PhD-Community Initiative

Graduate Students In and For the Community

Registration for 2022/2023 is now closed

PhD-Community InitiativeThe PhD-Community Initiative began as a pilot program in Fall 2016. The incredible success of the pilot has led the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs to expand the initiative to seek more community partners, additional mentors, and provide opportunities for more doctoral students to be involved. The PhD-Community Initiative (PhD-CI) responds to community organizations that have identified challenges and opportunities that are meaningful to their operation or mission. PhD students bring advanced research training and critical inquiry and creative thinking skills to an interdisciplinary team to support the organization’s challenge. Working in partnership with the organization and with a team mentor, teams of students will define (or scope) the project, plan an approach, and identify the outputs to be achieved and/or delivered by the project completion date.

Questions? Please contact Heather Merla at


What is it?

The initiative brings together PhD students from different programs of study into interdisciplinary teams of 3 to 5 members to assist community organizations in addressing a particular issue or challenge of importance to them. With the benefit of a fresh, interdisciplinary, analytical approach, the organization may receive the help needed to move forward in a positive way. Each team will be assigned a mentor who will provide guidance and advice about working as a team, managing a project, and working with partners.

The PhD-Community Initiative provides PhD students with an exceptional interdisciplinary, experiential learning opportunity that requires the application and translation of skills and knowledge gained in graduate training to address a problem outside of their area of research or scholarship.

Teams are formed in consideration of the project preferences of each participant and in accordance with the following criteria: each team will have 3 to 5 members; have representation from various discipline clusters (i.e., Social Sciences, Humanities, Physical/Natural Sciences, Health Sciences, Engineering); no more than 2 members from any single discipline cluster (no more than 1 in a team of 3); and a team cannot have more than one member from a single academic unit.

Why Participate?

Students who participate will:

  • Gain experience working as a member of an interdisciplinary team
  • Gain experience in developing a plan of action and deliverables from ambiguous beginnings
  • Learn to apply skills and knowledge outside of the academic arena
  • Build and enhance professional skills (e.g. project management, leadership, building effective teams, communication, design thinking, interpersonal and inter-professional networking)
Queen's Campus

“It's an opportunity to get perspectives of individuals that are excited to participate in it, are eager, and bring perhaps a revitalized energy to something that you just haven't had the time to attack and complete.”
- Sonia Nobrega, QUBS

“The workshops have given me confidence that I can add value to my local community. I have already encouraged several of my peers to register for the next session.”
- Michael Carter, a PhD student in geography who worked with Sistema Kingston

“What was most valuable about the experience for me was watching a team of people who didn't know my organization actually get to know it really quickly, understand its bones, and to provide me with some new ideas and some incentives to go the next step.”
- Karma Tomm, Sistema Kingston


Students who would like to participate must be prepared to dedicate 5-8 hours/week to the project over a period of 7-8 months, which includes a commitment to the following:

  • Participate in person in all aspect of the project from start to finish
  • Participate in preparatory workshops and meetings (for details, see below)
  • Engage with the community partner
  • Attend regular meetings with their team and mentor
  • Actively participate in and contribute to the work of the team
  • Participate in monthly progress meetings with each team presenting briefly on their progress to date
  • Present the project output/deliverable at a public capstone event
  • Time commitment: 5-8 hours per week (generally up to 5 hours at the start of the project and more towards its completion)

Community Partners interested in participating must identify an issue or challenge that is relevant to their organization and be prepared to identify a contact person to liaise and act as a resource for the team of PhD students aiming to address the challenge. Community Partners must commit to:

  • Attending an introductory meeting to 1) present the issue or challenge that the organization faces and what you hope a team of PhD students might address; and 2) answer questions from the students
  • Having a contact person who will meet with the team at the start of the project and serve as a resource as needed throughout the project period (October to April)
  • Attend the capstone event

Workshops and Meeting Times

Orientation session

For all those interested in participating in the PhD-Community Initiative. Learn more about the program and decide if you want to sign on!

Date: Wednesday, September 14
Time: 12:30-1:30pm
Location: Ontario Hall, Room 209


Meet the Community Partners

Learn about the proposed projects and partner organizations, ask questions, and identify your project preferences.

Date: Wednesday, September 21
Time: 5:00-6:30 pm
Location: Zoom; a link will be sent to registered students

Working Effectively as a Team

Presenter: Diana Drury (Director, Team and Executive MBA/Master Coaching Programs, Smith School of Business)

Description: This interactive workshop will go through the essentials of working effectively as a team and managing a collaborative project to completion. You will learn how to arrive at agreement on team practices and processes, team decision-making, project planning and scheduling, monitoring and reporting progress, and positive management of unforeseen constraints or challenges. By the end of the session, each team will have identified a team coordinator, budget officer, and a plan outlining next steps to ensure the project gets underway.

Date: Thursday, September 29
Time: 6:00 – 9:00 pm
Location: Ellis Hall, room 319


Design Thinking

Presenter: Jim McLellan (Academic Director, Dunin-Deshpande Queen's Innovation Centre)

Description: Design Thinking is a set of problem-solving techniques that allow us to focus on the user, test our own assumptions, and re-define problems so that we can uncover the most innovative solutions. DDQIC's Design Thinking module will provide you with an overview of Design Thinking, and then guide you through an example where all elements of the design thinking process will be applied.

Date: Friday, October 7
Time: 1:00pm - 4:00pm
Location: Robert Sutherland Hall, room 202


Community-Engaged Learning

Date: Thursday, November 17
Time: 11:00am-12:00pm
Location: TBA, in person
Facilitator: Katie Fizzell, Career Services


Skills Inventory/Reflection

Date: Thursday, December 15
Time: 11:00am – 12:00pm
Location: TBA, in person
Facilitator: Katie Fizzell, Career Services

*Following the workshop, we will have a holiday social with catered lunch for all students and mentors


Mid-Skills Evaluation and Reflection

Date: Thursday, February 23
Time: 1:30 – 2:30 pm
Location: TBA, in person
Facilitator: Katie Fizzell, Career Services


Skills Articulation

Date: Thursday, March 23
Time: 1:00 – 2:00pm
Location: TBA, in person
Facilitator: Katie Fizzell, Career Services


Presentation Skills Workshop

Date: March (TBA)
Time: TBA
Location: TBA, In-person
Facilitator: TBD

At these meetings, your team will provide a brief update on your project. Share your experiences and progress, troubleshoot, and receive feedback from other teams. Meetings will be held in 3-2-1 style: three-minute presentation, two slides, one minute for questions afterward. We will also allocate time to reflect on the progress and discuss any questions or concerns.

Thursday, November 17, 2022
12:00 - 1:00 pm
Location: TBD

Thursday, December 15, 2022 – Holiday Season Social and Lunch
12:00 - 1:30pm
Location: TBA, in person

*No progress report, just an opportunity for all teams and mentors to come together to celebrate the holiday season over lunch!

Thursday, January 19, 2023
Time: 12:00 - 1:00pm
Location: TBA, in person

Thursday, February 23, 2023
Time: 12:30 - 1:30pm
Location: TBA, in person

Thursday, March 23, 2023
Time: 12:00 - 1:00pm
Location: TBA, in person

Capstone Event

End of April/Early May 2023 - details TBD!

April 2023 - details TBD!