Q&A: Meet Professor John Peever, newly appointed Vice-Dean, Students

Prof. John Peever in the lab

Mental health. Holistic student services. Representation. Professor John Peever is placing these words at the centre of his five-year term as the newly appointed Vice-Dean, Students at the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). Professor Peever earned his PhD in Behavioural Neuroscience from the University of Toronto and joined as an Assistant Professor in 2004. Over the past two decades, Professor Peever has worked closely with graduate administrators and students to improve policies, procedures and outcomes related to graduate education – first as faculty in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology and founder of the Peever Lab, and most recently, as his department’s Acting Chair.  

We joined Vice-Dean Peever in conversation to learn more about his firm commitment to inclusive excellence that prioritizes student wellbeing.

Hi John, congratulations on your new role! Let’s start with an overview of what this appointment as Vice-Dean, Students means to you?

Graduate education has always been on the forefront of my academic career. It means a lot to me to have been given the privilege and the honour to work with our departments, our units, our divisions and, most importantly, our students. I hope to serve as a voice for our students. To provide an equitable representation of our students and support them in their journey across their graduate careers.

Your portfolio at SGS is wide ranging from academic integrity to the Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC). Could you tell us more about the priorities that you’ve identified around student wellness and student success?

I’ve realized very quickly how important mental health has become, especially since the pandemic. The style of education really changed in that three-year window for the students who were in grad school. And the students who are now becoming grad students finished their undergrad careers in an unprecedented scenario where everyone was sort of working in their little bubble.

So how mental health factors into graduate student success is top of mind over my tenure in this position. Every decision we make at SGS around a student’s success needs to factor in the bigger picture around the person. Students have needs and things that are ongoing that we need to be mindful of. We need to consider more than just academics when we’re thinking about the decisions we make around graduate students and their progress and future success.

Over the term of your position, how do you plan to work with graduate students, faculty, and key contacts across the tri-campus to realize your vision of holistic student services?

Of course, excellence is what we are all striving for, but excellence comes in different flavours depending on who you’re chatting with. For example, some people have great communication skills, and some people don’t. You want to work with every graduate student to help them identify their strengths, identify their areas for growth, and then put those two things together to try and build the best career for that student. And I really hope in my role that I’m able to facilitate that type of progress.

And of course, the Centre for Graduate Mentorship and Supervision (CGMS) is a new centre at SGS and it’s in its infancy. So, my big picture goal is to build CGMS so that we can support as many students, as many faculty, and as many chairs and division leaders like deans to navigate the challenging waters, the bumps on the road around how to support our students when they do meet challenges.

Any final thoughts on your vision for your tenure as Vice-Dean, Students?

Yes, the 2SLGBTQ+ community is really important for me as a member of that community. I think that it’s important for students to see themselves in positions of leadership, so that they know they have direction and for their futures. It’s something that I plan on – trying to bring that community together during my five-year tenure. I think Toronto is a special place in that we are pretty accepting. But still, everyone knows that, for example, if you’re a woman and don’t see a female dean, like [Faculty of Arts and Science Dean] Melanie Woodin, you might not think of yourself in a leadership role. For our 2SLGBTQ+ folks, when they see that there’s someone in a leadership role, hopefully it inspires them and lets them know that they have the opportunity to move into roles where they can help shape folks’ future. Representation matters.

Now a few fun questions to end the Q&A.

We heard you have some serious hobbies outside of your academic work, including beekeeping. When did you start and what does that do for you?

I’ve always had not enough time – too many interests is the way I would put it. So outside of science and administration, I live on a hobby farm north of Toronto and we have bees, chickens, ducks, a horse, and lots of dogs. So, I’ve been a beekeeper my whole life. My dad was a beekeeper and so at a really young age, I would be going out into the farmer’s fields where all the beehives were and just working with the bees. I think it’s important for folks to have interests outside their graduate career. It could be anything. It can be reading; it can be walking.

If you could play any instrument which one would it be and why?

The accordion. I love klezmer music! It’s just such a theatrical instrument and it’s a little bit quirky. I think I would describe myself as a rather eclectic and quirky individual. My mother-in-law has several accordions that she plays. My partner plays the bagpipes, the violin, the piano and the banjo. And I will say that in the world of bagpiping, he’s a bit of a superstar. He’s opened for Rod Stewart. He’s played for the Queen, the Queen Mother. Prince Charles. Camilla. So, I live in a house where there’s a lot of music, but I’m not so musical.

You mentioned you live on a hobby farm in the country. What is your go-to food when you’re in Toronto?

You name it, I love it! I guess if I had to pick one, Asian is my go-to.

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