Evaluating the PhD: Orpheus conference in Bergen, Norway

The 2012 Orpheus (ORganisation for PhD Education in Biomedicine and Health Sciences in the EUropean System) conference was held April 19-21 in Bergen, Norway.  I was invited to provide a plenary keynote entitled Global Doctoral Education: Critical Conversations on Saturday.  And thus, my journey began to learn more about Orpheus the organization, the individual members of the organization and to be able to listen to their conversations about evaluation of the PhD in the biomedicine and health science in Europe.

Nearly 200 individuals from many countries around Europe attending – almost all of them from the Biomedicine and Health Sciences disciplines.  A few of them from the European University Association (EUA) Council on Doctoral Education (CDE) and European Commission and several from the private sector.  Doctoral students and post docs were also in attendance and had a significant input into the collective wisdom to be captured in the consensus documents produced at the end of the conference.  It was pointed out at the open session that I was the only U.S. citizen in attendance – an actually delightful experience because the focus was on Europe and I was afforded the opportunity to hear their issues, concerns, and recommendations.

One “hot” topic was the implementation of Standards for PhD Education in Biomedicine and Health Sciences in Europe.  A plenary session and multiple workshops were held about the use of these standards and of course, the perspectives differed.  Some wanted standards to be externally evaluated, others thought standards were fine but should include internal evaluation (and external), and some of us thought that the “standards” should be used more as guidelines for improvement of PhD evaluation. The final consensus has not yet been published and we await the result.  I found the discussion of terminology such as standards, guidelines, and accreditation most interesting as well as the discussion of the relationship between an external evaluating body and the use of evaluation in funding doctoral students.  A fascinating example of different cultural differences and the European system at work.

After only a few hours of listening, I was struck by two topics that kept coming up:  significance of the Salzburg principles (part of the Bologna process documents) and the support for interdisciplinary (and multidisciplinary) research.  There were many times, it appeared to me that the speakers were referencing multi but I appreciated the acknowledgement that interdisciplinary research and graduate education were important.  (This would be a theme of my presentation on Saturday).  There was even some mention of “training” of PhD students, pedagogy and the links between education and research although most of the conversations focused on research in a more traditional sense.  Given this perspective, I knew that my presentation would take a different approach and would challenge the audience to think about higher education, examine the PhD as it currently exist and encourage critical reflections about the “conversations” in which graduate schools must engage.  The critical conversations I proposed included interdisciplinarity, teaching/learning in the academy, communicating science, innovation, social media, access to and within higher education, and collaboration.  You are familiar with these topics due to our conversations in the Future Professoriate program, especially the Global Perspectives program.

Bergen is a world heritage city and well worth a visit.  Given its location in the Norway, the days were long already (dark at 10pm), and the weather mild (no rain for 2 days which is highly unusual for Bergen).  I enjoyed the gathering of colleagues from the biomedical fields across the European continent and know that the conversations will continue.

Global citizens

In a recent article entitled “Global citizenship: What are we talking about and why does it matter?”, Madeleine F. Green offered her reflections about global citizenship.   The electronic version of the article traveling rapidly throughout the international education communities and beyond.  There are many within community and outside international education that are wrestling with terms such as internationalization, global education and global citizenship.  The conversation has been ongoing for many years so that topic is not new but embracing a global perspective seems to be ever more critical in today’s world.

For many, you know that I would definitely be seen as an advocate for enabling individuals to become global citizens.  Obviously this would be most apparent in the Graduate School’s commitment to global higher education through the Transformative Graduate Education initiative and more specifically through the future professoriate global perspectives program.  The Global Perspectives blog stands as a visible representation of the growing interest in “understanding global”.

I hope that most of the broader university community would be in agreement with Green’s statement that the world would be a better place if colleges and universities could “produce graduates with knowledge and the disposition to be global citizens”.  From my perspective, “producing graduates” would apply not just to the undergraduate experience but to graduate students as an integral component of their preparation as the future leaders, scientists, scholars, artists, and educators.  Further, it is my firm belief that university administrators should engage and encourage the faculty and staff at our colleges and universities to become more engaged with a global understanding of the world.  Although the most frequent example of global engagement is study abroad, not everyone can have this experience.  And therefore, establishing global understanding among all of the university constituencies would require that global awareness and understanding come not only from experiences abroad but also from authentic global experiences “at home”.   This would be a challenge but should be among the goals of a 21st century university.

In the quest toward “producing” global citizens, colleges and universities will need to envision and develop programs and opportunities (abroad and at home) that are meaningful and relevant, incorporate active participation and individual engagement, and designed intentionally toward reaching the goal of global understanding.  These programs and opportunities are critical but perhaps most important is the realization that the journey towards becoming a global citizen must begin with introspection, a greater understanding of one’s own cultural context(s) and how these influence every day life to inform ourselves as global citizens.

The VT Future Professoriate Program stands as an example through which the study abroad (global perspectives program) and study-at-home (GRAD 5104) portions help prepare future faculty as global citizens.  The partnership with UniBasel provides a similar experience starting in Basel and then a visit to selected universities in the US.  This year, participants from the University of Lund will join us at CESA in Riva San Vitale for a global graduate education seminar.  Although as participants in the 2012 Future Professoriate global perspectives program our individual journeys began from our unique place, the journeys have begun to converge and become enriched by the shared space and common experiences on the path to greater global understanding and becoming an informed citizen of our global society.