Student training and education is the most important and most enjoyable aspect of my work as a professor. My graduate students are always welcome in my office and are encouraged to ask me as many questions as they like. In a more abstract sense, I see the relationship between a graduate student and his or her professor as an apprenticeship. In the old-fashioned style of apprenticeship, the student learns directly from the mentor. To accomplish this, I speak to every student at least every other day, which helps to keep me in touch with what is going on in the lab and also gives the students an opportunity to learn directly from me. It is very important, however, that students are able do their own problem solving and think and work independently. This is especially the case when it comes to research ideas, and I try to encourage students to develop and pursue their own ideas.
Upon entering my lab, students choose a research project or two from a list of ideas and projects I have. I usually suggest that the student choose two projects, one relatively safe and one more risky. This allows the students to work on a truly exciting project and at the same time, be confident that they will leave my group with publications. Having two projects also gives the student good exposure to different lab techniques, which broadens their areas of expertise.
In addition to interacting directly with me, students are part of a “sub-group” within the group as a whole. Within this sub-group are students and PDFs working on related projects, so that we have critical mass on each project. In addition, we have weekly group meetings where 2-3 students and postdocs present their work to the entire group. This is a great opportunity for brainstorming and generating ideas. Special topics presentations are also part of this weekly group meeting.
An important part of research training is the ultimate goal: for the student to graduate and move on to an independent research career. I consider this type of training to be my responsibility, thus I try to teach my students a variety of skills, ranging from synthesis to catalysis to materials. In addition, I invite speakers from industry on a regular basis to educate the students as to what is involved in an industrial career or at an interview for an industrial position. When we have speakers visiting, I often ask students to present their research so they have the opportunity to meet professors and industrial chemists, and gain the experience of presenting their research to others.
Although publications are by far the most important method for the dissemination of knowledge gained through research, conference presentations are also of crucial importance. Students typically attend 2-3 national CSC conferences and at least one international conference during their Ph.D. I think it is important for students to meet other researchers in Canada and also to get personal feedback on their research. More often than not, this is an extremely positive experience, which all the students enjoy.
Length of Degree
Graduate students who join my group can expect to complete a master’s degree in 1.5-2 years and a Ph.D. in 4-5 years. Graduate studies should not be a life’s work, but a stepping stone to an independent career. After carrying out research for 4-5 years in one area, students should be ready to move on to another institution and another challenge.
When I was a graduate student, I had the opportunity to go abroad to study and carry out research in Japan with Professor Shinji Murai in Osaka University. This was one of the best experiences of my life and so I strive to give my own graduate students similar opportunities. Thus every Ph.D. student who joins my group will have the opportunity to carry out a student exchange to do research in another lab, either in Canada or in another country such as Japan or the USA. This is a very useful way to broaden your connections and to learn different ways of doing chemistry. For students participating in the CREATE program, this exchange is formalized and targeted to Japan, Sweden and France, however other opportunities are also possible. In particular, since I have a satellite lab in Japan now, many students have the opportunity to do research there in the Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules.
Lab Atmosphere/Group Culture
I truly believe that a happy student is a productive student. Therefore I do my best to ensure that all my graduate students are contented. For foreign students, this means helping with permanent resident applications or visa problems and differential fees. For Canadian students, this means making sure they have all the help they need with scholarship applications, which I review with them in detail, and that they have as much access to conference travel and other “perks” that I can provide. We have regular group trips to the graduate club to celebrate student accomplishments (or to celebrate good weather!) and have group curling, softball and regular summer barbeques at my place. My group has also always had great group spirit and without a doubt as I am writing this, some of them are raising a beer together or chasing a squash ball.