Gord Willmot, a professor in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Sciences, was named among the most recent winners of the Award of Excellence in Graduate Supervision.
The award recognizes faculty members with outstanding records of supervision of graduate students. The nominations and adjudication of the award is based on submissions from former graduate students themselves, who rate and reflect on their experiences working with faculty members.
Willmot is among only three winners of the prestigious award from the entire University of Waterloo for the 2021-2022 academic year.
He is a widely sought-after supervisor, due in large part to his significant contributions to research, his stature in the scholarly community, and his storied career. Willmot began his work at Waterloo as an undergraduate student in 1975, then went on to complete his master’s and PhD at Waterloo before joining the faculty.
He has supervised some 65 master’s, PhD and post-doctoral research projects during his tenure with the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Sciences.
“For me, it all comes down to respect and collegiality,” said Willmot. “I think the key to supervision is to give the student the opportunity to pursue their own interests and to respect their autonomy. I approach each supervision like I’m setting out to work with a new colleague and knowing they are the ones who will take the research forward.”
Willmot points out that his approach to mentorship and supervision is based on the ways he himself was mentored and the collegiality that he was shown.
“When I was coming through graduate school, I benefited immensely from the support of my supervisor, Harry Panjer,” Willmot continued. “He instilled in me the values I now try to pass on. I also had the good fortune to be mentored by people like Jack Kalbfleisch and Ian Goulden. They showed me what collegiality and the academic life was all about.”
“And early in my career, just the whole department and the dynamics of working with scholars who were on the one hand so brilliant but on the other hand so generous and down to earth. It was an incredible atmosphere and so invigorating, but at the same time humbling as well.”
Based on his own experience, Willmot likens supervision of graduate students to paying it forward. He notes with pride that many of his former graduate students have become respected colleagues and friends.
“It’s a special thing we do when we cultivate the next generation of scholars,” Willmot said. “Of course, it’s about the academics and the research. But perhaps more importantly, it’s also about cultivating respect and collegiality.”
“This award means so much to me because it makes me think of all the grad students I’ve worked with, and it lets me know that maybe in some small way I helped them grow into the amazing people they are.”