Responses to Graduate Student Suggestions

I like the new format of the Educ Grad emails.  It's much easier to follow than it was before.

Thank you for taking the time to send in your positive comment!

We are so pleased to hear you like the new format.  

Please let us know if you have further suggestions/ideas to improve how we communicate information with, and to you.

Debbie Pruner, Assistant to the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research (March 2015)

The two (Announcements & Funding-themed) bulk emails sent each week are long (3 to 4 pages if printed) and have inconsistent formatting.  There are mixed fonts/sizes, all bolding sometimes, many hyperlinks, and the subject line sometimes has "Fwd" listed which is confusing.  Sometimes the text does not wrap in an email window.

It would be better if formatting was consistent and if attachments were added to the email with all relevant due dates listed (e.g. GFs, study rooms, sessional postings, comp/defense due dates, scholarships).  

If it was possible to divide the two emails into a few more groups (four to five per week with all relevant dues dates and attachments included) that would help and still allow for limited email for those who prefer less email but also allow for more specific subjects.  

Alternatively post information as a Blog-like post on an Education website with relevant due dates and attachments embedded.  Then send a short email listing topics with one hyperlink to the Blog post.  It would still be better to have 4 to 5 message per week if the due dates are important.  

I prefer to receive multiple emails that are on one or two subjects maximum.  It has been more effective to read a subject line, rather than having to read through a long and inconsistently formatted message for the few things that could be useful.  

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful suggestions. We will consider your ideas as we review our webpages and how we currently communicate information out to you on a regular basis. It may take some time as we review these different options and alternatives to improve the process.  We will update this webpage as we proceed.

Debbie Pruner, Assistant to the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research (July 2014)

Getting ethical approval is taking way too long.  If they are understaffed, there needs to be more staff. 

It is taking way too long to get through and get acceptance from the office of research ethics (ORE).  By the time I get approval, I will have wasted another term. That is expensive and frustrating. The woman there says that it is understaffed.  Then, more staff needs to be allocated. This is unfair to students. There must be a more efficient way of doing things.

These students raised a concern that I should not address alone, so here's a response from the Director of the Office of Research Services (ORE), Dr. Jeff Toward.

I appreciate your forwarding the concerns expressed by these grad students.  We are always open to receiving critical feedback regarding the functioning of our office.  At this point I would say that our office is generally in agreement with the comments presented. Materials submitted for review to our office may sit in queue for 2-3 weeks before they are addressed.  This is simply reflective of the overwhelming volume of applications being submitted.  However, once our staff has initiated the review process, the time spent in review is usually measured in days not weeks.  This is, of course, dependent upon the timeliness of the replies received by the study PI.   Please keep in mind that the review process does indeed involve two parties and that we are only able to respond to materials that have been returned/submitted to our office.  I would advise your students to try to submit their applications for ethics approval in as timely a manner as possible so that it does not have a negative impact on their semester.

I am in total agreement that our office could benefit from more staff and we are currently exploring ways to supplement our existing numbers. 

Please note that we are fully cognizant of the current delays that exist within our system and that we are searching for ways in which we can improve the process.  I would also like to point out that over the past few months our office has received a number of complimentary comments from both students and faculty with regards to the ethics review process.  The office has undergone significant changes over the past 6 months and these have resulted in review efficiencies and improved consistency, both which have been praised by the SFU research community.

Once again, I appreciate the feedback.  Please know that we are doing all that we can to address the review backlog.

We encourage people to call us to discuss any challenges they may be experiencing.  Our doors are always open and we will try to help in any way possible.

I submit multiple proposals to ORE every year. I can confirm first hand Dr. Toward's account that ORE has undergone major renovation and the process is improved. 

I agree that services like these often are understaffed. But, as I replied to an earlier inquiry (see the first paragraph after clicking on "Why is there very little travel funding, SSHRC and CIHR support, why is it so hard to get a TA or SI appointment?" below), our budgets are constrained. Adding to one service or need necessarily reduces another. I ended that paragraph with this invitation: "What are your suggestions for saving money?" Send 'em in! Would people be interested in a forum to discuss ideas?  

