Thriving in Graduate School

Thriving has not been the typical term used to describe the graduate education experience; rather “surviving” has been the term associated with earning a graduate degree. But now it is time to question this existing paradigm and move from surviving to thriving through the implementation of affirming, and yet still challenging, environments for advanced learning and research. High expectations and quality standards can be and should be maintained but the academic bullying (subtle or overt) and questionable professional behaviors must be eliminated.

Based upon their research of faculty conduct with graduate students, Braxton, Proper and Bayer (2011) derived a “normative structure” that includes “inviolable norms” and “admonitory norms”. The inviolable norms included disrespect for student efforts, misappropriation of student work, harassment of students, whistle-blowing suppression, and directed research malfeasance. The admonitory norms were identified as neglectful teaching, inadequate advising/mentoring, degradation of faculty colleagues, negligent thesis/dissertation advising, insufficient course structure, pedagogical narrowness, student assignment misallocation, and disregard for program.  As a result of their work, we can better understand these broad categories of faculty behavior and can provide “guidelines of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors” for graduate education.

To address and counter these “norms” found in graduate education, we need a cultural shift and commitment of faculty and departments as well as the graduate school to encourage strategies that foster an affirming environment for graduate education.  Examples might include (but are not limited to):

  1. Development of quality mentoring programs and recognition for faculty who engage in mentoring (e.g., outstanding mentor award, mentor of the month)
  2. Professional development programs for faculty and graduate students (e.g., Transformative Graduate Education) in the roles and responsibilities of a 21st century faculty member including teaching/learning, advising/mentoring, directing thesis/dissertation, lab management, and more.
  3. Graduate teaching assistantship training programs (e.g., GTA workshop, Academy for GTA Excellence) and recognition for graduate teaching excellence (e.g., GTA awards)
  4. Emphasis upon inclusion and diversity especially inclusive pedagogy and affirming diverse environments. Workshops and education to understand unconscious biases and eliminating micro-aggressions (see Tool_Recognizing_Microaggressions)
  5. Building graduate community within and beyond departmental/college boundaries; Graduate Schools can play a significant role and assume responsibility here as well.
  6. Utilization of holistic admissions process and ongoing inclusive retention strategies
  7. Annual progress review with honest constructive feedback; equitable appeal process
  8. Establishment of an Office of the Graduate Student Ombudsperson
  9. Establishment of an honor code, ethics requirement, graduate student handbooks and expectations for graduate study
  10. Engage and work closely with graduate students in creating positive learning environments
  11. Communicate directly and work closely with faculty to create academic environments in which graduate students can thrive
  12. Celebrate achievements and graduate student success

Thriving not surviving.  Please join me in the conversation.

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