2020-2021 GSA Value Proposition

2020-2021 GSA Value Proposition

One of the core mandates of the GSA is to promote the welfare and interest of its constituents. It does this in many ways, such as advocating for students internally at the University and externally for the HSR UPASS and Health & Dental insurance. The GSA also provides travel funding, bursaries, awards and financial aid to our students, along with contributing to other important aspects of student life, like clubs, social events, workshops, academic colloquiums and recreational leagues. The GSA also collaboratively works with community groups, university bodies, like the School of Graduate studies, Ombud’s and CUPE (which represents our TA and RA in lieu students), on initiatives for our students.

The GSA can only realize these goals through supplementary fees paid by students.

However, the GSA realizes that students are facing many uncertainties and as such, we wanted to assure our members that our services will continue to reflect their needs! But we also understand that financial security is a concern for our members, and as such for the Fall Academic year, 2020/2021, students will see a singular GSA Organization Fee. This fee is $49.97 per annum. It is historically lower than the GSA has been in the past and represents one of the many financial alleviation measures the Association put in place for students.

The organization also reduced the supplementary fee of the Capital Renovation to $0, rather than the previous fee of $37.20. And, we were effective in negotiating a further reduction in the cost of HSR for our students, saving students an additional $43.58, or 10% just in HSR fees for the coming academic year.

We continue to strongly advocate for our students to receive a refund of 25% of fees paid last year for the months that HSR was free because of the pandemic.

Total savings to Graduate Students to date is more than $140 .00.

Fee reductions do not translate to a reduction in services but rather a conscious effort took place by the GSA to reprioritize goals and acclimate to the new normal.

For more information on what the GSA Organizational resources are, please read below!

  • Social Events and Trips
    • The Social Events and Trips this year will be different from previous years. The GSA would like to run events with targeted departments and clubs so that students have a chance to casually connect with peers they would usually see on campus. We want to provide students with unique experiences (e.g. The Phoenix Crafthouse and Grill movie nights, pottery painting, weekly online themed trivia, etc.) and new skills (e.g. virtual cooking lessons, creative storytelling workshop, paint night art packages) that are memorable, health and safety conscious, and support local Hamilton businesses where possible!  Given the isolation of a virtual environment, we hope to have a stronger graduate student community than ever before.
  • Committees and Workshops
    • The GSA committees will continue to meet online and conduct work! Now more than ever, committee work is fundamental to the functioning of the GSA and committees are spaces where the GSA listens to and works collaboratively with students in identifying gaps in student experience, advocating for their needs, and developing plans/actions.
    • To address the needs of students this year, we are also working on a large selection of different workshops ranging from leadership workshops, with our speaker Ms. Cate Hammond, to workshops on how to use LaTeX.
    • Just this summer, we began a collaboration with Waterloo’s Graduate Student Association and Western’s Society of Graduate Students. Through this collaboration, we are providing free workshops for students from all 3 campuses to attend and network. We are also working with our Faculty Representatives and Associations to make faculty-specific workshops to assist you. For example, the Health Sciences Graduate Student Federation, which was recently accepted as a GSA Faculty Association, will be holding a SPICES-funded Science Communication workshop series to help students become better science communicators.
  • Health, Dental and Student Assistance Program
    • The GSA Health & Dental Insurance Plan will occur as it has in the past. In the next academic year, both insurance plans will have the same price as last year, with no reduction in services/coverage. We will also continue to offer a seamless opt-out process for eligible students (I.E- TAs/RAs in lieu- CUPE 3906).
    • We have also strengthened the Student Assistance Program (SAP)! Your mental Health is IMPORTANT! We know during the pandemic that many students will experience various pressures, e.g. examinations, graduations, and job hunting. But don’t worry, we have you covered! EMPOWER ME, available 24/7, 365 days a year, is a multilingual, culturally sensitive, general inclusive resource that connects you with qualified counsellors, consultants, and life coaches for a variety of issues. As a GSA member, you are entitled to sessions delivered in person, by telephone, by video-counselling, or by e-counselling.
  • Advocacy
    • We maintain an open line of communication with the administration of the University and give them updates on the latest insights from our graduate student body. We met with the administration at least weekly during the peak of the pandemic to ensure that our needs as graduate students were known and adequately dealt with. Working closely with them and the City of Hamilton, we were able to reduce the HSR fees.
    • We also continue to maintain close relationships with other graduate student bodies across Canada. This is done through various advocacy efforts, such as ThinkGrad. ThinkGrad is a great example of our GSA Advocacy. ThinkGRAD a think tank of student leaders across Canada discuss and write about issues that concern Graduate Students. The group also collaboratively works with existing federal advocacy groups to ensure Graduate Student issues are heard at all levels of the Government. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting was set, and our respective student organization met discuss the new and unique needs of our students. These communications lessened internal redundancies and strengthened our advocacy efforts, as we were able to compare ourselves against similarly sized schools.
  • Financial Aid and Funding
    • The GSA will continue to fund Graduate Student travel awards. Although travel might look a bit different this year, we will continue to aid students with their associated costs to present/attend conferences (usually in the form of online registration costs). We have also increased our BURSARIES and AWARDS, to get more money into students’ hands! Our Emergency fund has also been replenished for September and is available for students in need to apply.

