Good Medicine for your graduate degree…or is it?

Dr. Andrew Watson smiling for the camera in front of a stone wall

Welcome to summer, and the warmer weather. The winter months seemed endless, and now that July and August are just around the corner, I hope you will have an opportunity to enjoy them.  For our final newsletter until September, I want to discuss the value of the Advisory Committee Meeting. It is one of the most common concerns raised by our trainees and I believe it is an important component of your training.

Regardless of your field of interest or whether you are pursuing an MSc or PhD degree, your research project will be novel, important and very challenging to complete.

It is not easy to move a field of research forward, however it is exactly what we are asking thesis-based graduate students to do during your graduate training.

It is challenging and exciting. Testing your limits, growing as a person, becoming an expert in a chosen field, learning "state-of-the-art" skills, becoming more confident, self-assured and ready to take on the world are all benefits and takeaways from pursuing a graduate degree.

To achieve all these attributes and to do so with a high degree of expertise and performance requires lots of help and support. This is where the Advisory Committee comes into play.

Every graduate trainee has a supervisor who is an effective mentor and guide for taking the individual successfully through a demanding research project and thesis program.

To assist with this effort, you are provided with an advisory committee that provides you with access to additional experts who are focused on providing assistance to you to meet any research challenges. The plan is for students to meet regularly with their advisory committee (ie. every six months or more).

I believe this is the most important thing you can do to ensure steady progress and become fully prepared to produce and defend a very strong thesis.

So why are these meetings approached with so much fear and anxiety? Why do the meetings not happen on a regular basis?

Here are some of the things I hear about Advisory Committee meetings:

  • Everything is going ok, I don’t want to stop and write a committee report and prepare a talk right now.
  • I just need to finish up a couple more short experiments (which usually take a month or more) before I want to meet with my committee.
  • My supervisor says I do not need one right now. At least not until I get my paper out. (that never takes very long to do).
  • My Committee just gives me a hard time about my lack of progress and overall it is a very negative experience.
  • I don`t like being evaluated or criticized. When my work is criticized it feels personal! 
  • I can never get my Committee together to meet. There may be three days every year when the whole group can actually meet.
  • I feel more confused after my meeting than I was before.

These comments suggest that in some cases the Advisory Committee meeting system is not always running as effectively as it could. I however, know of no other tool, which exists, that can ensure a strong research project and thesis, which is completed in a timely fashion.

I invite all faculty and students to reflect on the Advisory Committee meeting and its benefits. I would also ask that we dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of making every student`s Advisory Committee meeting a productive and positive experience. The best way for that to happen is to have regular meetings, and ongoing communication. If your Committee is still not working for you, please talk to your supervisor, graduate program chair or me.

This is the final newsletter until the fall term starts in September. I hope you have found them informative and you have enjoyed the profiles of your fellow trainees and our faculty. Your feedback about the newsletter, to date, has been encouraging and is appreciated. We want to be responsive to your needs and interests and welcome your ideas about topics you might like me to comment on in future messages. I look forward to your ongoing feedback.

Have a great summer everyone. Work hard, play hard and don’t take life for granted.