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Meet the "ON-Cats": Nicolas Boileau

September 8, 2022

Meet the ON-Cats is a recurring interview series profiling ONCAT’s A-team of transfer experts and aficionados. Grab a beverage, pull up a chair, and get to know the team that’s helping to reduce barriers for students looking to transfer between colleges, universities, and Indigenous Institutes across Ontario.

Today we had a chat with 
Nicolas Boileau, Researcher

What’s your role at ONCAT?

I am a researcher at ONCAT. My primary responsibilities are therefore to lead and support the design and implementation of our internal research projects. For example, I am currently leading the qualitative portion of a longitudinal mixed-methods study of transfer students’ decision making and experiences, and supporting our senior researcher and quantitative researcher with the quantitative portion. I also review research proposals with the other members of the research team (Rod and Henrique) and funding team (Ana and Inna).

What did you do before joining the organization? And what experience did you have with postsecondary transfer prior to working here?

Before coming to ONCAT, I was working as a research associate at the University of Michigan, where I completed a PhD in Educational Studies with a concentration in Mathematics Education. The research that I conducted while there focused on mathematics teachers’ decision making and different types of norms that influence it.

In terms of experience with postsecondary transfer, I had transferred some credits from Concordia University, where I completed my masters, to the University of Michigan. But I had no experience studying transfer before joining ONCAT.

How does your work advance ONCAT’s mission to improve transfer students’ experiences in Ontario? And why does ONCAT’s mission resonate with you?

The project that I am currently leading can improve transfer students’ experiences by documenting the decisions that students make (1) when considering whether, where, and when to transfer, (2) when applying to transfer credits to their receiving institutions, and (3) when enrolled in those institutions. It also gives us insight into the thinking behind those decisions. These findings can improve transfer students’ experiences directly by making them aware of sources of information that they had not considered consulting and seeing how other students weigh costs and benefits of transferring to various institutions and programs. Indirectly, this information can improve transfer students’ experiences by providing insights into their decision making to postsecondary professionals that support them (e.g., transfer advisors).

Transfer students make up a relatively small amount of the Ontario postsecondary student population—approximately 6-9%. Why do you think postsecondary institutions should still focus on improving transfer student experiences?

One reason is that 6-9% of the Ontario postsecondary student population is a lot of students—approximately 54,000-81,000! But also, if an institution was to not focus on improving transfer students’ experiences, logically, that would mean that they would either not be working to improve the experiences of any students or basing their improvement efforts on direct-entry students. Ethically, not improving postsecondary education would only be acceptable if it currently served all students well, which decades of research has shown is not the case. And basing improvement efforts on direct-entry students would only be acceptable if it served transfer students equally well. However, research in education and other fields has also shown that initiatives tailored to the majority—in this case, direct-entry students—often do not serve minority groups—in this case, transfer students. Moreover, the proportion of transfer students from groups that have been historically marginalized in postsecondary (and K-12) education, such as low-income students, is higher than the proportion of direct-entry students from such groups. Therefore, improvement efforts tailored to direct-entry students could not only marginalize transfer students, but could also further marginalize members of those groups, which would undermine many institutions’ public commitments to support them.

Last, in interviewing transfer students, I have learned that many of them are impressively focused on the labour market and strategic in choosing education that will help them be successful in it—notably, more so than many of the direct-entry students that I know (including me, when I was choosing and completing my undergraduate degree). I would therefore argue that even those exclusively interested in labour market returns on investments in education should be interested in supporting transfer.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about postsecondary education—or student transfer—since starting your work at ONCAT?

The value of attending college before university. Through my interviews with transfer students who have transferred from universities to colleges and who plan to transfer back to university in the future, I have learned that colleges are a place where students can figure out what work they want to do in their careers and, therefore, whether and what they need to study in university in order to achieve this goal. Such students have also recounted that college is a place where a student can develop study skills that they need to be successful when studying at a university that they did not develop while in high school.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Uncovering the thinking behind transfer students’ decisions, as people are not generally aware of all the reasons why they do what they do or how heavily each factor influences their decisions.

If you could give any advice to yourself as a student, what would you say?

“Take the time to learn about a wide range of career options, consider which you think you’d be good at and that would make you happy, and pursue the level and type of education that it will require. And be willing to change course if there is good reason.”

The first piece of advice may sound obvious, but conversations with friends and colleagues over the years tell me that many of us don’t do this. For example, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mathematics simply because I loved math in high school, wanted to continue studying math, and only somewhat because I learned that I could do math for the rest of my life if I became a professor. I learned that this would require getting a PhD but did not know how competitive PhD programs were (and are), let alone that many PhDs in mathematics must complete postdoctoral research to be competitive for academic positions. I also did not know how rare it is to get a faculty position in a geographical location and at an institution where one wants to work. When I realized how competitive even master’s programs were, I did not take much time consider the wide range of jobs that one can get with only a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, many of which I might have enjoyed and been good at. And I did not seriously consider any career that would require different education, whether before or while completing my undergraduate degree.

I was lucky that I found opportunities to teach math after completing my undergraduate degree, then learned that mathematics education is a field of research, and then developed a general love for research through my graduate studies that continues to inspire my work. However, so that others don’t have to rely as much on luck, I often advise students to pursue their passions, but to equally consider their talents and the wide range of careers that might satisfy both. I also encourage them to continue to do this throughout their studies and careers, as both might evolve, which may require adjusting their plans (e.g., by transferring programs and/or institutions, going back to school, or applying for jobs that they may really like and be good at, but had not previously considered).


Just for fun…

What’s your go-to restaurant or recipe?

I don’t have a go-to restaurant as I love trying new places. And I don’t like cooking, so don’t have any recipes worth writing about. But I live in King West and my favourite restaurants in the area are Chubby’s and Campechano. I also have two go-to coffee shops: Forget Me Not and Fahrenheit.

What’s the first place you would want to travel to in a post-pandemic world?

Somewhere that I’ve not yet been, with great food and drink. For example, I'm very much looking forward to traveling to Naples in the Fall with my wife!

Cats or dogs?

My personal preference is dogs. But cats are great too.

Any great books or movies you’ve enjoyed recently and want to recommend?

I’m currently reading—and very much enjoying—Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Stay tuned for more interviews in our upcoming newsletters. To learn more about our team and how we’re working to remove barriers to postsecondary transfer in Ontario, visit