I graduated from McGill University in 1974 with a B.Sc. in Honours Psychology. In a flight of fancy, I decided to see whether that program still exists and, if so, how the current program compares to the one I graduated from 43 years ago. These are the trips down memory lane one is increasingly inclined to take when one hits milestone birthdays.
First, a methodological note. In 1974, the calendar of courses was available in print only (not even the most crazed futurist contemplated the online availability of information) and there was a separate calendar for undergraduate and graduate studies. The undergraduate calendar listed not only the courses taught that year by department, but also which professor would be teaching which course — very helpful for those who selected courses based on the instructor as much as on the course content. I thank the tenacious Rosie Goldstein for getting me a copy of these calendars from the dusty archives. In 2017, the calendar is available online only; no printed version exists. Courses are listed by department but no indication of who teaches what; I suppose that exists elsewhere or students are just surprised when they walk into the first class.
An honours program in psychology is still on the books! The calendar prose describing the context and purpose of the honours degree is eerily similar in the 1974 and 2017 calendars. In 1974 and 2017, students could enrol in the program through either a B.Sc. or BA stream by applying to the department for entry. The criteria for getting into the honours program (by application to the department), the requirements and structure of the programs are also quite similar. In 1974, the accepted entering cohort of honours students was limited to 35–40 students. A defining feature of the 1974 program were classes restricted to honours students and each student was required to conduct independent research with a faculty member in each of the final two years of the program. In 2017, the entering cohort to the honours program was 37 students. Students were required to conduct at least a year of research with a faculty member, but most students still opted for two years of supervised research.
In 1974, the Psychology Department listed 33 full-time “teaching staff” (12 professors, 14 associate professors, seven assistant professors), one lecturer, five sessional lecturers and three clinical consultants. In 2017, the department listed 29 full-time “faculty” (16 professors, eight associate professors, five assistant professors), one lecturer, seven professionals, and eight associated member institutions listing 27 individuals and six adjunct professors.
In 1974, the department offered 55 undergraduate courses, 41 taught by the cohort of professors (full, associate and assistants). In 2017, the department offered 67 undergraduate courses, 35 taught by the cohort of professors (full, associate and assistant). The department offered 16 graduate courses in 1974, 47 in 2017.
From what we can tell, the average undergraduate course load for the professorial cohort in 1974 and 2017 was quite similar, two or three courses per year. I am not sure what the total enrolment in all psychology undergraduate courses was in these two time periods but I imagine that there has been a significant increase between these two years.
What trends emerge from this snapshot? Overall, the Honours Psychology program is more or less the same, described and structured in the same way. There are more students overall with no material change in the size of the full-time faculty complement. Many more courses are offered at the graduate level now than then. Undergraduate teaching loads for full-time faculty remain little changed; additional undergraduate teaching in 2017 is being done, apparently, by more associates and adjuncts. If this snapshot is correct, these are familiar trends.
Not captured in these numbers is the way an honours class was treated by the Psychology Department. Although, I am sure, none of us appreciated it at the time, the McGill Psychology Department in 1974 treated its honours undergraduate class like graduate students. Aside from the smaller, seminar-like courses we were offered, we were deeply immersed in research, with many formal and informal conversations about the discipline and extensive and frequent interactions and engagement with full-time faculty who were always around. I remember vividly a spontaneous discussion I and a number of my classmates had with Donald Hebb — a giant in the field — who helped us think through a psychology perception problem that had been set for us by a professor in another class (the meeting began by him running around to various offices to secure enough seats for us all to sit in his office). These interactions, taking place mostly outside the classroom, shaped our thinking not only about the discipline, but more broadly about behavioural analysis, research and experimentation in general, and, dare I say, life choices. I hope all of this is still true in 2017.
One other thing. When the young folks at HEQCO see this analysis they ask if any professors who taught in 1974 are still on the active faculty list. The answer is yes, and N>1.
Thanks for reading.
I thank Gurpreet Sahmbi, a talented HEQCO summer intern, for assistance in preparing this blog.