Geography 691: Seminar in Geography
Laurier – Waterloo Graduate Program in Geography
Course Outline – Fall 2016
Class time: Thursdays, 2:30-5:20pm in room BA110 (in the Bricker Academic Building at Laurier)
Steffanie Scott Michael Imort
Office: EV1-114 Office: Arts 3E15
Tel: 519-888-4567 ext. 37012Tel: 519-884-0710 ext. 2076
Office hours: Mon 1:30-2:20 or by apptOffice hours: Thu, 1-2:30 pm or by appt
Note: regularly visit the course website on Waterloo Learn for updates on assignments, deadlines, and announcements. Laurier students will have access to Waterloo Learn as part of this joint course.
We would like to acknowledge that University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University are on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron (Neutral), Anishnaabeg, and Haudenosaunee peoples.
The Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre ( facilitates the sharing of Indigenous knowledge and provides culturally relevant information and support services for all members of the University of Waterloo community, including Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, staff, and faculty.
At Laurier, the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives offers similar resources and support.
Course description and intended learning outcomes
Welcome to Geography 691! This is the only course in our joint program that all graduate students must complete. It is designed to introduce you to graduate studies in geography, the joint graduate program, and its faculty. On the conceptual side, you will learn about the theoretical foundations of geographical research, the evolution of academic geography, and the contemporary debates about how to ensure a viable future for the discipline and its professionals – you! Along the way, you will grapple with hard questions: what is 'theory' and why do I need it? What is 'science' and what can my research reveal about the workings of the 'real' world?
In practical terms, you will learn how to become a successful academic. Topics will include: how to navigate the relationship with your supervisor and committee; how to develop compelling research proposals, funding applications, and presentations; and how to ensure your research questions properly address such concerns as gender neutrality, indigenous perspectives, or public accountability.
By the end of this course, you should be able to:
- show an awareness of the key debates in geography and the contributions of local faculty and graduate students to cutting edge geographical research
- demonstrate a basic understanding of the theoretical, methodological, and epistemological foundations of doing academic research in geography
- outline your own research proposal, develop preliminary research questions, prepare competitive funding applications, and competently present research to an academic audience
Required course text
Noel Castree, Alisdair Rogers, and Douglas Sherman. 2005. Questioning geography: fundamental debates. Malden, MA: Blackwell. You can purchase the book at the Laurier Bookstore. A hard copy is on 3-hour reserve at both the Laurier Library and Porter Library.
This course combines a number of different teaching and learning approaches, as outlined below.
1. Seminar discussions
Most classes will begin with a seminar discussion that builds on a set of assigned articles or book chapters. Before each class, you will devise your own set of questions to spark the discussion (detailed below). You will be evaluated on the basis of your submitted questions and your contributions to the discussion. Criteria will focus on the demonstrated depth of your reading [analysis], scope of your oral participation [synthesis] and your ability to articulate your research project and its broader significance in light of the readings [transfer and application].
The second half of many classes will take the form of a workshop led by a variety of faculty, staff, and graduate students from the two universities. Workshops are intended to teach you the skills necessary for developing your own research proposal and navigating the challenges and opportunities of graduate studies. In short writing assignments that build on lessons learned in class, you will apply these skills to advance your own research proposal. For example, after learning about how to write research questions, you will turn in your own research questions the following week.
This course will end with a mandatory day-long Colloquium on the final day of class (Dec 1). Attendance is mandatory; please block this date in your calendar. Doctoral students will plan the event and present their research proposals.
Assessment Structure & Deliverables
You must pass this course to progress through the graduate program.
GG691 is graded as “pass/fail” – this means you must exceed certain standards of preparedness, engagement, performance, and comportment that are commonly expected from students in a reputable graduate program. You must achieve a pass in each of the course components listed below.
Attendance: Attendance is mandatory, and is recorded in class. You must attend at least 10 of the 12 scheduled classes to pass this course component. Medical or other official documentation will be taken into consideration where appropriate. Note that attendance is not the same as active participation.
Active Participation: Active participation is a self-evident requirement of any successful graduate class and will be assessed at the discretion of the instructors. It includes both volunteering your own ideas (questions, comments, analyses, insights) and actively listening to the contributions of others. The instructors aim to create a safe and engaging space for thinking critically, and will be relying on all of you to help create that space.
You should come to class well-prepared and engage with your peers. The use of electronic devices during class may suggest that you are not engaging – use them judiciously, if at all. If you have personal concerns over participating in public debates, contact the instructors for guidance at your earliest opportunity.
Group Activities: In most classes, you will be asked to complete group activities that are designed to hone various academic skills. Activities may include: peer revision of your writing; group editing ('condensing') of documents for clarity and brevity; developing a 1-minute 'Elevator Pitch' for your thesis proposal; preparing position papers for conceptual debates, etc. Your active participation in these activities is expected.
