Being Futurisktic

Institutions of higher education (IHEs) have often been viewed as slow to change and to prefer, and even perpetuate, the status quo or the “way we have always done it”.   Thus, IHEs often appear to be (or are) risk-averse and reluctant to change.  But change is clearly needed amidst the many challenges facing higher education today.  In addition to the challenges, there are many and varied opportunities and possibilities.

In thinking about the future for higher education and working toward transformative change (evolution and especially revolution), the challenges tend to visible immediately and the associated risks often become the reasons that we question if we can or if we should move forward. Even though progress is always possible, change is often limited by the risks or the perception of risk and possible failure. Some academic leaders are risk-averse or take actions that appear to be risk-averse, but I would argue that risk must be acknowledged and welcomed as a part of our growth individually and professionally and institutional change.

To effect change we must adapt our thinking to be futuristic and simultaneously embrace risk as a critical element for significant progress to be made; that is futurisktic.  Futurisktic thinking can also be seen as a way of thinking not just about the future but as a mindset for engaging with today’s challenges and associated risks in pursuing the opportunities that emerge.

A few thoughts about being futurisktic relative to graduate education. Graduate deans and graduate schools can be agents for change by taking the risk and leading the way in challenging the status quo.  For graduate education, the status quo has played out in many ways but only two are mentioned here: assumption that ‘surviving graduate school’ is the norm and the way to evaluate performance is primarily through known markers of success while ignoring or dismissing failure.

Obviously we should strive for success but still note that much can be learned from failures. For graduate education, academic leaders should accept the responsibility to create the space for encouraging graduate students to take risks in pursuit of greater understanding knowing full well that failure is possible. As we know well, failure is a critical component of learning and research.

Surviving graduate school has been the recent rhetoric about the graduate student experience and I advocate to change the rhetoric and reality from surviving to thriving. Thriving provides an alternative metaphor for the experience and should guide us toward to the future. Thriving doesn’t mean lowering of quality or expectations. It is about empowering graduate students and providing the space to seek opportunities and take risks. Thriving allows for more creativity and innovation within the graduate education experience.  As a Graduate Dean, I encourage us to think differently about graduate education for the future (that’s a topic of a future blog), take some risks and encourage being futurisktic.

Futurisktic: of the future that includes risk (that’s okay) and taking risks (that’s good)

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.

Thriving in Graduate School

Thriving has not been the typical term used to describe the graduate education experience; rather “surviving” has been the term associated with earning a graduate degree. But now it is time to question this existing paradigm and move from surviving to thriving through the implementation of affirming, and yet still challenging, environments for advanced learning and research. High expectations and quality standards can be and should be maintained but the academic bullying (subtle or overt) and questionable professional behaviors must be eliminated.

Based upon their research of faculty conduct with graduate students, Braxton, Proper and Bayer (2011) derived a “normative structure” that includes “inviolable norms” and “admonitory norms”. The inviolable norms included disrespect for student efforts, misappropriation of student work, harassment of students, whistle-blowing suppression, and directed research malfeasance. The admonitory norms were identified as neglectful teaching, inadequate advising/mentoring, degradation of faculty colleagues, negligent thesis/dissertation advising, insufficient course structure, pedagogical narrowness, student assignment misallocation, and disregard for program.  As a result of their work, we can better understand these broad categories of faculty behavior and can provide “guidelines of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors” for graduate education.

To address and counter these “norms” found in graduate education, we need a cultural shift and commitment of faculty and departments as well as the graduate school to encourage strategies that foster an affirming environment for graduate education.  Examples might include (but are not limited to):

