Advancing Science 2020: Survey Response

To gather initial input and insights into our strategic planning process, the Faculty ran voluntary and anonymous surveys across the UBC Science community in February 2020.

Overall, feedback from faculty, staff, graduate students and alumni was extremely rich, honest and insightful—offering a great opportunity to explore emerging themes, concerns and opportunities as the planning process progresses. The results represent the views of a very diverse and large community, and are a chance to collectively reflect on our vision, and the role we want to play in helping Canada and the world face current and future challenges.

Survey response and structure

Response rates ranged from 3% to 20% across the groups, with more than 1,550 faculty, staff, graduate students and alumni completing the surveys. Faculty member response across departments also varied widely—from 9% to just over 50%. More than 1,200 UBC Science alumni shared their views. Undergraduate student outreach has also begun, with surveys scheduled for the summer.

Participant group Number invited Number of respondents Response rate
Tenure-track faculty 441 89 20%
Staff 530 76 14%
Non-tenure track faculty (sessionals, lecturers), RAs, Postdocs 450 14 3%
Graduate students 1,469 94 6%
Alumni 26,756 1,288 5%

The faculty, staff and alumni surveys primarily probed strengths, challenges and priorities for UBC Science, while the graduate student survey focused more specifically on capturing the graduate student experience. The majority of the questions in the faculty, staff and graduate student surveys were open ended—the alumni survey featured more multiple choice. Members of the UBC Skylight team performed a content analysis on the qualitative responses to identify emerging themes within and across questions, while not dismissing the unique feedback and experiences of faculty, staff, graduate students and alumni.

Broadly speaking, three key themes emerged from the survey responses, along with sets of priorities for each group.

People and UBC Science culture key themes

  • 24%

    of faculty member and 25% of staff comments cited the calibre of students, faculty, staff or leadership as key strengths

  • 22%

    of faculty member comments cited collaborations, collegiality and interdisciplinarity as key strengths

  • 27%

    of graduate student comments indicated the availability of UBC resources have helped them succeed in their studies

  • 26%

    of alumni comment cited the quality of faculty members as one of UBC Science's key strengths

  • 22%

    of faculty and staff comments cited work culture, burnout, EDI and processes as key challenges

  • 25%

    of faculty and staff comments cited issues related to recruitment and retention as key issues

The high quality of faculty, staff and students that make up the UBC Science community was consistently identified as a strength by all survey respondents. There was also a strong desire for UBC Science to advance meaningful equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) practices, Indigenous engagement, and work environment, mental health and wellbeing support.

The high cost of living was referenced as a significant hindrance to the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and graduate and undergraduate students—especially among respondents working or studying at UBC.

Staff, postdocs, research associates, and other individuals voiced a desire for more awareness and acknowledgement of their expertise. Among staff and alumni in particular, there was also a focus on improved communication and engagement both internally within UBC Science, and externally to society more broadly.

Faculty were also asked to articulate UBC Science’s greatest strengths in any other areas. Responses mainly pointed to collaborations and UBC Science’s collegial atmosphere. Graduate students indicated resources have helped them succeed in their studies. These resources included support, research, professional development, teaching assistant opportunities, and career services. Alumni comments regarding the strengths of UBC Science centred on the quality of people—particularly faculty members.

“Its people. There are so many smart, passionate people doing interesting work here. I'm not just referring to faculty members, but I work almost exclusively with graduate students, and I find them inspiring.”
— Alumni

“Creating a culture of openness and change, in a way that impacts people positively personally and professionally.”
— Staff

“New faculty rent rather than buy homes and are more prone to leave for other universities. The administrative load has increased steadily to the point where we have noticeably less time for teaching and research.”
— Faculty, Research

“Most people I work or interact with are trying to do a lot of important work (EDI, Indigenous Initiatives, funding) off the side of their desks. Workload is quite high and it's difficult to prioritize.”
— Staff

Programs, curriculum and teaching key themes

  • 25%

    of faculty member comments cited excellence, innovation and leadership in STEM education as key strengths

  • 18%

    of faculty member comments cited evidence-based teaching practices as a key strength

  • 45%

    of alumni comments cited the quality, diversity, skill-building and experiential aspects of UBC Science's programs key strengths

  • 17%

    of faculty and staff comments cited improvements to student supports and curriculum as key challenges

  • 13%

    of faculty and staff comments cited student population growth and infrastructure needs as key challenges

  •  

The Faculty's growing reputation for teaching excellence, and the potential to build a world-leading effort in pedagogical research was a consistent theme. Faculty also commonly cited the adoption of evidence-based teaching practices, including taking a data-driven approach to pedagogical changes, as one of UBC Science’s greatest strengths. Faculty and staff expressed the desire to continue embedding evidence-based pedagogy within UBC Science’s undergraduate courses.

