As we watch the inexorable changes in the weather that this time of year brings – warm sunny skies punctuating colder dark periods – we are reminded of the unexpected changes in our regular academic routine that we all continue to face. McGill’s research-intensive, student-centred mission has never been more important.
Graduate school is a time of self-exploration and personal growth. You meet new and lifelong colleagues and friends, and you immerse yourself in the academically rich environment that McGill offers. Master’s and doctoral students are with us for but a brief period of, say, 2–5 years. Having a full year taken away is an incredibly stressful interruption to their life plans. These young scholars are not able to buffer this loss of time as well as those of us who have been at the research game for a long time.
Earlier this summer, McGill researchers in our Faculty were given permission to continue vital research. For many of our professors, this was a welcome relief that hard-earned research projects would continue, and scientific exploration and curiosity would continue undaunted. However, for our graduate students, this was indeed an essential step forward towards normalcy. Our labs and field sites have been host to eager minds ever since, and this successful adaptation to safety protocols has provided a much-needed return to a research focus for our graduate students. I can see the sense of empowerment returning to our students. Academic life continues and we have had 30 successful PhD defences (via Zoom) and 49 MSc thesis submissions since March.
Our graduate supervisors have been remarkably creative in keeping in touch with their graduate students. Informal Zoom gatherings of lab members, virtual 1:1 check-ups and even the occasional masked and physically separated in-person chats with a student trainee are abundant. These seemingly simple efforts reflect the commitment that our professors have towards graduate education and the genuine care that they have for the well-being of their charges. McGill has implemented a series of initiatives through the Student Wellness Hub and local wellness advisors and mental health counsellors. The graduate student societies are providing online activities and the wonderful staff at the Macdonald Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies are always willing to lend an encouraging hand. I congratulate our graduate students and their supervisors for continuing to meet and overcome these challenges with positive energy, patience and understanding. We look forward to welcoming – and welcoming back – our graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to Macdonald!