Research Without Borders: the 2016 Grad Student Conference

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The 2016 Athabasca University Graduate Student Conference will kick off Friday, September 16, in Edmonton. The fourth event, hosted by the Faculty of Graduate Studies and the Athabasca University Graduate Students’ Association (AUGSA), provides an opportunity for AU graduate students to present their innovative research to their peers and professors.

Scholarly support

Showcasing the theme of Research Without Borders, 45 presenters, including graduate students, both masters and doctoral, and faculty members, will present their research, either in-person, virtually, or via poster — a platform on which students can equally benefit by receiving critical feedback of their work in a “supportive yet scholarly environment of colleagues and faculty members.”

AUGSA executive director Ross Tyson (centre) pictured at last year's Graduate Student Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson, 2015) The fourth annual event provides an opportunity for AU graduate students to present their innovative research to their peers and professors.

AUGSA executive director Ross Tyson (centre) pictured at last year’s Graduate Student Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson, 2015)

Further, says Ross Tyson, executive director, AUGSA, students can then transfer this presentation experience directly to their resumes.

According to the Conference website, the event’s objectives are to:

  • advance AU’s role as a global leader in accessible graduate education
  • promote excellence in graduate education
  • support diversity, equity, fairness, and ethical conduct in graduate education
  • create a graduate education that combines scholarship, research, and creative work
  • foster a stimulating and challenging environment for faculty and students that promotes innovation.

“We want to emphasize innovation and creativity in doing research, and that you don’t necessarily have to do research within your own discipline,” says Dr. Pamela Hawranik, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and a professor of Health Disciplines.

Hawranik says the “Research without Borders” theme, in addition to pertaining to research that steps outside a student’s discipline, also includes online education, traditional research on education, and examining research internationally.

Hawranik will lead the conference Saturday morning with opening remarks, followed by an address by AUGSA’s newest president, Teagan Gahler on the importance of sharing graduate research amongst post-secondary peers.

We want to emphasize innovation and creativity in doing research, and that you don’t necessarily have to do research within your own discipline.” ~ Dr. Pamela Hawranik, dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Athabasca University.

Alberta's Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt at Athabasca University's 2016 Convocation [photo credit: Pam Walsh, 2016]

Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt at Athabasca University’s 2016 Convocation [photo credit: Pam Walsh, 2016]

Greetings from Marlin Schmidt

Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt will present the opening greeting pointing to the “special nature” of “AU, and its open edge and accessibility for people who normally can’t attend a university institution in-person.

“I’m really excited that Minister Schmidt is coming to speak at our event,” says Gahler.

“It shows a wonderful commitment to our institution when, often publicly, people might think there are times of uncertainty —  this really goes to show the support we have from the provincial government.

Furthermore, it’s wonderful for the students to see Minister Schmidt at one of their events — to show that it’s not only him supporting the institution, and perhaps the administration, but also getting down to the student level.”

On a personal note, Gahler, who’s been with AUGSA since April, says she’s eager for the association to “create an opportunity for cross-pollination outside of our programs.”

Grad Students: A class of their own

“Graduate students are kind of a different group from undergraduate students,” says Gahler.

“The biggest thing I like to do in this role is to work with AU to make sure that the graduate student experience is the best that it can be and, by working together, with the institution, whether via representation on a committee, or just one-on-one conversations, to talk about the needs of graduate students.

It’s wonderful for the students to see Minister Schmidt at one of their events — to show that it’s not only him supporting the institution, and perhaps the administration, but also getting down to the student level.” ~ AUGSA President Teagan Gahler

Keynote speakers include AU Distance Education graduate Susan Bainbridge, and alumna and past AUGSA President Cynthia Gordon. Bainbridge will talk about her experience conducting research as a student in Nepal, and the limitations and challenges she encountered performing research in a poverty-stricken country with restricted internet access. She will explain how she was able to find solutions for a scattered population with limited resources to access education.

Gordon will address the unique roles she juggled at AU, both as a masters student and former AUGSA president, with the multiple responsibilities she had to equally cope with outside of those roles, including being a parent, in her presentation titled “Being Determined, Taking Risks, and Trusting your Writing.”

Branding the graduate

On Sunday, a speaker’s panel comprised of post-secondary experts including Queen’s University’s Brenda Brouwer, UBC’s Jacquelyn Brinkman, and AU’s Antonika (Nikki) Pawlitschek, will provide insight into professional skills development that benefit graduate students. In addition to trends in post-secondary graduate-level education, the trio will examine the need for enhanced professional skills development for students in the areas of leadership, communications, and personal branding.

As president of the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies, dean of Queen’s University’s Graduate Studies program, and its Vice-Provost, Brouwer will address the paramount need for Canada’s post-secondary institutions to help better prepare graduate students for the workforce.

Bethany, an Athabasca University Masters of counseling student who attended last year's Graduate Student Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson, 2015]

Bethany, an Athabasca University Masters of counseling student who attended last year’s Graduate Student Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson, 2015]

“Most students graduating with a masters and a PhD do not end up in academia,” says Hawranik. “That trend has been taking place in the last 10 to 15 years — so universities need to modify their programs to be able to help these students work outside of post-secondary institutions.”

Hawranik adds AU can gain a further edge with graduate students by providing them with the skills that will enable them to work in private enterprise or with different levels of government. These would include [not-for-credit] courses on change management, leadership skills with respect to grant writing, conflict resolution, negotiations and the like.

Hawranik notes that while AU currently offers individual, ad hoc sessions, led by different speakers from AU, the goal is to eventually provide course excellence on par with universities such as UBC that, comparatively, has a “very well-developed” program in place.

Universities need to modify their programs to be able to help these students work outside of post-secondary institutions.” ~ Pamela Hawranik

Brinkman, manager of the Graduate Pathways to Success program in the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of British Columbia, will address how UBC created these skills development course add-ons for students to fill in those workplace gaps and needs.

Says Hawranik: “AU had provided some weekend work on conflict resolution and planning for your career. But we are developing a more formalized program so that it will involve more courses to do with leadership skills and abilities,” she says.

Pawlitschek, a counsellor at AU, will discuss how students can prepare themselves as a graduate, at either the masters- or doctoral-level, to help land the job or the promotion they desire. She’ll provide advice on adapting one’s resume to the type of position being applied for, and, ultimately “brand yourself.”

“Even though most of our students are employed, they’re in [AU’s] programs to get a better kind of job, or change positions, get a promotion, and be able to do better at what they’re doing,” says Hawranik, explaining that the topics and tips presented by the panel can help advance students personally and professionally.

“It’s a special skill, so these are special skills — and there’s no time to teach it in the academic program — that people can learn outside of their credit courses for their degree. They are transferable, professional skills.”

Sunday’s panel will be followed by international guest speaker Dr. Christopher Brauer, research lead at City University in London, England, who will speak online about “the Scorpion and the Frog,” examining the broader impact of creative and social practices and technologies on society.

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