Evolving PhD education: Trends in Europe and United States

in 2010, I was invited to speak at the European University Association – Council on Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) conference in Berlin on a panel on doctoral education in U.S. and Europe. The 2010 report which included the update to the original Salzburg principles (2005) had just been released and these guided my comments comparing U.S. and European doctoral education.  The ten Salzburg principles included the following:

  • The core component of doctoral training is the advancement of knowledge through original research. At the same time it is recognized that doctoral training must increasingly meet the needs of an employment market that is wider than academia.
  • Embedding in institutional strategies and policies:universities as institutions need to assume responsibility for ensuring that the doctoral programmes and research training they offer are designed to meet new challenges and include appropriate professional career development opportunities.
  • The importance of diversity: the rich diversity of doctoral programmes in Europe – including joint doctorates – is a strength which has to be underpinned by quality and sound practice.
  • Doctoral candidates as early stage researchers: should be recognized as professionals – with commensurate rights – who make a key contribution to the creation of new knowledge.
  • The crucial role of supervision and assessment: in respect of individual doctoral candidates, arrangements for supervision and assessment should be based on a transparent contractual framework of shared responsibilities between doctoral candidates, supervisors and the institution (and where appropriate including other partners).
  • Achieving critical mass: Doctoral programmes should seek to achieve critical mass and should draw on different types of innovative practice being introduced in universities across Europe, bearing in mind that different solutions may be appropriate to different contexts and in particular across larger and smaller European countries. These range from graduate schools in major universities to international, national and regional collaboration between universities.
  • Duration: doctoral programmes should operate within an appropriate time duration (three to four years full- time as a rule).
  • The promotion of innovative structures: to meet the challenge of interdisciplinary training and the development of transferable skills.
  • Increasing mobility: Doctoral programmes should seek to offer geographical as well as interdisciplinary and intersectoral mobility and international collaboration within an integrated framework of cooperation between universities and other partners.
  • Ensuring appropriate funding: the development of quality doctoral programmes and the successful completion by doctoral candidates requires appropriate and sustainable funding

In identifying the Salzburg principles, the European University Association (EUA) signaled specific focus on doctoral education across the European universities and its critical components. The topics addressed in these principles are quite similar to components of doctoral education in the United States and issues for doctoral education needed for the 21st century. One of the significant results of the Salzburg principles was the development of Doctoral Colleges and the concept of graduate campuses at European Universities. Graduate Schools have long existed in the U.S., doctoral schools/colleges is a new concept but one that has helped facilitate change in doctoral education in Europe.

Conversations about doctoral education and doctoral education reform in Europe and U.S. have continued in the last 10 years.  Today there are more commonalities and convergence about doctoral education than throughout history. In 2018, the publication of two significant reports has provided a lens into the evolving PhD education: Graduate STEM education in the 21st century (NASEM, 2018) and Doctoral Education in Europe Today (EUA, 2019).

The report entitled Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century (2018) was published by the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). The report included the identification of core competences for the Master’s and PhD degrees and recommendations for 21st century universities.  Although the report focuses on STEM programs, the competencies and recommendations apply more broadly to graduate education beyond STEM.  The core competencies for the ideal PhD degree fall into the following two broad categories: (a) Develop Scientific and Technological Literacy and Conduct Original Research and (b) Develop Leadership, Communication, and Professional Competencies

Recommendations for implementing quality graduate education in the 21st includes the following:

  • Rewarding Effective Teaching and Mentoring
  • National and Institutional Data on Students and Graduates
  • Ensuring Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Environments
  • Career Exploration and Preparation for Graduate Students
  • Structure of Doctoral Research Activities
  • Funding for Research on Graduate STEM Education
  • Stronger Support for Graduate Student Mental Health Services

“Importantly, this report also calls for a shift from the current system that focuses primarily on the needs of institutions of higher education and those of the research enterprise itself to one that is student centered, placing greater emphasis and focus on graduate students as individuals with diverse needs and challenges.” (2018, p.3)

During this same time period, the EUA-CDE conducted a survey of European universities about doctoral education throughout Europe.  The survey of doctoral education was based upon the Salzburg principles and designed to collect data in the following areas:

