Graduate student supervisors: share your thoughts!

The Task Force on Graduate Student Supervision is seeking feedback from faculty members who supervise doctoral or research master’s students. The mandate of the Task Force is to investigate the mechanisms by which the quality of graduate supervision at both the master’s and doctoral levels is assessed at the University.

The survey is designed to gather your experience with and opinions about supervisory expectations or standards, evidence of effective supervision, strategies for communicating supervisor/student expectations, and what kinds of support/training you believe will be effective.

The survey will take approximately 3-5 minutes to complete and remain open until December 6th 2019 (midnight). This survey is anonymous; participation is confidential and voluntary.

If you have any questions about the survey or the work of the Task Force on Graduate Student Supervision, please contact Angela Rooke (a2rooke@uwaterloo.ca), Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs.

Shifting gears on cycling: 8 ways UWaterloo supports biking to work

—A guest post from the Sustainability Office.

Fall may be in full swing, but it feels like spring is in the air for cycling in Waterloo Region.

There is a growing push for cycling across the community, catalyzed by concerns for accessibility and safety, effective use of space, economic development, affordability, and climate change, just to name a few. New segregated bike lanes on King, Columbia, University, Queen, and Belmont are kicking off much-needed infrastructure transitions outlined in municipal policy and planning. Trail improvements through Waterloo Park and soon the Iron Horse are making for a more pleasant cycling experience. Bike racks and spaces on busses and the iON make multi-modal transportation more accessible.

Efforts have been building on campus as well. Waterloo has been expanding programs and services to make riding a bike a more convenient commuting option.

  1. All campus buildings have adjacent bike racks, some of which are covered (QNC, B1, ESC, and EIT, for example).
  2. Parking Services manages a secure bike locker program, and there is a new secure bike cage under construction between EV3 and ML!
  3. Police Services runs a program to register your bike, so they can better help return it to you if it is stolen.
  4. Cyclists can access an emergency ride home program, $75 per trip 4 times per year, to help with unexpected circumstances (unfortunately, weather doesn’t count!).
  5. If you only ride during the summer, you can suspend your parking permit and regain your spot when the winter weather returns.
  6. Better yet, employees can purchase transit passes for winter months at a 15% discount off the regular transit price (no minimum monthly commitment) so you can bike in fair weather and bus in the cold.
  7. Waterloo has piloted a bike sharing program in 2019 to make getting across campus more convenient.
  8. The Sustainability Office organizes events like Bike Month to recognize cyclists, provide free bike tune-ups from community partners, and offer prizes for logging bike trips.

Of course, these don’t address every barrier. Bike theft remains a challenge, which is why the new secure cage is a critical step forward. We hope the cage is a model that, through partnerships, can be replicated in additional areas of campus if there is demand.

And the University is certainly not an island. It is connected to the network of roads and trails leading to the campus, many of which lack robust cycling infrastructure. It is a familiar sight to come to the end of your bike lane or trail and have to merge into morning or afternoon traffic. Municipal improvements are accelerating, but there is still a lot to do.

Nevertheless, the efforts underway are already shifting the gears upward. Cycling is not just for veteran riders. Diverse members of the University community—from a wide range of ages and abilities—arrive on all types of bikes every day. We’ve put thank-you cards on thousands of bikes across campus, so we know! Efforts to improve infrastructure will continue to make it safer and more comfortable.

If you are curious, explore your options. Google and gotravelwise.ca can pull up routes and directions that optimize bike lanes and trails, including new infrastructure, and the Sustainability website has more information and links to the above services that can help.


Mat Thijssen is the University of Waterloo’s Sustainability Manager. He coordinates the University’s sustainability activities and efforts, in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders on and off campus

Why I participate in extra-curricular activities with students

Diana Skrzydlo explains how she benefits from joining student organizations.

It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a student. I’m not talking about late night assignments, last minute study sessions, and cramped living spaces; I’m talking about forming communities of common interest, developing lifelong friendships, and exploring your passions.

In my 12 years as a faculty member, I have been involved in FASS (the Faculty, Alumni, Staff, and Students theatre company), the Chamber and University choirs, and the AcaBellas. They’re not just student groups; they’re university community groups—most clubs are open to any UW community members, including faculty. I’ve been behind the scenes and I’ve performed on stage, and through it all, it has been a delight to share the experience with a variety of other members of the campus community.

The pursuit of a shared passion will build real empathy, and empathy for your students will make you a better educator.

Here are some of the benefits of participating in student organizations:

Continue reading “Why I participate in extra-curricular activities with students”

Assigning students research on social movements and marginalized groups

From an extractive to a relational approach: Craig Fortier shares tips for instructors in all disciplines assigning projects directed towards the study of marginalized groups or social movement organizations.


For over a decade, I checked the email for No One Is Illegal-Toronto, the migrant justice activist group with whom I organized. Almost daily, we would receive messages from students (mostly university, but sometimes high school or college) asking to conduct an interview. Or perhaps for basic information about the organization that could be found on our website. Or even a master’s or PhD student who wanted to “study” our movement for their dissertation. In fact, many of our individual organizers who were publicly recognizable figures received personal emails of the same nature—some at a rate two or three times that of the group email account!

At first, we would try to conduct as many interviews as possible. Our logic was: The more people who know about this issue, the more people who will join our movements and mobilize. But it quickly became clear that many of the students (and, if we are being honest, most of the professors who were telling students to come speak with us) were seeing the activity as a learning exercise for themselves and not as a means of connecting and building tangible (and reciprocal) relationships with social movements.

