His colleagues may have seen an administrative future for Dr. Robert Wood but the dean of the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) didn't necessarily buy into their forecast. In fact, given Wood hadn't even planned on being an educator when he started his post-secondary career, that he's now the dean of a key strategic directive seems even more unlikely.
"I had no aspirations whatsoever to do any admin work until about three or four years ago," laughs Wood, who is now in his 12th year at the
U of L. "So I certainly didn't see myself in this role at that time."
Originally from Leicester, UK, Wood has been in Canada since he was a young boy, growing up largely in Edmonton, where he first studied and earned a bachelor's degree in sociology. He entertained the notion of law school but was too enamored with the study of sociology to leave it behind. A master's degree at the University of Toronto, followed by a PhD back at the University of Alberta, paved the way for his career as an academic.
"For me an academic career was an unplanned outcome, but it has been an immensely positive part of my life," says Wood.
Wood's early years at the U of L were focused on establishing a research portfolio and igniting a passion for sociology in his undergraduate students. By 2005-06 he'd begun to involve himself at the committee level throughout the University.
"I actually found the chance to have some strategic input into the direction and priorities of the institution to be quite exciting," says Wood. "For me it's all about creating momentum and I saw those committee settings as an opportunity to do that."
Over the next three or four years Wood says he really connected with the committee service aspect of his job and the idea of a future in administration. His move into the area of graduate studies was natural, having been active as a graduate student supervisor and serving on a number of graduate education committees.
He now finds himself on the cusp of a whole new era for graduate studies. The SGS has its own dedicated space in Anderson Hall and it has been identified as a key strategic directive as the University further establishes itself as a comprehensive institution.
"When I came here in 2000, the key message was that we were an undergraduate university," says Wood. "As a new faculty member, I got the sense that grad studies was a bit of an add-on to what we were really all about, which was undergraduate education. A lot of that has changed now because today it's really a central component of not only how we see ourselves as an institution but where we see ourselves going forward."
Wood will play a key role as graduate studies continue to evolve. While much progress has been made, there are many areas that need to be addressed in order to truly advance the SGS.
"I would like to see the program areas and faculties properly synchronized and co-ordinated with respect to the resourcing, administration and delivery of graduate education," says Wood. "I also want to emphasize the importance of quality. Not only enhancing the quality of the programs that we offer, but also enhancing the quality of the overall experience of graduate education on this campus."
Wood is fully invested in his role as dean, meaning he's had to put his research ambitions and teaching responsibilities on the back burner. While he is in the midst of co-editing a book on Internet gambling that is due out in February 2012, teaching is out of the question.
"If you take an administrative job, it definitely impacts your ability to prosper as a researcher. I'm still actively engaged as a researcher but the dean's job takes priority," says Wood. "I do miss the classroom though. Teaching was probably my favourite part of the job as a professor. I love being around undergraduate students and I love teaching in the classroom. I just love the dynamic interaction and really do miss it."
He has a bigger picture focus now, one the University sees as a priority and one where the U of L is beginning to garner a reputation for excellence.
"While we're still relatively small as a graduate school, we're becoming more and more recognized for many key strengths," says Wood. "I think where we're really being noticed on the national terrain is with the very unique multi-disciplinary programs we have, especially at the PhD level. People are certainly taking notice and I think that will continue as we continue to expand the range of PhD majors that we offer at the U of L."
GET THE FACTS
• Wood is married to alumna Kristin Ailsby-Wood (BA '96, MA, LLB), a family lawyer at Davidson & Williams, and they have a five-year-old daughter, Georgia. He took a year of parental leave in 2006.
• An avid fisherman, Wood tries to find time to fish for walleye, on the Oldman River, in the Grassy Lake area.
• Wood has authored or co-authored a number of peer-reviewed articles and books on youth culture and the various aspects of problem gambling.
• Wood's family originally emigrated from the UK to Grande Cache, Alta.
This story first appeared in the September issue of the Legend. For a look at the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.