  • Organizational structures
  • Training and activities
  • Career development
  • Funding
  • Mobility
  • Time to completion
  • Supervision
  • Application and admission
  • Decision-making processes
  • Completion rate

The EUA-CDE doctoral education report includes data on the topics above and resulted in the identification of strategic priorities for European doctoral education moving forward.  The strategic priorities included the following:

  • Funding for doctoral students
  • Ethics and scholarly integrity
  • Attracting students from abroad
  • Career development
  • Gender equality
  • Open access/open science
  • Health/wellbeing of doctoral candidates
  • Increasing number of doctoral candidates
  • University-business cooperation
  • Societal engagement of doctoral candidates

As shown in the figure above, the top three strategic priorities for universities in Europe were funding for doctoral students, ethics and attracting students from abroad.  For more information about the findings, recommendations and suggested actions, see the report.

In addition to these specific doctoral education topics and priorities, universities in Europe and the U.S. continue to explore evolving issues facing the 21st century university.  Among these are focus on teaching/learning, diversity and equity, open access, innovation and entrepreneurship, technology, academic freedom and accessibility.  Changes in doctoral education are critical for the 21st century university and doctoral colleges/graduate schools can help lead the path forward.

References.

Doctoral education in Europe today: Approaches and institutional structures (2019).  European University Association

Graduate STEM education for the 21st century (2019).  National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).

Salzburg Principles II Recommendations (2010).  European University Association (EUA).

Graduate Education Week 2019

Graduate education week is an annual event sponsored by the VT Graduate School to acknowledge the efforts and thank the graduate students, graduate advisors/mentors and the faculty and staff for their outstanding contributions to graduate education. This year marks our 19th year through which we:

  • highlight the importance of graduate education to the university
  • increase the university’s awareness of the contributions to teaching, research and engagement missions of the university
  • enhance the graduate student experience through professional development programs and celebratory events.

The theme for 2019 is “Find your Balance” and many of the events are focused around this very important topic of balance in the lives of graduate students.  The session entitled “spring into balance” included tips on relaxation, time with therapy dog Moose, personal training tips and healthy food consumption.  Specific events include managing conflict, combating imposter syndrome, “balance games” and a teach-in about valuing the students’ lived experiences.  Another feature is the Graduate Life Center (GLC) Cafe, a weekly gathering of graduate students for engaging conversation.

During the week, the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) hosts its 35th Research Symposium and Exposition followed by the Research Symposium Keynote featuring science communicator and educator Joe Hanson.  Joe Hanson hosts and writes “It’s Okay to be Smart“.  In addition, the Academy for GTA Excellence hosts its annual teach-in and a reception is held honoring VT Graduate School Citizen Scholars.

One of the highlights of the week is the Graduate Education Week Awards Banquet.  At this event, graduate students are recognized for their achievements in teaching, research and service; are honored as outstanding college doctoral and master’s students; receive outstanding dissertation and master’s thesis awards; and more.  In addition, outstanding faculty mentors from each college nominated by graduate students are recognized.

The week ends with the Big Cookout in which graduate students and their families join the Graduate School faculty and staff plus the Graduate Student Assembly on the lawn in front of the Graduate Life Center.

Although this week (March 25-29, 2019) we focus on graduate education, graduate education is a year-round endeavor. Thanks to all graduate students, faculty and staff who contribute to graduate education excellence and the creation of an innovative, interdisciplinary, and inclusive graduate community!!

It Depends

There are many times in our professional or personal lives when the answer to a variety of questions/queries is “it depends”.  This isn’t really surprising or uncommon. Frequently the answer/response falls somewhere along a continuum rather in a binary category.

One in particular comes to mind. It was apparent to those of us in the space that the facilitator wanted a definitive answer or at least an answer that was headed in one direction.  Among the audience, the answer we offered was “it depends”.  Although we were in agreement about the general direction of the conversation and goal of the workshop, there were too many unknowns or not-clearly-knowns that the response continued to be “it depends”.

In a graduate class I teach entitled “Preparing the Future Professoriate”, we take topics such as the description of an institution of higher education (e.g., college or university), definition of a faculty member, the role of faculty, mission of the university, funding for higher education, future direction of higher education, international higher education and much more. Obviously these topics are rather broad and there is no single definitive answer. “It depends”.

