The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) has announced that Nancy Heath, PhD, Distinguished James McGill Professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill, has been selected as the winner of the 2023 Dr. Suning Wang Award for Outstanding Graduate Mentorship.
“CAGS is delighted to showcase the hard work and dedication of Dr. Nancy Heath, and we hope that her strong commitment to graduate students will inspire others to reach similar heights,” wrote the association in its announcement.
Heath is an internationally recognized researcher and educator in the field of mental health resilience among students of all ages. She leads the Development and Interpersonal Resilience Research team, is co-founder of the Self-Injury Outreach and Support collaborative project, and is Director of the Education for Mental Health Resilience initiative at McGill.
She has published 167 peer reviewed research articles and chapters, more than two thirds of which included graduate student involvement, and has presented at 354 academic conferences, 90 per cent of which featured presentations from her students.
A faculty member at McGill for thirty years, Heath has supervised 51 Master’s students (one current), 34 PhD students (six current), and one postdoctoral scholar. In 2011, she received the Canadian Committee of Graduate Students in Education Mentorship Award and, in 2023, she was awarded McGill’s David Thomson Award for Graduate Supervision and Teaching. Heath has also made important contributions to graduate education at McGill as a Graduate Program Director and as Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies, in the Faculty of Education.
Tailored approach to mentorship
Heath has earned a reputation among her students for espousing a holistic, tailored approach to mentorship that empowers her students to achieve exceptional levels of academic success, disseminate their research findings widely, progress efficiently through their programs, and prepare for diverse careers. “One of Dr. Heath’s strengths is recognizing the diversity of her students’ wants, need, and identities,” wrote a former PhD student in a letter of support for Heath’s nomination, “and tailoring her supervision style to ensure that her students feel supported in their career path.”
Heath possesses a keen ability to inspire and challenge students to strive for high levels of academic excellence, while also ensuring that they receive adequate funding and recognition throughout their educational journey. Indeed, all of her current doctoral students hold major awards, including competitive federal, provincial, and university-level scholarships. They also publish prolifically and with impressive results in terms of research impact. “This model prepared me for the academic job market,” wrote another former PhD student, “and with the evidence-based decision-making skills needed to thrive in clinical positions.”
The Individual Development Plan (IDP) is one of Heath’s core strategies in providing excellent mentorship for students, something she implemented long before they were required at McGill. Using this goal-setting exercise as a framework for better understanding her students, Heath draws on the IDP to carefully consider and adapt her mentorship style, providing access to personalized experiences or trainings in order to support student success.
“Nancy’s approach to mentoring her students truly focuses on maximizing each student’s potential in alignment with the student’s own goals and ambition, and in true partnership with the student,” wrote a current PhD candidate in their letter of support.
“This level of personalized support had an immensely positive impact on my career trajectory and general life outcomes,” said a current PhD candidate reflecting on their experience as an international student, “a testament to Nancy’s ability to be present for her students in a way that meaningfully acknowledges differences in individual cultural and family backgrounds, personal circumstances, and lived experiences.”
The benefits of this individualized mentorship style are made even more valuable when nurtured within a supportive research environment. Heath diligently cultivates a vibrant sense of community among her students, and she consistently encourages students to build connections, explore research possibilities, and consider a variety of career paths as a group. She fosters peer-to-peer mentorship opportunities between senior and junior researchers under her supervision, and she frequently involves them in research partnerships with community collaborators.
“Nancy takes an active role in helping her students develop a growth mindset that embraces the opportunity to learn from feedback or past errors,” wrote a current PhD candidate, while also ensuring that students focus on their own health and wellbeing. “Nancy herself serves as an inspirational role model for how a healthy work-life balance can be maintained in academia across a variety of professional and personal roles and responsibilities.”
CAGS instituted the Award for Outstanding Graduate Mentorship in 2018 to highlight and celebrate faculty members who exemplify the highest standards in teaching, training, and mentoring. The Award was renamed in 2020 in honour of the inaugural winner, the late Dr. Suning Wang.