In my last post, I discussed some of the problems with the North American publishing model as it applies to urban planning, specifically the lengthy peer-review process, the expectation for Ph.D. candidates to publish in well-ranked and overly competitive journals, and the narrow scope of some planning journals. Many graduates from Ph.D. programs also haven’t learned how to structure their research to produce articles or which journals to target. In Part 2 of this three-part series, I discuss some lessons learned from European planning scholars.

The Dutch social science model

As most of you know, I’ve been a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam Department of Geography, Planning and International Development since July 2012. During my time in The Netherlands, I’ve learned a lot about a very different model of peer-reviewed publishing, one that I think offers solutions to some of the above-mentioned problems. It doesn’t solve all the problems, however, which is why I’ll continue with the final installment of this series to discuss non-traditional publishing options.

Recent developments in the publishing process in The Netherlands have resulted in a much more streamlined model of producing peer-reviewed work. It starts from the very beginning of a Ph.D.: according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement for Dutch Universities, Ph.D.’s here are in fact not students, but employees. Regular employees at the university with a salary scale, pension, benefits, and vacation time: but be assured that the rates of pay aren’t any more than a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship used to pay (you can see the Dutch gross salary scale here, Appendix A Table 2.3, low end of Scale 10). Ph.D. students do not engage on an independent course of study which they must fund themselves, but are paid to do research for which their supervisor has gotten a four-year grant. In some cases a research institute (e.g. the Kennis Instituut Mobiliteit (Institute for Transport Policy) in The Netherlands) or a foreign university has funded the research.

This means that Ph.D.’s work within an existing structure, and it includes a projected research output: a certain number of reports, presentations at key conferences, and scientific articles. Ph.D.’s in the Netherlands are required to produce four articles for their dissertation: two must already be accepted and two submitted to scientific journals. The dissertation itself consists of the four articles, with an introduction and conclusion added; the latter two sections are typically written in the last few months of the four years. The text is put together into a book, which is self-published at the cost of the university: typically students print 150 copies of their books (which look like large-format paperbacks) and distribute them to colleagues in the department and elsewhere. This is a finished product: the Dutch Ph.D. has already had their entire dissertation peer-reviewed, and all required changes from the supervisors have already been addressed. It’s a big day in the office when “the books arrive” and are placed in staff mailboxes.

When I discussed this process with my Canadian colleagues during the recent Association of European Planning Schools/Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning conference, some of them found the Dutch process “ridiculously productive.” Others were horrified at the pressure Ph.D.’s must face in getting four articles published in order to graduate. But it’s a completely different way of structuring research.

When a researcher applies for a major grant with the goal of hiring a Ph.D., the project has already been conceived as separate pieces of work and is often part of a larger research project. Typically, each research question or sub-question has a specific data-gathering or data-analysis method and output, e.g. there would be a literature or policy review, survey results, interview results, and workshop results. This model holds for postdoctoral research as well. In my postdoc, the goal was to do comparative research of international case studies in transit-oriented development, with the goal of reducing barriers to TOD in The Netherlands. I’ve produced two articles that are now in the peer-review process: one on the first stage of the meta-analysis (meta-matrices and critical success factors) and another on stage two (rough set analysis). A third article will summarize the results of workshops that we’re holding this winter with Dutch planners. This rate of publication would be unthinkable within the North American publishing model for several reasons.

First, because here Ph.D.’s enter straight into a well-defined project, within which they can develop their research questions, sub-questions, and methodology. This minimizes the soul-searching (and often soul-destroying) process of finding out “what you want to do and how you want to do it” that often characterizes the North American Ph.D. in planning. There are scheduled meetings with stakeholders or partner institutions who are working on the project, and you will become a part of deciding on the goals and outcomes of the next meetings, workshops, etc.

Second, because of the much shorter peer-review processes. Dutch scholars consider four months to be a long review process, and six months to be reasonable ground for withdrawing the article from consideration. I recently received a revise-and-resubmit from a European journal after five months, and the editor apologized profusely for the delay (when it was revised and resubmitted, the editor accepted it within 24 hours). My colleagues in Amsterdam know which journals have long review processes, and they avoid these; their main goal is to publish in ISI-ranked journals, regardless of the actual ranking. They know because they have been carefully mentored: supervisors suggest a list of possible journals where they can submit, review each draft in detail and propose changes, and only let the article be submitted when it’s in its best possible form. After all, it’s the supervisor’s research grant and he/she is the principal researcher. Ph.D.’s will write to journal editors to ask about the progress of their article after three months, and if they don’t get a satisfactory response the supervisor will intervene.

Third, because the Dutch use social networks. Supervisors who are on editorial boards, or have colleagues who are editors, will suggest that their students try these journals first. They will introduce their Ph.D.’s to these people at conferences. When an article is ready, they will suggest that the Ph.D. e-mail the editor first to check if it’s the right fit for the journal. Their participation in the review processes are likewise quite robust. My Dutch colleagues, whether they’re Ph.D.’s or professors, review several articles per year and typically finish their reviews within a few weeks.