Thus, the GSA will collaborate with various groups, faculty associations, and clubs on numerous events. In addition to these collaborations, the GSA will support the programming of these groups through club seed money and event funding. Other services being offered to GSA clubs include free bank accounts and website services (please be sure to connect with gsaserv@mcmaster.ca for more details).

While the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the grad student life experience by physically isolating us and bringing with it so much uncertainty, the GSA is ever committed to the welfare of its constituents. The GSA’s approach is to continue to communicate effectively and bring students events that break down isolation barriers while enriching the grad experience socially, academically and professionally. Most importantly, the GSA will actively listen to student needs and obtain feedback to ensure that we provide the best possible service.

Update on GSA and HSR fees

Update on GSA and HSR fees

As some of you might have learnt, the GSA has been advocating for graduate students in regard to our HSR fees. We heard your concerns about transportation and COVID-19, along with a concern for a fare that is reflective of these times.

We are happy to report that these negotiations have come to an end, and a fee for the bus pass for 2020/2021 academic year has been REDUCED. However, this does not mean a reduction in your coverage. Graduate students who are eligible for the HSR UPASS will have it for the entire academic year; commencing August 22nd 2020-August 21st 2021.

Through focused efforts, we gained your responses via email, survey, social media, etc., and that having the pass for the Fall term, though it is online, was still important to our graduate student community.

Instead of the originally assessed fee of $273.68, a new fee of $239.65 will be charged – a savings of $34.04. This also means that our students will not experience an interruption in service during this critical time.

We are also continuing to work with the HSR, so students are refunded for the reduction of service that occurred between the months of April to June 2020—the period for which the HSR did not charge bus riders due the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope these savings will amount to more than $60 total.

For more info, please visit https://gsa.mcmaster.ca/services/hsr-bus-pass/


In being cognizant of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GSA has made a conscious effort to reduce fees for our students. Internally, we reduced the GSA Capital Building fee to zero dollars and also ensured there was no increase to our Health and Dental premium.

The single operating fee of the GSA will be $49.97 and will be divided into terms ($16.65 per term). Although this looks different than last year’s multiple fee model, which corresponded to the Provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI) categories, we are confident that the decision is more aligned with the needs of our constituents.  The $16.65 per term fee represents the plethora of services the GSA will offer this 2020-2021 Academic year.  

For this fee, students will continue to have access to social events (faculty, departmental, and community wide), workshops and other professional development opportunities, clubs, access to a comprehensive Health and Dental Plan, and an ENHANCED Student Assistance Program (SAP) that can be accessed worldwide; to mention a few.

Further information on both the GSA and HSR fees will provided in a separate post.



We are in the process of planning Welcome Week 2020! Reach out to gsavpint@mcmaster.ca if you have specific suggestions. Caroline would love to hear your ideas or you can join our Social Trips and Events Committee by emailing macgsa@mcmaster.ca to indicate your interest.

You need the HSR bus! The GSA heard you loud and clear! We cannot yet update on the final price of the HSR pass for the upcoming year and to rectify the time lost during COVID-19 pandemic. We can tell you that we are working on a lower rate for Fall 2020 and those eligible for the bus pass in the 2020-2021 academic year, we want to assure you that you will have access to a new tile on MOSAIC in advance of August 22, 2020, which is the last day the current bus pass expires. If you have any questions, please reach out directly to macgsa@mcmaster.ca to get help with this.



