Effecting change in graduate education

It seems like I’ve been advocating for change in higher education for a long time now.  In some of my presentations dating back 1990s and recent blogs include posts about a ‘futurisktic‘ perspectives, university for the 21st century (Duderstadt, 2001), a call for embracing the ‘conceptual age‘ (Pink, 2005) and more. As a strong advocate for change in higher education, I want to share an example of change for graduate education.

Last week (June 12-14), the VT Graduate School hosted a conference on creating a space and place for graduate education drawing upon the 13+ years of experience gained through the innovative Graduate Life Center (GLC) and the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative offered by the VT Graduate School.  Graduate education colleagues and student affairs professionals attended the inaugural gathering to participate in the conversations about the “places, spaces, services and collaborations it takes to support the unique needs of graduate students”.

The conference was focused on the “what” and “how” of creating a space and place for graduate education.  In my opening remarks, I focused on the “why” and the historical context that prompted the development of the GLC and the TGE programs.  To begin….the call for change and the confluence of Duderstadt (2001) and Pink (2005).

In his book entitled “A University for the 21st Century, Duderstadt (2001) wrote that if lasting institutional reform is to be achieved, it will require changes in graduate education, with greater emphasis upon the integration of the disciplines and their applications to societal issues.  Daniel Pink (2005) argued in his book “A whole New Mind” that society has moved from the agricultural age to the industrial age to the information age and for the 21st century, the conceptual age.  Specifically, he wrote that “we are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.”

Although other reports, books and professionals have called for change, Duderstadt and Pink were very influential in my rethinking and re-imagining graduate education and the leadership role that Graduate Schools could play.  Graduate schools and graduate deans have and must accept the responsibility for creating a space and place for graduate education. This can be done physically regardless of the size of the space and can definitely be accomplished conceptually in building and growing academic community(ies).  At their core and among the underlying principles, Graduate Schools and Graduate Deans must be responsive, integrative, interactive, inclusive & innovative. We (graduate deans) have the power to convene and we must be lead the transformation.  The calls for change in graduate education are loud including the most recent document from National Academies of Science, Engineering and Mathematics (NASEM, May 2018) entitled Graduate STEM education for the 21st century.  Although the report is focused on STEM, the recommendations are applicable to graduate education in general.  We (Graduate Schools, Graduate Deans) have responsibility for change, must be strategic and lead the transformation.

 

Obviously there are differing perspectives and views of and from the different parts of the university not unlike the fable of the blind “men” and the elephant.  Although many within the university community might want to see the Graduate School in a more traditional sense and less transformative, leaders needs to see things differently and look for that which is “unobvious” to others.  Times have changed and we have the responsibility to create a new culture for graduate education by developing meaningful and relevant programs. In doing so, I found the following strategies to be useful:

  • programs (e.g., workshops, classes) that provide added value (e.g., career development) to the degree
  • programs and opportunities that compliment not duplicate departmental efforts
  • incentives for participation including graduate certificates and academic credit
  • resources need to be identified within Graduate School and utilized to offer programs and opportunities
  • programs and opportunities should be innovative, dynamic and evolving and especially meaningful and relevant to current and future graduate students
  • strong commitment from the Graduate Dean (e.g., advocate, champion for change)

The consensus study report (NASEM, 2018) indicates that “it would be wise to acknowledge and understand the current and future challenges facing this system (higher education) and take steps now to ensure that it remains vital, adaptable, and relevant for many generations to come. To neglect graduate education, or to ignore threats to its success, puts the economic, social, and cultural well-being of the nation at risk. (p. 19, 2018)

Graduate education needs to change and we can transform graduate education through by understanding cultural change and building a new culture with new traditions and expectations for graduate education for the 21st century.  We don’t need to do this alone; we can develop partnerships and collaborations.  The charge to graduate deans is to take the lead and the challenge to our student affairs colleagues is to join us.  We can create a space and place for graduate education.

On the eve of departure for GPP’17: 12 + 4

Once again I’m on the eve of departure for another VT Graduate School’s Global Perspectives Program (GPP) experience.  This year marks the 12th year of the Future Professoriate: Switzerland (GPP’17) program. It is hard to believe that 12 years have passed since we started the program in 2005.  Many miles have been traveled, universities visited, meals consumed and most importantly, many wonderful memories and connections have been made that have changed lives and will last a life time.

