Monday, March 11, 2013

Approved Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor (ADDS) Status: An Obstacle or An Impediment?

David Porreca, FAUW President

Over the past few months, concerns about the impact of the university’s regulations surrounding ADDS status (known as the LIARS list in Engineering) have come to the Faculty Association’s attention.  Below the fold, you will find 1) a summary of the principal concerns surrounding this issue 2) what has been done about it so far, and 3) an open letter from a colleague wanting to share his strong concerns about this issue.

The Problem(s)

ADDS status is what a faculty member achieves when they are granted the privilege of supervising a PhD student solo, i.e., without a more senior co-supervisor. 
Concerns surrounding the way ADDS status is handled at UW are numerous:

1) The “regulations” relating to ADDS status are not part of any official university policy, guideline or procedure.  It has not appeared on any faculty member’s official employment contract or offer letter, as far as the Faculty Association is aware.

2) Their official home appears to be on the Graduate Studies Office webpage, and the specific implementation is left up to each of the individual faculties.  As of this writing, only two of the six faculties (AHS and Environment) had their version of the ADDS status regulations posted online in an easy-to-find location.  The Faculty of Environment has two different versions posted in two different spots.

3) Junior faculty members have not been adequately informed about the requirement for co-supervision until their first opportunity to supervise a PhD student arose.

4) In certain disciplines, especially those that fall under the umbrella of NSERC funding, faculty members applying for funding without having had the responsibility of the sole supervision of a PhD student find themselves at a disadvantage in the application rankings.

5) The intent of this regulation is not clearly articulated anywhere.

6) There are no checks and balances to ensure that junior faculty who are forced to co-supervise receive a fair treatment from their senior colleagues.

7) There is a large variability across departments, even within a Faculty, with regards to the criteria junior faculty must satisfy before they are granted ADDS status.

A number of other problems are raised in the open letter appended below.

What Is Being Done

The Faculty Association has brought forward the concerns raised by several faculty members around this issue to the Faculty Relations Committee. 

Some fact finding has revealed that UW is exceptional among the U15 universities in imposing co-supervision on junior faculty members.  Each institution has its own set of regulations governing the capacity to supervise PhD students – often involving faculty members qualifying to join a Faculty of Graduate Studies, which UW doesn’t have – but none other than UW require junior faculty members to solicit co-supervision services from senior colleagues.

Consultation is underway with various stakeholders (e.g., GSO, Graduate Student Association) to determine the precise intent of the regulation as it stands, and how that aim can be achieved without imposing co-supervisory status upon junior colleagues. 

Your feedback

Have you been adversely affected by the University’s current practice surrounding ADDS?  Do you have any feedback that would help the Faculty Association to argue the case on behalf of our junior colleagues?  Please post your comments in the “Comments” section below. If you wish for only FAUW to see your comments, please send them to the FAUW president, David Porreca.

Here is how one of our colleagues feels about ADDS status (courtesy of Bryan Tolson, Civil Engineering):

An Open Letter to the UW Community:  Concerns With the ADDS Regulation

Dr. Bryan Tolson, University of Waterloo
Dr. Bryan Tolson
I am an ADDS (Approved Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor) faculty member at the University of Waterloo.  I can solely supervise PhD students.  However, I haven’t always had this right, because the ADDS regulation prohibits new faculty members from acting as sole supervisors.

Before reading further, please take about 5 minutes and examine the ADDS regulation at the official GSO link: note that as of March 10, 2013, the regulation as it reads online is not the most recent version approved by Senate in June, 2010.  I’m not sure where to tell you to find the ‘real’ regulation in practice today at UW.  Neither does Google: I encourage you to perform a search of the UW website for “Approved Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor”.