In short, the Dutch model to peer-reviewed publishing in urban planning is much more successful than the North American model: Ph.D.’s produce four articles within four years (or shortly thereafter) compared to one or two within five or six years for a North American Ph.D. They receive careful editing and comments on drafts of their articles. They expect (and receive) far shorter review times and are encouraged to publish in a range of journals–not just the “top” ones. These are already lessons to be learned in improving the North American publishing model in urban planning, if we agree that peer-reviewed publishing is a major goal of the Ph.D.

But there are still some interesting publishing options that the planning researcher can use to address publishing dilemmas: these will be addressed in Part 3.

The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world. —Cornell University Library

In recent years, the purpose of academic publishing has been challenged by lagging review processes, the pressure to open up high-priced academic publications to the general public, and web publishing options. This three-part series of posts explores these issues as they relate to publishing in urban planning. Part 1 will present some of the problems with the current North American social science model, the second part will discuss some benefits of the European model, and the third will address non-traditional publishing options.

The North American social science model

When you’re a Ph.D. student, you learn quickly that if you’re heading for an academic career, you need to publish peer-reviewed articles in academic journals. Seasoned professors will tell you that the pressure to “publish or perish” is still true of academia. Universities are pressuring their planning academics to produce more articles, and competition at the most highly-ranked journals has increased to the point where even well-established professors have their work routinely rejected.

But many of us are never mentored or coached to produce academic articles. I speak from the social sciences perspective, and also from the North American perspective here (I’ll discuss the view from Europe in Part 2). Most of my UBC colleagues entered their Ph.D. with a very loose proposal for their work–a very different beginning from students in the natural sciences, who usually already have a topic shaped by their supervisor’s successful funding applications. During their first two years, students in planning (which is usually a social science in North America) try to hone their topic down to an operationalizable research question, while also learning the basics of research design and methods and applying for funding. At this point they don’t have much to publish; perhaps a literature review. The third and fourth years are usually devoted to fieldwork, the time-consuming stage of finding and obtaining permission to use quantitative datasets, and data analysis. At this point, they may be ready to submit a methodological piece. Only in the final year of the Ph.D. (whether that is their fourth, fifth, or sixth year) is there really much to publish, and then most candidates focus on producing their dissertation.

Some supervisors co-publish with their students, although it’s certainly not the norm among my colleagues in urban planning. This leaves most Ph.D. students on their own in terms of writing articles, choosing journals to submit their work to, and trying to tailor their work to fit the needs or perspectives of those journals. Most will have published one, or maybe two, articles by the end of their Ph.D. Until recently, this was what potential employers expected when they interviewed potential candidates for an Assistant Professor position.

In some cases, a Ph.D. candidate may have been encouraged to develop the chapters as individual papers–my alma mater UBC introduced this option a few years ago, though it remains more popular in the natural sciences. Otherwise, they will face the difficulty of translating their dissertation (whether it’s 150 or 400 pages) into a series of articles that somehow work on their own. Many colleagues from my Ph.D., even years after finishing, have published one to three articles from their Ph.D. In terms of producing peer-reviewed work, this is not a very successful model: spend five to seven years on the research and dissertation, and maybe another two to three years on articles, and end up with just a few published pieces. In the meantime, the market for planning academics has been slow since 2008, so competition has increased for potential positions. Potential employers now expect a significant publishing record–it’s not enough to show that you have the potential to publish. Despite the fact that there are new journals starting all the time, it’s not enough to submit to these; potential employers expect you to have published in the most-established and highly-ranked journals in the field. The same journals that receive so many submissions that even their own work is often rejected.

To give my readers a picture of the process that young scholars face, I’ll use my own peer-reviewed publishing results. Since the year I started my Ph.D. (2007), I have submitted 18 articles: seven were accepted, seven rejected, and four are still in the review process. There has been a ramp-up in my submittal activity over the years: seven of these articles have been submitted in 2012 and 2013. The average length of time of the review process has been 5.2 months, but the range has been between one and 18 months. Submitting articles to special issues, book reviews which I was asked to write, etc. had the lowest review times: usually less than two months. We’ve all heard of recent upheavals at highly-ranked journals who have tried to revamp and reduce their review times: at one of these journals, my article spent 16 months in the review process. This is simply unacceptable: if the goal of academic publishing is to share work with other researchers, it must be done fairly quickly to remain current. To present our work at conferences, where it’s shared with our peers, and be published two years later is ridiculous. Yet, whenever I asked a planning researcher whether I should contact the editors about an article that had been in the review process for over six months, I’d hear, “Oh no, you don’t want to do that.” Even in the cases that took well over a year, I was advised to just wait it out.