The fable of the elephant and blind “men” comes to mind here. How each of these individuals would describe the elephant “depends” upon the part of the elephant they touched.  The university is frequently described in this same manner. Those from a specific discipline or administrative home will offer their view based upon that discipline or administrative unit. The roles and responsibilities of a faculty member “depends” upon the academic discipline as well as institution type (e.g., “extramural funding is required”, “a book is the primary scholarly product”, “a 3-3 teaching load is standard”).  In other words, “it depends”.

Even topics of academic freedom and scholarly integrity, the hallmarks of higher education in my view, don’t always allow us to conclude with a definitive answer of yes or no.  Yes, we in higher education have academic freedom but questions are raised (e.g., is academic freedom an absolute, is academic freedom defined in various contexts and are their limits or conditions of academic freedom).  Around the world and even in the U.S., academic freedom is being challenged.  (Note: this is a topic for another blog post).

The complexity in which we live and work in higher education requires additional perspectives.  Many of the “grand challenges” and “wicked problems” require interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary efforts. As we work in these settings, there is no definitive answer from a single disciplinary perspective but rather an evolving academic journey informed by the multiple perspectives in the conversation.  The initial answer is “it depends” and requires interdisciplinary thinking.

As change continues in higher education and the 21st century university evolves, we must not only anticipate and expect but embrace “it depends”.

Holistic admissions

Increasing diversity in graduate admissions has become regular conversation among graduate deans and graduate school personnel.  The Council of Graduate Schools has include sessions on diversity and inclusion at its Annual Meetings and summer workshops for many years and recently actively promoted holistic admissions through a funded project and publications.  In 2015, Hobsons funded a CGS research project to explore existing practices and strategies for creating a more diverse graduate student population.  The results were shared with the graduate education community through a CGS publication that includes promising practices for holistic admissions and an overview of existing resources.  As graduate dean at Virginia Tech, I was invited as one of the participants to share our holistic admissions process.

Since then, I have also been invited to participate in ETS sponsored breakfast panels for increasing diversity in Graduate School at the 2018 CGS Summer Workshop and 2018 Annual Meeting.  These were focused generally on strategies used by selected Graduate Deans for creating inclusive graduate education and increasing diversity in graduate school and followed the development of the ETS GRE Holistic admissions website. In November 2018,  ETS hosted a webinar entitled “Diversity in Graduate Education: Looking at – and beyond – admissions”.  The panel was moderated by Jamal Eric Watson, Executive Editor of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

At Virginia Tech, we have developed a holistic admissions process that involved a modification of the on-line application to facilitate admission decisions based upon more than quantitative measures including test scores and GPAs (or the university from which they graduated).  Applicants are “more than a number” to us.  We value the following characteristics as success critical attributes and use them as relevant factors in admissions:

  • Community involvement/service
  • Leadership
  • Social, economic, physical, and other barriers overcome
  • Personal/professional ethics
  • Achievement
  • Research and scholarship

While it can be argued that the characteristics are often articulated in the applicant’s statement or letter of application and frequently incorporated into letters of recommendation, VT Graduate School has added sections to the application itself and created the ability to “sort” by these characteristics as well as GPA and test scores.  We added questions to the application and for the reference letter section.  These modification have encouraged academic units to select those additional characteristics of importance for admission and to “sort in” the applicants who demonstrate these within their pool of qualified candidates.

In modifying our application, we considered data provided by our academic departments about the additional criteria that were used in the review of the application materials.  Specifically, we modified the application so that applicants could provide additional educational experience for consideration in admissions including the characteristics/attributes identified above.

We also modified the letter of recommendation form based upon the personal attributes critical to academic success studied by Educational Testing Services in its development of the Personal Potential Index (PPI).  Specifically, reference letter writers are asked to evaluate the applicant on the following attributes: communication skills, ethics and integrity, initiative, innovation and creativity, planning and organization, and teamwork. They are also asked to provide a brief statement about the most compelling reason to admit the candidate.  Although the full letters of recommendation are still to be submitted, the characteristics/attributes can be used to sort-in those with the desired experiences.  The historic context, rationale and process are articulated in a short presentation.