Phil Winne
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Research (May 2014)

Just wondering if anyone reads or responds to the suggestions now?

Yes, your suggestions provide very important feedback and information for us. We read every submission and try to provide responses in a timely manner.

If the comment or suggestion involves a department outside the Faculty of Education, it may take more time to provide a thorough response.

Wondering if other people are reading these?  Here are some interesting stats from the past month (which is generally a little slower as it is the end of term), 27 non-staff visits to our Suggestion Box Responses page, 26 unique visitors, and an average of approx. 6 minutes spent on the page.

From these, we can reasonably conclude that people are interested in this page, and are taking the time to read not only the submissions, but also the responses.

So please! Keep those suggestions coming, as we'll keep on doing our best to address each and every one of them.

(May 2014)

Thank you to those who answered our short survey on workshops. We have provided a number of resources by category, from the comments we received with the hope that these might assist you in finding offerings that are right for you and your schedule.

"Conferences - Opportunities to present own research to our Graduate Community"

Faculty of Education Summer Institute is an opportunity for students to present their work (either poster presentation and/or presentation)

"Academic Identity/Expectations of the Profession"

APEX – offers workshops and certificate (management & life skills; teaching & leadership; research & knowledge translation) – next cohort for the APEX Certificate: May 15, 2014

"Education Graduate writers group, facilitated and supported. More resources for master's thesis writers."

Research Commons: Consultations (Writing focus):

"Ethics approval applications, grant-writing, conference presentation/poster proposals, journal submission processes and tips (and in email newsletter, inclusion of upcoming education/teaching-related conferences that might be of interest to grad students)"

Update our website with conferences as we become aware of them:

Stay Tuned!
We are also working on updating our website for links to additional resources:

(April 2014)

Because many of us in the Education department (and likely in other graduate departments as well) work full-time, and often off-campus, I feel that we don't get the opportunity to take full advantage of the workshops and training offered through the Grad Studies department or Student Learning Commons.  I wish that many of their sessions could be offered online, or live-streamed, or even on location after 4:30, so that those of us with full time employment can benefit from these as well.  I realize this suggestion may be outside the scope of the Education department, but I've tried to request later/evening sessions and have basically been told "they're offered when they're offered".  I don't know if other students feel the same way, but if so it might be worth having the Education department voice these concern on our behalf.

Also, a suggestion from an earlier submission was regarding the MEd/MA distinction, and I wonder if there would be any benefit to having (evening) info sessions or an online FAQ for MEd students who may be considering switching over to the MA (or vice versa).  It could be targeted towards those who may be unfamiliar with the distinction between the two streams, or address things that should be considered before making the switch, as well as processes, steps and paperwork needed to complete the switch.  Just my two cents!

We received a second submission to the Suggestion Box – keep ‘em comin!

Information about M.Ed./MA transfers

The government may have stopped minting pennies, but we’re still dedicated to helping you get your two cents worth in the Faculty of Education. I agree, there’s value in clarifying how transfers work between MA and M.Ed. pathways. If the questioner is in the Arts Education program, see (1st paragraph) for the answer to your question. If you’re in the ETLD program, see; if you’re a TEAL student, see I’ve asked the Director of Graduate Programs to nudge the other programs to post their procedures.

Are there other topics we could clarify? We are, after all, educators … :

(March 2014)

I am wondering if there could be regular meetings scheduled for students and their thesis supervisory committee. I haven't seen my senior supervisor in over a year … would be nice to be able to talk about my thesis with my supervisor.