We are excited to have The Phoenix Crafthouse & Grill reopen. The Health & Safety on campus is top of mind as we operate in these challenging times. If you are already on campus for graduate work, please join us on the patio, or consider take out options. As always, The Phoenix is also open to the larger community – the hours of operation are currently Tuesday to Saturday 11:30am-7:30pm. Scan the barcode above to check out the re-opening video!



It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Dr. Frederick Morfaw; a friend, colleague, and alumni of the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact (HEI) at McMaster. Prior to coming to McMaster, Frederick was a Cameroonian obstetrician. Frederick joined the HEI community in 2017 to pursue his Ph.D. in Health Research Methodology under the supervision of Dr. Lehana Thabane. In 2017-2019, he was a member of the African Caribbean Graduate Students’ Association (ACGSA) and several met him at our events.

Following the completion of his Ph.D. in the summer of 2019, Frederick worked as a Research Fellow in Perinatal Clinical Epidemiology with McMaster’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He will be missed by many members of the ACGSA that knew him to be a kind, generous, and gracious soul. As well as, an exemplary student, that completed his Ph.D. in record time and mentored and helped many others.

Our deepest condolences to Frederick’s wife, Laura, and their three lovely children: Vanessa, Prince Henry, and Ricka. Please consider visiting the fundraiser for Frederick by HEI on their GoFundMe page and contribute towards raising money for Frederick’s family.

Written by friend and President of the African-Caribbean Graduate Student Association (ACGSA), Tafadzwa Machipisa.

At the GSA, we have made a contribution of $500 to the GoFundMe in fundraising efforts for Frederick’s family.



We are actively working on the best agreement for graduate students using HSR in the 2020-2021 school year given COVID-19 pandemic and the change in day-to-day usage of the bus. If you would like to provide feedback ahead of our meeting with HSR next week on behalf of all the graduate students at McMaster University, please fill out this survey. We hope to capture all of your feedback in that survey to best inform the conversation, which is still ongoing.

Your GSA

GSA Guide for Remote Work

GSA Guide for Remote Work



Here are 14 quick tips to make online teaching better, from an expert in online learning.

1. Record your lectures – don’t stream them

If students are unwell or are struggling with internet access, they will miss a live streamed lecture. Record videos instead and send them to your students so that they can watch in their own time.

2. Show your face

Research has shown that lecture videos that show instructors’ faces are more effective than simple narrated slideshows. Intersperse your slides with video of yourself.

3. Keep videos short

Videos longer than 15 minutes can cause issues of slow downloading and learner distraction. If you have more to say, record two or three short videos.

4. Test out slides

Make sure you test slides on a smartphone before shooting your lectures so all text is readable on small screens. Font sizes, colours, template designs and screen ratios can be double-checked.

5. Use existing resources …

It is unrealistic to expect that you, on your own, will produce a semester’s worth of high quality videos. You can use pre-developed resources available online and provide students with clickable links.

6. … and make sure they’re open access

Using open resources helps prevent access problems for students. If any of your suggested resources are not accessible, you will receive an inbox full of student emails and eventually waste all your time troubleshooting. Spending a few extra minutes carefully searching for fully open access materials will save you a headache later.

7. Give specific instructions

When you suggest online media which runs for longer than 15 minutes, students will be put off watching. Instead, suggest the exact parts they need (eg 13:35 to 16:28) as this can even make students more curious. When you provide more than two resources, label them in the order you want students to approach them. Simple numbering, based on the level of difficulty or importance of each resource item, can be of great help for your students.

8. Provide interactive activities

Most learning management systems, such as Moodle, Edmodo and Blackboard, include a range of functions to create interactive learning activities such as quizzes. Step-by-step guides to creating them are widely available online. Use them.

9. Set reasonable expectations

When you create quizzes, you should make sure all questions can be answered by referring to the given learning resources. When you ask students to write a summary of lecture videos, you should make it clear that this is not a serious report. Making this as a mandatory assignment but a low-stakes task will produce the best outcomes and responses from students. A set of 15 quiz questions or a 300-word limit will be sufficient to engage students for 30 minutes.

