Robotics Leadership Program

The Robotics Leadership Program (RLP) is an annual co-curricular graduate training program that will mentor and train the next generation of robotics leaders at the University of Toronto Robotics Institute. Inductees will develop skills and experience to be ambassadors for the public understanding of robotics, bridge-builders between technical and non-technical communities, advocates for equity and diversity in robotics and STEM education, and service-leaders in their own robotics communities. The program will develop and scale the outreach and communication capacity of the Robotics Institute as a whole, while providing our graduate students with global competencies and hands on service-learning as they actively engage our local and regional communities in activities and events that demystify robotics.

Workshops and events will be programmed in person, subject to the changing pandemic restrictions.

We expect to enrol a small cohort of inductees in the first year.


For questions or more information, please contact Eric Diller and the rest of the Outreach Committee at

Outreach Committee: Eric Diller (Chair), Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, Jonathan Kelly, Maria Yablonina, Hallie Siegel, Kimberly Colburn

Program Requirements:

Over the course of a full year (beginning in summer 2022), students must complete a series of workshops, participate in the Fall 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) competition, and work with their assigned mentor to identify and implement an outreach activity that demonstrates their leadership training. At the end of the year, trainees will present their completed leadership activity and outcomes to the next cohort of RLP trainees.

Estimated Time CommitmentWhenActivity
2-3 hoursAnytimeIntroductory EDI Training
Students must demonstrate that they have completed introductory EDI training. While options will be provided through the Leadership program, students may also choose an equivalent option that suits their needs. Past EDI Training sessions can satisfy this requirement.
12 hoursSummerSummer Workshops
6 workshops, 1-2 hours each, plus prep time as needed
6 hoursFallFall workshops
3 workshops, 1-2 hours each, plus prep time as needed
8-10 hoursFall3MT Competition
Participation in the Robotics Institute Three Minute Thesis competition required for trainees, preparation and event time
3 hoursFall/WinterMeetings with Mentors
One 1-hour small group meeting. Two 1-hour 1:1 meetings
10-15 hoursWinterOutreach Activity Planning
1 hour per week for 10 weeks, group planning meeting with supervisor, plus additional independent or team work as needed to deliver the project
2-3 days
(16-24 hours)
SpringDeliver Outreach Activity or Event
Final preparation and delivery of activity or event Reflection activity / social celebration
4 hoursSummer/FallGroup Presentation
Prepare an informal summary of your experience and present your project and outcomes to the next cohort of trainees and/or to RI (e.g. at next Leadership Summer workshop, or at RI Fall Workshop)
~100 hoursTOTAL

Program Mentors:

All RLP trainees will be assigned a faculty mentor who will help guide their development in the program, discuss career goals, and serve as a formal touch point for questions and issues. The faculty mentor will also be a resource in developing the annual student-led outreach event. In future years, former RLP graduates will also serve as mentors.

  • Mentor-mentee matching: In keeping with current best practices in EDI, every attempt will be made to find synergistic mentee-mentor pairings that are tailored to the student’s individual needs. For example, research suggests female students often benefit from the role modelling of female mentors. Students will be assigned a faculty mentor who is not their primary thesis supervisor.
  • Mentorship Meetings: Mentors will meet with students privately or in a small group at least three times throughout the program to discuss career goals and personal development:
    • The first introductory mentorship meeting will be a small group meeting between the faculty member and their cohort of mentees.
    • The second and third meetings will be 1:1, spread throughout the year.
    • Drop-in hours may also be available once per term

RLP Eligibility:

Graduate trainees who meet the following conditions are eligible to apply: 

  • PhDs and postdocs who are supervised by a Robotics Institute faculty member (preference is given to PhD students)
  • Have completed at least one semester of their degree by the nomination deadline (brand new students are not eligible).
  • Are not in their final year (applicants should not be planning to defend their thesis before the program end date - for this inaugural year, that is Spring 2023).

Due to the limited cohort size, Masters students will not be eligible in this first pilot year of the program.

RLP Nomination:

Self-nominations will be assessed for leadership potential; applicants need not have experience in outreach or leadership before applying to the program. Applicants must complete a self-nomination form, which will collect the following information:

    • Year of their degree program, departmental affiliation, primary/secondary supervisor
    • A personal definition of robotics leadership in robotics
    • An example of when the student has demonstrated robotics leadership in the past OR an example of when they did not demonstrate leadership but wish they had, and what they would do differently.
    • Personal strengths and areas for personal improvement
    • Commitment to participating in all workshops and events if selected
    • Supervisor acknowledgment

Summer workshop series: Reach Others by Presenting Yourself

Six weekly workshops (1-2 hours each) focused on developing trainees’ ability to present their research to a non-expert audience, and culminating in a prepared presentation to the group. Workshops will be tailored to the needs of the incoming trainees and are subject to change. 

