Academic bullying

Academic bullying. In what ways does it manifest itself?  When does it occur? Why does it exist?  And most importantly, how can bullying be eliminated and an affirming environment for graduate education be enhanced?  The questions are many, the answers actually complex.

Academic bullying has become increasingly more visible in the past few years and might even to aProfessors behaving badlyppear as being more tolerated in higher education today.  One comprehensive study was conducted and the results published in 2011 by Alan E. Bayer and Eve M Proper entitled Professors Behaving Badly: Faculty Misconduct in Graduate Education.


Several other books on bullying have been written in the last few years. Articles, reports and coverage within the higher education media (see articles in Chronicle of Higher Education, InsideHigherEd) occur with some frequency.faculty incivility workplace bullying in HE Bullying in Ivory tower Bullying exists in higher education and Graduate Schools must assume a leadership role in addressing the concerns for graduate education and graduate students.

Although the terminology of ‘academic bullying’ is recent, the emphasis upon quality of and for graduate education extends back to at least the 1990s including prominent examples from AAU and the AAUP.  The Association of American Universities (AAU) established the Committee on Graduate Education and issued its report calling on universities to examine graduate education programs (AAU GradEd report).  Shortly thereafter in 1999, the AAUP established policy about graduate education and resources for graduate students.  Mentoring, collegial relationships and affirming education + equitable employment conditions were important and remain so. Civility should be the expectation and bullying should not be tolerated.

Today, most if not all of the U.S. Graduate Schools now have statements and documents in which they articulate the established principles for graduate education frequently referred to as principles or guiding principles, codes, or expectations. Even though the terminology of ‘academic bullying’ might not be specifically mentioned, the intent of these documents is to articulate the expectations for quality graduate education and an affirming climate for graduate students.  This is the approach taken by the Virginia Tech Graduate School.  We entitled our document Expectations for Graduate Study in which the expectations for graduate students, faculty, departments/programs and the Graduate School were articulated.  A website was created along with a summary of the expectations Expectation_Glance_2011.

The VT Graduate School is committed to enhancing the graduate education experience and providing opportunities for graduate students to thrive.  We are changing the paradigm from survival, silence and acceptance of status quo to transforming graduate education. The conversation about academic bullying will continue.  Watch for additional blog posts, information about models and promising practices, and ways to share concerns anonymously.

Graduate education and social media

Most everyone would agree that social media has changed the ways in which we interact – not just in our social settings but in our professional lives as well.  Although somewhat slower initially to embrace social media, higher education institutions are now coming to realize the significance and the impact that social media has had upon learning.  The students are bringing social media with them and if we are to engage with them as faculty and administrators we must also engage with social media.

I believe that social media is fundamentally changing how we communicate within, about and outside of higher education.  The impact extends across the multiple missions of a university – teaching/learning, discovery/research, and engagement.  For this blog, I will reflect briefly on its influence upon one aspect of the graduate education, the completion and sharing of graduate student research.

Two of the time-honored traditions of earning a graduate degree especially a Ph.D. are the oral defense of one’s research and scholarly endeavors and the archiving of this work in a thesis and dissertation.  It is true that publications, presentations, performances and the like can be shared publicly prior to degree completion, graduate schools and faculty still honor the tradition of the thesis or dissertation as the embodiment of the body of work needed for earning a graduate degree. The archiving of the research is achieved commonly today through Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) processes, some hard bound copies placed on library shelves and in faculty offices, and frequently through journal publications or books.  The second tradition is the final oral defense.  Even though the oral defense is a public event in most cases, these defenses are usually designed for an internal and academic discipline specific audience especially the committee members. These traditions will likely continue into the near future although the venues, formats, and media will evolve.

With the advances in technology, the sharing (and archiving) of graduate student research is gradually changing.  Increasingly, graduate schools have adopted ETD processes and are exploring ways to increase interactivity, innovation and creativity. The open access movement has created multiple ways for graduate students to share their work and publish through open access journals.

Perhaps the more significant change is the ways in which graduate student scholars communicate their research, with whom they share and the timing of such sharing.  Historically this sharing occurred at the end of the degree and primarily with the thesis/dissertation committee but the times have changed.  A few examples follow.

Communicating, communicating well and communicating with the public about graduate student research have become increasingly important. Toward this end, several examples come to mind: Communicating Science, Three Minute Thesis, and Dance Your Dissertation.  Previously I’ve written about communicating scholarly endeavors including the initiative offered through the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at SUNY Stony Brook.  Similar type workshops to enhance communication about research have been and are continuing to be developed including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and similar workshops through National Science Foundation (NSF) and articles from National Institutes of Health (NIH).  In addition, graduate schools and colleges are offering workshops or courses on communicating science such as the one we offer at Virginia Tech through the Transformative Graduate Education initiative (TGE).

Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) was developed in 2008 by the University of Queensland. In brief, the 3MT is a research communication intended for public audiences in which the graduate students can use one “slide” and talk for three minutes only.  The 3MT competition has proven to be a very effective way for graduate students (master’s and doctoral students) to enhance one’s ability to communicate one’s research.  These competitions can now be found at the university, regional and national levels.

