing, quality in writing, and clarity in the definition of the research problems – and the moral leadership that he has shown ever since in multiple positions, from Graduate Chair, to Chair of the Department, to Editor of the Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos.
Dr. Juan Luis Suarez, Director of CulturePlex Lab, Western University
Once upon a time, I was looking for some sort of guidance. I had arrived in Canada the previous winter. Hardly knew anybody here but I knew that I wanted to go back to school. Fun as it was lifting boxes at Marché Jean-Talon, I liked reading and talking about books better. I also knew that I loved teaching but my B.Ed. did not seem enough. I went to McGill, wandered around for a while, found an open door, Room 375, and I walked in without knocking. It was the office of Prof. Pérez-Magallón. He asked how he could help me. Three springs later, when I was finishing my M.A., he asked why did I not apply for a CGS doctoral scholarship and go on studying. We got the SSHRC support, and three springs after that I had completed a Ph.D. under his supervision. #superGradsupervision
Dr. Lizandro Arbolay Alfonso, former PhD student
“I strongly believe in practice-based problem-solving.”
I am MD and PhD, Full Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McGill University, FRQS Senior Research Scholar, and Director for Method Development at the Quebec SPOR SUPPORT Unit (SPOR standing for the national Strategy for Patient Oriented Research of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research). I have expertise in participatory research with health organizations, mixed methods research and systematic mixed studies reviews. I investigate the use and health outcomes of information derived from electronic knowledge resources (email delivery, information retrieval and social media) by clinicians (doctors, nurses and pharmacists), managers, patients, parents and the public.
Approach to graduate supervision
Since arriving at McGill, I have been enjoying helping research trainees learn. I try to share my enthusiasm for gaining new knowledge while providing explicit knowledge (demonstrations, discussions and lectures) and mobilizing tacit knowledge in an apprenticeship context (hands on exercises and workshops). I strongly believe in practice-based problem-solving. Research trainees learn best when they have opportunities to reflect on their own practice, in particular when they are in contact with peers. I promote critical thinking towards information and curiosity in scholarly activities. I pay attention to the group process in order to ensure that learning occurs in an engaging atmosphere that respect participants’ positions, which facilitates participation and learning on the part of all students.
Prof. Pierre Pluye is an excellent supervisor and mentor. I have known Pierre since 2012 and he has always been available to guide me throughout my training. He is dedicated and passionate about his work. Although very busy with his projects, he always makes time to meet his students. He is supportive and genuinely cares about his students’ success. Also, he is kind, funny and modest. He provides me a strong foundation for a career in research. I have had several opportunities to work on international and interdisciplinary research projects, publish scientific papers, present at conferences, and teach in the graduate program in Family Medicine. He has also built a friendly, respectful, and mutually supportive environment among our team. Our team meets every week to explore new ideas, share our project, and receive constructive feedback. I have learned a lot from Pierre and feel privileged to have been supervised by him.
Quan Nha Hong, OT, MSc, PhD Candidate
Pierre’s passion for research and collaboration is contagious; during my MSc he involved me in numerous projects that led to me learn new research skills, expand my network, and co-author diverse publications. Regardless of how busy his schedule is, he faithfully reserved time for our weekly meetings, kept track of my progress, engaged me in rich discussions, and helped me set and follow-up on short- and long-term goals. He has created a very supportive team of researchers and students under his wing, and he encourages our collaboration with each other and with other researchers in his vast network. Under his supervision during my Masters, I received 2 departmental scholarships, 1 studentship and 3 travel awards, and presented my work at 8 national and international conferences. With his help, I received an FRQS Doctoral award and will start my PhD under his supervision next Fall. I could not imagine a better mentor.
Reem El Sherif, MSc, MBBCh
Dr. Pierre Pluye is an excellent supervisor who has had a great impact on my development as a graduate student. He is very generous with his time, and does his best to explain and guide students through difficult topics. He recognizes the value each student possesses and delights in helping students build their confidence, knowledge and practical skills. He truly loves what he does. Dr. Pluye is a brilliant researcher, and is very humble, despite his numerous achievements. Furthermore, Dr. Pluye constantly identifies learning opportunities. I am honoured to have him as one of my co-supervisors.
Joshua Hamzeh, current MSc student
“I encourage graduate students to learn in an eclectic rather than specialised manner.”