Deliverables:Please note that professional courtesy demands that all deliverables must be submitted on time. Your instructors need to receive your submissions with enough lead time so they can read them before class and properly address the issues raised in them. Therefore, you will not receive credit for late submissions.
1. Weekly Sparks
One of the main expectations of a seminar course is that you arrive for each class prepared to discuss the core issues in the readings. The aim of Sparks is to help you do this constructively. A Spark is a question or brief comment about the reading that will prompt or spark a discussion. At the beginning of each class, you will write your Spark and your name on an index card (provided by the instructors) and submit it. Instructors will select several Sparks and ask their authors to ignite and lead the discussion. Please note that special instructions for each week's Spark may be posted in the schedule of Weekly Classes below.
To earn credit for your Spark, you must provide evidence of having engaged with the readings. You must be present in class to submit your Spark. You must submit at least 7 of the 9 Sparks assigned over the term to pass this course component.
2. Weekly Reading Responses
Each week, you will submit a short Reading Response on the assigned set of readings of journal articles and book chapters. Note that the word set emphasizes that you should look at the readings as a composite entity – as a set with a common theme rather than as individual unrelated writings.
Each Reading Response consists of two parts totaling 450-500 words (about one single-spaced page). Please note that additional instructions for a particular week's Reading Response may be posted in the schedule of Weekly Classes below.
In the first part, you will demonstrate your comprehension of the material by briefly summarizing the main argument(s) and explaining your interpretation of the readings. For instance, if you think that the pieces in the set take contradicting positions (e.g., pro and con a certain idea), you should evaluate the merit of the respective arguments and explain why you support one conclusion or the other. If you think that the pieces in the set argue similar positions, you should explain how the respective viewpoints complement each other to form a common conclusion and why you agree or disagree with that conclusion. In any case, to obtain credit, you must go well beyond paraphrasing the authors' words, and you must make reference to all of the assigned readings. This first part should take up the lion's share of the 450-500 words. If special instructions for the Reading Response are posted, they should also be addressed in this first part.
In the second part, you will first identify the element of the readings that you found most interesting, persuasive, well-argued, or thought-provoking, and explain why. Next, you will identify the element of the readings that you found most problematic, least persuasive, or most in need of further elaboration, and explain why. This second part should be comparatively short. The Instructors will read your submissions before class and prepare a few minutes of 'just-in-time teaching' that address possible points of confusion and rectify misconceptions. This requires that you submit on time (see below).
You must submit at least 7 of the 9 Reading Responses assigned over the term to pass this course component. Submit the document to the designated ‘discussion forum’ on Waterloo Learn by 6 pm the night before class (please paste it in rather that uploading a Word file). This is a ‘post first’ discussion forum, so once you have posted your response, you will be able to see and read the responses of your peers.
3. Post-Workshop Assignments
The following assignments are intended to keep you moving steadily towards completing your own research proposal by the end of term. While the 'thinking work' behind the completed assignments must necessarily be substantial, the written expression can (and should!) be short and to the point. You must submit at least 5 of the 6 Post-Workshop Assignments assigned over the term to pass this course component.
Assignment 1 [Research Questions], due Sept 15:
Read the suggested documents, then think about your research interests and potential thesis topics in terms of identifying a problem that you wish to address. Following the guidelines in John Creswell (in the chapter or slideshare presentation), write a preliminary research question (or two) addressing this problem. These might be two primary research questions; or one primary question with a subset of secondary questions. Also include in your assignment citations of the five publications that most closely relate to the research you plan to do, and a short justification (one paragraph) of why you have chosen each particular piece. Submit the document to the designated dropbox on Waterloo Learn.
Assignment 2 [Concept map of research proposal], due Sept 22:
Based on what you learned in class on Sept 15, create a concept map of your research proposal. Include the key elements (fields, methods, and literatures) of your research. Think about the relationships between these component parts, and the concept diagram will function as a way for you to build on these relationships and express them in a visual diagram.
Assignment 3 [Thesis title, key words, and timeline], due Sept 29:
First, devise a thesis title with heading and subheading and five key words or short phrases that will alert potential readers to your topic and make the thesis searchable in databases. Next, draft a realistic timeline for your research project that gives completion dates for all necessary stages. For this, you will have to refer to the specific degree regulations provided by your department.
Assignment 4 [Scholarship applications], due Oct 6:
Look up the regulations for scholarship applications published by the agency to which you will apply. Based on what you learned in the Workshop, prepare a statement (approx. one page in length) that can serve as a basis for your application.