  • Session 1: Robotics Leadership Program Kick-Off Event - MAY 13
    Led by RI Outreach Committee Members, this session will welcome Robotics Leadership trainees to the program and introduce them to faculty mentors and staff. Outreach Committee members will discuss the importance of the leadership program to the Robotics Institute development plans, and give personal examples of outreach and leadership in a robotics context. As a group, the cohort will discuss their aspirations for the program, in terms of both personal and team goals. Social time will be included at the end.
  • Session 2: Improv(e) (in June after AI-CRV conference)
    Led by Robotics Institute Program Manager and Improv Aficionado, Kimberly Colburn, this session will have trainees practicing their communication skills and getting comfortable presenting on- and off- screen through fun, low-stakes improvisational games.
  • Session 3: Inclusive Robotics
    This session will feature local and international experts in robotics and STEM EDI in a panel discussion and open Q&A. Trainees will learn the fundamentals of working with vulnerable and underrepresented populations in a STEM context, build their EDI awareness, discuss the importance of language choices, learn tools to recognize and remove barriers for underrepresented populations, and discuss issues of diversity and inclusion as they apply directly to the field of robotics.
  • Session 4: Communicating Robotics
    Led by Robotics Institute Associate Director and former science editor Hallie Siegel, this session will examine the latest public perception research related to robotics and AI, review key examples of how dialogue on robotics manifests in the public sphere and news media, and explore the implications for robotics practitioners, including tips and common pitfalls when communicating robotics to a general audience.
  • Session 5: Visual Presentation Skills - Visual designer
    Led by a visual communication expert, trainees will learn tips and tricks for using visual communication to make complex scientific research more accessible.
  • Session 6: Praxis (will take place a few weeks after Session 5, after MaRS conference)
    Trainees will put what they have learned thus far into practice by workshopping short presentations about their current research. Each trainee will give a five minute talk about their research, designed for an imaginary but undisclosed non-technical audience, for example kindergarteners, high school students, policy makers, regulators, venture capitalists, grandmothers, neighbors, press/media). At the end of the presentation, the group will guess which audience the presentation was designed to address, and offer feedback to presenters.

Fall & Winter: Topic-specific workshops

Two or three topic-specific workshops will be offered each year. These workshops will be open to all UofT robotics members, but attendance will be required for Robotics Leadership Program inductees. Workshops will complete by December. Workshops will be determined by the needs of the incoming class.

Potential workshop topics:

  • Robotics 3MT Practice Workshop: Students meet to workshop and practice their presentations for the fall Robotics 3MT competition
  • Writing about your research for a general audience
  • How to talk to the press and news media about robotics
  • Scoping your outreach activities for young audiences
  • Adult Education and Community Development
  • Video production techniques
  • Landing your first robotics job, and where to go from there
  • Economic impacts of robotics and automation
  • Robot Ethics / Ethical robot design

Spring: Trainee-led outreach activity

Using knowledge gained from the workshops, leadership trainees work collectively to engage other Robotics Institute students in an outreach or communications skills development activity of their choice. Example activities might include: creating and delivering a robotics module for one of the many robotics-themed camps already running at UofT (Blueprint, Launch, Engage, and Girls Jr. Deep), organizing a community outreach event involving local elementary or highschool students or seniors, planning an event for prospective students, or producing a podcast or video for the general public. The event must involve the broader public beyond current graduate students or other researchers.

  • Trainees may work as one cohort or in smaller groups
  • Trainees may recruit assistance from the broader Robotics Institute student membership to deliver their program, but will be responsible for the overall planning, design and delivery of the activity
  • A brief proposal including intended audience, roles, timeline, potential partners, and budget must be approved by program mentors prior to engaging with any external groups
  • Trainees can be expected to commit ½ to 1 full day per week to the planning and delivery of the outreach activity over the winter/spring period.
  • After the activity has been delivered, trainees and mentors will hold a debrief meeting to reflect on the activity and lessons learned (what worked, what could be improved). 
  • Trainees are expected to prepare and deliver a brief presentation about their outreach activity and lessons learned, to share with their own labs and with the following year’s Leadership cohort.


Students who complete the full program will receive a “Robotics Institute Graduate Leader Certificate”. To receive the certificate at the end of the program, RLP trainees must submit an application dossier containing:

  • A list of the workshops they attended. Substitute programming may be considered in the event that a student had to miss a workshop. It is the responsibility of the student to arrange their own substitute and seek approval of their mentor for the substitution.
  • Brief description of the outreach/service event they led and why it meets the leadership criteria. 
  • Next steps/goals: A brief, clearly articulated vision for their long term leadership goals and how they plan to develop their leadership further
  • If students wish to self-nominate for the Robotics Leadership Award, a one-page letter detailing why they should be considered for this award.
  • Articulate which self-selected introductory EDI training they undertook (does not have to have taken place within the RLP year)

RLP Timeline:

  • Monday April 4 2022: Nominations begin
  • Friday April 22, 2022: Nomination deadline
  • Monday May 2, 2022: Inductees announced
  • Friday May 13, 2022: Kick off event
  • June-July 2021: Summer Workshops
  • First week of August: Praxis (conclusion of Summer Workshop series)
  • September-December 2022: Topic Specific Workshops (2-3)
  • October 2022: 3MT Competition
  • January-April 2023: Outreach event planning and delivery
  • April 2023: Due date for Certificate Completion Dossiers and Robotics Leadership Award Applications (same deadline)
  • May 2023: Robotics Leadership Award winner announced at RI event.

$1,000 Robotics Leadership Award

  • Awarded in late spring 2023 (or when the first year RLP program is nearly ending). 
  • Applications are open for any RI students/postdocs -- not only to RLP trainees.
  • Leadership Program participants may submit a self-nomination when they apply for their Leadership Certificate. 
  • Evaluation Criteria include documented evidence that the student has made progress in developing themselves as a leader
    • Emphasis will be on outreach/service events to the broader community. Service leadership within the research community will also be considered. 
    • The extent of the leadership role of the student in the event or activity, ie was the student playing an active role in shaping the event?
    • Evidence of impact through the number of people reached, the value for the attendees, and who was attending.
    • Evidence that the student applied EDI principles and mindset in their leadership
  • Up to two awards may be given in any one year: one for outreach, and one for service leadership.
  • Awards are dependent on the quality of the applications received and may not be given every year.

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