School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Allison Sherman

Art History

photo of Allison Sherman

Featured Graduate Coordinator - Dr Allison Sherman, Art History

by Georgia Carley, November  2015


Dr. Allison Sherman, Art History, is one of two 2015 Featured Graduate Coordinators at Queen’s. The Featured Graduate Coordinator is an initiative to provide support and encourage good practices, especially for those faculty members new to the role of Graduate Coordinator. I sat down with Dr. Sherman to discuss her tips for excelling as a Graduate Coordinator.

Dr. Sherman tells me that as a relatively new PhD and adjunct professor, she was initially daunted by the role, but she quickly found that her recent experience as a graduate student was actually an asset in understanding the challenges and anxieties students face, before and after graduation.

 Dr. Sherman feels her two years as Graduate Coordinator have made her a better teacher, advisor and colleague, and appreciates the opportunity she was given to learn more about university administration so early in her career.

 She offers the following advice to prospective Graduate Coordinators: 


            “Attention to detail, knowledge of policies and procedures, numbers and budget” are essential to the job, Dr. Sherman tells me, “but of equal importance are the interpersonal aspects of the role.”

Students will come to the Graduate Coordinator “in moments of real anxiety and panic” and the faculty member must be ready to listen and respond to the real concerns that the students are dealing with. Sometimes all they need is a sounding board, or a bit of compassion and encouragement from a neutral party.
The emotional labour involved in the job is also rewarding, as the Graduate Coordinator is offered the opportunity to walk with students on their journeys through the graduate program, to watch them grow as individuals and scholars.

Group Workshops:

            “Start early and be clear about the objectives. Provide the points on the compass and students will gravitate to a positive result.”

As Graduate Coordinator, Dr. Sherman met with students in cohorts in September and March, to address the specific needs of students at each stage of their graduate programs. These meetings were timed to set them up for success from the start of a new school year, and to keep them on track as they embarked on the more independent work that generally accompanies the loosely structured spring/summer term.
Dr. Sherman also ran a series of external grant workshops, providing detailed information about the process, expectations and deadlines for the standard external applications (particularly SSHRC) and facilitating an opportunity for students to peer-workshop their grant proposals.

While the meetings and workshops were an investment of time, Dr. Sherman sees that the time was well spent. Rather than meeting with students one-on-one or replying to emails all asking the same questions about the process, Dr. Sherman was able to provide students with the basic information all in one go.

The time spent with the students in the workshop also made the Departmental Appraisal aspect of the external grant applications much easier for Dr. Sherman. She was already familiar with the proposals and was able to provide the applicants with feedback for improvement before their formal submission. Dr. Sherman feels that the investment of time in providing students with this guidance makes for stronger applications and points out that more than half of the graduate students the Art History Department are externally funded.


Sometimes, the Graduate Coordinator must tread carefully, particularly when it comes to addressing student-supervisor conflicts. Such issues are troubling for all concerned, but it is important for the Graduate Coordinator to be sensitive to the inherent power imbalance in the dynamic and the anxiety this can cause for students. 

The Graduate Coordinator must walk a fine line in their role as mediator between faculty and student. Preserving the supervisory relationship is incredibly important, but so is maintaining a good working relationship with one’s colleagues.

The Graduate Coordinator must find a way to validate the student’s concerns without undermining the supervisor, and should try to assist in opening the lines of communication between the two parties rather than intervening directly.


Dr. Sherman also has more practical tips for fellow Graduate Coordinators:

Administrative Assistants

The first is to cultivate a good relationship with the departmental administrative assistants. These are the “unseen and unsung” heroes of the department, who help the Graduate Coordinator stay on top of deadlines and make sure everything runs smoothly.

Email Folders

The second is to keep good files and sub-files, especially in email. Dr. Sherman describes how she has folders for each cohort, student, and supervisor, to keep all correspondence clearly archived and easily retrievable.

Student Leadership

Third, Dr. Sherman recommends delegating some activities to students. For example, Dr. Sherman organized a peer-mentoring committee to assist with recruitment. She found students willing to correspond and meet with prospective students. The peer mentors are the best ambassadors for the graduate program and were able to answer prospective students’ questions about the program and graduate life on campus, creating a sense amongst prospective students that they have a community waiting for them at Queen’s before they have even accepted their offers.

Dr. Sherman also had students assist with running professional development workshops, allowing students to doubly benefit from the workshops’ content and the professional (and CV-worthy) experience of running a workshop series.