VT-shaped individual: graduate student focus

Shortly after his arrival at VT, President Timothy Sands established an initiative entitled Beyond Boundaries and challenged the university to envision the future for Virginia Tech informed by four concepts: VT-shaped discovery, communities of discovery, nexus of discovery, and continuous innovation.  The key messages associated with Beyond Boundaries include the following (adapted from www.beyondboundaries.vt.edu):

  • purpose driven and person centered approach
  • disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary capacities
  • flexible curricular design and research addressing complex needs of communities and society
  • land grant mission of outreach and application of knowledge with commitment to service through “Ut Prosim”
  • inclusive and diverse communities

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 12.14.01 PMIn keeping to the conceptual framework and key messages, the VT shaped student was born. As shown in the figure, the “T” represents the disciplinary depth (3) as well as transdisciplinary knowledge (1).  The “V” represents the informal communal learning (2) and the guided experiential learning (4).  The graphic lends itself nicely to the VT symbol that has come to represent Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

While much of the internal conversation has already focused on the undergraduate student, the concept applies to graduate (and professional) students. Specifically, “the challenges of the future require the capacity to work in interdisciplinary teams, engage in critical and creative thinking, collaborate with diverse people, communicate effectively, and conduct oneself with a deep sense of ethics.”  And indeed these “requirements” are key elements of the Graduate School’s initiative entitled Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) developed in 2003.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 9.41.07 AM

As is shown in the figure and articulated on the website, the transformative graduate education (TGE) initiative “pushes the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education and provides the philosophical underpinnings for a truly innovative graduate education experience.”  TGE is framed by four cornerstones (pillars): knowledge, scholarly inquiry, leadership, and social responsibility.  Our efforts and activities are grounded within the fundamental principles of interdisciplinarity, inclusion and diversity, ethics, innovation (technology) and global perspectives.

Beyond the myriad of courses and programs offered, let me Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 10.51.00 AMhighlight a few examples of the ways in which the TGE initiatives contributes to the preparation of the VT-shaped graduate student as described above.

To address the “deep sense of ethics”, all graduate students must demonstrate understanding of academic integrity and satisfy an scholarly integrity and ethics requirement officially recorded on their graduate plan of study.  For more information, see ethical pursuits in academe and ethics requirement.

In order to help graduate students “communicate effectively”, the Graduate School offers a variety of approaches:  two graduate courses – Communication Science (2 cr) and Citizen Scholar Engagement (3 cr) and recognition as a Citizen Scholar.  In addition, the Graduate School also offers a course entitled Inclusion and Diversity in a Global Society (3 cr) and actively promotes an affirming and welcoming graduate community and the Office of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives (ORDI).

The “T” educated individual stresses both disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary breadth and the VT Graduate School has actively engaged in developing initiatives and opportunities to foster interdisciplinary programs and interdisciplinary thinking.  Among these are the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs (IGEPs), the development of the individualized interdisciplinary PhD program (iPhD) and support for the Interdisciplinary Honor Society (IDR) established by VT graduate students.  These are fine opportunities but it is time to extend beyond boundaries even more.

For many years, I have advocated for interdisciplinary thinking and proposed the “pi” metaphor for interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary graduate education.  Picture5In this graphic, disciplinary depth in more than one academic area is stressed and strong connections across the disciplines are emphasized depicting transdisciplinarity.  I would argue that expanding beyond the “T” to the Pi (π)-educated can be seen as a valuable approach in the preparation of graduate students to become the adaptive innovators needed for the 21st century workforce.

By adopting this philosophical approach in alignment with the VT Beyond Boundaries initiative, the goal of a VT-shaped graduate student can be realized not only through the opportunities to become Pi (π)-educated but also for graduate students to gain valuable knowledge, skills and abilities through the programs offered via the Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative.

 

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.

