Helena Zakrzewski, currently a graduate student in Experimental Surgery, is running for the position of PGSS Secretary-General. She is a recent graduate of the Doctor of Medicine program at the University of Calgary, which she completed while on hiatus from her graduate degree at McGill, and returned to McGill to complete her PhD in Fall 2017. She served as PGSS’s Health Commissioner from 2012 to 2013 in addition to having further experience in activism and student governance; Zakrzewski advocated for students on the Equity and Diversity Accreditation Sub-Committee for the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, and was a student member for the National Working Group on Medical Student Mistreatment.
Zakrzewski’s primary goal as Secretary-General is to re-engage PGSS members. She believes that the PGSS’ communication methods have not undergone significant enough change in recent years and that this stagnation has resulted in apathy among the society’s members. She sees the PGSS app, instead of Facebook events, as the most effective way to make the society feel relevant to the daily lives of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Additionally, Zakrzewski aims to promote fairer opportunities for international students, who pay more than their Canadian counterparts for tuition and health insurance while suffering from a lack of funding for their projects. Her preliminary plan to alleviate the financial strain of health insurance is to secure savings for students, although she commends PGSS’ health plan for covering essential medications.
Mohammed Amini is currently pursuing his master’s in Computer Science. After running in the Secretary-General by-election in November 2017, he made an effort to forge relationships with current External Affairs Officer Hocine Slimani and current Secretary-General Maria Tippler. He has also attended PGSS general meetings in order to learn more about the duties and responsibilities of the Secretary-General. Outside of McGill, he has travelled the world extensively and worked as a manager in an Iranian embassy, where he helped find common ground between businesspeople from different cultures speaking several different languages. Amini cites this experience as fundamental in building his communication and leadership skills, and feels that his abilities making him qualified for the position of Secretary-General.
To Amini, the major responsibilities of the Secretary-General’s portfolio are promoting outreach to the PGSS membership and ensuring that the executive team works together effectively. As such, engaging the PGSS membership is one of his top priorities. He stresses the importance of reaching out to postgraduates and making them aware of all of the services, events, and other community opportunities that PGSS has to offer them. An actionable plan in Amini’s platform is bringing various post-graduate student associations (PGSAs) together to host shared events fostering collaboration and innovation at McGill. Through a mobile application, he also intends to improve communication between the society and its members, make postgraduate services more accessible, and streamline the process of reserving spaces in buildings across campus.
The Tribune does not endorse either candidate running for Secretary-General.
Though Zakrzewski has prior experience working in PGSS, it has been over five years since she has held any PGSS office. This is problematic, as she has not demonstrated a sufficient level of knowledge of PGSS or of the office of Secretary-General. Despite her extensive studies and work within a university context, her skills and experience are not directly transferable to the role of Secretary-General.
Furthermore, though she has described some proposals for the office, she has not outlined plans for their implementation. Additionally, in a role like Secretary-General, being able to maintain and guide the executive team is essential and it is unclear if she possesses the necessary leadership experience to fulfill that role.
While Amini has made efforts to build his platform since his last campaign, his goals also lack concrete implementation plans. That, in some instances, he has considered minor goals more thoroughly than major objectives indicates that his platform is not fully aligned with the needs of the PGSS membership.
Much of Amini’s experience and many of his skills are not transferable to the office of Secretary-General. He has no formal experience with the PGSS and, though he has worked to learn about the society, he has not demonstrated sufficient knowledge to qualify him to hold office.
The McGill Tribune hopes that, in the period between elections and the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, candidates arise who can the position with optimal PGSS knowledge, goals, and concrete ideas and can present a viable candidacy for Secretary-General in the PGSS by-election.
Hocine Slimani, PhD student at McGill, is the current External Affairs Officer (EAO) and wishes to serve a second term next year. There are no other candidates for this position. Slimani completed his bachelor’s degree at Université de Montréal, where he was involved in planning events for various student associations and attended graduate school in Europe.