In addition to lengthy review processes which make it difficult for a Ph.D. candidate to publish more than one or two articles before finishing, journals seem to prefer certain subjects over others. Two editors of planning journals have told me that housing, transportation, and urban growth “fall outside of their usual areas of expertise”. This means that they have trouble finding reviewers for articles in these areas. I find this difficult to believe considering that every major planning conference has streams dedicated to housing and transportation; urban growth is also a major area of research. Editors always complain that they can’t find enough reviewers. However, a third editor confessed to me that, “We typically use the same reviewers over and over again,” and that he wouldn’t allow Ph.D. candidates to review articles. There’s something a bit off about a system that insists on peer review but shuns capable reviewers: as a postdoc, I’m currently on the reviewer list for four journals but only review about two articles per year. I review them within two weeks, which makes me wonder why review processes often take around 8 months; granted, given the fact that I’m not a professor, I’m probably at the bottom of the reviewer list.

So, university planning departments, these are just some of the reasons why a candidate for the Assistant Professor position may not have a stellar publishing record. Publishing is incredibly slow, it’s much more competitive than when you were on the job market, and the highest-ranked planning journals can be narrow in scope. Unless their supervisors made co-publishing a goal, Ph.D.s have often not learned how to structure their research to produce articles or which journals to target to avoid lengthy review processes. For some possible solutions to these problems, check out my next post.

How difficult is it out there for aspiring academics? In the continuing saga of the US recession, dire predictions have been made: a recent article in The Atlantic showed that in 2011, about 38% of PhD graduates in the sciences found jobs after finishing while about 28% found postdocs. The rest were doing “nothing” according to the National Science Foundation. This article, and others like it, have been circulating among the academic community in every field, dashing the hopes of many a PhD student. However, these aggregate American statistics may not be representative of every field of study, nor does it necessarily reflect the Canadian reality. In planning, PhD students often decide from the outset that they would prefer to do work in public, private, or non-profit planning; unlike science PhDs, planning PhDs don’t work in large labs or patent-developing corporations, and they generally don’t work in a series of post-doc positions. Canadian academic institutions have been hit by the economic downturn, but the country generally has not faced such dire conditions as in the US since the mortgage crisis didn’t affect us.

As many of you know, I did my PhD at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning. Recently I got together with a couple of friends who also graduated from the program, and we started comparing notes on SCARP’s PhD alumni. Here is what we concluded: every single person that finished a PhD at SCARP in the last ten years found a job directly related to their PhD work, and some were snapped up well before they graduated. Since they have all been mentioned in my blog posts, I doubt that they’d mind my summarizing their success here. I’m proud to have known and learned from such a fine group of people!

  • Jennie Moore (2013): Director, Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship, British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment
  • James White (2013): Lecturer, University of Glasgow Department of Urban Studies
  • Cornelia Sussmann (2012): Postdoctoral Research Associate, Kwantlen Polytechnic University Sustainable Food Systems Research Group
  • Silvia Vilches (2012): Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Simon Fraser University Department of Sociology and Anthropology
  • Josh van Loon (2011): Postdoctoral Fellow, UBC Health and Community Design Lab
  • Ren Thomas (2011): Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Amsterdam Department of Geography, Planning and International Development
  • Ugo Lachapelle (2010): Professeur, Université du Québec à Montréal Département d’études urbaines et touristiques (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at Rutgers University)
  • Danielle Labbé (2010): Professeure adjointe, Université de Montréal Institute d’urbanisme (formerly, Postdoctoral Fellow at York University)
  • Janice Barry (2010): Lecturer, University of Sheffield Department of Town and Regional Planning (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Glasgow)
  • Leslie Shieh (2010): Planner and Community Developer, TakeRoot Properties Inc.
  • Sheng Zhong (2010): Lecturer, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at the National University of Singapore)
  • Laura Tate (2009): Provincial Director, Community Action Initiative (formerly, Manger of Growth Services at the Province of BC Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development)
  • Meidad Kissinger (2008): Lecturer, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Department of Geography and Environmental Development (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at UBC)
  • Matti Siemiatycki (2007): Assistant Professor, University of Toronto Department of Geography and Planning (formerly, Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Glasgow)
  • Etsuko Yasui (2007): Assistant Professor, Brandon University Applied Science and Emergency Studies
  • Judy Gillespie (2006): Associate Professor, University of British Columbia (Okanagan) School of Social Work
  • Tanja Winkler (2005): Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Town School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics (formerly, Lecturer at University of Sheffield)
  • Maged Senbel (2005): Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning (formerly, Assistant Professor at University of Utah)

SCARP grads seem to have weathered the economic storm, which at any rate has not affected jobs in academic planning as much as it may have in other fields. Every graduate who pursued an academic career was able to find a postdoc position 1-2 years in length before finding a permanent academic position, or was hired into a permanent position directly after graduation. Those who chose not to do so pursued rewarding careers in the public and private sector. The geographic dispersion of our graduates is also impressive, from China to Israel to South Africa. Of course a lot of this reflects the diversity of the students themselves; many left their countries to pursue the PhD and eventually returned home.

In earlier decades, SCARP’s PhD program produced such stellar graduates as Ann McAfee (1974), who began working at the City of Vancouver during her PhD and worked as the City’s Co-Director of Planning for many years. David Witty (1998), is currently the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) of Vancouver Island University. The success of the PhD program should be highlighted as SCARP prepares to transition its Masters in Planning degree into two separate research-based and practice-oriented degrees. Lest this have implications for the PhD program in the future, we thought a little reminder was in order!