This very important matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Director of Graduate Programs. I’ve forwarded your issue to Dr. Robin Brayne for his action. However, he will need to know who you are and who your supervisor is to make contacts. Please contact him at

In closing, I offer a few suggestions to reap the most from the relationship with your supervisor:

  1. At the beginning of your graduate program and relatively early in each new semester, meet with your supervisor to discuss how your studies are progressing. Bring to these meetings your plans for enhancing your scholarly and professional profile. Ask your supervisor for advice on how best to reach your goals.
  2. If you can manage it, volunteer to apprentice with your supervisor in her/his research activities. This is an excellent way to gain new skills, learn more about your supervisor’s area(s) of scholarship and build understandings that position your supervisor to write highly informative letters of reference.
  3. Chat with peers in your program, especially those with whom you share a supervisor. Peers’ experiences can broaden your understanding about your program and your supervisor.
  4. Introduce yourself to the Coordinator of your program. If you don’t know who that is, go to, then click on your area of study. On the page that comes up, unfold the Faculty section in the list of topics – your program’s Coordinator will be identified at the top of the photos. Coordinators are charged to oversee the smooth running of each graduate program. They are a first stop to address issues that your supervisor doesn’t have authority to deal with.
  5. Familiarize yourself with the General Graduate Regulations, section 1.6 on Supervision at Note especially this paragraph under section 1.6.3: “A senior supervisor who is planning to be off campus for more than three months shall arrange for proper supervision of the student during this absence. The graduate program committee and Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies office shall be informed in writing of the arrangement.” Don’t be shy to ask your senior supervisor whether a leave is scheduled and what plans can be made to honor the intent of this paragraph.

Additionally, Research Commons offers Supervisory Workshops for graduate students on managing your supervisory relationship. These workshops are offered multiple times in spring and fall terms and may also be offered in a summer term as well. See for the workshops being offered this term.

Phil Winne
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Research (March 2014)

I would like the weekly 'email blast' for graduate students to be re-thought as it is not meeting the needs of the students. Information is not reaching those who need it most and not in a timely manner as well. Items are getting missed and surely this runs counter to the purpose of such a system.

This week we received a suggestion to “re-think” the weekly e-mail that goes out to all of you. Graduate Studies created this once-a-week email in response to multiple complaints by graduate students feeling spammed by the numerous emails they were receiving. Students were telling us that they were receiving so many emails, that they started to completely ignore them – completely missing out on important information.

While this weekly email has received generally positive feedback in comparison to the old method, it is by no means a perfect system and we are open to suggestions on how we can make it better.

We would love to receive concrete ideas and solutions from you as to how we can efficiently and effectively convey important information we receive to you. How would you suggest we re-structure the emails you receive?

Please send us your ideas and solutions so we can re-think this together!

Debbie Pruner
Assistant to the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research  (Feb 2014)

This week we received a single contribution to the Suggestion Box: “I don't think there was any helpful or sincere responses to any previous questions ... so ... what's the point!”

We initiated the Suggestion Box to stimulate genuine discussion. Your opinion helps move toward that goal.

Have my replies been sincere? Have they offered any help or satisfactory explanation? That is for all our students to determine.

Do others have views about the value of the Suggestion Box? Can you suggest how to improve it? Is there another method better suited to reaching our goal of “providing you with an exceptional student experience”?

We’re open to … ahh … suggestions.

Thanks (sincerely) for your comment.

Phil Winne
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Research (February 2014)

A suggestion has arrived recommending the Suggestion Box focus more on … well, suggestions. Huh!

A suggestion has arrived recommending the Suggestion Box focus more on … well, suggestions. Huh!

If you’re a reader here, you’ve no doubt observed diversity in what students have submitted to the Box. I’ve done my best to reply openly and helpfully. No one has continued from my replies but I want to be explicit that this can be a conversation. In your court, as they say.

We intended the Suggestion Box to be a place to receive your proposals about how all of us in the Faculty – professors, staff, fellow students and associated colleagues – could better meet your needs and more effectively support your scholarly and professional growth.

I want to be clear that I and my colleagues – the Director of Graduate Programs, the Coordinator of your graduate program, your advisor/supervisor and the instructors in each course you take – always are interested to learn your views about our programs and what it takes to support them. If you’re unsure about how to start the ball rolling to deal with an issue you have, I sincerely invite you to contact me. If I can’t manage what you raise, I’ll find the right person or service to do that.

