April 30, 2019
Sarah Lord Ferguson in New Mexico at a business educator’s conference, speaking about having a secondary grader in the classroom to mark participation

Doctoral student gains invaluable skills as TLDG research assistant

April 30, 2019

By Sarah Lord Ferguson

The Teaching and Learning Development Grants Program (TLDG) has been a huge part of my growth during the first and second year of my doctoral studies at SFU. Working as a TLDG research assistant (RA) has not only helped me financially, but also provided me with an opportunity to develop valuable research skills.

It all started when I began my doctoral studies and my supervisor, who had already completed a few TLDGs, encouraged me to take a leadership role in one of his current projects. While I wasn’t the true principal investigator on the project, my supervisor allowed me to participate in every aspect of the project, including but not limited to, grant writing, project planning, data collection, analysis, and report writing.

This was an invaluable experience for me as a first-year doctoral student in business administration, which is unlike many other disciplines since a research master’s degree is not required before starting a doctorate. While I have two professional master’s degrees (master of business administration and master of physical therapy), I had no extensive prior research training. But by participating in the TLDG in my first few months of starting my doctoral program, I was able to experience the full circle of a "mini" research project in a safe space with lots of support – both from my supervisor and from the TLDG program staff.

I also feel extremely lucky to have my supervisor support me financially to present TLDG research findings at conferences, thus rounding out the research experience to include dissemination. Again, another invaluable experience for a new doctoral student!

While I am now well into my second year of studies, I continue to learn new things while working as a TLDG RA. I am particularly excited about the project I am currently working on, which is about academic dishonesty. As someone who has been in post-secondary for more than 10 years, I have seen the negative impacts of cheating on individual students, cohorts, disciplines, and the entire university. Now as a sessional instructor at SFU, I have to consider how my actions can help raise awareness of these impacts and also deter academic dishonesty from occurring in my classroom.

By working on the academic dishonesty project, I have helped to shed light on the extent of the issue in both graduate and undergraduate business administration programs at SFU; and also, to develop strategies that our instructors can use to deter cheating in their classrooms. I hope that we can extend this study to other disciplines to compare our results and start a multidisciplinary discussion about awareness and prevention across the entire university.

While the earlier TLDG projects helped me to master basic research skills, this most recent project has impacted me greatly as a new instructor and has been particularly insightful in shaping my teaching philosophy. I look forward to continuing to be part of TLDG projects during my time at SFU, and hopefully, my next home university will have a similar program!