Announcing the PhD CoLab pilot program

As part of UBC’s continuing initiative to re-define the possible boundaries, experiences, outcomes and impacts of doctoral education, the university is actively supporting faculty members and doctoral students in developing collaborative, inter/transdisciplinary learning and research teams.

What is the CoLab PhD pilot?

The PhD CoLab is a pilot initiative from Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) that has garnered very strong interest in its first year with 40 applications from all over UBC. This initiative will offer awards and guidance to support PhD students and faculty from different disciplines to co-develop new knowledge and/or applications to address complex questions or problems.

Students will collaborate with each other, faculty and, ideally, other partners from sectors beyond the academy. In addition to promoting UBC research on critical issues, the purpose of the pilot is to incentivize and enrich PhD student learning in collaborative, inter/transdisciplinary approaches to research and scholarship.

Award details 

For the pilot, there are two types of awards available:

  • “Large” (up to $100K) – three or more students, possibly in multi-year collaborative projects  
  • “Small” (up to $30K) – two or three students, possibly in shorter-term collaborative projects  

Funds can be used to support student stipends, research expenses and/or dissemination/mobilization activities. Teams may use the funds over a period of 2 years (‘small’ awards) or 4 years (‘large’ awards). Renewals will be considered after the first year of the pilot.

Application process and timelines

Stage 1 – Interested teams submit a Letter of Intent (LoI) to Dr. Jenny Phelps.  Due:  November 2, 5pm PST

Stage 2 – Shortlisting of LoIs. Notifications to be sent out by Friday, November 24

Stage 3 – Shortlisted teams invited to submit full proposal. Full proposal due: January 22, 2024, 5pm PST

Stage 4 – Notification of awards: February 13, 2024

Stage 5 – Funds available: April 1, 2024

Inaugural awardees of CoLab program announced

women working at a computer

Five teams of collaborating PhD students and faculty members at UBC have received funding from the Faculty of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) new PhD CoLab pilot program. Awards range from $30,000 to $100,000 and total nearly $340,000 during this pilot year.

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Information Sessions

Our information sessions have now concluded. If you missed an info session, you can watch the recording and follow along with the slides.

More information on the CoLab PhD pilot program

Who is eligible to apply?

Each team must have at least two UBC faculty members and two UBC PhD students, drawing from at least two academic disciplines. Others (e.g. postdocs, undergraduates, external partners) may also be included on the team.

Faculty members are the primary applicants, but all identified team members, including students and non-academic partners, will be required to affirm their commitment. Students may also be recruited and/or identified after a successful application is granted.

What should be included in the Letter of Intent (LoI)?

In no more than 4 pages, please convey:

  • The proposed composition of the team, including any non-academic partners 
  • A high-level proposal and timeline for the collaborative, inter/transdisciplinary scholarship to be undertaken by the team, with a focus on the expected PhD student collaborative work and its potential for positive impacts 
  • How PhD student learning and development as collaborative, inter/transdisciplinary scholars will be explicitly supported   
  • Potential outputs of the proposed work, especially those co-produced by students, and intended audiences/venues for these outputs 
  • Whether the interest is in a “small” or “large” award, a draft high-level budget, and a statement regarding how the funds would enable work that is not otherwise funded 
  • Any other relevant information that the adjudication committee should know. 

What are the selection criteria?

These characteristics will make the strongest applications: 

  • Focus on PhD student collaborative learning and co-leadership (required) 
  • Clear plan and purpose for inter/transdisciplinary scholarship and collaborative outputs (required)
  • The proposed work forms a primary component of students’ dissertations (required) 
  • Collaboration beyond the academy and/or across highly disparate academic disciplines (preferred) 
  • Scholarship oriented towards positive impact (preferred) 

The Dean and Vice-Provost, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will convene a small adjudication group to review and select proposals. 

What can the funding be used for?

Funds can be used to support student stipends, research expenses (broadly defined), and/or dissemination/mobilization activities. Teams may use the funds over a period of 2 years (‘small’ awards) or 4 years (‘large’ awards). Renewals will be considered after the first year of the pilot.

What are the expectations of the awardees?

The specific expected outputs of the research projects should be designed and negotiated by the awarded teams and any external partners that may be involved. 