Now that you’ve read the regulation as it appears online, let me give some background.  The ADDS regulation was initially created in 1968, 11 years after UW started offering graduate degrees.  At that time, Graduate Studies wanted to address a common problem: that many faculty at UW were pulled from industry with a Master’s as their terminal degree.  The intentions were reasonable: a faculty member without a PhD supervising PhD students can lead to a host of problems.  It was argued (correctly in 1968) that the ADDS regulation was needed to uphold the reputation of our graduate program.  However, it is now 2013 and conditions are different at UW.  The existence of the ADDS regulation today actually hurts our reputation for Graduate Studies – it suggests we hire new faculty who are implicitly incompetent at supervision of advanced research (even for topics directly related to their own PhD research).

We don’t require new faculty to co-teach their first course, so why do we require new faculty to co-supervise PhD students?  Another question to ponder:  How do we attract the best and brightest new faculty to Waterloo with this regulation, which does not have a counterpart at most other Canadian universities?  Until now, UW quite honestly has often misled them, unintentionally of course, by not telling them about the ADDS regulation before they sign their contract.

I could not find reference to the ADDS regulation in any of the following sources:

  • Employment contract for new faculty members (to my knowledge)
  • UW Policy documents (Class F pertaining to faculty only)
  • The Memorandum of Agreement between the Faculty Association and the Administration
  • An 18 page document produced by Graduate Studies called “A Guide for Graduate Research and Supervision at the University of Waterloo. 2011”  
  • Watport website entitled “UW New Faculty Survival Guide” 

In the last few weeks UW administrators and the Faculty Association have begun discussing how to address a few of the problems associated with the ADDS regulations and that is a good thing.  I am however concerned that most administrators and the UW Community in general are not aware of all the problems and arguments against the ADDS regulation.  Hence, one goal of this letter is to put this issue on everyone’s radar so that all the problems associated with this regulation will come to light.  It seems potential changes to the ADDS regulations and the way it is implemented have also been discussed.  Given that solutions to the issue appear to be surfacing, another goal of this letter is to ask that administrators put another option on the table and give it real consideration – the abolishment of the ADDS regulation.  Ask yourself, “Why not?”  In my opinion, abolishment seems to be the only real option considering the following summary of key regulation issues:

After arriving at UW, new faculty are blindsided by a restriction on their Academic Freedom by a regulation that is inaccessible, can be administered based on unwritten rules at the Faculty level,  is not currently the norm in Canada, and is known to reduce Tri-council grant amounts for UW professors.

Each of these statements can be backed up by facts and testimonials.

UW needs a clean slate in order to truly address, to all stakeholder satisfaction, the issues surrounding PhD supervision in 2013.  The norm at the University of Waterloo should be that new Assistant Professors that are tenure-track and hold a PhD are allowed to solely supervise a PhD student. While it is important for the university to promote faculty success at graduate supervision, as well as protect graduate students, the ADDS regulation is not the correct mechanism for doing so.

So now I ask something of you all to keep this discussion moving forward:
  • FAUW Board Members: this blog is a great start but also consider advocating for ADDS abolishment. 
  • Assistant Professors:  if you agree with my position, post your comments in the “Comments” section below and note if you, like so many others, were misled by UW.
  • ADDS and LIARS card-holding members, chairs and Deans: ask an Assistant Professor in your department/faculty what they really think of ADDS (LIARS is the Engineering equivalent).
  • PhD students at UW and the Graduate Student Association: as you render judgment on my position, think about two things.  First, put on your Assistant Professor hat for a second (some of you will join us in a few years) and think hard if ADDS is a regulation you would like to be subject to as you start your academic career.  Second, remember that there are superior alternatives to ADDS that can meet the needs of graduate students and new faculty. A good start might be a FUSS (Faculty Unfit to Supervise Students) list, which can provide a mechanism for protecting graduate students, both Master's and PhD, from faculty from those with a track record of poor supervision without unduly constraining new faculty.
  • Senate members: if your vote is needed on the ADDS issue, please base your decision on demonstrable facts and testimonials.  Task forces can be initiated to deal with any concerns arising from ADDS abolishment (for example, Graduate student protection and new faculty supervisory mentoring mechanisms).  
  • To our President:  see the above request to Senate.  Please tell the UW community what you think about the issue.  Please also see that UW form task forces to address issues surrounding PhD supervision that are relevant in 2013. If the ADDS regulation disappears, I will be the first to volunteer for one of these task forces.

