Criminology Honours Program builds relationships for future success
By Christine Palka
Rumour has it the Criminology Honours Program isn’t easy. Past students confirm it’s true.
Doing independent research and writing a thesis for the first time is challenging. That’s why the program’s cohort model helps students succeed, while presenting a unique opportunity for them to build long-lasting relationships with their classmates and supervisors.
Every September students are admitted as a cohort, and they work towards finishing the program together to graduate the following spring. The first term is spent on coursework; the second term on completing and defending a thesis supervised by a Criminology faculty member.
“The cohort model is one of the most important aspects of the honours program. I’ve repeatedly seen situations where the relationships that students build in the fall term really got them through that term, and further help them in the spring when they are doing more intensive research and writing,” says Undergraduate Director Sheri Fabian, who coordinates the Honours Program.
Students also learn the value of working with a supervisor as they conduct independent research, often for the first time, while completing their theses. It’s an opportunity to learn about varying work styles, and to determine what works best for their own needs.
“Supervisors are really different. If students need a lot of support then they need to pick their supervisor very carefully because some supervisors are very hands on and some are very hands off. And that’s something that the student and the supervisor need to negotiate and work through,” says Fabian.
“When selecting a supervisor, I ask students to consider what they are looking for in a supervisor along with matching the research interest and type of research they are doing.”
SFU Criminology spoke with two recent graduates of the Criminology Honours Program to get the scoop on their experiences in the program, especially how the support of their classmates helped them succeed.
Anthony Lam (Criminology, Spring 2016)
How did you benefit from the cohort model of the Criminology Honours Program?
When you press a bunch of like-minded people in the same room and tell them to go do their thing, support networks and lasting friendships will inevitably form. When I was going through the honours program, the support from my peers kept me grounded and functional during the more stressful moments of 2 AM thesis writing.
My cohort knew we were in this together and we all wanted to finish as a team, so we kept encouraging each other on a daily basis. Although everyone moves on to greater and better things after the honours experience, we know that the friendships made from the program will continue for a long time.
What is helpful about having a supervisor during the program?
Your supervisor is the epitome of "been there, done that". Navigating the world of academia is hard, especially as a junior researcher, but you know that your supervisor will always act as your safety net when the going gets tough.
Dr. Richard Frank was my second set of eyes in making sure that everything falls in the right place, and he was especially helpful in giving me new ideas to pursue throughout the project. Dr. Frank helped make sure my project was heading in the direction we envisioned and he was the one who sympathized with me when things weren't going right but similarly celebrated with me when I found success.
Jen-Li Shen (Criminology, Spring 2016)
Tell us how you benefited from relationships formed during the Honours Program.
When I first started the program, I was secretly struggling in silence and feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the thesis that I was to complete. As I spent more time with the cohort, many of my fellow students shared their own worries, and how daunting the whole process of writing a thesis felt to them. It was through our mutual insecurities that we realized we were all in the same boat, albeit one that felt like it may have been sinking at times!
Is there a specific example?
Writing a thesis was a completely new experience for all of us, but we had each other to lean on for support. It was heartwarming to find not just one person, but 16 other people (in my case) who felt as I did and had similar experiences for an entire eight months.
My supervisor and Dr. Fabian were endlessly supportive, but writing a thesis for the first time is a wholly unique experience, one that I count myself lucky to have been able to share with 16 other like-minded, kind people. I sincerely believe that without my cohort, I could not have done as well as I did. They provided a constant amount of support, from writing the first word of my thesis to the final presentation of my finished work. My only regret is that I didn't meet these people earlier on in my degree.
What do you think is helpful about having a supervisor during the program?
The best part of having a supervisor is knowing that no matter what the answer they give you will be, it is coming from someone who is an expert in their field. Throughout the course of my thesis, whenever I came upon anything that confused me either from the literature or from my research findings, I knew I had a solid source to turn to.
Furthermore, a supervisor can be a great resource for time management tips. My supervisor, Dr. Martin Andresen, helped me plan a reasonable timeline that broke down the parts of my thesis into manageable portions.