Robert Olley

Established by Robert Olley, MA 1961, PhD 1969, and awarded on the basis of academic excellence to funding eligible PhD level students enrolled in Department of Economics in the School of Graduate Studies. He was inspired to give back to the university thanks to the financial support he received as a graduate student while trying to raise a young family. Robert's story and inspiration for his generous gift can be read below.


When the question of me going to Graduate school was raised in March of 1960 by my Carleton Economics professor Ted English, I listened. But the fact was that my wife Shirley and I together lacked the money to support even an M.A. Program.

Professor English directed me to Professor Clifford Curtis, head of the department of economics at Queens. I outlined the financial problem to him and he suggested that I apply for scholarships while also offering me some work around the department marking papers and conducting tutorials for Professor Knox. My wife found work as a Laboratory Technologist and worked most of the next two years.

While financial aspects of my program were proceeding, the department considered the fact that I was short two courses normally required by students entering the M.A. program. The department decided to permit me to take those two courses at Queen’s while at the same time taking the three master courses and planning to work on my M.A. thesis in the next summer. This would permit me to complete an M.A. without further financial needs. As a result of work on my master’s thesis, some of my data were included in Historical Statistics of Canada.

At the end of my M.A. course work the same types of funding questions arose. Professor Curtis again helped me find funding and I became a PhD student. Two years into the program it became necessary to get a job and work on my doctoral thesis part-time. I became an Assistant Professor at the University of Saskatchewan and I returned to Queen’s to teach summer school and as a visiting Assistant Professor from Saskatchewan.

What was life like at Queen’s? For me it was a time of learning economics, techniques for teaching and ways of managing time. Of course, there were many chances to talk to fellow graduate students and to understand their perspectives. These together with my professors especially Professor Knox, Professor Slater, Professor Urquhart and Professor Curtis, the heavy work load and the times of social contacts made me feel that I was doing something important. As important as this work is in itself money required to support the student is always needed and that is why I want to assist in mitigating the monetary pressure for another PhD student.

Why did I choose to offer money to Queen’s?  I did so because I feel that Queen’s and its atmosphere laid much of the foundation for my lifelong success. I hope this gift will help provide PhD students with that same experience.