padma's journey

Full-time Non-Clinical Research Faculty


There are several models of collaborative education-research groups that serve Schools within the Faculty of Health Sciences for universities across Canada. The common element in all these collaborations is the prototype of the full-time professor, with a main identity as an education research scientist. The not so common element is that each scientist works within different departments, centres, and programs, but also has different relationships with clinical departments at their institution. Because the model for how a full-time non-clinical professor interacts with various stakeholders differs, not only between Universities, but sometimes even between programs at the same institution, this vignette outlines some common teaching and learning concerns and challenges that plague the early-career health professions education research scientist, from a McMaster University perspective.

the first month

Padma Shah is a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine with cross appointments to the undergraduate medical school at McMaster University. In this vignette, we explore some questions that arose at different points in her 1st year as a new full-time professor and Education Scientist at McMaster.

When Padma met with her Human Resources Manager to initiate her contract, she was provided with general guidelines and expectations for her 1st year, first 3 years and the 5-year point. Padma was told these guidelines represent how most departments review promotion and tenure at McMaster University. The guideline package states that Assistant Professors are expected to develop both a teaching and research portfolio that facilitates promotion at the 5-year point so they can be recommended for promotion the following year. This came as a shock because at her previous institution, where she did her post-doc, the faculty had a much more flexible timeline. Although the timeline for developing a research portfolio was shorter than she expected, Padma felt confident it was manageable. But a teaching portfolio was a completely different issue altogether. She asked her HR manager a barrage of questions: What is a Teaching portfolio? What is a Teaching philosophy? and how do I start?

Q2. What is a teaching philosophy?

Here's how you can think about creating your teaching philosophy. Click here.

Similarly, she noted that she was required to contribute to Supervision of Graduate Students in the Faculty of Health Sciences. This requirement also triggered a number of questions: Who are these students? What are their needs? How do I find them? And do I need permission from different departments to supervise them?

Q4. What are the various types of Graduate supervision at McMaster?

Q5. What are the criteria for graduate supervisor for various programs in FHS?

Currently being developed. See podcast in Q4.

Q6. What is the process to become a graduate supervisor for various programs in FHS?

Currently being developed. See podcast in Q4.

Her HR manager recommended reviewing the resources for Assistant Professors on the Faculty of Health Sciences website, however she was confused by all the templates provided to clinical teaching faculty. Padma thought surely there was a more clear guide for her?

Q7. What are the key templates that research-educators should assemble and compile for their reference?

the first six months

After settling into her role as professor for 6 months, Padma started to focus on some things about the local culture. The University was certainly research intensive. It also valued its identity as a leader in education and had been offering local grants and incentives to develop innovative teaching and learning materials. She felt different forms of encouragement and pressure to lead new teaching initiatives as the newest junior faculty. Padma wondered how she could evaluate which teaching opportunities would be most valuable; to her, her Department. She had colleagues at other Universities with ideas, so Padma decided to ask her Chair whether these activities would be considered teaching:

  • One-to-one consultation with a trainee or faculty

  • Invited lecturer for an online class for which she prepared a narrated powerpoint presentation

  • Invited presenter to a meeting of the Clinician Educator program

  • Supervising an undergraduate medical student who wanted to create a survey

  • Supervising an undergraduate student in the BHSc program

  • Curating links to research method resources to share with her department

Up to now, she had only ever taught in a classroom and she realized she did not know what truly constituted Online teaching and how to do this well. What are some of the other teaching contexts and skills that might be important to master?

Q8. What is the value of different instructional methods?

Q9. What are some resources for virtual teaching?

One of her colleagues suggested applying for a MacPherson teaching and learning grant to help boost her portfolio, but without answers to her previous questions, she did not know what kind of project to start with.

Q10. Where do I get started?

Q11. What is the MacPherson Centre at McMaster University?

The MacPherson Institute is McMaster-affiliated centre that offers support on teaching and learning. For more information, click here:

Q12. What is the MacPherson LTL grant? How do I apply?

the first year

After a full year, Padma was invited to meet with the Chair of her department who was keen to learn about all the teaching contributions Padma had made to the Department of Medicine. As preparation for the meeting, she decided it would help to audit all her individual or group teaching activities from the previous year, including consultations with medical residents, clinical faculty, health science undergraduates looking to volunteer and supervision of clinician educator trainees. But once she made her list, she had no idea how to connect them all to help her Chair understand these contributions as none of these activities had led to any concrete outcomes yet.

Q13. What are good ways to document your research consultations and supervision?

See Q7 above for some resources.

She also realized that in many of her meetings, she was asked the same 5 questions about research methods every week - Padma wondered: what can I do to make this easier for me and more effective for others?

Q14. What is digital scholarship and how might this help her with her repeated methods problem?

Currently being developed.

The biggest concern Padma had was that she had few mentors and had not developed much of a network yet. She decided to ask her Chair for advice.

Q15. How might one increase their network? What are communities of practice, and how do you enter one?

five to ten years later

Stay tuned