- The 801-804 courses do not have final exams, but the first year does end with a qualifying exam, also called a specialty exam. You’ll hear more about this later. Basically, it’s a 4-hour written exam where you answer questions designed by your committee, followed by an oral exam where you follow up on your responses. You don’t know the questions in advance, but you will know the topic areas and will be supplied a reading list to prepare for these exams.
- You are a PhD Student until you successfully complete your specialty exam. After that is confirmed by UNBC, you are a PhD Candidate and formally start your research and writing towards your proposal and eventually a dissertation.
- Some PhD students have their proposal completed at the end of year one, others not until well into year two. I am probably an example of someone who is taking it a bit more slowly -- and loving the process -- so much to read and think about! Ask your supervisor for examples of NRES research proposals, ideally some from your area of research. Dissertations in your field are easy to find online, but it is more difficult to find proposals.
- Use a citation or reference management software to organize all the articles you will gather for courses and your research. I use Mendeley, but there are other good ones. Take a bit of time to make sure you are making entries according to APA 7.
- Choose your committee members carefully. They need to work well together, and both challenge your thinking and encourage your progress. If you have too many on your committee, it can be be difficult to proceed through the necessary steps. Too few, and you might miss an opportunity for expert guidance, although you can (and will) get guidance from experts that are not on your committee.
- The NRES program emphasizes interdisciplinarity. While this is a fairly common occurrence at UNBC, generally in academia this is a rare chance for physical and social scientists to really learn from each other and consider problems from different perspectives. Embrace the opportunities to learn from the diverse voices in this program.
- If English is your second language, you might want to keep a running list of special terms or unfamiliar words. English is my first language, but once I started reading for my specialty exam, to keep things sorted out in my head I had to make a list of terms, definitions, and examples for terms like autoethnography, ecohermeneutics, and sociomaterial terrain. Sometime big ideas are expressed in big words. They probably don't need to be, but there is definitely a tradition of doing so in academic writing and research. Keep your writing simple and clear -- it will become more nuanced and polished with time.
- For newcomers, Canada is a modern nation that was built on the territories of many Indigenous people. These people experienced ongoing racism, colonialism, and marginalization in various forms from the past to the present. Many of these Indigenous groups still exist today and are part of the diverse pattern of cultures in Canada. You will find that Indigenous issues and perspectives are interwoven with academic life and research concerns at UNBC and elsewhere in Canada. Almost any research involving human or animal subjects will have a section that considers perspectives and impacts related to Indigenous people. Another way we see this is in the acknowledgement of traditional territory. The Prince George campus is on one of these territories, the lands of the Lheidli T’enneh, which means the people who live where the rivers flow together. The Lheidli T'enneh people have lived here for thousands of years, and continue to do so. This land is shared by many cultures, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. You can get a sense of who lives in this community from the Statistics Canada profile for Prince George.
UNBC has a broad social media presence on multiple platforms. I’m a dedicated Twitter user, so for me this presence is centred on @UNBC https://twitter.com/UNBC. However, there are many students, professors, staff, and programs that have their own twitter accounts, for example @UNBC_NRESI https://twitter.com/UNBC_NRESi, or @UNBCAthletics @UNBCGeography, @UNBCResearch and so on.
Supports for International Students
Great information and supports for new students on and off campus -- http://nbcgss.ca/
UNBC has many website and human resources to help you out. One of the best resources is the Research Help Desk at the UNBC Library -- receive expert guidance in-person, online, email, and by phone. https://library.unbc.ca/research-help. The UNBC Library also has a Writing Help Desk. Naturally, there are thousands of websites out there that offer advice for PhD students. Here is one I found particularly useful: http://www.raulpacheco.org. Scan through the blog posts to find a topic that matches your need: http://www.raulpacheco.org/blog/. Raul’s Twitter feed is also excellent: https://twitter.com/raulpacheco.
These were some timeline items that were important for me last year, aside from the coursework in 801-804. Keep in mind, though, that you are each of your research paths will look somewhat different. Most of you are no doubt further ahead in terms of your specific research topics than I was when I began the program, and many of you will be involved in data collection and research experiences before your candidacy.
- September: meet with supervisor to discuss timelines, research topics, and ask questions
- October: seek out committee members with input from supervisor
- November: firm up research topic/s
- December: consider best options for research methodology
- January: gather and begin preliminary readings related to research
- February: receive reading list from committee, order and secure all titles
- March: systematic reading from the list, consider this as prep for lit review
- April: Qualifying Exams (for many of us last year, these were delayed due to COVID19)
- May: consider all feedback and make necessary shifts to research topics and methodology
- June: start organizing the parts for a draft proposal
Feel free to stay in touch -- I hope to meet you on campus before too long. I’m sure you are all looking forward to experiencing a true Canadian winter!