Based upon anecdotal evidence and our initial data collection, our holistic admissions approach allows for the inclusion of a more diverse pool of applicants than use of quantitative criteria primarily.

University mission statements

Some background before discussing mission statements….

Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) is a university-wide initiative offered by the Graduate School at Virginia Tech. Through the implementation of unique programs and opportunities, TGE pushes the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education and aims to significantly change how graduate students prepare to become the next generation of scientists, educators, scholars, engineers, artists, and career professionals.  One of these programs is the Future Professoriate graduate certificate.

Every semester for the past 15+ years, I’ve taught a graduate course entitled Preparing the Future Professoriate which is one of the required courses to earn the certificate. The purpose of the class is to provide graduate students the opportunity to learn about universities and especially the roles and responsibilities of faculty members.  Each semester 55+ master’s and doctoral students from our 8 different colleges (e.g., Engineering, Science, Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Business, Architecture and Urban Studies, Natural Resources and Environment, Agriculture and Life Sciences) enroll in the class.

One of the early assignments for the class is to find, share and blog about mission statements from two college or universities, U.S. or international. Over the years, I have found this assignment and the discussion that follows to be important in raising awareness about the various types of colleges and universities around the world and their different and yet sometimes similar mission statements. As a result, I have continued to reflect upon the purposes for mission statements, similarity in the words included in the mission statements, the audiences for mission statements, and changes that have occurred over time.  And in the past few years, I have used digital polling software (e.g. Mentimeter for interactive presentations) to share the results with the class for discussion.

The first question I ask for each to share three to four words that they found in the mission statements.  And the second question was for them to identify the type of institution they selected.  I was curious about the words contained in the mission statements and I wanted to learn how they would characterize the university they selected.

Below I’ve included word clouds from the mission statements as shared by the graduate students in the class for the past three semesters. (Please note that this is not intended as a scientific analysis but more of an observation). As you can see, there are some words like research, community, knowledge, service and more that seem to be found in many of the mission statements. Teaching (learning), diversity (access), and global also appear in many mission statements. None of these words are surprising.  But what is surprising is that the word “student” (students) doesn’t appear as often as one would think.  Student or learner (and teaching/learning) seems to be implied rather than directly mentioned. In the figures below, private universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges were in the mix.  If we were to sort by higher education institution type (e.g.private universities, liberal arts colleges, HBCUs, and community colleges) the key words in the mission statements would reflect more about the specific mission of the institution.

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the word clouds for the mission statements, the second question was about the type of college or university selected by these students.  Two examples of the word clouds are shown below.  As you can see, public research universities were common among the universities selected – not surprising because VT is a public research university and perhaps is the most familiar and of interest to the graduate students.   I found it interesting that “PWI” was used as a popular description for many of the entries but likely this was related to the recent in class conversation about PWI (predominately white institution), HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and MSI (Minority serving institutions) institutions.

 

 

 

In January 2018, I was pleased to read a blog by Julian David Cortes-Sanchez entitled “What do universities want to be? A content analysis of mission and vision statements worldwide”.  Although this isn’t the only analysis completed on mission statements, I found his findings pertinent to the mission statement assignment for my graduate course.  Cortes-Sanchez did an analysis of mission and vision statements and found that the most frequently used terms were research, university, world, knowledge and education. These are very similar to the words identified through the class assignment; not surprisingly.  The terms of global or world seem to be newer addition to mission statements as universities strive for a more global presence.

Although there are some very similar words used in mission statements, close attention to the words used can provide a greater understanding of the unique mission of the institutions of higher education.

 

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.

Beginning of semester musings: Grit? Community!

When I first heard the word “grit” used in the higher education context and learned about the research findings, presentations and publications about “grit” by Angela Duckworth, I questioned the use of the word “grit” and the premise that “grit” was the primary characteristic for student success.  Duckworth (2007) defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long term goals” (p. 1087) which are important to success; her writings emphasize that working hard is key to success.

Through my lens as a VP and Graduate Dean, I was thinking about graduate education and graduate students and how and why they are successful in Graduate School.  Many words and descriptors come to mind about the graduate education experience but “grit” wasn’t one of them. There is, and should be, so much more to success in graduate school than working hard and focusing solely on having grit.