The program in Switzerland (with visits to nearby Italy, France and Germany) has continued to evolve over the years.  New university visit were added and new partnerships were developed (University of Basel, University of Zurich).  The global higher education seminar at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington DC has become an annual event. Although each year has similar elements as well as new additions, the dynamics of the group make each experience unique.

The success of the Switzerland program led me to develop some additional opportunities and the +4 refers to these programs. Two additional programs were offered in 2012 – Future Professoriate Program in Chile (GPP Chile)  and the Global Perspectives: Graduate Deans program.  In 2015, we developed and offered a modified version of GPP offered in partnership with University San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador which has been held for the last two years.  While each of the GPP programs serves a difference purpose, the foundation for all 12 + 4 was the development of a program through which participants could expand and enhance their understanding of higher education in a global context.

I remember the first “eve of departure” in 2005 and recall a sense of uncertainty and unknown along with the excitement about the initial program. Thankfully the program was a success and was the inauguration of programs to come.  The positive experiences and the change each of us felt only fueled my commitment to global higher education and continuation of the program.  Having personally known the value and importance of international travel and benefited from a “study abroad” program  (attending the University of Copenhagen during my sophomore year), I could only hope that I could develop and lead a program that offered others a life-changing experience as mine had been.

Each program brings excitement and yet some uncertainty as well.  And most of the uncertainty is around the group dynamics and interpersonal relationships.  And there’s the intention that each participant will grow professionally and personally.  Although others might view international experiences more along the lines of “vacation” and fun, GPP is anything but a vacation.  Yes, having fun and enjoying the experiences are goals but more importantly are the knowledge and understanding of global higher education, cultural experiences, group dynamic and formation of community, and personal development.

The details and logistics of the trip are set and will guide us from place to place.  So on this eve of departure, I once again wonder more about and ponder the journey that each of us will travel.  I’m looking forward to this 12th year of GPP.

GPP’17 will meet at Hotel St. Josef in Zurich, Switzerland at 15.00 (3pm) on May 21, 2017.  Follow us to learn about our individual and collective journeys (blogs, twitter @gppvt, #gppch17, tripvis, and more.

On the eve of departure for GPP’17: 12 + 4

Once again I’m on the eve of departure for another VT Graduate School’s Global Perspectives Program (GPP) experience.  This year marks the 12th year of the Future Professoriate: Switzerland (GPP’17) program. It is hard to believe that 12 years have passed since we started the program in 2005.  Many miles have been traveled, universities visited, meals consumed and most importantly, many wonderful memories and connections have been made that have changed lives and will last a life time.

The program in Switzerland (with visits to nearby Italy, France and Germany) has continued to evolve over the years.  New university visit were added and new partnerships were developed (University of Basel, University of Zurich).  The global higher education seminar at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington DC has become an annual event. Although each year has similar elements as well as new additions, the dynamics of the group make each experience unique.

The success of the Switzerland program led me to develop some additional opportunities and the +4 refers to these programs. Two additional programs were offered in 2012 – Future Professoriate Program in Chile (GPP Chile)  and the Global Perspectives: Graduate Deans program.  In 2015, we developed and offered a modified version of GPP offered in partnership with University San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador which has been held for the last two years.  While each of the GPP programs serves a difference purpose, the foundation for all 12 + 4 was the development of a program through which participants could expand and enhance their understanding of higher education in a global context.

I remember the first “eve of departure” in 2005 and recall a sense of uncertainty and unknown along with the excitement about the initial program. Thankfully the program was a success and was the inauguration of programs to come.  The positive experiences and the change each of us felt only fueled my commitment to global higher education and continuation of the program.  Having personally known the value and importance of international travel and benefited from a “study abroad” program  (attending the University of Copenhagen during my sophomore year), I could only hope that I could develop and lead a program that offered others a life-changing experience as mine had been.

Each program brings excitement and yet some uncertainty as well.  And most of the uncertainty is around the group dynamics and interpersonal relationships.  And there’s the intention that each participant will grow professionally and personally.  Although others might view international experiences more along the lines of “vacation” and fun, GPP is anything but a vacation.  Yes, having fun and enjoying the experiences are goals but more importantly are the knowledge and understanding of global higher education, cultural experiences, group dynamic and formation of community, and personal development.

The details and logistics of the trip are set and will guide us from place to place.  So on this eve of departure, I once again wonder more about and ponder the journey that each of us will travel.  I’m looking forward to this 12th year of GPP.

GPP’17 will meet at Hotel St. Josef in Zurich, Switzerland at 15.00 (3pm) on May 21, 2017.  Follow us to learn about our individual and collective journeys (blogs, twitter @gppvt, #gppch17, tripvis, and more.

