Dr. Susan Porter is the Dean and Vice-Provost of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Past President of the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS), and a Clinical Professor in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UBC. A strong focus throughout her administrative career has been the preparation of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to thrive and to contribute meaningfully through their work after graduation or fellowship completion. She has led a concerted effort over the past eight years towards a rethinking of the core of doctoral education — students’ research, their dissertation, and the ways in which they learn and are mentored.
At UBC, she has been leading a “Reimagining the PhD” conversation and series of initiatives, most notably a multiple award-winning “experiment” (the Public Scholars Initiative) that is demonstrating the immense value and legitimacy of broadening doctoral research that fosters students’ holistic development to better address today’s urgent needs. She has also co-led a national CAGS task force on the subject, and is working to further the conversation and to provide support and resources for the graduate community across Canada and beyond.
The Formation of Scholars for the 21st Century
The 21st century world, characterized by unprecedented complexity, interdependence, chaos, and uncertainty, is facing the most urgent problems of our history. The conventions and assumptions the academy and society have traditionally relied upon are no longer adequate to the task of addressing them, or effectively navigating the changing and expanding ways of working. Doctoral graduates are ‘scholars’ in the broadest sense, using their knowledge and intellect to integrate, discover, apply, and share knowledge. If they are to meet the moment of this day, their scholarship will need to incorporate different and unfamiliar perspectives and ways of knowing, and they will need to be systems thinkers and effective collaborators and agents of change. As part of its ‘reimagining the PhD’ focus over the past six years, the UBC graduate school has expanded opportunities for PhD students to develop these holistic scholarly capabilities, in part through encouraging, supporting, and legitimizing more capacious forms of doctoral research, supervision, and the dissertation. These initiatives will be described, as will the work done on behalf of the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies to understand the national sentiment on the issues.