Yes, graduate school can be challenging and definitely stressful at times. Stories and personal narratives often focus on the struggles faced by graduate students.  Words used often include “having to tough it out”, “plugging away”, “no sleep/all work”, and “surviving graduate school”. Rather than reinforce what I believe is the negativity associated with surviving as the primary narrative of graduate school, I opt for thriving in graduate school. In the spirit of changing the narrative and fostering a sense of academic community, I wrote a blog about thriving in graduate school which was published almost exactly two years ago.

A few weeks ago, I read an article by Laurie A. Schriener entitled “The Privilege of Grit” in the November-December 2017, Volume 22 (5) of About Campus which I found quite intriguing and compelling.  She questioned some of the scholarly foundation of grit, suggested that there is privilege implicit in grit, identified some dangers of grit, and offered an alternative to grit as a thriving ideology and cultivating a thriving campus.  This article is a must read and needless to say, I was delighted that she recommended thriving as a viable alternative to grit.

Schriener (2017) described three steps in “cultivating a thriving campus” which resonated well with me and the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative offered through the VT Graduate School. The three steps included – building a sense of community, student learning as the heart of the institutional mission, and bring out the best in others.  The VT Graduate School through the TGE initiative uses building a welcoming, inclusive and affirming academic community as the foundation.  Among our goals are to prepare our graduate students for whatever careers they will pursue with the career critical skills and to complement the disciplinary education in the academic colleges. Related, VT has developed the VT shaped student (interdisciplinary, holistic and experiential education) approach which is consistent with the thriving ideology.  At the graduate level, we utilize the Transformative Graduate Education umbrella and the Graduate School’s commitment to inclusion and diversity to help educate the VT shaped learner.

In preparing our graduates to become 21stC global citizens and for jobs and careers that might be unknown today and still evolving, the Graduate School has assumed the responsibility to provide opportunities for graduate students through which they can enhance their knowledge, skills and abilities for success. Individual traits like perseverance and passion are important to success but there is much more to success than simply working hard and having grit.  Progress in graduate school also involves community (a safe, welcoming, inclusive global community) and is measured one semester at a time.

Spring semester 2018 has begun.  Here’s to thriving in graduate school.

Word choice and unintended messages: Career critical skills, not ‘soft skills’

Although there are so many things to comment about word choice and the unintended messages in higher education (e.g., demographics, inclusion, micro-aggression and more), I will focus my musings on concept of negation (‘non-‘) in our word choice especially the pervasive use of “soft” in our everyday language within and about academia.

Negation is defined by Merriam-Webster as “something considered the opposite of something regarded as positive”.  Unfortunately, we hear words used to describe  ‘something’ and ‘non-something’ frequently when referring to those things that are often considered dominant and therefore perceived as having more value in higher education.  The word choice usually results in creating or reinforcing dichotomies.  A few examples come to mind – English-speaking, non-English speaking; resident, non-resident alien; research university, non-research university; academic, non-academic.  I can understand the use of ‘non’ as a matter of convenience and fewer words but its use does send messages that I hope we might not intend.  And sometimes it seems understandable to make a point such as the use of sexist vs non-sexist language but I still find the word choice somewhat problematic. Why don’t we choose words with the same goal in mind but are more affirming and inclusive? Like ‘inclusive language’ that is more than non-sexist.

Examples of negation and the concept of something and ‘non’ something have been identified in other ways as well.  For years, those of us in higher education and associated with higher education have heard and used the language around academic discourse as the ‘hard’ sciences and the soft sciences.  Also common is the reference to the soft skills or non-cognitive skills when discussing skills desired to complement education in (cognitive) disciplinary knowledge and understanding including interdisciplinary content.

To counter the perception that some academic disciplines (e.g., STEM+ in particular) deserve the adjective of ‘hard’ (a positive in terms of the importance and value given to the word ‘hard’), I have used the phrasing of hard science as stated by others and then change ‘soft sciences’ to ‘hard-to-do science’ that includes and acknowledges the value of and the challenges associated with research in the social sciences, arts and humanities.