Many have argued for broader public access to academic research. Few, however, considered it as important as internet activist Aaron Swartz. The 26-year-old programmer pushed to make publications free to the public, including those held in the American repository for judicial documents (PACER, Public Access to Court Electronic Records) and JSTOR, which distributes scientific and literary journals on a subscription basis. Swartz was found dead in his apartment on Friday January 11th.

Traditional academic journals hold a prestigious position: faculty members are required to “publish or perish” and universities alone can pay their high subscription fees. In the internet era of free and widespread information, journals remain an almost impenetrable fortress with access granted to a small percentage of the population. Yet, academic research is in many cases funded by national governments and public agencies–in Canada, two main source of funding are the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Is it fair to publish the results of publicly funded research in journals to which only current university students and faculty have access? In fields like planning, which stress public participation and community dialogue, this is a major concern. Open Access journals have begun to address this, but with faculty tenure decisions hinging upon journal impact factors, publishing in traditional journals is still the desired option for most faculty members and graduate students.

Fighting against these restricted databases was Aaron Swartz, who used his programming skills as a weapon in the fight for public access to information. In 2008, believing that the PACER legal documents should be free to the public since they’re produced with public funds, he created a program to download millions of documents from free library accounts. The government did not press charges in that case, but it did three years later. Swartz was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2011 after an effort to provide free public access to JSTOR. He had downloaded nearly its entire library of publications–4.8 million documents in total. He faced a potential penalty of 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

On Wednesday, JSTOR announced that it would increase public access to its journal articles, giving limited free access to its over 1200 journals. Now anyone can sign up for an account and access up to three articles for free every two weeks. It’s an improvement on JSTOR’s Register and Read program, which saw 150,000 people register for free access to 76 journals during its 10-month pilot test. This month, JSTOR began allowing subscription-holding universities to give alumni access to their journals, following Sage Publications. The top 100 editors of Wikipedia will now also receive free access to JSTOR’s collection.

Is JSTOR’s recent–although limited–move toward public access the result of Swartz’s actions? Or was such a move inevitable in the internet era? Years from now, those of us in academia may well remember Swartz as an internet crusader who offered the public its first glimpse through the cracks in the armour surrounding academic journals.

I’m pleased to announce the call for papers for my upcoming edited book on Canadian planning. It’s been accepted by Oxford University Press with the working title Planning Canada: A Case Study Approach and will feature case studies from across Canada on issues as diverse as infrastructure planning, food policy, affordable housing, and natural resource planning. We’re hoping to give undergraduate students an understanding of the diverse plans, policies and processes that are happening right now across the country.

I’m looking forward to receiving proposals from interested authors from academic, public, private practice, and non-profit planning settings in a number of theme areas: for more details about these, check out the dedicated page on my site,

Proposals are due February 1, 2013 and selected authors will have until December 1, 2013 to finalize their case studies.

There have been a few interesting articles lately discussing immigrants’ employment success in Canada. Last week, The Globe and Mail published a story about a new project begun by Maytree, a charitable organization that runs all kinds of interesting programs to help employers hire new immigrants, train and mentor newcomers to organize political campaigns or run for office, and share best practices in integration. Maytree’s current project, under its Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies (ALLIES) initiative, connects skilled immigrants with small- and medium-sized businesses. Small- and medium-sized employers hire about 64% of private sector employees, but many immigrants don’t know about them. The companies may lack the human resources skills and staff to recruit immigrants.

Immigrants’ paths towards economic success have been linked to many factors, including acceptance of foreign credentials and immigrants’ social networks. A paper recently released by Metropolis BC, using the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC), found that immigrants take different paths towards employment depending upon their immigration category. In 2007, 60% of immigrants to Canada were economic, 25% were family immigrants, and 15% were refugees. Immigrant Category, Social Networks, and Ethnic Workplaces over Time: A Longitudinal Analysis of Immigrants’ Economic Integration in Canada (Metropolis BC Working Paper 11-10) summarizes the study conducted by Wendy Roth, Marc-David Seidel, Dennis Ma and Eiston Lo. The authors analyzed LSIC data, collected 6 months, 2 years, and 4 years after immigrants’ arrival in Canada, to determine how the workplace type (ethnic or non-ethnic) influences the ethnic composition of social ties, and how these two factors impact immigrants’ economic success. They found that economic immigrants benefit from non-ethnic workplaces, family immigrants face economic penalties when they enter the open economy, and refugees benefit from entrepreneurship. In short, “Immigration policies sort immigrants into different labour market trajectories with different financial returns.”