  1. Development of quality mentoring programs and recognition for faculty who engage in mentoring (e.g., outstanding mentor award, mentor of the month)
  2. Professional development programs for faculty and graduate students (e.g., Transformative Graduate Education) in the roles and responsibilities of a 21st century faculty member including teaching/learning, advising/mentoring, directing thesis/dissertation, lab management, and more.
  3. Graduate teaching assistantship training programs (e.g., GTA workshop, Academy for GTA Excellence) and recognition for graduate teaching excellence (e.g., GTA awards)
  4. Emphasis upon inclusion and diversity especially inclusive pedagogy and affirming diverse environments. Workshops and education to understand unconscious biases and eliminating micro-aggressions (see Tool_Recognizing_Microaggressions)
  5. Building graduate community within and beyond departmental/college boundaries; Graduate Schools can play a significant role and assume responsibility here as well.
  6. Utilization of holistic admissions process and ongoing inclusive retention strategies
  7. Annual progress review with honest constructive feedback; equitable appeal process
  8. Establishment of an Office of the Graduate Student Ombudsperson
  9. Establishment of an honor code, ethics requirement, graduate student handbooks and expectations for graduate study
  10. Engage and work closely with graduate students in creating positive learning environments
  11. Communicate directly and work closely with faculty to create academic environments in which graduate students can thrive
  12. Celebrate achievements and graduate student success

Thriving not surviving.  Please join me in the conversation.

Expectations for Graduate Education: Virginia Tech Graduate School

The Virginia Tech Graduate School is committed to providing a “rich learning environment” for graduate students and a quality graduate education experience.  To do so requires clear communication about policy and procedures and especially the expectations for graduate study.  The VT Graduate School’s commitment is articulated in the “Expectations for Graduate Education at Virginia Tech.”

Originally created by graduate students and faculty in 2003, the expectations document was revised in 2011 and highlights the “vital elements of 21st-century graduate education, including ethics, civility, professional and academic development, teaching/learning, and inclusive community”.  The document describes the graduate environment promoted at VT and articulates expectations for graduate students, faculty, departments (programs, schools) and the Graduate School.  The document also includes a section on mentoring and a section on complaints and the appeals process.  A summary of the expectations are shared in a printable format as well.

The expectations are discussed in relation to major components of graduate education: progress toward degree, research and ethics, teaching and training, professional development, assistantships and financial aid, and community.  Although written in 2011, the expectations still provide relevant guidelines for graduate education today. Examples include the following:

  • Clear communication about departmental and Graduate School policy and procedures
  • Regular communication between faculty advisor and student
  • Understand and adhere to responsible conduct of research and scholarly endeavors
  • Discuss and agree upon requirements and expectation for authorship
  • Ensure that graduate programs conform to the highest academic standards and remain relevant through appropriate curriculum
  • Adherence to professional codes of conduct, student conduct and honor codes
  • Provide appropriate teacher training and professional development opportunities
  • Provide annual feedback to students and provide opportunity for students to correct academic deficiencies
  • Ensure fair and equitable treatment of students
  • Provide a safe and collegial work environment; respect work-life balance and working conditions
  • Provide pertinent resources and mentoring for degree completion
While the information seems fairly straightforward and common sense, it is valuable to have the expectations clearly identified and shared with the graduate students and faculty in order to provide the foundation for a quality graduate education experience at the beginning of one’s graduate study and to remind faculty, departments and the Graduate School of our collective responsibility for quality graduate education. The goal of graduate education should be to provide the academic context(s) and mentoring that allows graduate students to demonstrate their ability to achieve, their desire to succeed and their commitment to future professional contributions.
Unfortunately, academic bullying and questionable professional behavior are still prevalent in higher education.  And as I mentioned in the previous blog entitled Academic Bullying and graduate education, these must be eliminated from graduate education and replaced with a challenging yet affirming academic environment.

Academic bullying and graduate education

A recent study by Gentry and Whitely (2014) entitled “Bullying in Graduate School: Its Nature and Effects” concluded that although graduate students did experience ‘aggressive and exclusionary’ behaviors associated with traditional definition of bullying they tended to reject the use of “bullying” to describe their experiences. (see The Qualitative Report 2014 Volume 19, Article 71, 1-18 http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR19/gentry71.pdf).  The behaviors were experienced were as more “covert and indirect” rather than typical images of playground bullying.  These behaviors could also be described under the umbrella of micro aggressions, incivilities, and acts based upon unconscious bias.  To emphasize the importance of understanding these behaviors, how they manifest  themselves in graduate school, and the significant impact that they can have on graduate students, I have written about and will continue to use the terminology of “academic bullying“.

