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Infrastructure and resources

Create an inventory then decide what you can share with supervisees

You have an office, books, and equipment; perhaps you also have a grant, a subscription to journals not easily accessible in the library, or other resources. Use a spreadsheet to list all of these physical and financial benefits to your research, then consider how they could also be mutually beneficial in supervision. Choose spaces, items, or funding that you can share.

 

Create an inventory

Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows often have very different infrastructure and resources available to them depending on their supervisors. Create an inventory by itemizing everything that supports your research, such as:

  • a grant or other funds;

  • out of print primary texts;

  • office space on campus;

  • additional computers; and

  • lesser-known resources.

Then, return to the list and decide what you can share.

Help supervisees develop an intellectual climate

Graduate students tend to thrive when they feel a part of the academic community. The intellectual climate at McGill offers a variety of ways for students to immerse themselves. Consider recommending some of the various opportunities listed below to your supervisees.

  • Dissertation defences in your faculty

  • Guest lectures

  • Department events (assemblies, socials, etc.,)

  • Local conferences, symposiums, etc.,

  • Inter-faculty workshops (e.g., Academic Integrity Day)

  • Competitions (e.g., McGill’s 3MT Competition)

  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

  • Any other McGill or scholarly events you are attending or helped organize

Know your infrastructure

McGill’s infrastructure has recently attracted special attention because the many historic buildings on the two campuses pose questions about the balance between tradition and state-of-the-art research. Federal funding has transformed several of the buildings on the downtown campus, in some cases with innovations of technology and engineering, and in others with preservative renovation of the architectural heritage that makes McGill iconic. As it pertains to supervision, the infrastructure may include:

  • supervisor’s equipment, organized information, and funding;

  • work/study/office space for supervisee on campus;

  • faculty/building computing facilities (e.g., Law - 3661 Peel Street; Education - SIS/Graduate Student IT Lab); and

  • library resources (e.g., books, journal subscriptions, rooms for group work, computers, printers, workshops, carrels and reserved spaces for graduate students).

Of course, there is also a lot of funding earmarked for graduate students at McGill. The GPS Funding webpage provides or links to all the relevant information about fellowships, awards, and applications related to many sources of funding.

Where and how do supervisees want to study and work?

This question could of course be answered by graduate students and postdocs, and you could ask them. Also ask yourself how you tended to study and work as a graduate student or postdoc. Consider what the ideal might have been in terms of available space, qualities of the space, amount and timing of funding, opportunities to use new equipment or consult rare books, etc.

 

Consider the statements below. Are they true in relation to your department or faculty?

  • Students have access to the equipment necessary for their research.

  • Students have a suitable working space, such as an office or lab.

  • There is appropriate financial support for research activities.

  • There is adequate provision of computing resources and facilities.

  • The library has a collection of extensive up-to-date information.

You can ask the same question if you are a graduate student or supervisor. In both cases, remember that your department, faculty, and McGill in general also often have further resources that are not always apparent, especially to newcomers, and so it is important to ask senior faculty, department chairs, students, and administration.

Originality in the intellectual context

In a review of the literature, Bastalich (2015) explained the importance of introducing a supervisee to the field’s intellectual context by developing an intellectual climate. While we typically perceive undergraduate work as the time to gain knowledge about the context, graduate research demands an even deeper immersion in the context. Original academic work is still dependent on the work of others. It is therefore important for supervisors to develop a social climate and infrastructure that promotes this immersion.

 

Graduate students’ experiences differ dramatically depending on their subjective evaluation of the infrastructure and resources of their departments and universities. Their sense of belonging to a research culture derives not only from their social environment but also from their material surroundings and opportunities: spaces, buildings, equipment, and funding.

The experience of graduate education starts with admissions, includes services and facilities available at departmental and institutional levels, and continues through to awareness of examination requirements. Graduate students’ satisfaction with their overall research experience is strongly related to their perceptions of departmental and institutional infrastructure. The need to think about doctoral education systemically as a complex educational undertaking emerges from the growth of the doctoral enterprise; this growth necessitates a move beyond the traditional focus on the supervisory relationship (Pearson, 1999). Pearson goes on to say that, even in the early 90s, there were calls to attend to institutional resources and infrastructure – from desks to libraries – and their effect on the outcomes of doctoral study.

This position is supported by Wright and Cochrane (2000) who note the lack of attention to the role of departments in a quality PhD experience. A related study by Deem and Brehony (2000) emphasizes this point; they reported that access to research cultures often had a material as well as a social and cultural base. For instance, they reported that international students, in particular, experienced difficulties in accessing facilities (e.g., a place to meet informally) and resources (e.g., use of photocopiers).

References

Bastalich, W. (2015): Content and context in knowledge production: a critical review of doctoral supervision literature. Studies in Higher Education. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1079702

Deem, R. & Brehony, K. (2000). Doctoral students' access to research cultures: Are some more unequal than others? Studies in Higher Education, 25(2), 149-165.

Pearson, M. (1999). The changing environment for doctoral education in Australia: Implications for quality management, improvement and innovation. Higher Education Research & Development, 18(3), pp269-287.

Wright, T. & Cochrane, R. (2000). Factors influencing successful submission of PhD theses. Studies in Higher Education, 25(2), 181-195.