So, may I request more focus, please. Bring us your suggestions. Now is just the time to submit one.

Thanks for reading. I’m hoping for a wave of great ideas.

Phil Winne
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research  (Jan 2014)

SI (Sessional Instructor) Postings. Why do we need 2 letters of reference, especially since we are more likely to ask a SFU Faculty of Ed member? Who has time to write letters at this time of the semester anyway? Ridiculous …

A faculty supervisor writing a reference for a student almost surely has good knowledge about that student’s competence in the subject that would be taught in a course. But a supervisor may have little or no knowledge about a candidate’s teaching abilities. Asking for a second reference opens a window of opportunity to bolster an application in that regard.

We receive a great many applications from people not enrolled in our programs and who are otherwise not known to us. To supplement their cover letter and curriculum vitae, we believe two references is a minimum to do our due diligence and well worth the extra effort.

Finally, to be fair to all applicants and avoid potential legal challenges from candidates not offered a position, files should have the same items for everyone who applies.

So, two references it is.

Thanks for the opportunity to explain.

Phil Winne
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research  (Jan 2014)

I will be graduating this semester and I live out of BC …. There should be an SFU education career site for grad students (MEd) who are looking for work outside of academia. It is difficult to find work when you have little experience, so any help from SFU would be greatly appreciated!

Agreed! Alas, our dilemma is whether to channel some of our limited budget to this service versus others SFU and the Faculty offer for students, for example: fellowships, bursaries, support for travel to attend or present at a scholarly conference … the list goes on.

Could we develop a resource like this as a community? If you (and anyone) discover a fruitful resource for employment, such as a website, send it to us using the suggestion box. We’ll create a website, keep it up to date and – hopefully – crowd sourcing the job will share information in ways that helps everyone. Here’s one I discovered:

Go Research ( or is an online platform that allows research professors and current university/college students to connect. Research professors can post any research position vacancies for free.  Similarly, students can access these postings for free. These research position vacancies include opportunities like a paid or voluntary research assistant position for a current university student.

SFU Career Services works with all SFU students to help them explore their options and create possibilities through one-on-one advising, workshops, job postings, employer info sessions, career fairs and more.

Career related web resources:

If you have another idea, please make another suggestion!

Best wishes,

Phil Winne
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research  (Jan 2014)

Would be great if there was a place to microwave our dinners.  Our classes are 4-5 hours long and break is about half an hour.

The walk from our classrooms to the cafeteria to microwave our food is about a 15-20 minute walk in total.

Thank you for your feedback and suggestion.

I am happy to inform you that in the newly renovated EDB 8620, due to open on January 6, 2014,  there will be microwaves and a drinking fountain for our Faculty of Education students' convenience.

Debbie Pruner
Assistant to the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research  (Dec 2013)

I am in a MEd program and as soon as I have completed four of the courses I can apply to enter the MA program. What I would like to see for those of us who already know we would like to do an MA, is a curriculum that prepares the MA student for thesis research and writing. If this is not possible then I would like to suggest an double degree program in Education combining the MEd and the Master over a three year period of study. Also, rather than offer only one course per semester I would like the opportunity to do two. Also, I would like to suggest offering research design courses that are department specific.

On a positive note, I really want to say thank you to the library department and to the Research Commons for offering so much support and assistance. I really appreciate the workshop offerings and the individual assistance when needed.


Thanks for your views! We’re very glad to hear and will pass on your compliments to the Library and the Research Commons. We agree – their services are terrific.

Your recommendations touch on three issues.