I am a graduate of the universities of Montréal, Berkeley, and Oxford. I was as law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada and taught international law at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania before joining the McGill Faculty of Law in 1994. I have served as Associate Dean (Academic) and was the founding Director of the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism. I teach various courses in international law, legal anthropology, and legal theory. I have authored or edited eight books, many articles, and in 2015 was named a Fellow of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
Approach to graduate supervision
Over the last twenty years of continuous engagement with graduate training at McGill, I have come to the opinion that graduate teaching should indeed have aspirations clearly distinct from undergraduate teaching, translating into approaches and focuses different for graduates. Marcel Proust, in À la recherche du temps perdu, writes that « Le seul véritable voyage, le seul bain de Jouvence, ce ne serait pas d'aller vers de nouveaux paysages, mais d'avoir d'autres yeux, de voir l'univers avec les yeux d'un autre, de cent autres, de voir les cent univers que chacun d'eux voit, que chacun d'eux est ». This, to me, summarizes the essence of graduate teaching: it involves most fundamentally not the exploration of new fields or the accumulation of specialized knowledge, but rather a transition from within to challenge graduates students to question the vision of law which they have developed during their initial legal education. To pursue graduate legal education signals an aspiration to evolve from a consumer to a producer of scientific knowledge, a transition which speaks to a shift in intellectual stance much more than describe a particular occupation. I encourage graduate students to learn in an eclectic rather than specialised manner, at least in the initial stages, to multiply perspectives and eventually ask new questions that were not on their intellectual horizon. Ultimately, the scientific maturity which develops in graduate students enriches my own thinking and research, fueling the vitality of legal research in a university like McGill.
Supervision with Professor Provost, in its essence, has been the planning and nourishing of an intimate intellectual journey. Throughout the first year of my doctorate, Prof. Provost and I sat in his office every other week, discussing essays I would write on works of particular interest. These meetings sometimes lasted for over two hours. Sitting in the student’s chair and him on the supervisor’s couch, we would deconstruct and reconstruct some of the more fundamental principles of international criminal law. Prof. Provost and I would agree upon what, at the time, appeared to form the seeds of this intellectual journey we were both nourishing. This experience – his encouragement and support in exploring unknown territories – has been highly beneficial not only in finding an original dissertation topic, but also in discovering some of the themes I, as an individual, care most about.
Vincent Dalpé, current Doctoral candidate
I will always be deeply grateful to Professor René Provost for his unending support and impeccable supervision throughout my doctoral journey. The quality and assiduity of his mentorship were impressive. He faithfully provided guidance and input of the highest quality and challenged my thinking on my doctoral topic, whilst respecting my own vision and the various directions in which I wanted to take the project. His current and future graduate students are extremely fortunate to benefit from his counsel and supervision. He provided, and continues to provide, a wonderful template of academic pursuit for any aspiring pedagogue and supervisor. I am very fortunate to still be able to count on him – unfailingly – for advice so many years after my doctorate and, better yet, to count him as a genuine friend. I have learned so much from him, not least how to be a conscientious and rigorous supervisor.
Vincent-Joël Proulx (D.C.L.), Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore
“Every student-supervisor relationship is unique.”
I am a full professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. I received my B.A.Sc. in Engineering Science from the University of Toronto (1986) and my PhD at the Institute for Aerospace Studies, University of Toronto (1991). Prior to relocating to McGill in 2001, I was on faculty with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Victoria. My research activities are in the areas of dynamics and control with applications to space robotic systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and legged robots. I have published over 150 conference and journal papers on my academic research. I am an associate fellow of AIAA and a member of IEEE.
Approach to graduate supervision
I believe one becomes excellent at supervision of graduate students when one makes them the top priority: the students' continued research advancement, timely completion of their degrees, opportunities to present and publish their work and, their personal well-being. I have learned that graduate students come with a wide range of personalities, career objectives, motivation, and levels of independence, strengths and weaknesses. For example, some are extremely independent and thrive with only high-level directions. Others require more attention and nurturing, continued feedback, support and encouragement. Every student-supervisor relationship is unique and I strive to discern, as early as possible, how to best work with each student so as to enhance their learning experience and to help them succeed.
At the same time, many common threads are present in all my graduate supervisions. In my interactions with graduate students, I try to inspire, lead by example, instill high levels of ethics and professionalism and, of course, teach them as much as possible about dynamics and control. I cherish the moments when after discussing a problem, not only do we jointly identify a solution, but also uncover another research avenue to pursue or a new set of questions to examine. I give my students timely feedback on their work and writing, regularly send them to conferences, and ensure they have the necessary tools for their research, as well as, a supportive environment to work in. Ultimately, it is in the success of my graduate students that my contributions to their education are affirmed and validated.