Faculty pointed to the importance of current resources and structures to support excellence in teaching, and they emphasized the need for those supports to continue and expand based on the changing landscape (supporting student accessibility, Indigenous engagement, mental health and wellbeing). Continued undergraduate enrolment growth and expanding class sizes were frequently mentioned as a concern by faculty, staff and others.

Alumni appreciated the diversity of programs offered and the ability for students to tailor their major or minor to their interests. But they also noted the need for UBC Science to adapt programs to respond to emergent fields and student interests and demand. Finally, alumni respondents expressed a desire to build stronger relationships with current faculty, staff and students, and to give back through leadership and mentorship.

Graduate students and alumni suggested enriching experiences such as co-op and experiential research opportunities. There was also considerable demand from both groups for more solutions that enrich students’ career and professional competencies.

"We are a leader in North America for evidence-based, scholarly teaching."
— Faculty, Educational Leadership

UBC Science should offer insights for its students into the social and humane interfaces between their scientific discipline and their culture as a whole."
— Alumni

"There's more resources than before to help grad students maintain a good mental health while they are completing their PhD ... it would be even better to try to address the conditions in grad school that are causing students to have mental health issues."
— Graduate student

"The focus on wellness of students has increased and I think this is important. This is UBC-wide but Science is very involved in improving student wellness."
— Staff

Research key themes

  • 24%

    of faculty member comments cited UBC Science's general breadth and depth of research as strengths

  • 22%

    of faculty comments cited specific research areas as key strengths

  • 14%

    of faculty comments cited interdisciplinarity or collaborations as strengths across the Faculty

  • 18%

    of alumni comments cited research as a key strength of the Faculty

  • 17%

    of faculty and staff cited lack of funding or interdisciplinary research as key challenges

  • 25%

    of faculty and staff comments cited recruitment and retention as key challenges

  • 49%

    of graduate student comments cited funding as a key area for improvement

  • 29%

    of graduate student comments cited the quality of research or researchers as a key strength

  •  

Overall, survey respondents acknowledged and valued the quality, breadth and depth of scientific research taking place at UBC Science. Many comments cited the great researchers on campus and opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to be engaged in top-tier research. Future directions might include seeking new support for key research areas, both flagship areas and as well targeted emerging areas, with an increased focus on linking research to societal benefits.

While collaboration and interdisciplinary research were noted as strengths across UBC Science, faculty, staff and alumni strongly desired more opportunities for interdisciplinary interactions and connections with their colleagues within UBC Science, UBC more broadly, regionally, and internationally.

Graduate students, faculty and staff emphasized the need for graduate student stipends and pay to increase to match the high cost of living in the Lower Mainland—and to ensure the continued excellence of UBC Science research.

Both faculty and staff voiced a need for improved infrastructure to enhance UBC Science’s research output. While the newer facilities and infrastructure (research labs, equipment, classrooms, office space and buildings) were noted as a strength of UBC Science, the ongoing need to improve and build new facilities and infrastructure was reiterated often and across surveys.

“We appear to have a very high status, perhaps even world class, across all areas of science. To achieve that UBC has been able to recruit excellent researchers in science fields.”
— Faculty, Educational Leadership

Graduate students are integral to the success of UBC Science, yet their salary hasn't changed substantially in decades. Anything Science or UBC can do to assist in increasing graduate student stipend is paramount.”
— Faculty, Research

“Bring together people across departments to conduct interdisciplinary research.”
— Staff

“Have a culture that supports real, tangible industrial collaborations like Stanford, UC Berkeley ...”
— Alumni

“My experience as a graduate student at UBC has been great so far but is also very stressful due to the financial situation. Had I known it was this difficult, I would've reconsidered which school I went to as I got an offer at McGill which offered me the same stipend but Montreal cost of living ... which would give me more wiggle room financially.”
— Graduate student

Vision and future directions

  • 74%

    of faculty and staff comments indicated the Faculty’s current vision statement continued to represent the desired future of UBC Science

  • 43%

    of faculty and staff comments indicated a lack of personal connection to the current vision

  •  

Faculty and staff were asked to reflect on the Faculty's vision statement (graduate students and alumni were not). There was strong support for the current version, but less agreement on its resonance for individuals, and some disagreement regarding the importance of vision statements in general. The vision statement articulated in 2017 reads:

Within the next decade, UBC Science will be the top science faculty in Canada, recognized for our disciplinary and multidisciplinary research excellence, our world-leading, evidence-based undergraduate science education, and our innovative graduate training programs.