They also didn’t seem to understand the nature or the structure of community-based organizing. And, it wasn’t just No One Is Illegal. Talk to any active social movement group (from Black Lives Matter to the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) and they will tell you the same thing: They are inundated with requests from students and teachers for information. At the time I was organizing, No One Is Illegal made the decision to develop a clear and proactive policy around research. The experience of developing that internal policy shaped and guided my own academic work and assignments as I entered the academy.

I’m now an assistant professor of Social Development Studies at Renison University College and I teach courses that are directly related to the study of social movements. It’s now my turn to try to put the principles developed in organizing spaces into practice in the academy—to ensure that we aren’t burning out campus organizers like the Indigenous Students Association, RAISE, UW Base, WPIRG, the UW Women’s Centre, etc. who are mobilizing to bring about the world we wish to see. This is the world that I teach about in my classes, but it is a world that is only actualized through on-the-ground mobilizing.

Where you come in

While this post is specifically about my experience teaching courses on social movements, I think that there are a lot of lessons that can be taken from them for professors assigning projects directed towards the study of marginalized groups, whether it is a mining engineering assignment that takes into account Indigenous peoples as stakeholders, a biology course on the health determinants in a migrant community health centre, an accounting course studying the social and environmental impacts of a particular innovation in business or any other discipline where you are relying partly on information from marginalized communities.

Continue reading “Assigning students research on social movements and marginalized groups”

Take-aways from the 2018 CAUT Aboriginal Academic Staff Conference

Karen Sunabacka is an Associate Professor of Music at Conrad Grebel University College. This past October, FAUW sponsored her to attend the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ Aboriginal Academic Staff Conference.

The 2018 conference theme was “Advancing Indigenization,” and plenary topics included: new Indigenous scholars, advancing Indigenous academic staff, Indigenizing the academy, Indigenous knowledge, and the state of Indigenous Studies programs in Canada.

After the conference, Karen sat down with FAUW’s Indigenization Working Group to share her reflections on the conference. She was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us to share with members of our broader community.

What were your expectations or hopes going into the conference?

As a Métis scholar and musician, I was hoping to meet other Indigenous academic staff and hear how Indigenization was going at other institutions in Canada.

What was your biggest take-away?

Indigenization means different things to different groups of people. I was surprised to learn about the differences between the ways University administrations tend to think of Indigenization and the ways individual faculty and/or faculty groups are approaching Indigenization. Faculty are looking at ways to incorporate Indigenous Knowledge into the curriculum, they are thinking about incorporating Indigenization into different ways of teaching, and they are looking at organizational structures and how to differently arrange the University structure as a whole (some talk about this as “Decolonizing” the University). Whereas Administrations tend to think of Indigenization as simply having more diversity of faculty, staff, and students.

Continue reading “Take-aways from the 2018 CAUT Aboriginal Academic Staff Conference”

Feedback on Feedback Questionnaires’ Use and Misuse

Jay Michela addresses misconceptions in Alex Usher’s analysis of the Ryerson arbitration decision. 

Guest post by Jay Michela, Psychology. 

Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA) has offered his analysis of an arbitration decision at Ryerson University which ruled against conventional use of students’ course ratings for personnel decisions (tenure and promotion decisions). It has been circulated within our university and elsewhere (e.g., to OCUFA), and appears on the HESA website under the headline “Time to Talk Teaching Assessments.”

I was moved to respond to Usher’s statement because it expresses many of the misconceptions that exist around summative use of students’ ratings of courses and instructors.

What follows is the full text of Alex Usher’s analysis, with my responses interspersed. I hope this format for explaining the urgent need to change university practices around student questionnaires turns out to be more engaging and pithy than some of the literature reviews and other research reports on which this material is based. Continue reading “Feedback on Feedback Questionnaires’ Use and Misuse”

Using Your Resources: A Different Approach to Mentorship

Jo Atlee is a professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science and the director of Women in Computer Science. She helped us prepare our faculty guide section on mentorship and has agreed to share here what she’s learned from her experiences—both positive and negative—with various mentoring models. Here’s Jo:

I’m not a big believer of the formal-mentor model of mentorship. Such a model of mentor and protégé makes sense for supervisor-student (or supervisor-postdoc) relationships, because there is an aspect of apprenticeship in the progression from student to faculty member. But outside of these relationships, I think that people have unrealistically high expectations of being able to find and establish a really strong relationship with some singular mentor or mentee. This is especially true with respect to finding a mentor within one’s department who is worth meeting with regularly.

I prefer a model of having a network of colleagues—peers, senior colleagues, junior colleagues, preferably at multiple institutions—that you can draw on for advice, feedback, or ideas on how to navigate a sticky problem. A wide network provides the obvious advantage of diversity in advice and expertise. I also like this model because the time commitments on mentors are relatively lightweight. Mentoring interactions tend to be a lunch, a phone call, or a quick email response that is purposeful, as opposed an expectation to meet regularly with a mentee. As a busy person, it is easier for me to say “yes” to an invitation to lunch with someone looking for advice than to a request to be a mentor, not knowing what kind of time commitment the requestor is expecting.

In my years of work with Women in Computer Science and Women in Math, one problem with the formal-mentoring model has always been that, while senior students recognize the value of mentoring and are interested in being mentors, junior students are not interested in being mentored. They believe that others have gotten by without this extra “help,” so they can as well. I’ve seen junior faculty take a similar view of formal mentoring programs within their departments; these pre-tenure faculty would prefer to be acknowledged as peers within their departments than as formal mentees or protégés.

An advantage of the network model of mentoring is that the vocabulary surrounding mentoring is devoid of this power differential. There is no notion of protégé. Best of all, the network model changes the vocabulary associated with “seeking advice”: by reaching out to members of your network for advice, you aren’t “asking for help”—you are simply “using your resources.”