Similar discourse exists around the word choice of soft skills and non-cognitive skills. Examples of these skills include leadership, teamwork, communication, problem solving and problem posing, ethical and professional behaviors, work ethic, interpersonal relationship, collaboration, adaptability, innovation and creativity and more.  Although I realize that there is an entire literature on the value and importance non-cognitive skills, the terminology still seems inappropriate and misleading. It sets up a binary that certain skills are cognitive and other are not. I would argue vehemently that these skills involve a great deal of cognition and are not easily developed or honed successfully but need to be.  The word choice of soft skills also implies that these skills are easy to learn and to implement. And indeed, they are not.

Leadership, teamwork, communication, problem solving and problem posing, ethical and professional behaviors, work ethic, interpersonal relationship, collaboration, adaptability, innovation and creativity are skills which are desired by future employers and required for success in the workplace.  As such, opportunities to develop and programs to utilize these skills have been incorporated into graduate education recently. The Council of Graduate Schools is leading this effort nationally and the Virginia Tech Graduate School provides many opportunities for graduate students to better prepare themselves for the careers that they will likely pursue.

Given their importance, let’s call these Career Critical Skills.  Words (and actions) do make a difference!

Effectiveness requires psychological safety: Musings for higher education

Team work is not a new concept but is likely taking on greater significance in the 21st century.  Working in teams is needed not only to understand and address the complexity of the issues facing society today but to recognize the importance of and to engage actively with diverse perspectives in the conversation. The key to success is the effectiveness of these teams as investigated by Google in their study of team effectiveness and described in the Guide: Understand Team Effectiveness in 2015.

Although it is important to have particularly knowledgable individuals on the team, the “who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions”.  The study revealed the following five key factors were important to successful and effective teams:

  • Psychological safety – feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable
  • Dependability – getting work done on time and meeting expectation
  • Structure and clarity – having clear goals and roles
  • Meaning of work – meaningfulness and personal
  • Impact of work – work matters and positive change

Google found that the psychological safety was the most important key factor and the foundation for the others.

Higher education can take lessons from these findings as we conduct much of our work in teams throughout the university (e.g., faculty research teams, task forces and committees, administrative units pursuing strategic goals, organizations and associations, and more).  In addition, the context of the 21st century university lends itself to an interactive and innovative learning environments at the core of our mission.

The “work” in higher education is often undertaken in teams or in collaborations with others. The “work” as demonstrated through the missions of the university (e.g., teaching, research and service) and seen in our outcomes (e.g., education/degrees, research findings) must be meaningful and relevant not only to the individual(s) but to society as well. Inasmuch as colleges and universities are preparing the next generations of professionals, it is important that we do so as global citizens who will work in an increasingly more collaborative contexts.  As I have argued before, the university (especially the 21st century university) is a social institution with responsibility to society and therefore our “work” must matter and be about positive change.

Following in the spirit of academic freedom and liberal education for students, U.S. universities tend to subscribe to principles that guide our words and actions (e.g., principles of community) and actively promote inclusion and diversity.  Universities must actively encourage inclusive pedagogy and ways in which to undertake the difficult dialogues.  Although challenged by the rhetoric and divisiveness that appears in society today, institutions of higher education must continue to situate themselves to provide a welcoming and affirming environment for all where differences are respected and valued. Further, colleges and universities have an obligation to create a “space” where all (faculty, staff, students and administrators) know that diverse perspectives are valued and feel safe about taking risks, being vulnerable and learning from failure.  Innovation and creativity depend upon this and our universities must become futurisktic in our thinking and our actions.

Higher education should build and sustain a strong sense of community and adopt a philosophy of “thriving” not simply surviving. To do so, requires leadership (throughout the university) that in words and actions demonstrates that it values diverse perspectives, actively encourages the sharing of differing views and welcomes individual voices to the table.

And of course, we must continue to value and respect independent work and scholarship and at the same time value collaboration and teamwork.  The relevance of universities today depends upon the meaningfulness of our “work” and how well and effectively we work individually and together in teams and through interdisciplinary and innovative collaborative environments.

International context for higher education: Opposing realities

Although I frequently travel internationally, regularly engage with international students and colleagues and ponder global issues, a recent flurry of international experiences and in contrast, some vivid examples of opposing realities in higher education has prompted me to reflect once again about the importance of global engagement.  Higher education’s global engagement is more critical now and higher education must assume responsibility and leadership for engaging the public about the importance and value of developing a global perspective.