The collaborative work should meet both the students’ academic learning needs and, as relevant, broader societal or stakeholder objectives. It should serve as a primary component of the PhD students’ research programs, and the resulting collaborative chapters, papers, artifacts and other outputs may form much of the students’ dissertations

So that G+PS may support awardees and learn from the pilot program, all awardees are required to attend quarterly meetings to discuss their projects, challenges, successes, and ways to shape the initiative in the future.  

Why is this pilot being introduced?

Collaboration is a crucial capability for PhD students to develop as they engage in scholarship on complex issues, and pursue a wide range of careers post-degree. As well, many research and application areas can only be apprehended through a multiplicity of knowledge bases coming together. Collaborative effort and a diversity of views strengthens and broadens knowledge production. 

As such, the objectives of the PhD CoLab pilot are:

  • Provide new opportunities for graduate students to build competencies and networks in collaborative, inter/transdisciplinary scholarly work 
  • Advance collaboration as a desired research and learning mode across disciplines to enrich scholarship.  
  • Enable greater societal impact of graduate scholarship and emerging scholars 
  • Gain a better understanding of the interest in and demand for collaborative approaches to graduate-level research 
  • Learn through the pilot experience about what is needed to help these inter/transdisciplinary collaborative doctoral research projects succeed 

Info session Q&A

How flexible are spending guidelines? Can we stretch the funds to last over several terms, or does it all have to be spent in the year of the award?

The funding is a one-time transfer, with awards announced in mid-February 2024 and available to use in April. Departments/supervisors can choose to stretch its use beyond the initial awarding year.

Will award renewals be possible?

G+PS will determine whether award renewals can be offered, later in 2024.

Can involved students/faculty members be from different departments but similar fields? Or, alternatively, can students/faculty come from the same department but different disciplines?

The focus of the PhD CoLab is inter/transdisciplinary scholarship and learning where students and faculty bring together differing disciplinary perspectives and methodologies in a collaborative team environment. Departmental affiliation will be one data point for assessing the interdisciplinary nature of the work, but there are no specific ‘rules’ about which departments or programs the team members must come from.

What is expected by “interdisciplinary collaboration”?

We are cognizant that trans/interdisciplinarity and collaboration look different in different fields/research areas. In adjudicating proposals, we are looking for work that will bring together differing knowledge bases and approaches to an area of inquiry, and ideally the opening of new collaborative possibilities. In particular, the PhD students involved are expected to work with one another to enrich the scholarship and their own learning, and co-produce scholarly outputs.

G+PS has emphasized the requirement that collaborative work funded by the PhD CoLab should be inherent to the student’s PhD scholarship and reflected in the dissertation. What are your expectations here?

There is a firm expectation that collaborative, trans/interdisciplinary work conducted by students is overtly reflected in the dissertations of all involved students, so that it can be properly recognized and assessed as doctoral scholarship. We are cognizant that standards are different for what forms of scholarly work and expression are considered appropriate and/or innovative in different disciplines, and that the CoLab outputs will take different forms in individual dissertations.

What is the difference between large vs small awards?

This is mostly about the use of and need for the funds, rather than a major difference in the project scope. Two doctoral students working on a project with their supervisors could be a good candidate for a small award, while a large award may be more appropriate for larger groups, longer time commitments, and/or more extensive research proposals.

Can an application come from students partnered with non-supervising faculty members?

Absolutely. However a supervisory letter of support (indicating that the supervisor is aware and supportive of the student’s work and its impact on the dissertation) would be required.

What are the guidelines on using the funds for students? Can the funds be used for student stipend? What expenses are acceptable in principle?

Any research-related expenses, including PhD student stipend, are eligible. When using for student stipend, the funding should allow them to free up time to do the project as part of their overall doctoral scholarship.

What is expected in the final proposal? How is it different from the LoI?

The Letters of Intent are to outline the proposal, including a high-level budget, all involved parties and potential collaborators, and a strong definition of the interdisciplinary collaboration with potential roles for students, supervisors, and any collaborators defined.
Final proposals should provide further detail on all of the above (as available), statements of commitments from all parties, team member CVs, and information on existing student funding. Further guidelines and specific information requests will be provided to those teams invited to submit a full proposal.

Additional information 

For further information about this pilot initiative, contact Dr. Jenny Phelps.