2020 David Thomson Award for Graduate Supervision and Teaching

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Robert E. Kearney
Tim Moore | Pierre Pluye | Ada Sinacore



Prof. Robert E. Kearney, Biomedical EngineeringRobert E. Kearney, Biomedical Engineering

“My office and laboratory are adjacent; students are welcome to see me any time they have questions and need advice.”


Prof. Kearney, founded the Department of Biomedical Engineering and served as its Chair from 1989 to 2005 and then as Interim Chair from 2013 to 2015. He has an active research program in the application biomedical signal and systems analysis to human motor control and clinical problems. He has supervised more than masters and PhD students. Prof. Kearney led the successful launch of a Graduate Certificate Program in Translational Biomedical Engineering as well as the development of the Graduate Tracking System – an automated tool for the management and tracking of graduate students.

Approach to graduate supervision

My approach to graduate supervision has seven main tenets:

  1. I meet regularly with each student to track their progress, discuss important technical issues, answer questions, and plan future work.
  2. I hold regular laboratory meetings where all students present their work.
  3. I hold practice sessions for all student presentations (e.g. committee meetings, seminars, conference presentations) where my students and I provide constructive criticism.
  4. I maintain an open-door policy. My office and laboratory are adjacent; students are welcome to see me any time they have questions and need advice.
  5. I encourage students to take a critical approach to their work and that of their colleagues and to express these concerns frankly in a supportive, collegial manner. Internal and self-criticism is the best way to ensure that our work is of the highest quality possible.
  6. I support student travel to international conferences/workshops to present their work, obtain feedback from leading figures, develop a sense of where their work fits, and network with other students.
  7. I work closely with students in crafting their written documents (scholarship applications, theses, and conference and journal papers). I provide detailed written feedback, advice and criticism on draft documents as quickly as possible. I insist on high level of clarity and English usage. as a result, multiple versions are usually needed. While it would be quicker to do the rewrite myself, I believe students will learn more by doing it themselves.


I have always been confident of Professor Kearney’s support while a PhD student, since I have constantly observed that he always prioritises the matters related to his students, considers their success very important, and devotes substantial amount of time and energy to them. In addition, he is very enthusiastic to solve scientific problems, motivates his students, and patiently guides them through their journey, using his remarkable knowledge and experience, while giving them the freedom to direct their own research topics, which I strongly believe is fundamental in graduate supervision. His aim is to foster independent researchers who are ready to embark upon their journey after their studies. He is a compelling teacher, who intuitively sparks a zest for learning in his students. His energy and extreme interest to work in tandem with his students, and his novel ideas and guidance to tackle research problems bring the students great enthusiasm in their course of studies. He engages students by setting up new challenges to solve difficult problems of the field, and encourages them to try, but except failure and be resilient. 

Pouya Amiri, Postdoctoral research associate, Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London

Professor Kearney is an excellent teacher, a caring adviser, and a remarkable mentor. His impact on students’ graduate studies journey is not only limited to guiding
them on how to do good research and being innovative, but also to inspire them to be passionate about their work, to help them improve their skills for presenting ideas, and to support them to learn how and where to look for ways to solve research problems. He goes beyond his responsibilities as a research adviser and strengthens students’ self-confidence by allowing them to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes at their own pace. He proved to me that being a good adviser is not just about supervising student throughout the completion of a research project, but is also about teaching the way of thinking and approaching problems, and at the same time keeping an open mind regarding others’ ideas and methods. 

Dr. Mahsa A .Golkar, Robotics & Control System Engineer, Bionik Laboratories Corp


Prof. Tim Moore, GeographyTim Moore, Geography

“Making students feel part of a research ‘community’ is important and sharing ideas and advice is a valuable part of graduate work.”


I was born and raised near Leicester, rural England, and completed a B.Sc. degree in Geography at the University of Swansea, Wales and a Ph.D. in Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. I came to McGill in 1971 and the great diversity of the Canadian landscape has given many opportunities for teaching and research with students. My research focuses on the relationships between soils and the environment, examining the exchange of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and the effect of human intervention on soil quality. As shown in the photo, this involves field work with students and focuses on wetlands, especially peatlands.

Approach to graduate supervision

I think teaching and supervision are separate challenges in our role in educating graduate students. In graduate teaching, my approach has been to enthusiastically show students the ‘big picture’ of research rather than focus on details, engaging students in a journey beyond what most have done in undergraduate courses, making it ‘fun’ and accommodating the varying needs of students. In graduate supervision or advising and mentoring, I think it is important to realise that all student-advisor relationships are unique and require specific attention, rather than being mandated centrally. Within that caveat of the diversity of student needs, my approach has been to initially identify what topics interest students, showing students that they are not beavering away alone, but teaching them that research is best done collectively and broadly. Finally, making students feel part of a research ‘community’ is important and sharing ideas and advice is a valuable part of graduate work, as they begin to ‘advise’ and mentor each other, a healthy approach. 