Responding to tragic events

Recent world and national tragic events have prompted me to reflect on the responsibility of the Graduate School to reach out to those impacted by such events.  And the importance of doing so for the individuals as well as for the broader graduate community.

Graduate Schools tend to be places in which graduate students from many walks of life, social identities, nationalities, and cultural perspectives exist within the university.  A very diverse community which Graduate Deans should build to be more “inclusive” especially to counter the existing university culture of academic silos and lonely journeys through Graduate School.  An inclusive community which can be characterized by understanding and caring.

Although valuable throughout the graduate education journey, an understanding and caring community is especially important in times of tragic events, political uprising and natural disasters. When these happen, the experience and impact of these events vary depending upon the particular connection of the individuals to the event(s).  Not everyone responds in the same way or with the same emotions but the responses are real and deserved to be acknowledged.

Recent events within the past few months have definitely impacted the graduate community (and more) at Virginia Tech and beyond. Tragic events in Paris and Nice, Baton Rouge (2), Orlando, Minnesota and Dallas are but a few examples that have impacted the lives of VT graduate students and the communities with which they identify (e.g., black, gay, Hispanic, international, law enforcement and more).  Reaching out to individuals from these communities directly (e.g., email), statements of support and information sharing via social media, in-person gatherings, and dialogue sessions are strategies that we have used here under our GLC Cares program.

In addition to understanding the individual impact, it is very important to recognize the value of the “learning” (teachable) moments for others in the graduate community.  Even though the tragic events might be acknowledged within the university community, active engagement with the underlying issues (e.g., racism, terrorism) and impact upon individuals are often not.  As Graduate Deans, I believe that we should to take the opportunity to create a space to encourage meaningful and relevant dialogue about the issues and events to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the world.  In doing so, we can engage as global citizens in a world that so desperately needs greater cultural  understanding and the willingness to communicate.

It seems a simple thing to do to reach out and engage with graduate students.  It is and it’s so important.

Understanding stress in context to thrive in graduate school

Graduate school should be challenging but doesn’t need to be overly stressful. Stress can come in many forms. Many graduate students will likely say that they experience stress in graduate school and that’s just part of being a graduate student.  As a graduate dean, I hear this frequently and understand but it is time to change the paradigm from surviving to thriving.

A quick “google” search easily reveals a number of blogs, books and articles on tips for surviving even thriving in graduate school.  One example is the blog entitled Graduate Student Way and a recent post with advice from three PhD students.  It is worth a quick read to understand that one is not alone and the feelings are common among graduate students.  It also points out that warning signs of stress should not be ignored but understood and addressed.

Other examples include an article on 12 tips for surviving and surviving in grad school, a self-published book by David Nguyen which offers some basic tips for surviving graduate school and an archived site from University of Oregon called Survive Grad School that contains some valuable information.  Many Graduate Schools today offer resources and guidance for graduate student success on their websites, at orientations and workshops and through social media (e.g., UNL, UBC, GMU).

Lots of good advice and tips are available but I wish to encourage actions of a more personal nature that are often de-emphasized during graduate education. Here, I pull from the advice offered by University of California at Berkeley (UCB) regarding stress and graduate school.  Please read and consider the four primary points that are encouraged: make yourself a priority, take control of your life, avoid procrastination through time management, and look for social support.  These tend to go counter to the perceived “survival” nature required for graduate school and the toughness and persistence at all costs needed for success. Rather, I would argue that taking time for oneself is critical.  Although a graduate student can sometimes feel as if one doesn’t have control, it is important to exercise one’s agency and control over one’s life.  Further it is important to learn to say “no” and to establish some balance between graduate study and personal life. Of course, time management is crucial to academic progress and when there’s lots of work to do and deadlines, managing one’s time becomes even more important. As is a key component of the VT Graduate School’s experience, establishing a community (communities) and social networks for support are critical.  These are essential within the academic setting as well as beyond the university setting.

In my welcome remarks to incoming graduate students, I share four conditions for graduate study: academic quality, time to fiddle, a baggy idea of truth, and a sense of community.  I encourage the graduate students to reflect upon these throughout their graduate study and to realize that failure is a part of the learning process.  I also encourage them to work hard and to play as well.  To thrive in graduate school is to enjoy the challenge and to pursue opportunities as they present themselves.

One additional thought.  Keep a sense of humor because it helps to keep one grounded and attentive to the richness of the graduate experience.  Visit PhD comics.