Academic duty

Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University wrote about the responsibilities of faculty in his book entitled Academic Duty (1997).  Kennedy wrote that “academic freedom” was well known but less so “academic duty” due to the “relatively uncodified” (p. vii) understanding of faculty work. He argued that faculty work included the following duties: to teach, to mentor, to serve the university, to discover, to publish, to tell the truth, to reach beyond the walls, and to change. Today, we would likely propose that the work of faculty has expanded to include additional roles including grant writing, fundraising, public relations, global perspective, civility, and building inclusive communities to name a few.

As I reflect on these duties, I think we could agree that many of the academic duties (e.g., to teach, to discover, to publish, to serve, to mentor) are well known and accepted among the responsibilities of faculty.  The degree to which these and other duties are evident in the lives of the faculty do vary some depending upon the type of university and type of faculty position but they are what we can expect when hired as a tenure track faculty member.  But they do represent the core of faculty work.

Two of the duties deserve additional comment – “to tell the truth” and “to change”. The academic duty of “to tell the truth” has become increasingly more important especially in the context of almost daily reports of research misconduct, plagiarism, and other examples of lapses in professional and scholarly ethics in higher education.  The availability of entities such as the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and official ethics guidelines and training programs through National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have brought greater attention to and scrutiny of scholars and their scholarly work and sometimes professional and even personal lives.  Online academic news sources especially the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, World University News regularly provide news and updates on cases of academic misconduct and of course, social media including twitter (e.g., ORI twitter) helps disseminate information.  Professional codes of conduct and ethical guidelines exist in many academic disciplines and are often incorporated into the professional development of the future faculty.

“To change” is the second academic duty to be highlighted here.  It has been said that universities are slow to change and those of us who have been in higher education for some time would likely agree.  But I would argue that universities and therefore faculty have a responsibility to change, to grow and to challenge ourselves to continue to be meaningful and relevant today and for the future.  Universities are social institutions and therefore have a responsibility to society, including a global society.  Higher education has been challenged by the technological advancements and the rapid rate of change. One need only to consider the development of the internet and the surprising speed of the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0 and the most recent development of the MOOC and its impact upon higher education. Institutions of higher learning have yet to realize the full extent of these developments. If we are open to it, MOOCs will help us understand more about learners and learning and they can challenge us to think differently about how we provide opportunities for acquiring and disseminate knowledge.  These are but two examples about how we must engage with change and prepare the faculty (and future faculty) to change and to be changed.

 

Communicating scholarly endeavors

James Duderstadt, President Emeritus of University of Michigan, is reshaping higher education.  He has written and spoken about a university as a social institution with social responsibility as described in his book entitled A University for the 21st Century published by the University of Michigan Press in 2000.

Social responsibility is especially important for a land grant university like Virginia Tech. One of the ways in which a univerity can exercise its social responsibility is through sharing the research and scholarly endeavors of the faculty and the students, especially graduate students.  The “open access” movement is a possibility for sharing university’s research but I’ll save that discussion for another blog.  Instead, I wish to reflect about the ways in which a research land grant university like Virginia Tech can meet its responsibility to share the results of research.

As faculty and graduate students we have historically been educated and trained to communicate our research/scholarship to those within our discipline primarily.  We learn how to prepare powerpoint or keynote presentations.  We prepare posters and practice our 15 minute research presentations.  We practice reading and sharing our scholarly endeavors through other media.  But we have not typically been provided with opportunites to learn and therefore we are not as skilled in communicating our scholarship to others outside our discipline and especially not to the public in general.

Enter actor Alan Alda and “communicating science”.   On the occasion of the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in 2010, attendees had the opportunity to learn about and experience the Communicating Science initiative offered through the center at Stony Brook University.  Many of us were in agreement that the initiative is a powerful program that helps “scientists” and scholars to develop communication skills.

Realizing the importance of this work, Virginia Tech has embraced “communicating science” and initiated a program here.  Within the context of the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative of the VT Graduate School, Professor Patty Raun from the Theatre Department has offered sessions within GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate graduate course and has established a new graduate course on Communicating Science.  Through this program and others we will engage VT graduate students with the social responsibility of the university to communicate science.