Assignment 5a [Comprehensive exams], due Oct 20 (PhD students only):
Reflecting on the advice you heard in the Workshop, try to anticipate what you will be asked to demonstrate in your own comprehensive exam: on one page, list the three likely areas of your comprehensive exam, along with subheadings that show the main subtopics to be read in each field. You may wish to consult with your supervisor as you prepare this assignment.
Assignment 5b [Questions for panelists], due Oct 20 (Master’s students only):
Think back to the class discussions on Oct 6 about strategies for successful graduate studies. Reflecting on your own situation, what are the major challenges you anticipate for your own Master's studies, and how do you propose to use some of the introduced strategies to master (no pun intended!) those challenges?
Assignment 6 [Response to panel], due Oct 27:
Write a one-page response to the Oct 20 3MT presentations that you saw in class. You might consider the following: What different approaches to the topic emerged? How did the research presented vary methodologically and epistemologically? How did presentation styles vary? What questions were opened by these presentations?
Weekly Classes and Topics
Week 1 Sept 8First part of the class (seminar discussion) / Second part (workshop)
Welcome and Introduction to course, faculty, and students / Proposal development, Part 1: How to identify a research problem & design research questions
Optional reading: To complete the assignment arising from the first Workshop, you may want to start by reading the document called "Elements of Research Design" posted on UW Learn [under Additional Resources]. While it is addressed mainly at undergraduate thesis writers, you can use it to start your thinking about designing your research. For now, read this document mainly for the ideas it triggers – at a later stage of your research design you may also want to complete the written components.
Optional reading: Chapter 7 "Research questions and hypotheses" in the 4th edition of John Creswell's Research Design (Sage, 2014) [on e-reserve & on Learn]. A very brief synopsis of this chapter is available at slideshare.net:
Week 2 Sept 15Seminar:
1. Cui bono Geography? or: Why am I taking this course?
2 UW Ecology Lab pitch (Anne Grant)
3. CAGONT pitch (Andrea Rishworth & George Atiim) / Workshop:
Proposal Development, Part 2: Planning and visualizing your research project with the help of concept maps (conducted by Margaret Walton-Roberts, Laurier GES faculty; 3:30 to 5:20)
For the Seminar (and Reading Response),read the three chapters listed below. In your Reading Response, make certain you address how the authors' arguments for a 'participatory geography' resonate with your own reasons for doing geographical research.
Douglas Sherman et al. "Introduction" in Castree et al. Questioning Geography
Alisdair Rogers. "A Policy-Relevant Geography for Society?" (Chapter 16 in Castree et al.)
Noel Castree. "Whose Geography? Education as Politics." (Chapter 17 in Castree et al.)
Optional: For an accessible geographical introduction to (and definitions of) concepts such as theory, ontology, epistemology, methodology, etc., you may also want to read:
Chapter 1 "Introducing Theory" in Phil Hubbard, Rob Kitchin, Brendan Bartley, and Duncan Fuller. Thinking Geographically. (Continuum, 2002). (Note that this book also makes for a valuable resource once you get closer to your comps!)
Optional: for the Workshop, you may wish to review the following:
Joseph D. Novak & Alberto J. Cañas. "The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct and use them." Available at:
Week 3 Sept 22Seminar:
1) What is this thing called 'geography'? / Workshops:
1. The mechanics of graduate studies and the supervisor-student relationship
2. Proposal Development, Part 3: Scope, feasibility, timelines, budgeting, and other aspects of your research plan
For the Seminar, read the chapters listed below. In your Reading Response, also explain how you would position yourself in the debate about geography as a discipline and why this debate matters (or not) for your own research.
Ron Johnston. "Geography: Coming Apart at the Seams?" (Chapter 1 in Castree et al.)
Heather Viles. "A Divided Discipline?" (Chapter 2 in Castree et al.)
Katherine McKittrick and Linda Peake. "What Difference Does Difference Make to Geography?" (Chapter 3 in Castree et al.)
For the Workshop, obtain, read, and bring to class a copy of the regulations that govern the degree you seek.
Week 4 Sept 29Seminar:
1) Why do we do research and what can it tell us? Ontology & epistemology in geography / Workshop:
1. Cherie Mongeon (Financial Aid Officer, Laurier Faculty of Graduate Studies; 3:30-4pm)
2. Effective Scholarship Proposal Writing Workshop (James Southworth, Laurier Writing Centre; 4-5:20pm)
Readings: Read Chapter 4 by Castree, and ONE of the two remaining chapters. If you see yourself as a physical geographer, read Chapter 5 by Harrison; if you see yourself as a human geographer, read Chapter 6 by Hickey and Lawson. In your Reading Response, explicitly reflect on how the questions raised in this week's readings intersect with your own research. Depending on your prior exposure to the history and theory of science, understanding these readings may require you to do substantial additional reading – you may want to budget extra time for this.
Noel Castree. "Is Geography a Science?" (Chapter 4 in Castree et al.)