Family immigrants are more likely to remain in the ethnic labour market, leading to co-ethnic friendships. When they move into the open economy, they are less likely to reap its benefits than economic immigrants. They’re also less likely to benefit from entrepreneurship than refugees, who use this as a path to long-term success. Obviously, family immigrants were sponsored by their relatives; 37% of economic immigrants and 65% of refugees had relatives in Canada before immigrating. Economic immigrants are more likely to speak English or French, and have higher levels of education, facilitating non-ethnic social ties and employment in non-ethnic workplaces. Interestingly, the ethnic concentration of the CMA and the presence of friends or family in Canada before immigration had no impact on the odds of working in a non-ethnic workplace or the odds of making non-ethnic friendships. However, people who made friendships through friends and relatives in Canada or through religious activities were more likely to make ethnic friends, while making friends through ESL classes or work more often led to non-ethnic friendships. Those who form mainly non-ethnic friendships early earn higher incomes. While economic immigrants develop diverse social networks and move into the open economy, family immigrants tend to make their contacts and maintain employment in the ethnic market, facing economic barriers to success elsewhere. However, the authors stress that family immigrants often provide support for their families, such as child care, which has economic benefits. Refugees’ relative success from entrepreneurship seems to reflect the support they receive from private sponsors or the government.

This is further fuel for my dissertation, which found that structural changes, such as changes in immigration policy, impacted the housing and transportation choices of Filipino immigrants over several decades. Policy is a remarkable sorting agent, and sub-categories such as the Live-in Caregiver Program or Entrepreneur Class can have major impacts on immigrants’ housing and transportation trajectories. Social networks were crucial factors in finding housing and transportation options, not to mention finding jobs and accessing bridging or training programs.

For the past three years, SCARP has been honoured to have high-profile planning scholars with us for one week under the Amacon-Beasley Scholar-in-Residence program. Our 2011 scholar is Dr. Susan Fainstein of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Dr. Fainstein has also served as Acting Director of the planning program at Columbia University and as professor of planning at Rutgers University. Her many publications include the comprehensive edited volumes Readings in Planning Theory (2003, Blackwell) and Gender and Planning (2005, Rutgers University Press). She will be here from January 31st until February 4th, and will do a number of guest lectures at SCARP, Geography and Landscape Architecture. She will also be here for SCARP’s 60th Anniversary Gala and this year’s student symposium: Metropolis: Growing Just or Just Growing.

The Scholar-in-Residence program offers a great opportunity for students in related disciplines to chat informally, learn from, and become inspired by academic planners. Our first such opportunity came in 2009 with Dr. Tom Campanella from University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). His path through landscape architecture to planning, and his interest in urban history and redevelopment, made him a very engaging and personable speaker. His interests in publishing for both academic and general audiences were also inspiring: his latest book, The Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and What It Means for the World (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), tackled the rampant redevelopment taking place in China’s major cities. Our 2010 Scholar-in-Residence was Dr. Emily Talen of Arizona State University, who has written extensively on urban design, New Urbanism and socially mixed neighbourhoods.

Today, SCARP is hosting a “teach-in” of Fainstein’s latest book, The Just City (2010, Cornell University Press). Faculty members Penny Gurstein, Leonie Sandercock and Tom Hutton, along with PhD candidates Silvia Vilches and Victoria Barr, will discuss and critique The Just City in preparation for her visit. Three of us (Victoria, myself, and fellow PhD Candidate Jennie Moore) have also organized a roundtable discussion on justice and equity in planning (“Theorizing Growth in the Just Metropolis”) during the upcoming symposium where we will discuss the questions:

  1. How can planners adrress issues of justice/ethics in their day-to-day work?
  2. Is “justice” simply about equity or should it include notions of the “good,” democracy, sustainability?
  3. What is the scale of the Just City? (Is it only within urban boundaries or in articulation to hinterlands and other cities as well?)

Susan Fainstein and John Friedmann will be joining us for this workshop. Here’s to an intellectually stimulating few weeks!

In mid-October, in between the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) conference in Minneapolis and a much-anticipated trip to Spain, I had the pleasure of witnessing the final doctoral exam of Ugo Lachapelle. Ugo came to SCARP under the supervision of Dr. Larry Frank, our Bombardier Chair of Sustainable Transportation. Ugo started his PhD the same year that I started my Masters at SCARP (2005), so it was particularly exciting to witness his exam and to hear that he passed and will graduate in the Spring of 2011.

Ugo chose to write his dissertation in the format of three papers, which could be published separately. His research focuses on the travel behaviour of public transit users and the relationship between transit and walking. Interestingly, the three-paper dissertation format, a relatively new innovation at UBC, has now been discontinued, making Ugo’s the only dissertation ever produced at SCARP to be published in this format. The dissertation, “Public transit use as a catalyst for an active lifestyle: mechanisms, predispositions and hindrances”, can be read here.

Ugo’s other work has been published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, in an article that examined whether people with employer-sponsored transit passes got more than the minimum recommended level of physical activity through walking. Ugo also published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last year on how public health and transportation researchers study non-motorized transportation. His work, along with others spanning urban planning, public health and urban design, is a great example of the interdisciplinary nature of our research at SCARP.

Dr. Lachapelle is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University in the company of noted researchers Robert Noland, John Pucher and Devajyoti Deka. I’m sure he is also madly publishing his results, in between conference presentations at ACSP and the Transportation Research Board. Congratulations Ugo!

