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Graduate student development: A student perspective


I am a second year graduate student in the beginning stages of my Master’s thesis. Although the new academic year has barely begun, I already feel like I am behind – and that I am overburdening my supervisor with questions and material to review. Applying for funding, finding and organizing research, teaching undergrad courses, applying for ethics approval, not to mention writing my thesis, are all causing me to resort back to my old coping mechanism: nail biting. Being a graduate student, I can only begin to imagine the amount of work on my supervisor’s plate before receiving my lengthy email asking to meet for advice on this or that (in some cases, this AND that). One way for supervisors to assist graduate students without burdening themselves is becoming well acquainted with the offerings of McGill’s SKILLSETS program.

SKILLSETS is a suite of professional development activities through Teaching and Learning Services and Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies here at McGill. Along with their partners, SKILLSETS offers over 200 workshops, information sessions and events – all free to McGill graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

Supervisors can use these events to complement their role and help relieve stress from both parties. For example, September is funding month and SKILLSETS is hosting a number of events. Through-out the fall there are other activities supporting graduate skills development in research management, ethics, and teaching. Here is a list of upcoming activities to help your graduate students:

  • Would You Fund It? offers students the opportunity of a 20-minute, one-on-one consultation session with a previous Tri-Council reviewer. Reviewers look over SSHRC, NSERC or CIHR funding proposals. This year it is being held on the 23rd, 24th and 25th of September.
  • Would you Fund it Now? is being hosted the following week by GRAPHOS. I highly recommend that professors tell their graduate students about this event so that they can benefit from additional readers of their funding proposal.
  • Research Management: For graduate students who need guidance with finding, organizing, publishing and staying up to date with literature, SKILLSETS partners with the McGill Library to offer the MyResearch graduate seminar series. This is a great series to promote. It provides graduate students with the tools to become independent researchers. MyResearch begins at the end of September and runs through the month of October.
  • Teaching: For those students teaching a course or acting as a teaching assistant, Learning to Teach Day provides interactive sessions on theoretical and practical teaching techniques on topics such as grading, preparing teaching portfolios, designing lectures and engaging students. This year it will be held on November 16th.
  • PhD support group: PhD students can receive extra guidance through the PhD Support Group, which meets every other Wednesday from 3:30-5. The group offers a space for students to connect with others, gain encouragement and motivation, and discuss ideas.
  • Ethics Review for Research Involving Humans: Guidelines and Process: If graduate students are looking for help with ethical approval for research involving humans, SKILLSETS offers a two-hour interactive workshop on October 1st. This workshop covers topics such as the ethics review process, confidentiality, and recruitment.

These are just a few of the many workshops and events offered at McGill! The complete list of SKILLSETS events can be found on the calendar at

As a professor, you can help your graduate students (and yourself!) by recommending the workshops and events offered through SKILLSETS. Professors are not alone in supporting their graduate students. With support from my supervisor along with events offered through SKILLSETS, I feel as though the entire McGill community is supporting me. These opportunities have made it easy for me to connect with others, build my professional skills and maintain a healthy relationship with my supervisor.

For more information on Graduate Supervision, as mentioned in April’s article Communications and Expectations in Graduate Supervision, McGill’s graduate supervision page ( has ample sources of tips for supervisors and supervisees.

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MA student at McGill University

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