Grace Skogstad

Prof. Grace Skogstad recognized with U of T’s JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision

I think it’s important to guide and direct, but not to dictate.

Professor Grace Skogstad

Dr. Grace Skogstad, Professor in the Department of Political Science, has been awarded a 2020-2021 JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision.

The annual awards honour active faculty members who, over a minimum of a 15-year period have demonstrated excellence in graduate supervision at the University of Toronto. Two awards are offered annually, one to a candidate from the physical sciences and one to a candidate from the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

For Professor Skogstad, who has been teaching at the University of Toronto for 35 years, the award “means everything.” “I want to thank all the people who supported my nomination,” she says. “There were so many people who were meritorious and could have won this award. It’s a great honour. ”

Skogstad began her career at U of T in 1986, when she joined the Department of Political Science as an Associate Professor after earning her PhD from the University of British Columbia. Even then, early on in her career, she had a knack for finding the very best in her students— her very first doctoral student would go on to become a professor at Yale.

Since then, Skogstad, who specializes in the areas of comparative public policy and Canadian politics, has worked closely with over 60 graduate students as either supervisor or dissertation committee member. These are roles she has found fulfilling, both intellectually and personally. “I’ve really enjoyed working with my students and getting to know them,” she says. “And not just as the intellectual heavyweights they are, but also as the wonderful people they are.”

Her students, many of whom have gone on to prestigious careers in public policy and academia, often single out the time and energy she invests in each student. “Dr. Skogstad is an incredibly prolific scholar with an active program of research, and yet she was also always available,” says a former student who is now an Assistant Professor of Comparative Public Policy. “She would read and comment extensively on grant proposals, research ethics submissions, and draft dissertation chapters within days with prescient critiques that would push me conceptually and methodologically.” Another student recalls how she helped him through several early and chaotic drafts of his dissertation. “Rather than impose her own ideas,” he recalls, “she was determined to help me develop my own.”

Skogstad says her mentorship style proceeds from two major principles. First, a supervisor must stick by her students through thick and thin. (“I’ve never given up on a student,” she says. “I want to make sure they know I believe in them.”) Second, students must be encouraged to take ownership of their projects, even as they benefit from their mentor’s guidance (“a fine line,” she admits). “I think it’s important to guide and direct, but not to dictate.”

Aside from her teaching and research, Skogstad has also made her mark on graduate education through major administrative roles. From 2012 to 2020, she served as Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and, in 2020-21 as UTSC’s Interim, Associate Vice-Principal Research, Strategic Initiatives. A former President of the Canadian Political Science Association, she is the current President of the International Public Policy Association, where she has been involved since 2013 in the international training of PhD students in public policy.

If those responsibilities sound daunting, it’s all in a day’s work for Skogstad, whose love for her work and her students shows no sign of waning. “There can hardly be a better job in the world,” she says. “You get to learn every day.”