Update: Ugo will begin teaching at Université de Québec at Montréal, Département d’études urbaines et touristiques (Department of Urban Studies and Tourism) in Fall 2011.

There is a lot of debate out there about whether or not there are schools in Canada equivalent to the American Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale). I’m not sure why this is so important for people to know, but I do know that as a potential applicant for teaching positions at US universities, an Ivy-League education is considered the best. Even in Canada, loyalty to the old prestigious universities is not in the least diminished by Maclean’s annual rankings.

As a Canadian, I don’t know anyone who did an undergraduate degree at an Ivy League school, so my first introduction to the concept was when my classmates in landscape architecture began applying for masters programs over a decade ago. Inevitably, they chose to apply to American Ivy League schools like Harvard and Cornell. Interestingly, their main reason was that “all the famous landscape architects went there.” (not surprising: Harvard was the first landscape architecture program in North America and the only one for many years). Having visited the Graduate School of Design and seen their students’ work around this time, we were surprised to find that our work was quite comparable to theirs; in some cases, better. One friend, who applied to and finished a Harvard Masters in Planning, said that the main advantage of the school was the alumni network, which would ensure he could find jobs anywhere. The Harvard degree also exposed him to very prominent experts and guest lecturers. Even more interesting, he is now living and working with many of our former classmates who did not invest in Ivy League educations. The same applies to a couple of our classmates who attended Cornell for the Masters in Architecture, and now work at architecture firms with others with “less prestigious” degrees.

The thing is, Canadians know about the American Ivy League, but we don’t really get it. I mean, we get that they’re prestigious and expensive and old. But we’re hampered by the fact that universities in Canada are virtually all public institutions, and there are few expensive, elite blue-blood institutions in the country aside from elementary and secondary schools like Branksome Hall and Ashbury College. According to the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials, there are 94 universities in Canada (83 with degree-granting status) belonging to the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada. There are 27 private colleges, the vast majority being theological schools: when you take these out, there are only 6 left. Tuition costs at Canadian schools are much cheaper than American schools, although generally the older, larger schools cost a bit more and since tuition deregulation in the 1990s the professional programs can charge more than the standard tuition. They can also offer more funding, so it evens out: even Statistics Canada found that there has been little decrease in the proportion of lower-income students attending university now than before tuitions began their rapid ascent in the 1990s. So the Ivy League is a tradition we simply do not have here. Ditto those other prestigious American schools that are supposed to impress us. American students enrolled at Canadian schools often find their introductory conversations go a bit like this:

Canadian: So you’re from Pennsylvania?

American: Yes. I went to XXX School. (pause for reaction)

Canadian: Oh yeah? (blank stare)

American: (confused) It’s a really good school.

Canadian: Ohhhh. (realizing the faux pas in not knowing the names and reputations of all 45670 American schools) Well that’s great. (unimpressed)

That’s right, I said it: we don’t know your schools the way you don’t know our prime ministers. Or our provinces. Or our capital.

That said, the four universities that many consider to be the “Canadian Ivys” are the University of Toronto, McGill University, Queens University, and the University of British Columbia. The only logic to this seems to be that they are old and therefore have ivy-covered buildings! These schools, because of their age, have extensive and well-known alumni who teach, do research, win Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, and otherwise propagate the mythology of their being better schools than the rest. There is also something called the Group of Thirteen, which includes the above-mentioned schools plus the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, Université Laval, MacMaster University, Université Montréal, University of Ottawa, University of Waterloo, and University of Western Ontario. These schools meet informally twice a year to discuss joint research initiatives and between them hold 66% of Canada Research Chairs, which is proportional to the amount of research funding they bring in from SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR. And if I’m going to be honest, these schools probably get more famous guest lecturers.

But the Maclean’s rankings show a very different story: each school has very different strengths. The magazine divides Canadian universities into three categories: primarily undergraduate, comprehensive undergraduate, and medical doctoral universities. The schools are evaluated on a range of characteristics, including spending on student services and scholarships and bursaries, funding for libraries, faculty success in obtaining national research grants, and their reputation for being innovative. The top-ranked primarily undergraduate schools are Mount Allison and University of Northern British Columbia. The top-ranked comprehensive undergraduate schools are Simon Fraser and University of Victoria. And the top-ranked medical doctoral schools are McGill, Queens and Toronto. Some schools have highly-ranked business or teaching programs, others are strong in medicine or law. Indeed, some of these professional programs are known in their individual fields as “the best.” Some have a small student-to-teacher ratio, others have better resources or funding. And then there are the student favourites, typically small schools with a friendly atmosphere in a beautiful location, like Mount Allison.

