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Meet Paula Wood-Adams

Q&A with Concordia's Dean of Graduate Studies
September 18, 2017
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By Leslie Schachter

Concordia’s School of Graduate Studies oversees more than 7,000 students. They are registered in more than 100 graduate programs leading to master and doctoral degrees, graduate diplomas, and certificates for professionals who want to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

Heading the school is Paula Wood-Adams, who was appointed dean of Graduate Studies in 2013 after previously serving as associate dean and later interim dean. Wood-Adams began her career at Concordia in 2001 as an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. In 2006, she became the department’s graduate program director. Wood-Adams took some time to talk about her role as dean as well as some of the changes she’s seen at Concordia over the last 16 years. 

Please talk a bit about your background. 

Paula Wood-Adams: “I was born in England but we immigrated to Canada when I was very young. I grew up in Fort McMurray, Alta., and completed a BSc in chemical engineering at the University of Alberta. I then moved to Montreal to go to McGill University in 1993 to complete my graduate studies. 

After a couple of years in a temporary teaching position at McGill, I got a job at Concordia in 2001 and I never left.”

Paula Wood-Adams Paula Wood-Adams, Dean of Graduate Studies and professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, has been with Concordia since 2001.

Describe the role of dean of the School of Graduate Studies. 

PWA: “I see myself as an advocate for graduate studies. The school acts as a facilitator for our graduate programs, graduate students and supervisors. Our main roles are to provide information, support and oversight as well as professional development opportunities for students. We get involved in things like curriculum development and approval.

We work on graduate student recruitment, look after a big portion of graduate students’ funding and also monitor their progress through programs. We try to ensure that our programs have everything they need to offer the best possible experience to students. We also work to make the great things that our students achieve known so we can all take pride in their accomplishments.” 

What are some of the changes you’ve seen at Concordia since you started? 

PWA: “The changes have been huge! When I joined in 2001, my department was celebrating its 100th PhD. Now my department has 150 PhDs in the program at any one time. It’s a completely different order of magnitude just in terms of the number of graduate students. And that’s been really exciting. 

Another big change has been that our campus has expanded quite a bit since I started. When I came to Concordia, we didn’t have the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex, the John Molson School of Business Building and the Grey Nun’s Building, not to mention the great new buildings at Loyola like the genomics building and PERFORM Centre. I believe that our students, professors and staff now have the best facilities to work in, which is such an enormous change.” 

What would you say makes Concordia an ideal place to pursue graduate studies? And how important are graduate students to Concordia? 

PWA: “To me, one of the great things about Concordia is how we’re so open-minded and how we work with all kinds of people and focus on so many different kinds of research, across various disciplines. It’s really about the possibilities that Concordia provides for so many people. One of Concordia’s main goals is to double our research, and we absolutely can’t do that without graduate students, especially the most talented graduate students. They make the biggest contribution to our research productivity and as such they’re absolutely essential to our success.” 

Can you talk about some challenges that graduate programs face? 

PWA: “I think one of the big challenges is trying to make sure our PhD students are properly trained for all kinds of careers. It used to be that PhD students were most likely to remain in academia and become professors, yet that’s become less and less common. We have to ensure they are well prepared for many different possibilities. But I also think that’s very exciting because it means they get to use their knowledge in very different ways.” 

What are your thoughts about Concordia’s future? 

PWA: “I think Concordia’s headed in a fantastic direction. If you look around, you’ll see that our students and professors are becoming more and more active in research and we’re winning more awards. I just heard that one of our PhD students [Nadia Naffi] won a SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council] storyteller award, a national award, at a recent conference. We see this happening more and more. We’re getting increasingly recognized for the quality research that we’re doing.” 

Can you share some thoughts on the importance of women entering STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields? 

PWA: “It is really clear that the most diverse teams are the most productive teams; research has consistently shown this. So to me the low numbers of women in many STEM fields present a missed opportunity for our society, our economy. I’m not so sure that the problem is the input into academic programs — a lot of times people talk about bringing more women into those disciplines yet nobody really looks at what we do when they’re in there. 

We need to make sure that career opportunities are as available to women in these fields and we need to make sure that the environment is conducive to a successful career. 

What needs to be looked at is how universities can train all students such that they form structures and emulate behaviours in the workplace that will help everybody be successful.” 

What are you most proud of in your tenure as dean of Graduate Studies? 

PWA: “One thing that I’m proud of is that the School of Graduate Studies is a great place to work, and that my staff, my associate deans and I all work together as a super effective team. It’s a really healthy environment and that’s led to a lot of success. Graduate students and graduate programs have benefitted from this as well.”

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