Academic bullying manifests itself in many different ways and can include intimidation, humiliation, belittlement, embarrassment and undermining one’s authority.  Academic bullying also includes behaviors or comments that indicate disregard of one’s concerns, ignoring contributions, minimize one’s efforts in the eyes of colleagues, and other means of exclusion or withholding information.  Expectations of unreasonable workload, limiting earned vacation and prohibiting graduate student’s own agency for professional choices and personal decision could also be inappropriate.  As is well known, comments or behaviors that are sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic and more are unacceptable and can fall under the umbrella of academic bullying and should not be tolerated.  Academic bullying occurs throughout the academic or professional space; in the classroom, in meetings, at conferences, in the laboratory setting, in face-to-face interactions, and of course through email and social media.

Essentially, the behaviors and actions described above would be considered unprofessional and could be considered as “misconduct”. In their book entitled Professors Behaving Badly: Faculty Misconduct in Graduate Education, the authors (Braxton, Proper & Bayer, 2011) provide some more specific examples based upon their study including the following (more discussion in a later blog post):

Professors behaving badly

• Publishing an article without a graduate student among the authors who made significant contributions to the study.

• Prohibiting graduate students from expressions differing viewpoints.

• Requiring additional hours of work per week regularly beyond that of the assistantship and on nights, weekends and vacation times.

While it is important to understand what constitutes academic bullying, it is just as important to understand the context for graduate education and what would not be considered as academic bullying.  Graduate school should be challenging and is sometimes difficult and frustrating.  Graduate school should not be demoralizing although students might occasionally question their ability to perform.  Graduate students need to understand the conditions for graduate study set by the Graduate School and the department or faculty.  Obviously there are policies and procedures that need to be followed.  Academic freedom is valued and respected for graduate students and faculty.  Freedom of speech is a right but must be exercised in an atmosphere of respect for others. Disagreements are likely and emotions will be expressed but must be civil.  To read about the VT Graduate School’s description of the graduate environment, link here.

Communication and clarity are key to success in graduate school.  The next blog will focus on expectations for graduate study and ways in which we can move the conversation about graduate school from surviving to thriving.

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 John M. Braxton, Eve Proper, and Alan E. Bayer 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.

Interdisciplinary thinking

Klein bookThe higher education community has long discussed, debated and defined (and redefined) interdisciplinary education and research.  Published in 1990, Julie Thompson Klein wrote the first comprehensive overview of interdisciplinarity. Since then, many books have been written, articles published, and conferences held.  In the early 21st century, two prominent federal funding agencies (NSF, NIH) would articulate the importance of interdisciplinary research (and graduate education) through the publication of Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research (2004, National Academies Press) and NIH Roadmap Interdisciplinary Research initiatives (2005, National Institutes of Health).

With increased attention about interdisciplinary research including the notion of “grand challenges“, the development and implementation of interdisciplinary programs followed.  Leading the discussions at the graduate level was the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) that offered sessions during its annual meetings and summer workshops.  Having been a participant in these conversations, the focus was primarily on content knowledge and research methodologies cutting across disciplines and the development of graduate degree programs.  Examples of good practices exist (e.g., Penn State, University of California-Davis, University of Central Florida, University of Minnesota, University of Washington, Virginia Tech).  At Virginia Tech, we have also established a blog site as a means of sharing research across interdisciplinary degree programs as well.  And all the while, very little discussion has occurred around interdisciplinary thinking and its relationship to graduate education until CGS President Suzanne Ortega invited Vice Provost Frances Leslie (UC Irvine) and me to facilitate such a discussion.  A great discussion occurred; the results of which will be shared in a different forum.  What follows here are my reflections and musings about interdisciplinary thinking in preparation for and after that session.

