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Lakehead University Magazine Fall/Winter 2006

Graduate Studies on the Rise

Lakehead is stepping up its focus on Graduate Studies to become one of the top 25 research-intensive universities in Canada

By Dave Duncan and Frances Harding

David PelsterDavid Pelster is a PhD candidate in Forest Sciences working with Professor Ellie Prepas, Lakehead University’s Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Water Management and the Boreal Forest. He is studying the processes by which nitrogen is cycled through the watershed ecosystem. “I don’t think it’s entirely understood,” he says, “and by the end of my project I don’t think I’ll understand it completely either. But hopefully, I’ll add a little bit to that body of knowledge.”

Adding to the collective knowledge of humankind is an important part of a university’s mission. David Pelster, like many other graduate students at Lakehead, is successfully pursuing that goal.

Since 2002-2003, graduate enrolment at Lakehead has increased by 72%.

Last year, a new Faculty of Graduate Studies was established and, between 2000 and 2005, the total number of graduate programs at Lakehead had jumped from 18 to 29. Several new programs are now in the planning stages including a PhD in Biotechnology, a PhD in Health Sciences, a Master’s in Social Justice, a Master’s in Anthropology/Geography, a Master’s in Computer Science, and new graduate programs in Engineering.

Lakehead is close to completing a Strategic Research Plan entitled Momentum for Future Prosperity. It supports an ambitious goal: In the next 5 to 10 years, Lakehead University will become one of the top 25 research-intensive universities in Canada.

One measure of research intensity in Canadian universities is provided by Research Infosource Inc.’s annual ranking of Canada’s Top 50 Research Universities, based on financial input indicators (such as total sponsored research income and research intensities of researchers and their graduate students) and research output (publication intensity).

Dr. Rui WangLakehead ranked 38th in 2004. However, Vice-President (Research) Rui Wang believes that measuring research intensity on a per capita basis should provide a more accurate picture of research intensity. He also cautioned that “the research intensity indicators used by some external agencies do not always reflect the differences in research cultures among different research institutions and between disciplines, especially for the social sciences and humanities.

“Such rankings should take into consideration other indicators such as the percentage of faculty who actively engage in research; the percentage of graduate students whose theses lead to publications, research recognition, and awards; the societal and economical impact of research and innovation, and knowledge transformation,” says Wang. “Unfortunately, some agencies are reluctant to use these indicators, as collecting such data is much more complex and costly.”

How does Lakehead increase the intensity of its research? “By creating a dynamic research culture and environment that promotes and rewards research excellence,” he says. “Graduate students are one part of a research continuum that includes professors, lab technicians, research assistants, undergraduates, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scholars.”

Lakehead is committed to its mission of excellence and innovation in teaching, service, research, and other scholarly activity. The training of graduate students is essential if the university is to perpetuate itself. After all, says Wang, “It is today’s graduate students who will become tomorrow’s academic leaders.”

Lakehead’s Dean of Graduate Studies, Gary Boire, believes that, in many ways, “Lakehead University is the best kept secret in Ontario.” He is trying to change that perception through an awareness campaign that highlights the advantages of doing graduate work at a mid-sized university with world-renowned researchers and scholars.

Dr. Ellie PrepasEllie Prepas, Professor in the Faculty of Forestry and the Forest Environment, has been successful in securing millions of dollars in funding from government and industry sources in support of her research into management planning in boreal forest watersheds. She supervises six Master’s students and PhD candidates and is supportive of Lakehead’s new focus on increasing graduate programming
“Really, a Master’s degree is a process that allows you to do a nice piece of research, if it’s a research-based Master’s. But it’s with guidance – considerable guidance – that you learn how to put research in the context of a larger framework,” says Prepas. A Master’s or PhD thesis should be composed of a student’s own thoughts and ideas within the larger framework.

Les Praisley (HBA’03), a Master’s student in History and president of the Graduate Student Association in 2005-2006, says the amount of work triples, if not quadruples, in graduate school. “It’s at the graduate level that you really start to develop analytical, reasoning, and debating skills, and that takes a lot of work!” he says.

“Professors in the Department of History are stellar,” he says. “They are genuinely interested in seeing all of us succeed…. Lakehead produces about 145 graduate students a year at this point, and they are quality students who can compete with the best in the world.”

So why does Lakehead need to focus on “growing” its graduate programming? After all, if Lakehead simply focused on expanding its existing Departments, wouldn’t new graduate programs develop naturally?

“There is an inextricable link between graduate studies and research,” says Gary Boire. “In the five-year period leading up to 2010, Lakehead wants to double graduate enrolment and to do so in a way that builds on the successes and strengths of the University. The recent decision by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to fund 170 new spaces for graduate study at the Master’s and PhD levels (over a two-year period from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008) is a strong endorsement of Lakehead University and the excellence of its faculty.
External research funding awarded to Lakehead has more than tripled from $4.6 million in 2000-2001 to $18.1 million in 2004-2005


Indeed, as this issue was going to press, Lakehead University learned that for 2005, Research Infosource Inc. has designated Lakehead "Research University of the Year" in the undergraduate category. Overall, Lakehead moved from 38th place to 29th among the Top 50 Research Universities this year, and was ranked 1st overall in research income growth and 1st in its category in research intensity.

Gary Boire is right when he says, “Lakehead University has done extraordinarily well and we really should be celebrating.”



David Duncan is one of several students taking part in SPARK – Lakehead, a student writing program sponsored by The Chronicle-Journal.
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