Thirty years ago, Joffre Mercier, Brock’s associate vice-president, research (Natural and Health Sciences) was completing his PhD in neuromuscular physiology.
In the past three decades, Mercier has gained a broad vantage point to compare the then and now of the graduate student experience - particularly the important relationship between graduate students and their mentors.
His research career in the area of neurobiology has involved supervising and working alongside master’s and PhD students. His administrative experience with the Faculty of Mathematics and Science and, more recently, with Brock’s Research Services, gives him yet another perspective of the life of graduate students.
Mercier will touch on these themes when he gives the keynote address at Brock’s ninth annual Mapping the New Knowledges Graduate Student Research Conference April 7.
Overall, Mercier says not a lot has changed since his graduate student days at McGill University.
“The core activities and experiences of graduate students are essentially the same today as they were when I was a graduate student in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” he says. “Scholarly expectations are as rigorous today as they were then. Young scholars are still expected to make new contributions to knowledge, they still work largely on their own but under the guidance of a faculty mentor.
“Graduate study changes them, making them more aware of the difference between what we really know and what we think, and making them more likely to question the validity of what they hear and read for the rest of their lives. These aspects of the graduate student experience probably haven’t changed substantially for over a century.”
Mercier says the biggest changes for today’s graduate students are in research focus and future career paths.
“There are more opportunities in industry now than there were when I was a graduate student, and this is particularly true in life sciences,” he says. “Students worry as much now as we did about future employment, and the job turnover in academia is a bit slow at the moment, which happens from time to time. The difference is that there are more opportunities outside of the academic sector than there were 30 years ago.”
The conference keynote address begins at 8:45 a.m., Plaza Building 400, mezzanine level, and it will kick off a full day of research presentations by approximately 120 graduate students from all of Brock’s six academic Faculties. All members of the Brock community and the public are welcome to attend. The program includes:
• three sessions of concurrent oral presentations running from 9:15 a.m. to 11 a.m., 1:40 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., in Plaza 300 and 400 level
• the finals of Brock’s Three-Minute Thesis (3MT®) Contest, from 11 a.m. to 12 noon, Plaza 400 mezzanine level
• the presentation of the Graduate Mentorship Awards, from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., Plaza 400 mezzanine level
• a poster-viewing session, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., Cairns 300 level
Faculty of Graduate Studies Dean Mike Plyley says the conference continues to be a success because of the broad mix of graduate student research underway at Brock.
“We were fortunate in the early going that conference organizers recognized that the research process is best served when scholars and scientists, from completely different disciplines, come together to talk about what they do and why they do it,” he says.
“We’ve made it a priority to help graduate students make research connections, and this continues to be a priority as the University embraces transdisciplinary directions to drive research and scholarship in exciting ways.
“Graduate students have a deep and rich reservoir of knowledge, insight, creativity and innovation. As a university, this one day in the life of graduate students is an opportunity for everyone to strengthen our alliance as researchers and scholars, and to discover new ways to work together in making a difference in our world. “