Patchwork fixes to the current ADDS regulation will not serve new faculty or UW in general. In my opinion, ADDS has got to go.


Bryan Tolson & Contributors


  1. I am an assistant prof in Civil and Environmental Engineering. The following is the text of an email I wrote to David Porreca describing my thoughts on the ADDS list.

    From my understanding, the LIARS list is meant as a mentorship tool to help ensure that Ph.D. students are getting proper supervision from new profs. I think this is very different from co-supervising a Ph.D. student, which is how the current tool is working.

    Co-supervision works best in an area of divided expertise, where different aspects of the problem are better understood by different supervisors. For a young prof, the problem being addressed is frequently one that is fairly close to their own research, especially (as is often the case for a new prof) if the Ph.D. is being funded from a Discovery grant.

    I would argue that adding a co-supervisor to research in which the junior faculty is the true expert creates certain tensions in the supervision. We come to this university trained to do research and presumably an expert in a given area. A senior faculty member, however, may be not as familiar or enthusiastic about the line of research and may subconsciously or consciously steer the research to a different area. From what I have observed, the student can be swayed by the senior faculty member. This shift in research objectives is a problem given that junior faculty have more limited resources and only so many pre-tenure opportunities to capitalize on the follow-up questions to previous research of their own. I don’t think it is necessary for research to be co-supervised and in some situations it is counter-productive.

    Where we need mentorship is in understanding the process at UW and advice on how best to advise students. In my opinion the list should be turned upside down by getting senior professors to invite the new professors to be co-supervisors of one of their own Ph.D. students. This would allow the junior faculty to see the process in action and participate as a junior advisor in an area of research that is not so directly related to their ‘core’ research program. It would be clear that decisions would be the senior advisors’ to make. The junior faculty would be allowed to supervise their own students in parallel and expected to ask for advice as needed. In these sole-supervised projects there would be no confusion in the student-advisor relationship.

    Bruce MacVicar

  2. I'm an assistant professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, but I've been on the ADDS (LIARS) list for a couple of years.

    The ECE department routinely encourages new faculty to add the associate chair for undergraduate studies as a co-supervisor in name only. We then note that the co-supervision is for administrative purposes only in all reporting. This requirement therefore probably hasn't had any adverse effect on my career, but it is a speed bump that no longer has any good reason to exist.

    I also support Prof. MacVicar's suggestions above, but suggest that starting by abolishing the ADDS rule would be a good place to start.

    Patrick Lam

  3. Get rid of it, nobody seems to know why it is there. So, continuing it is an embarrassment to us if we aspire to be a top Uni. Look at the message we are sending: we will hire you even if you are not good enough to supervise a Phd student.

  4. Hello All,

    Any decent university in the US does not have such a rule. I am guessing most universities in Canada also do not have such a rule. This clearly shows that this rule is archaic, at best.

    Having a PhD degree and being hired as a tenure track faculty is proof enough that the person is capable of sole supervising a PhD student. This rule does not have a firm basis.

    What is more annoying is that I was not made aware of this when I was offered a position at UW. I was told about this rule only after I accepted the offer. I find this a betrayal of trust because it falls well within my academic freedom to sole supervise a PhD student, even a postdoc. More so when I am using my entire money to support a student and another academic without any justifiable reason is getting credit for it. This is unfair and detrimentally affects my career (both in my CV and in getting NSERC and other similar funding).

    If I need any help of any sort, I can always ask my official mentor. For such `small suggestions`, I don`t need a senior colleague interfering (even if just on paper) with my interaction with my student.

    This rule should be abolished with immediate effect.

    Dipanjan Basu

  5. Danielle JanssenJuly 24, 2013 at 4:59 AM

    I think ADDS shouldn’t have any problems because they are the one that guide grad student to give them all at grad school. PhD dissertation writing can be hard, but with the help of ADDS, the load can be lighter because the student have someone to help them out.

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