I have previously blogged about interdisciplinary thinking and different metaphors for graduate education.  I proposed the symbol of “pi” as metaphor for interdisciplinary (transdisciplinary as well) imagesand preparing graduate students to become adaptive innovators.  My musings about interdisciplinary thinking continue and have been informed by Simeon Dreyfuss article entitled “Something essential about interdisciplinary thinking” published in 2011 in Issues in Integrative Studies (29, 67-83)

So how do I understand interdisciplinary thinking?  Interdisciplinary thinking (I-thinking) must extend beyond the sharing of content and methodology from different disciplinary perspectives.  I-thinking must reach beyond common courses, shared research projects, case studies and joint publications. I-thinking most likely involves team science especially collaboration and clear, direct communication.

I-thinking should involve problem solving as well as problem defining and problem posing.  Yes, it involves what is known as critical thinking skills however these are defined. It is about asking questions and “sitting with” the question before jumping to solutions or answers quickly.  I-thinking takes time and requires perseverance.

Interdisciplinary thinking is about different ways of knowing and knowing differently and knowing in relationship to other even dissimilar views. It is about differing modalities of thinking and learning which requires acceptance of and tolerance for ambiguity and dissonance and perhaps confusion at times.  Creativity and innovation are key components and outcomes of interdisciplinary thinking.

Interdisciplinary thinking is a non-linear process and doesn’t embrace dualities but seeks intersections and connections.  I-thinking is about acknowledging the notion of a “baggy idea of truth, understanding the multiplicity of truth and the ongoing search for evolving truth.  It involves looking for and seeing the “unobvious” – to see things in ways which might not be obvious.

Interdisciplinary thinking is not only integrative but much more.  Beyond analysis and synthesis across disciplines, interdisciplinary thinking must be iterative and emergent.

Dreyfuss (2011) wrote that the difference between disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking is “a manifestation of how deeply one is wed to particular historical institutionalizations of knowledge” (p. 80). In order to prepare the graduate students for the future, graduate deans must encourage programs and provide opportunities to push beyond the historical institutionalization of knowledge and disciplinary boundaries into interdisciplinary thinking.  The abilities and skills associated with interdisciplinary thinking will serve all graduate students well in discipline-based or interdisciplinary programs.

So, the question now is how.

Inclusion

Virginia Tech has developed an initiative called InclusiveVT which now serves an umbrella for inclusion and diversity efforts.  VT President Timothy Sands has publicly stated that inclusion is the goal and with inclusion will come diversity.  For more information, see the InclusiveVT website and blog.

Most of us would say that we understand and would be able to define inclusion. And we would commonly define inclusion as the “action of including or being included within a group or structure”.  Although accurate, inclusion is and has to be more.

From my perspective, inclusion thus is not simply about including individuals of diverse backgrounds into existing groups or structures (society).  It has to be about changing the culture of the group or structure (institution) as well so that individuals could be and are included.   Without such change, individuals might be “present” in the structure but might and often do feel excluded.  With cultural change, the modified structure would then be more inclusive and less representative of the status quo. Institutions of higher education have been very slow to change but they must.  To do less is to fall short of the transformational change toward inclusivity needed in higher education.

Eve of departure – Year 10

The “eve of departure” for the 2015 Global Perspectives Program is rapidly approaching.  And as I contemplate another departure, I’m struck by the fact that this is the 10th year of the program.   For me, each year brings a similar level of excitement and wonder about the journey we will take individually and collectively.  Every cohort is different although each cohort believes they are the “best”.   Better or best are not words I use to describe the various cohorts for each cohort is unique and brings their perspectives to the journey.  Our individual goals and objectives vary; our interactions evolve, a sense of community builds and the experience lasts much longer than our time abroad.  Each trip is terrific producing fond memories and friendships that last a life-time.  To date, more than 120 VT graduate students participated in the GPP program – future professoriate: global perspectives program.  And I have appreciated all of the experiences over the years.

