Professors honoured for graduate supervision
Selim Akl (School of Computing) and Mark Walters (Law) are the 2012 winners of the Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Supervision.
The award, presented by the School of Graduate Studies, recognizes two professors every year for their outstanding achievements as researchers and mentors to graduate students. A student (or students) can nominate a professor for the award; the winners are chosen by a committee of students, staff and faculty members.
“Students are the heart and soul of my research,” says Dr. Akl, Director, School of Computing. “Without them, it would be a very dull place. They keep me up to date, and I learn from them as much as they learn from me.”
Dr. Akl has supervised 68 graduate students since he began teaching at Queen’s in 1978. He remembers his first student, Stephen Wismath, who started his master’s at Queen’s in 1978 and now teaches at the University of Lethbridge. In an interesting twist, more than 30 years later, Dr. Wismath’s daughter, Alice, studied with Dr. Akl as an undergraduate student and created a popular computer game, Quantum Chess, based on ideas and a paper by Dr. Akl.
Fostering a collaborative, collegial atmosphere within the School of Computing is very important for Dr. Akl. He created weekly gatherings for all of his graduate students, where each week a student makes a presentation on their work, something they’ve read or a problem they’re trying to solve. The meetings help students network and build confidence as public speakers, and they have become very popular in the school, with other professors and their students joining in.
Dr. Walters, who joined Queen’s in 1999, was both honoured and surprised to hear about his selection for the award. The law professor has supervised 12 graduate students over the years and was instrumental in launching the school’s doctoral program in 2009 while he was associate dean.
“It is a privilege to receive this award and gratifying to know that in order to be nominated, several of my students wrote in and said nice things about me,” says Dr. Walters, who supervised Queen’s first doctoral law student and graduate, Peter Atupare.
Dr. Walters loves the collaborative process involved in supervising graduate students and like Dr. Akl, he recognizes that often he is learning just as much from them as they are from him. “My students have forced me to reconsider assumptions I’ve developed over time because they are approaching topics from a slightly different angle. It’s fascinating – it pushes me to revisit some of my own ideas,” he says.
Drs. Akl and Walters will receive their awards at fall convocation ceremonies in November.