The series of international experiences this spring began with a trip to selected Chilean universities to help promote graduate education at Virginia Tech and to confirm a partnership with CONICYT (National scholarship organization in Chile) to recruit highly talented individuals into graduate degrees at VT.  We visited the University of Concepcion and the Austral University of Chile (long standing partnership) and engaged with their faculty and academic leadership.  In Santiago, we met with Sharapiya Krakinova from CONICYT, who is facilitating the program for graduate education and research exchanges.  We also connected with VT graduate alumni and representatives from other universities (UTEM, U DE VALPO, U De TALCA , U Católica del Norte) interested in developing more formal relationships with VT.  And yes, the earthquakes were real.

On May 21st, the Future Professoriate Global Perspectives program (GPP’17) trip started in Zurich for visits to eight universities (Switzerland, France, Italy) plus a global summit and ended in Riva San Vitale on June 1, 2017. The Virginia Tech group traveled to Switzerland (and beyond) and returned to the U.S. in June. Two participants of GPP’17 from University of Zurich visited Blacksburg and VT before joining the participants from University of Basel in Boston. The Global Seminar at the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC was held on June 23rd with Dr. Mary Sue Coleman (President, Association of American Universities) as the plenary speaker and presentations from the GPP’17 groups.  Lively discussions on “Higher Education as Public Good” ensued along with a hosted by Swiss Ambassador Martin Dahinden.

 

Between the GPP’17 travels and the Swiss Embassy seminar, VT was host to the second one week visit of faculty from USFQ as part of the 21st century faculty program entitled SHIFT.

During this same time frame, administrators from Shandong University in Tinan and Qingdao China arrived in Blacksburg for a brief visit about the VT-SDU partnership.

And then, I traveled to Daegu, South Korea for sport science professional meeting and a day trip to PyeongChang and the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Many countries, many people, many perspectives.  Enhanced global understanding and engagement!

So easy to travel internationally (except some irritating flight delays, cancellations and missing then damaged luggage) and to engage with individuals around the world.  Yes for me and others like me but it isn’t the reality for many others, especially now.  The value of international experiences in higher education (e.g., study abroad, exchanges, Global Perspectives program) are well documented and many possibilities exist.  For years, international students enrolling in U.S. higher education institutions have provided the opportunity for greater global awareness and understanding.  But things have changed recently and opposing realities have become clear and increasingly more visible in 2017.

Since the “travel ban” and its various iterations, uncertainty and a “chilly climate” have loomed large. The impact is seen not only in the United States but from abroad.  There remains great uncertainty and angst among the international communities.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has published recent articles about the impact upon international students currently and the concerns that they face. University World News also continues to report on the outlook for international students in the U.S.  As a consequence to recent actions, applications from international students have decreased (especially from the six countries) and Fall enrollments remain uncertain at this time.

It’s a tough environment for international students studying or wanting to study in the U.S. Two specific examples come to mind that are “close to home”.  A VT graduate student went home to Iran and couldn’t return to the U.S. for the spring semester due to travel restrictions.  She was finally able to return but it took an entire semester to do so.

Although all of the other GPP’17 participants were able to come to the U.S. for the program, one individual from Sudan was not.  His visa application submitted early in spring semester is likely still pending although the visit has long been over.  It wasn’t denied because it is possible for individuals from Sudan to come to the U.S. but it wasn’t acted upon in time.  Unfortunately he was unable to participate in the GPP’17 group presentations at the Swiss Embassy.

Upon reflection, I suggest that these represent but one example of a disconnect between higher education and broader societal interests and values in understanding of the meaningfulness of global experiences and global engagement.  Mary Sue Coleman stated emphatically that higher education is a public good.  Agreed and this must include a global perspective.  I believe that it is the responsibility of higher education to communicate with citizens unfamiliar with our academic world about the value of international students to higher education and the value of global understanding to the workforce and global citizenry.  We must find ways to encourage society to embrace culturally different views and communicate clearly the value of international students.  Clearly, we need more ‘global perspectives’ not fewer.