So on the eve of my departure this year, I reflect on the 10 years of the program.   I looked back on two previous blogs about departures for GPP 2012 and for GPP’13.   In both of these blogs, a theme emerges about observation and reflection.  I quote:  “As a part of the experience, I ask the Virginia Tech participants to keep journals and to write about their observations and personal reflections.  As I challenge myself daily, I encourage the GPPers to see new things and to see things in new ways (e.g., the doors and windows) and to see the unobvious.”  When we meet at “Hotel St. Josef in Zurich, Switzerland at 3pm (1500) on Sunday May 24, 2015” I will once again talk about looking at the windows and doors, markets and stores, streets and sidewalks, and more.  And I will encourage us to look for the unobvious and see things through a different cultural lens.

The eve of departure always tends to coincide with VT Commencement Ceremonies.  This seems fitting inasmuch as commencement is also a beginning – a beginning of new journey.  GPP’15 is a beginning, a new journey and one that we anticipate.

The fourteen plus Michael and me will travel different routes to Zurich, spend the next 12 days together and on June 4th we begin our return and re-entry.  Please read follow the GPP Switzerland blog, read about the VT participants and UniBasel group along the way, and follow up on social media (Facebook, twitter @gppvt or @kpdepauw, and more).  Please check out #gppswiss15.

A new way to follow our trip and join in the fun – http://tripvis.org.  Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

 

Risk taking and higher education: Not an oxymoron

Words like revolution, transformation and risk-taking are not necessarily common in higher education….until recently.  And I’m delighted to see the change.

“Of the iUse of the univnstitutions that had been established in the Western world by 1520, 85 still exist – Catholic Church, the Parliament of the Isle of Man, of Iceland and of Great Britain, several Swiss cantons, and 70 universities. Of these, perhaps the universities have experienced the least change.” (Kerr 2001, p.115 from The Uses of the University originally published in 1982 by Harvard University press).

As indicated above and common knowledge, universities have been slow to change throughout much of history at least through the 20th century.  But the advancements in technology of the 21st century have definitely precipitated change in almost all aspects of the university.  We have seen changes in the teaching and learning mission.  Research and discovery have expanded due to the use of technology as have the ways in which we disseminate scholarship.  Innovation and entrepreneurship have become common in today’s universities.  And of course, administrative processes and communication strategies sometime bear little resemblance to the past.

Although change is occurring, more is needed.  Many books have been written, op-ed pieces published and reports issued about the status of higher education today.  Once such report entitled “An Avalanche is Coming” offered the following:pub-avalanche-130305_10432.693d2106

“Our belief is that deep, radical and urgent transformation is required in higher education as much as it is in the school systems.  Our fear is that, perhaps as a result of complacency, caution or anxiety, or a combination of all three, the pace of change is too slow and the nature of change too incremental” (March 2013, p. 3)

If the “pace of change too slow and nature too incremental”, the leadership for the 21st century universities must be willing to challenge the status quo and take risks.   We must be “futurisktic“.  In that blog (2013), I wrote:

“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…. Being futurisktic is about pushing ourselves and pushing the limits as is so wonderfully exemplified in the video entitled the future is ours.”

A recent example of pushing oneself and stretching beyond one’s comfort zone is the article about “From safe spaces to brave spaces” by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens (2013).  The discussion of moving from “safe” to “brave” spaces has been especially pertinent to social justice and diversity. Several universities (e.g., UMBC, University of Michigan, Berkeley, UCLA, NYU) have initiated programs, dialogue and issued guidelines.  The metaphor of safe to brave should be embraced by university communities and utilized in considering futurisktic ideas and embracing change and institutional transformation.

I realize that change is difficult for some and especially in higher education where the culture tends to reinforce caution and the status quo.  As stated in “An Avalanche is Coming”, higher education needs transformation and individual leaders who can help lead the way.  “Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth” by Derrick Bell (2002) provides some guidance for these leaders toward this end.  He offers advise for being successful and maintaining a sense of integrity.  His message is simple in that he “urges us to livEthical Ambitione a life of passion, to have the courage to take risks for what we believe in, to rely on our loved ones and out faith for support during hard times, and to have the humility to know when our best intentions go awry” (front cover).