I attended two of the supposed “Canadian Ivys”: University of Toronto and University of British Columbia. I know only a handful of people at either of these universities who attended a private school before entering these seemingly august institutions (ie., these aren’t the elites of society). I don’t believe that these schools have better students, better teaching, or better facilities than other schools in the country: in some cases, Maclean’s shows they fail in all three areas. Graduates of these schools don’t seem to conduct themselves any differently, have access to better alumni networks, or get better jobs than graduates of other schools. While working as a landscape architect in England, for example, I ran into graduates from the universities of Guelph and Waterloo who were working for British municipalities; in Ottawa I met many government employees who were graduates of Université Laval, Carleton University, and the University of New Brunswick. I have yet to meet a Canadian who was impressed by the schools I attended, nor have I encountered any innate sense of superiority among graduates of these schools. Yet when I attend conferences, I frequently find myself having this conversation:

American: Oh, you’re at UBC?

Me: Yes.

American: Oh, that’s a really good school. (impressed)

Me: Is it? (seemingly amused, but actually quite curious)

American: (confused) Well, yes.

Me: Why would you say that?

American: (stumped) I…hmm. (because I’ve heard of it)

The relatively level playing field among Canadian universities is probably one reason why Canada has the largest proportion of university graduates among G7 countries and the highest percentage of university graduates in the workforce. Immigrants in Canada have particularly high levels of university attendance: 37% compared to 22% of the Canadian-born population. Among recent immigrants (those who entered the country less than two years ago) 48% of females and 56% of males had a university degree according to the 2006 Census. Women have outpaced men in university attendance since the late 1970s, and more lower-income people are attending university in Canada than ever before. These types of changes have led to much more diversity in Canadian universities. And there is considerable evidence that nurture, as opposed to nature, is the key to success in education: Malcolm Gladwell vividly illustrates this in Outliers.

With only a handful (15) universities in Maclean’s medical doctoral category, Canadians often seek jobs in other countries; this is particularly true in academia. But we know that we will be judged by the school we went to, because that seems to be a common trend in the American university hiring process. A glance at the faculty directories of an Ivy League school reveals that virtually all of their faculty did their doctorate or post-doctorate work at an Ivy League school. Lou Marinoff, in a recent article in Inside Higher Ed outlined how his philosophy department, in City College at the City University of New York, narrowed down their search for a new faculty member from 627 applicants to 27 long-listed and 6 short-listed ones. A major criteria in the first step was holding a degree from “a good university.” As Marinoff writes, “Members of our department earned their Ph.D.s at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, and University of London. Additionally, City College is known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat,” with distinguished alumni that include nine Nobel Laureates, more than any other public institution in America. Our faculty members are expected to live up to this legacy.” Of course publications, research, teaching, administrative service were up there too.

I would love to say that this kind of academic snobbery does not exist in Canada, but it is pretty standard here to imitate Americans. Most of my friends in design professions hold Ivy League degrees in higher regard, and since my era at U of T’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, the school has been completely rebranded with graduates of Yale, Princeton and Harvard. Many Canadian faculty members are American, or educated in the US, and bring these ideas with them. I can definitely say that the “reputation” of the school seems to play a role in the admissions process at SCARP. The ridiculous thing about this is that our school (which is a graduate program only) accepts applications from undergraduates in any discipline. And according to Maclean’s, as well as my own experience, programs vary considerably from school to school. So using school “reputations” makes no sense: you would have to be a master of every undergraduate program in the country to know what a “good school” was for that particular program. It’s one thing for a medical school to compare B.Sc students from everywhere, or engineering programs to compare their B.Eng applicants; it’s quite another for a multidisciplinary program which draws its students from programs as diverse as Forestry, French, Geography, Architecture, and Canadian Studies. It’s part of the reason why our school uses such a complex application process, evaluating transcripts, a research statement, reference letters, and work experience equally.

Interestingly, Marinoff’s philosophy department invited 6 candidates to their school for interviews. Here is his summary of their performance: “All the finalists were impeccably well versed in their subjects matter, but not all succeeded in establishing rapport with the students. One lectured remotely, as if from afar; another failed to engage them in dialogue; a third took insufficient account of whether the class was grasping the material. Some lectured clearly and evocatively, encouraged and fielded questions on the fly, bridged gaps in students’ understanding by providing additional context where necessary, and covered the material in the allotted time. The best finalists attracted a throng of students after the lecture, having whetted appetites for further learning. The top two bundled humor with their lectures or slides, which palpably enhanced the ambiance and helped establish rapport. “Edutainment” is an American neologism, after all.”

When it comes right down to it, these candidates (CCNY hired the top two) succeeded not because of their Ivy League pedigrees, but because of their ability to engage students and cope with the classroom setting most effectively. Now, whether they gained these credentials as a result of their “superior” educations is a matter for debate: they were likely supported and mentored more than students at other schools, because their high tuition costs resulted in more resources (again, Outliers is relevant). I suspect these outstanding candidates worked hard at developing their skills and lecturing style, and had a real passion for teaching. Preferential selection of candidates based on their school’s reputations was really just a useful filter in this case, a way of decreasing the number of applicants to consider carefully, albeit one that probably eliminated many worthy candidates from lower income and minority backgrounds who couldn’t afford Ivy League educations.

