Supervision

This page contains information for graduate students interested in me serving as their M.A. supervisor or committee member. Since we started our M.A. program in 2008, I have supervised two students, and been a committee member for two others.

What do supervisors do?

Unlike undergraduate programs, graduate programs (i.e., programs for M.A. or Ph.D. students) require that each applicant identify one or more faculty members that will (ostensibly) guide or mentor that applicant through the program --- a supervisor. While the role of supervisor varies by departmental rules and faculty temperament, all supervisors provide intellectual and practical guidance to help their student successfully navigate the program and complete their degree.

From my perspective as a supervisor, the crux of the job is guiding the student through the completion of a lengthy document, either a M.A. thesis or a major research paper (MRP). The difference between the thesis and the MRP is manuscript length and topic originality. The thesis is circa 80 to 150 pages long and includes original research based on data collected and analyzed by the student to answer one or more research questions. The MRP is shorter (60 to 100 pages) but does not require original data collection. Generally, the MRP takes the form of an extended literature review that questions the utility of some basic claim in the scholarly literature.

Ideally, progress toward one's degree is best made by meeting with me weekly. This pdf outlines my expectations for weekly meetings, as well as provides an overview of the different phases of M.A. research.

What do I expect from students I supervise?

The most important thing I expect from my graduate students is a passion for and strong curiosity about their research topic. After all, they will become intimately familiar with it over the course of one to two years. They should have a strong work ethic and good time management skills. They should be able to write reasonably well and prepared to incorporate or respond to constructive criticism. Much of my job involves helping students identify their contribution to the scholarly literature, hone their research question, and express their ideas more clearly. Invariably, this involves me reading multiple drafts of the same document, each becoming successively more focused.

With regard to preparatory course-work, students should have had some courses in one or more of the following fields: economic, population or urban geography; economics (evolutionary, institutional, mainstream or other heterodox); analytical philosophy; political economy; regional science; economic or urban sociology; labor studies; entrepreneurship; area studies; industry studies; organizational studies; or regional development. Exposure to quantitative and qualitative research techniques and the basics of research design would likewise be helpful. Geomatics skills are also a bonus, especially if the student's interests are in a project with a practical application.

What else? The topic has to be one that --- broadly defined --- is one focused on economic geography. This is a big tent.

I will also serve on committees as a second or third reader for students whose interests are outside of my normal specialties if I find the topic interesting, including political ecology, rural development, sustainability, interactive digital media, outer space studies (really!) and the like.

What kind of projects will I supervise?

So long as the project deals with some aspect of economic, urban or population geography, I will supervise it. I prefer to work with students operating from an analytical, evidence-based perspective and a realist ontology. An analytical, evidence-based perspective draws on empirical work --- quantitative, qualitative or mixed-methods --- that identifies general patterns and the processes that generate them. A realist ontology means there is an objective reality that exists beyond and independently of our perceptions of it.

I will serve on committees in which the student uses a post-structuralist framework so long as my contribution is thematic and not theoretical.

I would happily supervise students examining the following topics (in no particular order, and some being more precise than others):

  • the cultural industries and cultural economy
  • the locational dynamics of media industries
  • 'cultural rainshadows' outside metropolitan areas
  • regional economic development
  • regional and agglomeration benchmarking techniques
  • techniques for regional analysis and labor force analysis (especially after the debacle of Canada's 2011 census)
  • deindustrialization and the emergence of new industries
  • the geography of knowledge and innovation
  • the geography of cognition, routines and skills
  • entrepreneurship
  • local labor markets (especially dual or segmented labor markets)
  • workforce development and immigration, especially Canada's role in perpetuating 'brain drain'
  • regional political economy
  • the geography of public goods
  • the political economy of higher education
  • university reform and rent-seeking
  • the impact of mass university education on labor force formation
  • the emerging geography of alternative energy industries
  • economic activity beyond major metropolitan regions
  • the efficacy of local and regional economic development tools (e.g., business incubators, tax rebates, worker training programs)
  • post-socialist and transition economies
  • institutions in 'real existing' capitalism
  • comparative analyses of national systems of accumulation

With regard to area focus, I can cover Canada (especially the Niagara Region), the US, Germany, central Europe and to a lesser degree the entire EU. I have some knowledge of Ghana, Mexico and post-socialist economies. Unlike many Anglo-, Canadian and US-geogaphers, I still feel that an area focus is important because all knowledge emerges out of a specific locale, and the generalizeabilty of knowledge outside of its origin can be problematic. This is a rarely addressed problem in English-language geography, where most of the scholars are mono-lingual, and thus bumble along in their lingua franca, missing a whole additional range of nuance and understanding when they write about non-English-speaking communities.

Applicants uncertain of how our interests align should contact me, as I am flexible on topics so long as the student is motivated.

What to include in an application letter

Regardless of the program, an application letter should answer the following questions so the entrance committee can determine if there is a good fit between you, your interests and the department. Some questions to consider include: Why this university? Why Professor X for your supervisor? What work have you already completed on this topic? What background knowledge do you have on this topic? What are some of the foundational writings you have already encountered in this area? What do you want to do after you get your MA? How does getting an MA help you in your intended career trajectory? What skills do you bring to your intended project? What relevant employment or personal experience do you have that tie you to your proposed project?

Applicants might also include writing samples, as well as resume or CV. Optimally, the applicant will have corresponded already with their potential advisor about their topic.


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