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Growing, with data as our fertile soil

Graduate students, voice your opinion

As we are presented with glimpses of spring, crocuses confidently popping up, geese obliviously constructing their nests in high-traffic places, there is a collective sense of growing and building. This renewed energy is evident on campus as well where things that have laid dormant for a few years (much like anything in our closets that require ironing) are now being re-instated. As we return, there are increased opportunities to enhance our processes, to do things better - and a key element is making sure that how we (institutionally speaking) allocate our energy and resources is informed by data.

Related to this interest in making evidence-based decisions, you may have seen calls for you to participate in the CGPSS Survey through the various channels (at last count, 25% of you have completed this). Whether you have participated already, have this on your ‘to do’ list, or are currently undecided, you might be interested in knowing what this survey this is about, how it has been used in the past to support graduate students, and what potential your information has for the future.

The Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey (CGPSS) is a survey that asks students about their overall student experience, including aspects about their student life, financial support, support they have received from faculty members, awareness of university resources, and their overall satisfaction with their program.

As graduate students, you understand the importance of collecting good-quality data! There are several aspects that make this survey a useful tool for guiding decisions:

1) It is administered to graduate students across Canadian universities, which means we can look to see how student experiences at University of Waterloo compare to other institutions.

2) It has been administered every three years since 2007, so we can look to see how student perceptions/experiences may have changed across time.

3) It captures demographic and program information, enabling us to find out about the experiences of graduate students based on their individual circumstances (faculty, gender, identity as an equity deserving group, domestic vs. international, etc.).

4) There are several sections where respondents can share qualitative information or comments. Thus, themes that may not be captured in the quantitative responses can be discovered.

You may be thinking… “I can appreciate the potential, but how has this actually been put into action?”. Good question!

Results from previous surveys have been valuable in informing several initiatives at Waterloo. For example, data from the 2019 survey (in particular, your expressed interest in more opportunities to work with government, not for profit, and business partners) was used to advocate for increased work integrated learning opportunities for students (see last GRADblog).

With respect to student experience, because this survey asks about a number of known correlates of graduate well-being, such as supervisory relationship (Sverdlik et al., 2018), we gain a fulsome view of how these important factors are operating within our graduate community. This allows us to be informed while we generate best practices for supervision (as per the Task Force on Graduate Student Supervision), revise the Guide for Graduate Research and Supervision, and provide supervisory workshops for faculty seeking Approved Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor (ADDS) status. As well, data from the 2019 survey suggested institutional processes could be clearer, so we generated student-centred web pages for Petitions and Program extension, as well outlining the pathways for students to connect to resources. You had also indicated the importance of dedicated graduate social spaces, so we allocated resources to help renovate the patio at the Graduate House.

Speaking to understanding more about the individual students, the CGPSS also gives us data on aspects of students’ lives that we wouldn’t otherwise know, such as the proportion of our graduate students with children. This allows us to make data-informed decisions about programs like our parental leave bursary and day care bursary (support that was recognized by the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS).

So, as we all emerge from our winter (/pandemic) existence and look to the possibilities that the warmer weather brings, I hope you’ll take ~20 minutes to complete the survey (before April 29, 2022), enabling us (and the Graduate Student Association – University of Waterloo (GSA-UW), who contributed questions to the CGPSS survey) to make sure future initiatives emerge from data-rich ground.  

The survey link can be found in your email from Jeff Casello, Associate-Vice President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs sent on April 5, 2022.