Brenda Cossman and Jonathan Abbatt honoured with 2023 JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision

Brenda Cossman (L) and Jon Abbatt (R), recipients of the 2023 JJ Berry Smith Award

Professors Brenda Cossman (Faculty of Law)and Jonathan Abbatt (Department of Chemistry) have received the 2023 JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision.

The award, given annually by the School of Graduate Studies, aims to recognize outstanding performance in the multiple roles associated with graduate supervision. Candidates must be active faculty members, who, over a period of at least 15 years, have demonstrated excellence in supervision at U of T. Two awards are offered every year: one for the Humanities/Social Sciences and one for the Physical/Life Sciences.

Winners of the JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision receive an SGS conference or travel grant to award to a student and a framed certificate of recognition.

Prof. Brenda Cossman, Faculty of Law

“As a supervisor, I am so honoured to be given this award,” says Cossman, who is the recipient of a Mundell Medal from the Attorney General of Ontario for contributions to letters and law, as well as an Ontario Bar Association Award of Excellence for the Promotion of Women’s Equality. “Knowing that my students saw fit to support my nomination – that to me is worth its weight in gold.”

Cossman joined the Faculty of Law in 1999 and became a full professor in 2000. Her teaching and scholarly interests focus on the legal regulation of gender, sexuality and family. She has authored or edited eight books, and 66 journal articles and book chapters, and her most recent book, The New Sex Wars: Sexual Harm in the #MeToo Era (NYU Press 2021), examines the impact of the sex wars of the 1970s and ‘80s on the way we think about sexual harm following the #MeToo movement. From 2009 to 2018, Cossman also served as Director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. In 2012, she was selected to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Since 2003, Cossman has supervised eight LLM students and fourteen SJD students –  an unusually high number for the Faculty of Law’s small and elite graduate program that admits fewer than fifty research students per year.

Under Cossman’s supervision, many of her students have won prestigious awards and scholarships, including the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Doctoral Scholarship, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Governor General’s Gold Medal.

Students who wrote letters of support in favour of Cossman’s nomination highlighted her commitment to creating community and to supporting her supervisees in their professional development. 

“Because of Professor Cossman’s leadership, all of us have felt supported and grown immeasurably as researchers, teachers, and mentors to other students,” said one letter from a group of ten former and current supervisees. “Professor Cossman has worked hard to create an unparalleled community for us.”

Another former student described Cossman as “the driving force behind every success in my career.” “I am forever indebted to her for shaping me into the professional I am today.”

Cossman says the key to great supervision lies not in imparting wisdom, but in listening. “I think you need to be able to listen to students. It seems counterintuitive because as professors we do a lot of talking. But you have to really listen to where they [graduate students] want to go and what they want to do.”

“Brenda Cossman’s commitment to research excellence is manifest in her own record as an exceptional scholar, her leadership as chair of the Faculty’s research committee, and her dedication to the training of graduate students,” said University Professor Jutta Brunnée, law dean and James Marshall Tory Dean’s Chair.

“Professor Cossman has helped launch many an academic career in Canada and beyond. We are thrilled that her excellence in doctoral supervision was recognized through the JJ Berry Smith Award.” 

Prof. Jon Abbatt, Department of Chemistry (Faculty of Arts & Science)

“A lot of the value for me of this position comes from interacting with people,” says Abbatt, who has supervised 16 PhD students and 12 master’s students since joining the University of Toronto in 2000. “I love working with students and other members of the group. And to know that students have found those interactions meaningful is wonderful.”

Abbatt completed his BSc in Chemistry at U of T before pursuing a PhD at Harvard University and a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. He is an atmospheric and environmental chemist, who has had a long-standing interest in the multiphase interactions that occur between atmospheric gases, aerosol particles, and other surfaces in the environment, and in the roles that aerosol particles play in cloud formation. Abbatt’s current research interests include wildfire emissions and indoor environments, while his past work has focussed on chemistry of remote environments, including stratospheric, forested and Arctic settings. He is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Royal Society of Canada. 

Under Abbatt’s supervision, 16 graduate students have won NSERC graduate scholarships, while seven have secured highly competitive NSERC postdoctoral fellowships. In the past five years alone, he has co-authored 45 publications with his graduate students.

Abbatt, who has also been recognized with a Chair’s Distinguished Teaching Award (2019) in the Department of Chemistry, as well as an Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring in his previous role at the University of Chicago, says it’s important to keep students’ individual goals in mind.

“You always have to be attuned to their interests – what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at,” he says over the phone. “Another challenge is to always recognize that people have different goals – not everyone is going to go into academics, and not everyone is going to go into industry. Everyone’s goals are valid.”

He also feels that norms for working in the lab have changed considerably – and for the better – since his days as a graduate student, with an increased emphasis on work-life balance. This is something he tries to model for his students by not being in the lab on weekends, and ending his workday at 5 pm.

“My supervisor was a very distinguished person, and he was leading a huge group of 30 people,” recalls Abbatt. “He was also a father to two young children, one of whom was not well. He was very strictly on a 9 to 5, and I think, unconsciously, that had an effect on me.”

“Jon is an exceptional role model,” wrote one group of students in support of Abbatt’s nomination. “From how he approaches problem solving, to how he conducts himself in conflicts of interest, to how he balances work and family life.”

“I think one of Jon’s biggest strengths as an advisor is his ability to recognize the type of supervision each advisee will benefit from and cater to that effortlessly,” wrote one former student. “A distinct memory I hold, even today, is the feeling of inspiration and motivation to do better after every meeting with Jon.”

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