Addressing the real problems faced by PhD grads and advice for the new chair for investor rights
From Gown to Town
I agree with Suzanne Akbari’s comments at the end of “Life after Grad School” (Spring 2016). She says that the transferable skills one learns in grad school are the ability to read the research literature; assess findings and translate them for application to real-world problems; and develop conceptual models that organize and explain complex realities in ways that promote new thinking and understanding.
While a purely academic career may be the currency of the day, what we need for the future is more fluid movement between “town and gown.” I sense that Canadian universities are disinclined toward this. What we need is more commercialization of research, better industrial innovation and a deep and abiding engagement with problem-owners.
PhD 1986, Smarden, England
Making Grads Market-Ready
To clarify some points in “Life after Grad School,” the biochemistry graduate professional development course is a quarter-credit with official marks. I teach the same course in the immunology department as a required component of its graduate seminar series. Immunology students receive the same feedback, but the grades are not recorded on a transcript. Students in both departments who take the course receive individual consultations, followup sessions and guidance throughout their graduate training. The goal is a job or post-doc offer (depending on their career interests) before they graduate or defend their thesis. I am happy to bring my years of biotech experience and my scientific network to help prepare trainees to be market-ready!
PhD 2000, Toronto
Recently, I attended a conference roundtable entitled “Pursuing Alternative Career Paths” where we were advised to drop the PhD qualification and “Dr.” title from our curriculum vitae if we expected to be employed outside of academia.
In this time of deep crisis in higher education, the cheerful picture painted in “Life after Grad School” is naive and offensive to those of us who laboured intensely to obtain a PhD degree and find ourselves in a precarious job situation because universities are employing sessional instructors. The article dismisses this truth with “it’s a permanent fact that there aren’t nearly enough tenure-track teaching jobs for everyone who might want one,” as if our need to be academic professionals were a whim.
I don’t expect very much from a university magazine, but shame on you for belittling our intellectual work and suggesting Band-Aid solutions to a devastating employment scenario. The systemic problem of exploited PhD graduates is not going away with “career-building workshops” so please consider writing an article that addresses the real problem: corporate greed ruling universities.
Dr. Aida Jordão
PhD 2014, Toronto
Locke Rowe, dean of the School of Graduate Studies, responds:
U of T is committed to helping its graduate students succeed – in whatever career they choose. We’re working with faculties and individual departments to create professional development courses and other opportunities that will help students discover, explore and prepare for a range of career options. Far from belittling the intellectual work that our PhD students undertake, the article shows that there’s a wider scope of application for their skills and expertise than has traditionally been understood.
The Q&A with law professor Jutta Brunnée (“Cooling Off,” Spring 2016) begins with the question, “Will the Paris climate accord succeed where Kyoto didn’t?” To be meaningful, this question must be preceded by another question: “Is the science settled on the impact of man-made carbon dioxide on ‘global warming’?” It is not. The first question is irrelevant until the second question is definitively answered. Considering the vast number of variables that affect “climate change” in varying degrees, at varying times, with varying results, I doubt that our modelling systems will ever achieve this impossible feat with any degree of accuracy or predictability.
All We Need Are Plants
Regarding “Could Carbon Dioxide Be the Solution to Climate Change?” (Spring 2016): CO2 is an “arch-villain” only to the media, which thrives on exaggeration, and to special interest groups. Nature provides the means by which the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reduced – and it is plants. The chlorophyll of the plants, catalyzed by sunlight, absorbs carbon dioxide and heat, and produces oxygen.
C. S. James
BASc 1951, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Regarding your article about Prof. Anita Anand, who holds the new chair for investor rights (Spring 2016): When I enrolled at Victoria College in 1958, the federal corporate tax rate was 40 per cent. Companies earned a fair profit and had ample capital to invest in Canada. Today, the federal corporate tax rate is 15 per cent. In the intervening years, CEOs have used the difference to outsource almost all of our manufacturing jobs to Asia and to reward themselves with grotesque salaries. Instead of researching investor rights, Prof. Anand should focus on educating investors and corporate executives to curb their greed and assume their civic responsibility to pay their fair share of taxes.
BA 1962 Victoria
Of Sound Mind
The simple yet profound concept “a sound mind in a sound body” has been with us for many centuries, and I am pleased to see that U of T has recently established the Mental Health and Physical Activity Research Centre to further develop our understanding and applications of this concept (“Lift Weights to Lift Mood?” Spring 2016).
MEd 1982, St. Catharines, Ontario
A Revolutionary Idea
I’ve been following Airvinci’s backpack helicopter on Facebook for a few years now but didn’t realize the hero behind the product is a fellow U of T alumnus (“The Air Up There,” Spring 2016). As a skydiver, I would love this as I could get myself to the right altitude for my jumps. It’s quite revolutionary!
BSc 1988 UTSC, Toronto
A Few Yards Short
Bruce Kidd deserves credit for his achievements as athletic director at
U of T (“A Life in Blue and White,” Winter 2016). But he certainly fell short in promoting Varsity Blues football. In 2007, the Varsity Blues set a college football record by losing 49 straight games, which was an embarrassment for former Blues players on championship teams. Even prestigious academic schools such as the Ivy League colleges and Stanford University have strong football commitments that build school spirit and fund other college athletics.
BA 1959 Victoria, Kimberley, Ontario
Acclaim for Margaret MacMillan
“Milestones” (Spring 2016) did not identify Margaret MacMillan as a former history professor at U of T. What is truly astonishing, however, is your failure to name her chef-d’oeuvre, the brilliant and award-winning Paris 1919, which brought her such international acclaim!
Margaret May Fournier
BA 1942 Trinity, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
The caption for the picture on pp. 34–35 of the spring issue was inadvertently removed during production. The image shows medical students performing “Snow White and the Seven Achondroplastics” as part of Daffydil Night in December 1948.
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