First, a curriculum for MEd students that would prepare them “for thesis research and writing” isn’t the purpose of the MEd degree. The MEd is designed as “… a professional degree signifying advanced knowledge about and advanced training in educational theory and practice” ( ). Preparing students with “… advanced knowledge in a field of specialization and advanced competence in conducting significant and original research in education” (ibid) is what the MA is about. (Ditto for the MSc, EdD and PhD.) That’s why there’s a difference in the courses and their schedule for the different degrees. We realize there can be some awkwardness if a student switches from an MEd to an MA. That’s intended to be relatively infrequent except in the Arts and TEAL programs (where all students begin as an MEd student), so it’s inappropriate to torque the entire MEd program to ease that transition for a few special cases. Regarding the Arts and TEAL programs, I’ll pass on your concern to the faculty for their consideration.

Second, a double degree, MEd + MA, isn’t possible under the University’s Graduate General Regulations. See especially GGR 1.7 at

Third, about opportunity to take two courses per semester rather than one – you can register in as many courses in a semester as you can handle. But I bet your concern is that there aren’t courses you want to take in a particular semester. Reasons for this are several. One is that faculty have teaching roles across our Faculty’s undergraduate, professional and field programs; and those programs also have scheduling needs. It’s a big challenge to balance across multiple calls on faculty members’ time. We do our best and inevitable compromises have to be made. Even if that complication could be relieved, another interference with realizing your recommendation is that not enough students want to or can enroll in two courses every semester. Consequently, enrollments likely would be too small to warrant a course being offered. Finally, and unfortunately, we don’t have enough budget to schedule courses more frequently than we do.

Not a very positive response? OK, back to you (all of you!) with a hopefully more positive suggestion. The most direct contacts for discussing your program are your program’s coordinator and your pro-tem advisor or supervisor. They know your program inside and out. Collaborating with them to evolve proposals for changing programs sits key players around the table. But, faculty can’t even begin to address your needs and interests unless you reveal them. They’re just an email or door knock away …

Thank you.

Phil Winne
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Research  (Dec 2013)

Why is there very little travel funding, SSHRC and CIHR support, why is it so hard to get a TA or SI appointment?

Graduate Studies Response:

THANKS!! to the anonymous student who contributed the first submission to our new Graduate Student Suggestion Box on the web at

Like your budget, ours has many needs – staff salaries, rental fees for telephones, development and maintenance of our web site … and more. We dedicate as much as we can to supporting graduate students but, alas, there’s only so much money. We face difficult decisions. Unfortunately, we’re not able to make them all ourselves. For example, the Provincial government limits what we can charge for tuition (which you’re likely quite happy about!), and the overall University budget has been “flat lined” for several years. Those of you on the Burnaby campus can’t help but notice we are in the midst of huge renovations to improve your classrooms and eradicate health issues caused by mold due to water leaks. If we increase travel support we have to cut something else. What are your suggestions for saving money?

SSHRC and CIHR support is out of our hands. The University receives a set number of “slots” from each federal agency. The number of slots we receive is based essentially on our faculty members’ success in winning SSHRC and CIHR grants, and on the number of scholarships and fellowships awarded to SFU students over the past 3 years. Then, we forward to a national review process the most accomplished applicants. They choose who to fund. We’re not guaranteed any particular number of scholarships or fellowships. You can help boost SFU’s allocation of slots. Study hard to earn top grades. GPA matters. Volunteer to learn-by-doing in your advisor’s research. Take advantage of their mentorship. Co-author conference presentations and publications to add to your and their curriculum vitae. That will help faculty win more federal grants and elevate your scholarly profile in the federal competition.

Now, to TA and SI. This answer has three parts. First, our Faculty’s budget has only so much room to fund courses taught by SIs and supported by TAs. Second, while this might be hard for you to read, given that many applicants to SI postings have PhDs and extensive teaching experience, they’re often more qualified than a graduate student. Third, regarding TAs in particular, we strive to keep course sizes as small as possible. We’d have to inflate average class size a LOT to warrant appointing a TA.

Since this was the first submission to the new suggestion box, this is my first reply. How’d I do?? Feed me your suggestions for making this work better for you. Don’t be shy to drop by in person, either. Contrary to some rumors, I don’t bite and I do shower daily :)

Thanks again to our first contributor.

Phil Winne
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Research  (Nov 2013)