10. Use auto-checking to measure attendance

If you tell students that their attendance will be measured by their participation in a quiz, it will increase compliance. However, you won’t have time to check them all, so use the automatic checking and grading features on the learning management systems.

11. Use group communication carefully

Group communication shouldn’t be used for direct teaching. Instead, set up “virtual office hours” on a video conferencing tool like Zoom. Simply log in at the appointed time and wait for students. Focus on providing social support and checking if any issues need to be addressed immediately. This can be a great way to collect student feedback on your online teaching as well. Make meetings optional and be relaxed. No need to be frustrated when no one shows up: students are still happy to know that this option is available.

12. Let students take control

You can set up online group spaces for small groups of students and ask them to support and consult with one another before sending emails to you directly. You can post a couple of questions to help students break the ice and start conversation. Encourage students to use the communication tools they prefer. Some groups will click well and some will not, but this little tip can make students feel socially supported and reduce your inbox traffic.

13. Don’t hide your feelings

Online teachers’ emotional openness is a great instructional strategy. Tell your students that it is your first time teaching online and you are learning while teaching. Explicitly ask them to help you, reassuring them that you will do your very best to support their learning as well. They will be sympathetic since they share the same emotions, and you will be set up for success.

14. Repeat

Online students do not like frequent changes in their learning style. They are happy to repeat the same structure and activities. Once you find a teaching style working for you, feel free to repeat it each week until you are back in your classroom.

Author – Kyungmee Lee

                 Lecturer in Technology Enhanced Learning, Lancaster University



Hey! I’m Shawn Hercules and I am your GSA President for this academic year. I work very closely along with the GSA’s strong executive and administrative team,  to continue advocating for your needs and providing you with resources to help make grad school a little more bearable! Specifically in my role, I chair our GSA Council and Board of Director meetings, and ensure that our executive and staff are working cohesively to bring us closer to our goals within our Strategic Plan

Outside of the GSA, I’m currently wrapping up a Ph.D. in Biology under the supervision of Dr. Juliet Daniel. My doctoral work is focused on investigating the potential impact of socioeconomics and genetics on why more Black women globally are diagnosed with a very aggressive and clinically hard to treat breast cancer subtype. In this study, we currently have patients enrolled from hospitals and health centres across Nigeria, Jamaica and my hometown Barbados. I moved here from Barbados to embark on this project in 2015 and I can’t believe that time flew by so quickly and it’s almost over! I’m leaning towards pursuing an academic career path and will likely work for a few years as a Post-Doctoral Fellow after my Ph.D.

Right now, my life is pretty much balancing my duties for both the GSA and my Ph.D. but I also try to make time to relax! Watching RuPaul’s Drag Race every Friday night along with a few friends on Zoom has pretty much been my route for escapism from everything COVID-19 related as well as the rest of the world’s recent realization of anti-Black racism. 

If you have any questions for me about how you can get involved with the GSA or even about my research, feel free to e-mail me at gsapres@mcmaster.ca (GSA related), hercules@mcmaster.ca (research related). You can also find me on Instagram/Twitter using @shawnhercules! 



Graduate students at McMaster, we would like to highlight the recent annual report from the President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community. Other resources from PACBIC can be found here. There is always more that can be done at an individual level to be an anti-racist. We hope you have taken the time to reflect what changes you are making within each of the roles you hold at McMaster University. It is important to be aware of the events currently happening at McMaster University. You can consider joining the GSA Student Actions Committee by emailing macgsa@mcmaster.ca to indicate your interest.

We are putting out a call for Faculty Representatives to the GSA Council! This role connects the GSA and each of the faculties. We currently have vacancies for the three Faculties listed below. If you are interested, email Caroline, GSA VP-Internal about how to apply! 

Your GSA

JOIN A WEEKLY CALL with GSA President, Shawn Hercules, and Andrea Cole from the School of Graduate Studies! 

When?  Wednesdays between 1:00 PM until 2:00PM.
Where? Register for the Zoom link here.
What? Bring your coffee and come for a chat!
Questions? Andrea Cole coleand@mcmaster.ca