I am grateful to the efforts and patience Professor Sharf put in helping and encouraging me to improve my English during my first years at McGill. She is a very committed supervisor and requires a correct way of working and delivery of quality results in time. Her instructions and suggestions always cleared up my confusion and led me to a bright way. I appreciate the quality of her supervision, and continuous support and encouragement, all of which made my PhD study a success. The knowledge and the skill set acquired from her have been helping me tremendously in my technical management roles at Bekaert and my current business managerial position at Groz-Beckert. She puts in great care and love for her students. The experiences and memories with Professor Sharf are still encouraging and inspiring to me and benefit a lot in my life and work, now and in the future.
Dr. Nelson Zhang, Sales Director Greater China, Carding Division, Groz-Beckert
Professor Sharf has been one of the most influential people in my academic and professional life, having supervised both my master's and doctoral theses. She allowed me to pursue topics I was extremely interested in, even if they lay outside her core area of expertise, for which I am extremely grateful. However, she was always firm yet encouraging in her supervision style, not allowing me to stray too far into the woods and keeping me on track to produce high quality conference and journal submissions. She was also instrumental in helping me establish my post-academic life, introducing me to contacts at other universities and discussing career-related topics. I am thankful for the time we spent together and the positive influence she had on me.
Dr. Adam Harmat, Senior Software Engineer, Magic Leap Inc.
“Time commitment is a major part of any successful supervision.”
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the School of Computer Science. My research concerns the intersections of mathematics, computer science, and economics. Specifically, my focus is on algorithm design and computation in problem solving and decision-making (by both humans and computers). Traditionally, algorithm designers have been concerned with solving optimization problems given standard computational constraints faced by a computer. These problems involve a single decision-maker. However, many fundamental applications involve multiple decision-makers, with perhaps conflicting objectives. Understanding such problems using algorithmic and game theoretic techniques motivates my research. For example: How should the government design an auction to sell off hundreds of spectrum licenses? Can carbon-permit trading mechanisms be designed that are effective in combatting climate change?
Approach to graduate supervision
There is no fixed formula prescribing the correct way to supervise a graduate student. However, the following basic factors are always important. Time commitment is a major part of any successful supervision. It is necessary to meet regularly to collaborate on research and to ensure the student is progressing sufficiently well in the program. Time is also required for the careful reading and rereading of any draft or presentation the student has written. This is not simply to ensure the validity of their work, it is extremely important that a student learn to clearly express their ideas over a variety of media. It is also vital to think carefully about the specific thesis project the student undertakes. This is especially true in mathematics, where it is common to spend months or even years without making much progress on a problem. That is actually an important lesson that any graduate student must learn -- and they need to be challenged -- but it is very disillusioning if learnt too well or too early! Selecting a good project involves not just ascertaining the difficulty of the problem but also understanding how well the problem fits with the interests and aptitudes of the individual student. Furthermore, not every graduate student can, or wants, to work in academia. Therefore, it is essential that the student does not fall into the trap of becoming proficient only over a very narrow field. Guiding the student in developing a broader and more practical set of skills is crucial. For example, assisting the student in finding an industrial summer internship is a useful way to help achieve that goal.
I was very fortunate to have Dr. Adrian Vetta as my PhD supervisor. He is an exceptional teacher and mentor. If I ever found myself stuck in my research, Adrian found the right balance of giving me just enough help to get going again without solving the problem for me. He also ensured that I had ready access to him, meeting with me regularly and generously sharing additional time whenever I needed it. This is remarkable, especially as he is now raising two young children and has a prolific publication record of his own. It has always been clear that Adrian has his student's wellbeing at heart. He encouraged me to apply for the Rhodes scholarship, even though it would delay my PhD progress, and his letter and support were instrumental to my winning it. He made a point of suggesting I attend a number of important conferences and encouraged my collaboration with others, all in support of my professional development.
Dr. Nithum Thain, research fellow at Jigsaw
I deem myself very fortunate to have had Adrian as my advisor for my senior thesis and Master's degree. He is extremely helpful and collaborates with his students, while encouraging independent research. On top of that, his interests span the spectrum from application to pure theory, and has many connections on both sides. It was definitely a rewarding experience.
Shant Boodaghians, PhD student in Theory of C.S. at UIUC