New Student Advisor, Suzanne Lawrence!


You’re the advisor for Geography students, but your official title is Student Services Manager; can you clarify on that?

I’m not actually the advisor for graduate students [Dr. Jim Glassman is], but I’m the graduate program manager. The department is merging my previous position and the undergraduate academic advisor position [previously Michael More] to create a student services team. So we’re also hiring a new staff member to also act as student services support but between the two people and Jeanne [Yang, Departmental Assistant], we will be responding to everyone’s inquiries. I will continue to manage TA allocations, contracts, anything that relates to their union, and graduate student financing; with undergrads, my work will revolve around graduation requirements and transfer credits. The admission inquiries and more general/straightforward questions will be answered by the other support staff*.
*[position currently unfilled]

How did you come to Geography?

In 2010, I’d just finished my Masters’ and I was doing temp work at Vancouver Coastal Health and RA work with SFU to pay the bills over the summer. I had written my thesis in provincial education policies on international graduate tuition fees. I wanted to work in higher education so I applied to several universities in the summer. Sandy [Lapsky, Administrator] called me in in late August for an interview and she asked me if I could start in a week. So I started the first week in September along with all the incoming students! It was a tough year but I had a lot of support from Dr. Hassan (Grad Advisor at the time) and the other staff members. Over the years, we have continually developed and expanded our program offerings, and so my title went from Graduate Program Assistant to Graduate Program Manager in 2012.

I feel lucky to be here. Geography is an innovative environment right now and we are leading the way on campus in extended orientation programs, student funding – we have the highest and most equitably funded graduate students in all of the Faculty of Arts, student engagement on committees and forums, and professional development programs such as our graduate mentorship program and the Professionals Leadership Network.

I know it’s only been a week, but what do you enjoy the most about this new position?

Undergrads are wonderful to work with. It’s also a new portfolio, so I’m learning more about the different courses we offer, and all the opportunities that undergraduates have during their program. Graduate students usually come in with a preset research project and that’s what they’re doing for the next few years. With undergrads, the world is a lot more open. I also like being close to the main office, and the fact that we’re starting a team based student service at UBC. So much of UBC’s current organization isolates grads and undergrads, and silos staff members’ portfolios, so you have a lot of practices and opportunities that are missed by the other party.

What is (or was) a challenge you for you in this new position?

There’s been a backlog of emails and phone calls that I simply haven’t gotten to yet. It’s really just the workload. Because we don’t have the other staff support yet, I’ll be the “team” for the next 6-8 weeks. And then I have parental leave in three months so it’s a lot of prepping the year ahead as well.

Is there any piece of advice you’d like to share with the students?

For the undergrads: plan ahead and be flexible. And try not to worry about getting into a specific course right now—it’s only June. Course registration will change a lot in the next three months.

For the grads, be patient! And get your TA contracts signed; read your orientation manuals (for incoming students) and pay attention to the fine print on the emails and contracts you receive!

What’s Suzanne like outside of Geography/work?

I’m also a part time student. Presently, I am working on my certification in Business Analysis. Between my 1.5 hour long commute, course work and the fact that I am 6 months pregnant, I don’t have much of a life right now. Any spare time I have is spent with my cats and sleeping.

When I find I have the energy, I work as a volunteer facilitator with the UBC Grad Staff Network, which I founded in 2012. It is a group of professionals who work in graduate education programs and we regularly meet to host forums and workshops on changes in programing as well as industry best practices. It’s been very successful at bringing people together to share their expertise and I am lucky to have a fantastic co-facilitator this year from the Department of Music, Juliet O’Keefe.