The desirability and practicality of being 'top in Canada and world' was not evenly supported, and many faculty members questioned how performance was best measured (and a sense that focusing on rankings is shallow). Improving the excellence of our research—in and of itself—was broadly described as the most appropriate and compelling goal. A substantial group felt that there were many important areas in which we provide or could provide impact that are not explicitly referenced in the current statement: advancing EDI, mitigating environmental and climate change, societal service, Faculty culture.

Future directions for UBC Science

Faculty and staff provided 425 comments on actionable priorities or initiatives that UBC Science could pursue—many map to comments related to the challenges perceived and experienced. They were also asked to select up to five specific objectives for the Faculty over the next five years. Staff expressed a broader range of priorities than other groups of respondents, possibly reflecting a broader range of constituencies. Main themes included:

  • Increased funding for graduate students
  • Program renewal and development to meet the need of emergent fields and student interests, and to enrich our teaching and learning more generally
  • Funding and planning towards general infrastructure and facilities, research labs and teaching spaces
  • Bolstering interdisciplinary research and discipline-based research (equally weighted by faculty members, who identified collaboration as the one thing they would change about UBC Science)
  • Increased emphasis and support related to EDI practices, Indigenous initiatives and engagement, workload, work culture, and mental health and wellbeing
  • Improved communication of our work and practices and greater collaboration within our Faculty/departments/units
  • Provide expanded experiential learning, co-op and research opportunities to students, and increase focus on developing critical thinking, logic and teamwork skills

Top faculty and staff actionable priorities selected from a list

  Improve our infrastructure 75
  Advance interdisciplinary research 73
  Advance EDI in faculty, staff and student contexts 66
  Increase experiential learning opportunities 60
  Optimize working conditions for faculty and staff 54
  Evolve curriculum to meet student, industry and societal needs 53
  Advance discipline-based research opportunities 53
  Strengthen graduate programs 52
  Bring people together across departments/units 46
  Better communicate scientific and educational advances 46
  Increase support to move research into active use 42
  Improve our infrastructure to enhance teaching 42
  Advance Indigenous initiatives 41
  Increase application of evidence-based pedagogy 40

Top faculty and staff actionable priorities via comments

Improve infrastructure generally or for research, teaching 49 comments
Improve or increase science communication and outreach 33 comments
Address RA, TA, graduate and UG funding 28 comments
Increase focus on EDI practices and diversity of faculty, staff and students 27 comments
Adapt and develop programs 25 comments
Enrich teaching and student learning, address student needs 24 comments

Graduate student priorities

Graduate students identified many directions that would advance UBC Science, such as increasing pay, funding and general support—including for mental and physical health. EDI, career planning and training, and professional development were also key areas cited in comments. In terms of unmet goals, many graduate student comments focused on disseminating research and communicating science.

Top alumni potential objectives and priorities selected from a list

Alumni were also asked to select potential objectives for UBC Science over the next five years. Responses focused on increased experiential learning, co-op and research opportunities for current students, as well as evolving the Faculty’s curriculum to meet changing student, industry and societal needs. Advancing interdisciplinary research across UBC Science, and knowledge translation were also priorities.

  Increase experiential learning: Research, co-op, community-based learning 514
  Evolve curriculum to meet changing student, industry and societal needs 456
  Advance interdisciplinary research 453
  Increase communication of scientific and educational advances 414
  Increase knowledge mobilization 288
  Advance discipline-based research 272
  Advance EDI initiatives 265
 

  Increase support for student wellness 245

 

  Advance Indigenous initiatives 223

Thank you and next steps

A sincere thank you to the entire UBC Science community for taking the time to voice your ideas, concerns and vision. The surveys and this review are intended as conversation starters—faculty and staff are invited to upcoming strategic plan virtual town halls, and the entire community is invited to share their comments.

“Bring together people across departments to conduct interdisciplinary research.”
— Staff

“Figure out ways to decolonize and Indigenize [at least parts of] the undergraduate curriculum, and implement them.”
— Faculty, Educational Leadership

“Increase efforts to communicate scientific and educational advances to the public.”
— Staff

“We should increase grad salaries beyond poverty levels... Have an annual competition so that labs that can't normally afford postdocs have a chance of getting one.
— Faculty, Research

"Let faculty cross-teach, e.g. ask botanist to contribute to a physics class.”
— Emeriti

“Offer insights for its students into the social and humane interfaces between their scientific discipline and their culture as a whole. That attitude will govern behaviour of graduates their whole lives, in every sphere.”
— Alumni