Professor Brenda Cossman and Department of Chemistry Professor Jonathan Abbatt have been named recipients of the 2023 JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision.
The award, given annually by the School of Graduate Studies, aims to recognize outstanding performance in the multiple roles associated with graduate supervision. Candidates must be active faculty members, who, over a period of at least 15 years, have demonstrated excellence in supervision at U of T. Two awards are offered every year: one for the Humanities/Social Sciences and one for the Physical/Life Sciences.
“As a supervisor, I am so honoured to be given this award,” says Cossman, who is the recipient of a Mundell Medal from the Attorney General of Ontario for contributions to letters and law, as well as an Ontario Bar Association Award of Excellence for the Promotion of Women’s Equality. “Knowing that my students saw fit to support my nomination – that to me is worth its weight in gold.”
Cossman joined the Faculty of Law in 1999 and became a full professor in 2000. Her teaching and scholarly interests focus on the legal regulation of gender, sexuality and family. She has authored or edited eight books, and 66 journal articles and book chapters, and her most recent book, The New Sex Wars: Sexual Harm in the #MeToo Era (NYU Press 2021), examines the impact of the sex wars of the 1970s and ‘80s on the way we think about sexual harm following the #MeToo movement. From 2009 to 2018, Cossman also served as Director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. In 2012, she was selected to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Since 2003, Cossman has supervised eight LLM students and fourteen SJD students – an unusually high number for the Faculty of Law’s small and elite graduate program that admits fewer than fifty research students per year.
Under Cossman’s supervision, many of her students have won prestigious awards and scholarships, including the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Doctoral Scholarship, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Governor General’s Gold Medal.
Students who wrote letters of support in favour of Cossman’s nomination highlighted her commitment to creating community and to supporting her supervisees in their professional development.
“Because of Professor Cossman’s leadership, all of us have felt supported and grown immeasurably as researchers, teachers, and mentors to other students,” said one letter from a group of ten former and current supervisees. “Professor Cossman has worked hard to create an unparalleled community for us.”
Another former student described Cossman as “the driving force behind every success in my career.”
“I am forever indebted to her for shaping me into the professional I am today.”
Cossman says the key to great supervision lies not in imparting wisdom, but in listening. “I think you need to be able to listen to students. It seems counterintuitive because as professors we do a lot of talking. But you have to really listen to where they [graduate students] want to go and what they want to do.”
“Brenda Cossman’s commitment to research excellence is manifest in her own record as an exceptional scholar, her leadership as chair of the Faculty’s research committee, and her dedication to the training of graduate students,” said University Professor Jutta Brunnée, Dean and James Marshall Tory Dean’s Chair.
“Professor Cossman has helped launch many an academic career in Canada and beyond. We are thrilled that her excellence in doctoral supervision was recognized through the JJ Berry Smith Award.”
Winners of the JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision receive a SGS conference or travel grant to award to a student and a framed certificate of recognition.