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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, for example:

  • A grant or other funds
  • Out of print primary texts
  • Office space on campus
  • Additional computers
  • Lesser-known resources

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

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. The Principal’s Report 2011-2012 includes a webpage on Infrastructure that describes how recent 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 provides suitable spaces on campus in which graduate students and postdoctoral fellows can study and work. It also provides equipment, organized information, and funding. If you are a supervisor, you can sometimes provide funding, space, and equipment for your supervisees, and it is sometimes your responsibility to do so; however, McGill’s infrastructure also provides many resources, and not always the same resources available to you.

The McGill Library has carrels and study rooms reserved for graduate students. These resources are listed on its Spaces for graduate students webpage. Many departments and faculties also offer computing facilities especially for graduate students; for examples, the Faculty of Law has the graduate lab at 3661 Peel Street, and the Faculty of Education has the SIS/Graduate Student IT Lab as described on the Technology in the Faculty webpage.

Of course, there is also a lot of funding earmarked for graduate students at McGill. The Funding webpage at Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies 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 these statements in relation to your department or faculty. How would you respond?

  • 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 newcomers, and so it is important to ask around.

The effect of infrastructure on the experience of supervisees

Depending on how graduate students subjectively evaluate the infrastructure and resources of their departments and universities, their experiences differ dramatically. 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 & Cochrane (2000) who note the lack of attention to the role of departments in a quality PhD experience. A related study by Deem & 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).

The text of this page was based on:

Spaces, buildings, equipment, funding...

As they pertain to supervision, there are three main concerns. First, see the Funding webpage at Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for its information about fellowships, awards, and applications. Second, look for spaces in the McGill Library, which has reserved carrels and study rooms as listed on the Spaces for graduate students webpage. Third, ask about equipment, e.g., Education's Technology in the Faculty webpage.

Acknowledgements: original content prepared by Gerlese Åkerlind, CEDAM, ANU. Updated by Lynn McAlpine, Oxford Learning Institute, May 2011. Adapted through an agreement with Oxford and ANU at McGill by Joel Deshaye, May 2013.