Written by Karen Raymond
At the University of Zurich, there is a special room where each “newly hooded” PhD gives their first lecture as a doctorate. It is a room with marble walls and floors; where Winston Churchill once gave a speech. The room is impressive. Not only does it serve as a reminder of all of the hard work graduate students put in to achieve their goals, but also respects the achievement of this accomplishment. To give your initial lecture in this room is a welcoming and an honor.
Many years of experience and energy are invested in these who are now able to give their lectures in this room of distinction. Given the many requirements of individual programs of study, hundreds of hours are devoted to core requisites. However, the question arises if our higher learning institutions are doing a good job of preparing these students for all aspects of their future careers, especially those who may be entering into the academy?
PREPARING THE GRADUATE STUDENTS
Students working to achieve their master’s degree receive structured and well-defined coursework which is focused in a standardized method on the specific skill-set to be learned. Graduates of the varied programs are more similar in their training and education to each other, regardless of the higher education institution which was attended. The skills and training are well documented through the coursework.
In contrast, examination of the doctoral level graduate degrees, the skill-sets are more diverse and individual. Most programs do provide documented course instruction and training which includes transferable skills, such as data collection, critical thinking and evaluation of data, collaboration or team work, and delivering presentations. Doctoral programs also offer many opportunities for gaining experience through the lived and worked encounters throughout their studies. Experience skills such as: team work, project management, time management, supervision, organization, and teaching. Unfortunately, many of these skills are not as easily documented or conveyed to the students as important workforce skills.
TRAINING THE FUTURE PROFESSORATE
As each step is completed during the PhD process, the closer many graduate students are to becoming professors and instructors in various higher education settings. Higher education institutions may be preparing the doctoral and masters’ graduate students to be the leaders in their respective areas of study, but perhaps it is time to have more of a shift in the paradigm in training for a more overall flexible and adaptable graduate (Kapranos, 2014).
Virginia Tech is interested in creating well-balanced graduates and offers a certificate in Preparing the Future Professoriate. At the time of this writing, the certificate and coursework is optional. Course work includes opportunities to learn about contemporary pedagogy, learning about higher education from a global perspective, a specific course about becoming a future professor, and other classes of choice to tailor needs to the students’ desired cognate.
During the global perspectives study abroad in Switzerland, Italy, and France, we learned many European universities are also making adaptations and changes to include diversity in learning. For example, at the University of Zurich, graduate students are offered transferable skills courses which include skill-based instruction, but also core competencies in teaching, communicating science, encouragement of interaction between researchers, and teaching visibility of the university. The visibility was described as cooperation between the schools with communities and corporations to find ways to get the research information out to the public.
Other schools, such as ETH and University of Strasbourg, also required graduate students to take credits of material that are not related to their area of research. University of Basel and SUPSI offered pedagogy courses or other tools and tangibles to create the future professors and researchers. Overall, it seemed as if the science and technology schools, which are largely steeped in the didactic lecture and have a research-centered focus are trying to move more towards adding a qualitative nature to their structure. Likewise, the humanities, where the teaching and learning is more experiential and seminar-based, are trying to lean in on a quantitative nature. Leveraging educational practices in a way to blend the learning to be more comprehensive of core competencies and transferable workplace skills could create overall better educational experiences for the graduate students. All of this could draw to a great center to create better-rounded, diversely capable, and adaptive graduates.
CONNECTING THE DIFFERENCE
Currently, the world is becoming increasingly more connected. Advances in technology allow information to be transferred and shared instantly. Currencies are shared among nations. From a global perspective, we are even more connected than ever, even politically and culturally. There are benefits and challenges to each side of being connected. Each generation has to dissect and respond to challenges in higher education as the global and local landscapes change.
Higher education is making progression toward a more global vision. Jenni Case (2017), in the article Is Higher Education for the Public Good? states “we need to have a positive sense of what we are trying to do (pg. 2)”. Higher education today is producing amazing research and quality graduates. Nevertheless, higher education always should remain on the cusp of growth and innovation. This statement is true for both the foundational preparation, but also in creating prepared professionals and new professors equipped for furthering change. Recent studies have revealed that doctoral graduates have lower levels of developed work skills (O’Keefe, 2016).
More focus should be on creating graduates not only with professional skills related to their area of research and study, but also with strong personal and professional skills to make them innovative and flexible leaders. Learning institutions need to be more creative in preparing their graduate students to be outstanding in their workplace; whether that is in the laboratory doing research, in the field of their profession, and especially in the classrooms influencing the next generation of learners.
Further emphasis can be on learning the professional skills in documented ways. Course work on leadership, management training, and administration can help students who may be entering any corporate or academic setting. For those working in contracting business settings or opening their own business, classes on entrepreneurship and project or time management would be beneficial. For professors and instructors, require courses on educational practices and instructive design. Each topic can be stand-alone courses, or integrated into various existing courses. These areas may prepare graduate students to be those innovators of the future. The further we can shift the paradigm to include transferable and necessary workplace skills, the better equipped the graduates will be as they matriculate.
Changes in the world have an impact on the needs from higher education. Those same changes impact the next generation of education. Higher education can maintain relevancy and advancement by responding to the changes. Higher education institutions have done well in being agents of change regarding the individual topics of study. For many years, higher education has been meeting the needs of the students, the local, and the global communities.
Students who enter into the halls of academia should not leave the same people as they came. Each person comes with a specific goal to accomplish and a path to follow beyond their educational achievements. I am no longer the same person I was when I entered my topic of study. Virginia Tech has been preparing me for my area of study and equipping me as a future professoriate. Hopefully, with adding some focus to transferable and workplace skills, higher education will continue the trend of change in making sure next generations of higher educators are even more prepared.
Case, J. (2017, March 3). Is higher education for the public good? University World News. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20170228104023624
O’Keefe, D. (2016, November 23). “PhDs short on industry skills.” Australian Infotrac Newsstand. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=STND&sw=w&u=viva_vpi&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA471014803&it=r&asid=dba5492fa05a7ecd7a87c491f9373873.
Kapranos, P. (2014). Teaching transferable skills to doctoral level engineers – The challenge and the solutions. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 66-75. DOI: 10.4236/jss.2014.25014