Dance your PHD logo blue

Sponsored by AAAS and Science magazine, the unique program entitled Dance Your Dissertation is another way in which graduate student research is made more accessible to the public.

Some additional musings about the use of social media in graduate student research.  The future likely includes: use of twitter hashtags (#) during defense for discussion beyond those in attendance, use of social media platforms for seeking funding for graduate student research (crowdsourcing), use of social media to connect with other conducting similar research, use of platforms (e.g., figshare) in the development of research and feedback about results, and more.  It should come as no surprise that these are already happening and more.  We must continue to embrace the principles underlying the earning of a graduate degree but understand and acknowledge that graduate student research process will continue to evolve.

And then there’s the discussion about originality in Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix”.  But I’ll leave that for another time.

Doodles and other musings of the mind

Some years ago now, a colleague of mine wrote about conditions for graduate study which not only influenced my thinking in the 1980s but still resonate today.  I have recalled these conditions and used to share them often with others especially new graduate students. But hadn’t thought much about their influence until recently when I was reflecting on the topic of this blog post.

William Harper (1980) wrote “Some conditions for graduate study” which was published in the academic journal entitled Quest (Vol. 32 Issue 2, p174).  Harper argued that there were at least four conditions for graduate study: academic quality, time to fiddle, a baggy idea of truth, and a sense of community.  The words themselves seem readily apparent in meaning and informative of that which should be a part of graduate education.

As a graduate dean, I’m often in a position to welcome incoming graduate students and encourage them along the journey through graduate study.  I have used words such as expect academic rigor and quality, demand excellence and to hold high expectations of oneself and others.  I have encouraged graduate students to work hard but to play as well (hopefully keeping a balance). I have been and continue to be a strong advocate for building a diverse and inclusive graduate education community.  In reflecting upon these phrases, there is a definite connection back to Harper’s writings for which I am grateful and wish to acknowledge.

So what about doodles?  According to Wikipedia, a doodle “is an unfocused or unconscious drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be abstract shapes”.  The Wikipedia entry provides interesting historical information and names of some notable doodlers.  A recent feature on Sunday Morning provided an entertaining and informative overview of “the higher purpose of doodling“.

In addition to the meaning articulated in Wikipedia and visualized on CBS, doodles are defined in multiple ways.  Doodle can be used to schedule meetings or gatherings.  And even Google has its own version of doodles – Google Doodles - doodles that are essentially re-drawings of the Google logo.

Just as there are multiple meanings of the word doodle, I consider ‘doodling’ and ‘fiddling with ideas’ as similar concepts. Even more so, the concepts underlying doodles and doodling include reflection, contemplation, and other forms of musings of one’s mind. An exciting part of graduate education is the lively and intense engagement with ideas. This can become apparent in and through our writings (including blogging) and our academic conversations ranging from the quiet moments of dialogue as well as to the noisy passionate debates.

For graduate education, academic quality is a must.  A sense of community (or communities) remains important for sharing space and place for graduate study in today’s social media rich global society.  Taking time to fiddle (to play and to play with ideas) remains critical to finding solutions to problems and preparation for the grand challenges of tomorrow.  Innovation and creativity must be at the core of scholarly inquiry and thereby keeping a “baggy idea of truth”.
All of us should find the “time to fiddle” with ideas and to engage with a “baggy idea of truth”.  Progress toward transformation and changes in higher education are dependent upon the musings of our minds especially as manifest through innovation and creativity.  What are your musings? your contemplations? your doodles?  Time to doodle.


In the early 1990s a colleague used the word “futurisktic” or at least that’s what I thought I heard. (Note: I tried to give him credit years ago but he claims not to have coined the word).  Anyway, I was intrigued by the word that cleverly combined future and risk and I quickly adopted it for use in my musings about the future and in some of my presentations and publications.

Seth Godin wrote a recent blog in which he argued that “every presentation worth doing has just one purpose” and that is to make change happen.  According to Godin, ”change, of course, opens doors, it creates possibilities and it’s fraught with danger and apparent risk.

 Much easier to deny this than it is to embrace it.”  Godin’s advice seems to fit with what I identify as futurisktic.

As a concept, “futurisktic” implies keeping an eye to and a vision for the future with attention to the opportunities and challenges (risks) associated with progress.  Being futurisktic is about change.  It is about embracing risk as an integral aspect of change.  Risk should not be viewed as a negative but risk taking will likely force us out of our comfort zones.  By doing so, it allows us to acknowledge and embrace the meaningfulness and value of change.  I’m not arguing for change simply for change sake or simply taking risks without thought.  Being futurisktic is about pushing ourselves and pushing the limits as is so wonderfully exemplified in the video entitled the future is ours.

Another example among many is the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about the learning revolution in which he describes the need for revolution not evolution. To actively engage in transformation and to acknowledge that often what stops us from making progress is the “tyranny of common sense.”  Robinson argues for and encourages us to become active participants in the learning revolution.

These examples are but a few of those that illustrate futurisktic endeavors.  They provide examples of intentional, purposeful and meaningful change – growth, progress and advancement.  We live in a time of rapid change.  As we engage change, I encourage us to be futuristic in our thinking with a willingness to take risks – that is, futurisktic!