All this to say that I don’t believe there is a Canadian Ivy League, nor do I think we need one. It’s too bad that universities, professors, and students can’t get over these ideas of being “the best”, or producing the “best and the brightest” students. This relentless competition is even seen in what Richard Moll, in his 1985 book, called the “public Ivys”, eight American schools that were “successfully competing with the Ivy League schools in academic rigor… attracting superstar faculty and in competing for the best and brightest students of all races.” It’s even worse that the myth of the Canadian Ivy League is being relentlessly perpetuated by recruiters who travel all over the world with glossy brochures featuring the old ivy-clad buildings (international student tuitions are higher than those for Canadian citizens, so the schools encourage it). But the Canadian reality is a bit different, and there really is no reason a University of Alberta grad and a McGill grad should not be considered equally.

In a previous post, I joked about the obvious discrepancies in funding between humanities/social sciences and natural sciences…and I say this with all due respect for the two-level trailer in which SCARP has been housed for many years. Interestingly, Inside Higher Education recently reported that funding was the most important factor in PhD completion for US PhD recipients. They also found major differences between humanities/social science students and math/science/engineering students: while 76% of science students were satisfied with their funding, only 60% of humanities students were. And with good reason: social sciences are less likely than others to receive offers covering six or more years, even though many humanities PhDs take longer than six years to complete. Humanities doctoral students were more likely than those in other fields to receive offers covering only two or three years.

I would say that in the current neoliberal political climate, these inequities are typical. Science, math, and engineering are somehow considered more valid subjects of study than english, sociology, and architecture. And with many universities increasingly looking to the private sector for capital and program funding, many software, pharmaceutical, and in BC forestry companies are filling the gaps. I could debate the morals of this to no end, but this won’t solve the basic issue, which is that fields of study which produce products, technologies, or services that are marketable or patentable are favoured in the current climate. This is a real shame, because we need writers, sociologists and architects just as much as we need lab technicians, mathematical modellers and engineers. To quote the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council,

Research in the social sciences and humanities advances knowledge and builds understanding about individuals, groups and societies—what we think, how we live and how we interact with each other and the world around us. Knowledge and understanding inform discussion on critical social, cultural, economic, technological, environmental and wellness issues and provide communities, businesses and governments the foundation for a vibrant and healthy democracy. Through research and training programs, SSHRC fosters the development of talented and creative people who become leaders across the private and public sectors and who are critical to Canada’s success in the globalized 21st century.

The distinction between arts and sciences is only semantics anyway, particularly in newer fields that cannot be easily categorized. I’ll use landscape architecture an example, which was not a university degree program until the postwar era. My undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture, for which I received a BLArch, neither a BA or a BSc. This is because at the University of Toronto, the faculty is independent and does not fall under either arts or sciences; actually this is a moot point at U of T, where there is a combined Faculty of Arts & Sciences. If I had gone to another school, I would have received a BSCLA, particularly if the landscape architecture program was in the agriculture or applied science faculties; or a BA, if the program fell under geography. So at some schools landscape architecture is a science, at some it falls under social sciences, and in others it is in neither category. Now that landscape architecture is mainly a graduate degree program, students with a range of bachelors’ degrees apply and are accepted into these programs. None of this has anything to do with the courses, which span subjects like dendrology, site engineering, design studios, and planting design and are approved by a national accreditation board.

That’s too unique, you say? Most fields can be much more easily categorized? Okay, let’s take geography. If you specialize in physical geography, you might be studying rock formations, specific types of algae, or air pollution in a range of cities. On the other hand, human geography would lead to studies of women and technology, the impact of immigration policies, or patterns of gentrification in cities. At UBC and U of T, the first option would lead to a BSc and the second to a BA, with each having very different courses. But things start to blur a little in the Masters programs where both BA and BSc students are admitted to one program, and they graduate with either an MA or an MSc depending on what their undergraduate degree was. SCARP takes this same approach: if your undergraduate was in Forestry, you will graduate from SCARP with an MSc; an undergraduate in French will earn you an MA. Notice that this has nothing to do with the courses you take: two separate students could in fact take the exact same courses during the Masters program, one ending up with an MA and the other an MSc.

There are many fields that don’t easily fall into neat arts or science categories, not to mention the journalism student specializing in health and science or the psychologist who studies cognitive behavioural therapy. But because of the funding inequities, if you fall into one of these academic grey areas, you’ll be lumped in with the humanities…and that means less money for your education. Which means you’ll probably have to work during school, which will lengthen the time you take to complete. This is definitely an issue at SCARP, where the scarcity of funding and lack of teaching assistant positions compels many of us to work part-time.

This type of funding inequity is self-perpetuating: fewer people can afford to back to school to study humanities and social sciences, so there are fewer graduates, so the pool of funding decreases, so studying humanities and social sciences seems less popular and less valid. A bunch of us at SCARP signed the petition to prevent SSHRC from prioritizing business-related studies, to no avail. But there has been some media coverage about the inequities so hopefully some day they will even out. I would advise potential grad students in the social sciences and humanities to work for a few years and save up some money before starting grad school. That was my M.O., and it’s worked out perfectly.