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.

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.

Futurisktic

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!

 

Language is important

The language that we use is important especially the words and what they imply.  We know this and we can cite many different examples.  I will offer only one perspective that resulted from my readings about faculty in higher education recently.  Not surprisingly, I regularly read the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and other similar venues about higher education.  My comments which follow are not a criticism of these publications but should be viewed as a commentary about how we in the academy continue to use familiar words and phrases that while accurately portraying a current situation do therefore perpetuate these notions as if they are “fact” and can’t be changed in the future. Two examples follow.

The first of two phrases that I read and hear colleagues use is the “two body problem”.  These words are commonly used to describe the situation in which two individuals (e.g., spouses or partners), or at least one of these individuals, seek faculty positions in higher education.  Since the 1980s, words like spousal hire, partner accommodation, and more recently dual career hires have been used.  An underlying assumption was that this was a “challenge” or “problem”.  I agree (and have argued favorably on numerous occasions) that indeed higher education needed to become aware of and proactively address the fact that increasingly so couples desire career opportunities for each individual and therefore, often two faculty positions. This phenomenon has increased over time and has become a reality facing higher education.  And thus rather than call it “the two body problem” which immediately casts the situation negatively as a problem, perhaps we could use language that reflects a positive attitude and encourages action.  The message sent and received is very different if we change “problem” to “opportunity”.  Inside Higher Education has made positive strides forward in this arena through the featuring “dual career” couples (reflecting via photos a full range of diversity) and their opportunities to seek dual careers as evident on their website.  This sends a message that two careers are possible rather than a problem.

The second phrase and one that is relatively new is “the baby penalty“.  Dr. Mason (former Graduate Dean at UC Berkeley and current faculty member) and her colleagues have studied and authored a recent book in an attempt to answer the question of whether or not babies matter.  Their research shows that babies do matter and make a difference in the lives of female academics.  Honestly, I don’t find this surprising because I think intuitively we know that having babies and raising children does impact one’s lives and more so for females than the males.   While the data do support a “negative” impact upon the female faculty member in a traditional sense of academy, the data are also a reflection of the way higher education is currently structured and not the way that it could be.  Families and babies should not be referred to as a “penalty”.  In the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Mason stated that it is time to ”… demand family policies that will at least give them a fighting chance to have both a successful career and babies.”  University leaders could use the data to insist that higher education actually make structural changes and more fully embrace families and work-life balance in our colleges and universities.  This truly is an opportunity and perhaps a mandate for change.  Let’s begin by modifying our words because language is important.