Advice for Faculty from the G2G Peer Advisors
Since the Grad CRC launched in January 2016, the G2G Peer Advisors have had conflict coaching conversations with over 730 graduate students, and I have connected with over 180 faculty and staff. Around 1/3 of those conversations were about supervision issues. I asked the members of the G2G team to consider what advice they would give to faculty based on the conversation they have had with grad students about resolving difficult supervisory situations. Here is a TOP 10 summary of their advice:
- Foster an environment where communication is open.
- Be approachable. Listen. Let your students know you have their best interests at heart.
- Be curious about your students. Check in with them both academically and personally so they know you care. A question goes a long way.
- Be strong, open, communicative, empathetic and lead-by-example. Be a mentor that students can look to when they feel lost, confused, or downtrodden.
- Seek support when you need it as well.
- Managing people is hard, and not necessarily something you signed up for as an academic. Engage in personal development and learn interpersonal communication skills. Each student is different and your experiences may not translate to your students.
- Grad students benefit from explicit and proactive communication about expectations.
- Make time to talk with students casually and be open to other styles of communication.
- How you say something is sometimes as important as what you say.
- Students are often in need of a kind word, encouragement, a sincere ‘how are you doing?’. Your words and opinions are weighty. Yes, give feedback that helps students grow, but the way feedback is given- in a constructive or destructive manner- can make all the difference to a grad student’s academic experience and to their entire life.
My advice to faculty is to consider timing. Effective conflict management is about knowing when to engage actively to resolve an issue, when to seek more information, when to pause and when to simply ask questions rather than offer solutions.
I would like to thank all the faculty who connected with me over the years for your openness to talking about your own supervision challenges and your willingness to engage in difficult conversations. Sadly, the Grad CRC is closing at the end of June 2020. Faculty staff and students who have supervision questions, concerns, or who would like to discuss training or the development of the new SGS Graduate Supervision & Mentorship Centre can connect with Charmaine Williams, Vice-Dean Students (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Heather McGhee Peggs, BA (Hons), LL.B., Manager Grad CRC (June 2020)
“A person with a conflict is like a hurricane” –Libby Mahaffy, MIT Conflict Management. What does it mean to support people experiencing crisis or conflict? [CC] or The Hurricane Transcript.
- Concerned about a student who appears to be in distress? Crisis, personal safety and concerning student situations.
- Want to direct a student to the right resource? Refer to the 2019/2020 Essential Grad Guide & the Graduate Student Wellness Portal (UofT)
How can “light touch” interventions from faculty improve students’ perception of courses & instructors?According to a 2019 US-based study, students who receive occasional emails from their instructors offering “light touch” feedback and support have better perceptions about both their instructors and courses.
Is it possible to bridge the divide between faculty and administration and understanding conflict in the academy? Bridging the Divide Between Faculty & Administration analyzes common sources of conflict on campus and the challenges of addressing these conflicts; a theory-driven and research-based approach for authentic discourse between faculty and admin.
Looking for more info about the accommodations process & how to support students registered with Accessibility Services? Start by reviewing Demystifying Academic Accommodations and the information on the Student Life Faculty & Staff page. If you need assistance to support or refer a student, please contact the Intake Coordinator. Students are encouraged to connect with their Accessibility Advisor to resolve questions /concerns.
Looking for best practices in graduate education? SGS has resources around supervision, time to completion, funding, all developed in consultation with the UTGSU, graduate units & others.
How does effective communication impact graduate supervision & prevent conflict? Helene Wagner et al. (Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UTM) outlines a number of strategies in: How to communicate effectively in graduate advising (Dec 2016) & How to share the process of graduate advising (Dec 2016)
Listening may be all you need to do. At this local, independent TEDx event, William Ury, Co-author of “Getting to Yes” (interest based negotiation) explains how listening is the essential, and often overlooked, half of communication. (15:40) [CC].