Slimani’s 2017 campaign focused on making the provincial government aware of the benefits of considering postdoctoral students as employees. In pursuit of this, he faced opposition from the Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE). However, he still sees it as a priority given that, in some cases, their status remains unclear. He hopes to collaborate with the Quebec Student Union (QSU) in lobbying the provincial government to revoke postdocs’ employee status. Slimani favours pursuing affiliation to QSU over the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), and intends to hold a referendum on affiliation with QSU in the Fall. In the meantime, however, he hopes that another student association that is currently a member of QSU would put forward this mandate on PGSS’s behalf.
Slimani is committed to increasing engagement with PGSS membership by providing important resources and contacts to students. Specifically, he hopes to connect innovation initiatives at PGSS with projects stemming from the broader Montreal community.
Finally, Slimani looks forward to PGSS’s involvement in ThinkGRAD, a think tank that addresses graduate issues across the country, at its first meeting in April.
Slimani’s experience as EAO makes him a qualified candidate for a second term. Last year, the Tribune chose not to endorse Slimani out of concern that his goals were not feasible and were beyond the scope of his position. However, it is clear that Slimani has gained a stronger understanding of his role and has adjusted his objectives accordingly. Therefore, the Tribune endorses a “yes” vote for Hocine Slimani this term.
Slimani’s clear passion for helping PGSS members and advocating for graduate student issues both within PGSS and beyond is admirable. His desire to extend his term also demonstrates his comfort in the position and willingness to enact further change.
Slimani has faced overwhelming challenges on a number of key items on his agenda, including disposing of the employee status of postdocs and lobbying for PGSS affiliation with QSU. He failed to articulate a concrete platform this year or articulate a fresh, inspired set of ideas for the EAO portfolio. Though he is committed to his role, the Tribune would like to see Slimani develop new, innovative goals and continue to bring focus, energy, and ambition to his role.
Maria Tippler, PhD student in neurology, is the current Secretary-General of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), serving since the by-election in November. In addition to being active in student-run associations since 2014, she has also been very involved in PGSS for many years. From June to November 2017, Tippler served as the student Support Commissioner for PGSS, and in her role provided students with information regarding rights and responsibilities and oversaw both the Committee for Member Support and Member Legal Support Fund. Her platform includes raising awareness of mental health issues, increasing transparency in PGSS, and improving student spaces.
Firstly, Tippler hopes to collaborate with McGill’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies office to create an event for professors called “How to Supervise Your Students” (for professors). Tippler would like to create conferences to discuss topics such as academia and stress culture, work-life balance, and student resources within PGSS and McGill.
To increase transparency in the society, Tippler plans to upload meeting minutes onto the Academic Affairs Officers and PGSS websites for students to access. She also aims to make information about student funding opportunities readily available to students through PGSS channels. Additionally, she intends to work with the External Affairs Officer to discover academic-related initiatives with external organizations.
Lastly, she would like to create a set of guidelines for each PGSS position and better organize the society’s website to facilitate the committee application procedure, making it more accessible to students.
With her experience in student-run associations such as Brain Reach North and the Graduate Student Association for Neuroscience since 2014, Tippler has an abundance of institutional and managerial experience at McGill, which will help her adapt to the role of Academic Affairs Officer (AAO). Throughout her interview with the Tribune, Tippler demonstrated in-depth knowledge of the AAO portfolio.
Also noble is Tippler’s commitment to preserving institutional memory. One of her projects includes reviewing PGSS documents going back to 1998 to compile a 30-page document on the history of PGSS and verifying whether initiatives have been executed according to the society’s rules and procedures. Tippler has demonstrated outstanding organization skills and genuine care for her work.
Although she recognizes that the position of AAO will present her with a new set of challenges, Tippler feels that by taking on a more focused portfolio, then Secretary-General will be able to devote more time to her work and accomplish all of her projects.
In order to present the most informed endorsement decisions possible, our editors attended the PGSS debates, conducted in-person interviews with all of the candidates, and examined each platform in detail. The endorsements are the product of an Editorial Board meeting in which we addressed every position, debated, and voted. In order to earn the Tribune’s endorsement, a candidate had to receive a majority vote. Reservations could also be appended to any “Yes” endorsement with the approval of a majority of editors. In the spirit of transparency and as a matter of upholding The McGill Tribune’s credibility, we feel it imperative to make the process behind these decisions public. Should you have questions or concerns about our editorial process—or its outcomes—please send us an email at [email protected].