Tim was the perfect supervisor because he recognized immediately that he would be more helpful to me as a mentor, giving me flexibility to discover certain aspects of research for myself. However, when I needed advice and guidance, he gave me feedback that would, in some cases, send me in a new direction to venture into unknown territory.
In my own experience as Tim’s PhD student, as well as my observation of his relationship with other graduate students, he is always there for consultation, inspiration and advice when needed, but gives students leeway when he recognizes that thought-provoking questions would be more educational than giving answers. In a male-dominated field like biogeochemistry, Tim has been incredibly supportive of women students, recognizing and honouring the wide-ranging attitudes and learning styles of his diverse student body. Over the years, I have also appreciated Tim’s sense of humor, which helps keep everything in perspective when students are stressed.

Dr. Jill Bubier, Mount Holyoke College, Geography Dept

As a student whose research field is biogeochemistry, Tim had been a very ‘big name’ for me for quite some time, and thus, I felt a little bit nervous before the course started. But to my surprise, Tim was extremely nice and notably easy to approach. He held class discussions in a such friendly and respectful manner and we learned a great deal from all these discussions with him. I recall that I asked Tim a ton of silly questions when I first started his class, like a many beginners do, but never once did I feel embarrassed in front of him. The other thing to note regarding his teaching style is that Tim is quite a funny person and can describe numerous puzzling scientific theories in an intriguing and straightforward manner when teaching. He is incredibly skilled at creating a relaxing and friendly classroom environment where student can be themselves, take initiatives, and make great progress

Siya Shao, PhD Candidate in Dept of Geography, McGill University

Prof. Pierre Pluye, Family MedicinePierre Pluye, Family Medicine

“I strongly believe in practice-based problem-solving. ”


I am MD and PhD, Full Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McGill University 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, Postdoctoral researcher at EPPI-Centre and INESSS

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, MBChB, McGill University

Prof. Ada Sinacore, Educational and Counselling PsychologyAda Sinacore, Educational and Counselling Psychology

“I believe that inherent in being a good supervisor is being a good teacher.”


I am the Director of the Social Justice and Diversity Research Lab, and an Associate Professor in Educational Counselling Psychology. I have over 20 years of experience working in the U.S., Canada, and abroad, and am internationally recognized for my expertise and extensive presentations and publications addressing social justice concerns at the individual, institutional, and policy level. I have received numerous honors and awards, including the Faculty of Education Award for Distinguished Teaching at the 2017 Convocation.

Approach to graduate supervision

I believe that inherent in being a good supervisor is being a good teacher. Thus, with regard to my thesis students, I meet with them as a group on a biweekly basis. In these meetings there is both a didactic component and a presentation component. That is, in each meeting I present on a topic relevant to all of the students research and professional development. Also, in each session, students present a piece of the research on which they are working. This format gives the students the opportunity to work with me, and to learn from each other. On the week that there is no lab meeting, I meet with thesis students on an individual basis.


What strikes me as a student of Dr. Sinacore is that not only does her research center around equity and social justice, she also brings these principles to life. She embodies the principles that she teachers by fostering collaboration, sharing of power, and equitable distribution of resources. As a result, I as her student feel empowered, included, and respected. Because Dr. Sinacore leads by example, she actions inspires her students to become more passionate and committed to the field of study. Further, she encourages independence and critical thinking by outlining clear expectations and providing the appropriate scaffolding of learning. In this way, she is providing a stimulating learning environment where students are always set up to succeed.

Shaofan Bu, PhD Candidate, Counselling Psychology

Navigating through graduate school is a challenging process, especially for a female, ethnic minority, ESL student like myself.  Moreover, I gave birth to my children during my doctoral studies, which added further challenges to my academic pursuits.  However, whenever I need guidance and support, Ada was extremely generous with her time.  She is intelligent, empathetic, and understands the challenges of acculturation and of balancing personal and professional life.  Through dialogue, she assisted me in negotiating the landmines of power structures that exist in graduate training, and to integrate my professional role and other identities.  Since starting my current position, I keep discovering how well-prepared I am for the wide range of challenges as a new academic, for which Dr. Sinacore has played an integral role.  Dr. Sinacore is a dedicated, exceptional supervisor who makes a difference in the field and in the lives of her students.

Dr. Kaori Wada, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary

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

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