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Centennial Celebration: Table Discussion Reports

The Future of Graduate Education at Maryland

QUESTION 1: What core competencies should every graduate have?  How should students demonstrate they have these competencies?  

Table 1: Four faculty members and three graduate students.

Competencies:

1. Ability to integrate information from disparate sources, provide a rigorous analysis, and propose a conclusion or way forward.

2. Ability to work in interdisciplinary teams to solve problems.

3. Propose hypotheses and design experiments or studies that test those hypotheses for validity using the best tools available.

4. Understand the value of diversity in pursuing knowledge.

5. Ability to speak and write for general and specialist audiences.

There appears to be a great disparity among programs in cohort building and training in mentoring, responsible conduct of research, and communication skills. People were taken aback by the lack of training and mentoring in these critical skill areas across the programs described by students and faculty. 

Table 2: Four associate deans/leaders, one GS staff member, one department administrator.

We only addressed the first part of the question because there was initial discussion as to what is meant by competencies versus skills or literacies.

Core competencies:

  • Ability to communicate at all levels, oral and written, to a wide spectrum on audiences.
  • Ability to master new ways of thinking, new technologies, and new disciplines.
  • Ability to effectively collaborate with various people and groups within and beyond the discipline.
  • Ability to see and develop new connections between and among various disciplines, groups, and stakeholders.
QUESTION 2: How can we broaden the professional development of students and incorporate this into our graduate programs?

 Notes were not taken.

QUESTION 3: How can we improve opportunities to explore and prepare for non-academic careers?

Table 1

Departmental initiatives:

  • Graduate coordinators are on rotating cycles with little or no training.  One suggestion is to develop an information kit that would include information on alternative careers for all graduate program coordinators as well as admissions personnel.
  • Need to gather and present data on graduates in non-academic careers.  Departments and colleges need to routinely gather outcome data and present it to faculty and  students and make it publicly accessible via program web sites.
  • Need to have coordinators help lead curricular and other changes intended to better prepare students for non-academic careers; provide opportunities for broader training and more dual-degree programs. Could there be a one credit course on preparing for non-academic careers?
  • College career centers need to focus on all types of possible careers, not just academic ones. Need to explore co-ops, internships, and fellowship opportunities for doctoral students in all disciplines.
  • Better use of student advisory groups and student disciplinary groups to offer programming and other forums/panels to further discussion of opportunities.
  • Build programs, panels, and alumni networks consisting of those in non-academic careers.
  • Within colleges and schools, use personnel in place to expand information. The current thinking is that faculty are not well equipped to mentor for non-academic careers. Can also tap junior faculty/new faculty who might be more informed on non-academic careers.

Campus/Graduate School Initiatives

  • Offer campus-wide programming and events – similar to the one held in spring 2018 (Graduate Career Pathways Conference) but on a regular basis.
  • Develop a web site for resources related to non-academic careers.
  • Offer training/resources on exploring careers/jobs, writing resumes and cover letters for non-academic jobs, and workshops on how to interview and successfully get a job.
  • Consider a staff position in the Graduate School or Career Services devoted to raising awareness and educating the campus.

Table 2: Three faculty, two administrators, one PhD candidate, one recent master’s graduate.

Summary of main points:

  • Students are interested in careers outside academia; departments need to support them though events with alumni and in their courses. Many students don’t communicate plans to pursue non-academic careers with faculty out of fear and stigma.
  • Student organizations hold events focused on professionalism and career development, but they need help from their departments. Attendance is often low. Academic programs may include a seminar that is focused on professional skill building.
  • The incentive system must change. Faculty focus on the things that they will be evaluated on—primarily research productivity—and will do so until the incentives change. Changing the larger system is what is needed. Faculty life is not incentivized to support preparation for a broader range of careers.
  • There is the need to train faculty about PhD and graduate student career and professional development issues. Faculty often have no experience themselves outside of academia and R1s. They don’t know about the reality of the types of jobs their alumni are in and how to talk with their students about non-academic careers.
  • We need data about the types of jobs graduates are really in. There is little clarity/knowledge about how data about where alumni are employed are collected and used by the program, college or Graduate School. Some programs collect these data for accreditation or grant reporting purposes. There was the misperception that there exists a centralized database managed by the alumni association.
  • Student perspectives on preparing for and exploring work outside of academia are valuable. The two doctoral students had worked before entering their PhD and knew there were options other than academia.
  • Students want to do internships but this can put them behind in their program. Doctoral students are not likely to pursue internships that are not related to, or interrupt the flow of, their dissertation research.
QUESTION 4: How can we strengthen and support mentoring, and recognize and reward effective mentoring?

Table 1

The discussion focused primarily on what constitutes effective mentoring. Suggestions included:

  1. Caring about the student and what they are trying to get out of their educational experience. Getting a sense of what student wants to get out of the program.
  2. Supporting the student and helping to shape their goals and what path they would like to take.
  3. Being available and responsive to student needs. This includes responding to student questions, reading and commenting on student work, etc., in a timely manner.

The table had more difficulty deciding how to evaluate whether or not a faculty member is a good mentor. In the past this has generally been output-driven (i.e. placements), but effective mentoring as described above would require a different assessment mechanism. We could ask students about their satisfaction with the mentoring experience, but in general we didn’t have a good idea about how to measure and incentivize the behaviors listed above.

The table also discussed the fact that the “job” the student has (their GA duties) may not develop the skills the student needs or wants to acquire. The faculty member leading a project has to finish the project and that may conflict with a student’s growth. This observation led to a discussion of the fact that a mentor does not have to be the faculty member that directs the student, it may not even be a faculty member.

This led to a discussion that students benefit from multiple mentors. The faculty member that the student is working for may not be the student’s primary mentor. It could be another faculty member, fellow students, staff, etc. Different mentors may be necessary to deal with different aspects of a student’s growth. International students may need help with navigating a foreign country, students with children may need help with child care and schools, all students need help in deciding what sort of job they would be best suit their skills, etc. Perhaps we should encourage different sorts of mentoring relationships outside of the typical advisor/advisee relationship. It was noted that graduate students often serve as informal mentors for undergraduate students when they serve as TAs or classroom instructors.

QUESTION 5: How should the nature of the dissertation and the dissertation committee change?

Table 1

  • It should be made very clear to students which parts of the process of developing and completing a dissertation are related to guidance and which are related to evaluation.
  • Starting the committee formation process early seems like a good practice in some disciplines.
  • Emphasizing a committee in addition to the importance of an adviser seems helpful.
  • Reluctance about a big change like co-authored dissertations based on need for sense of pride and ownership of dissertation, and on need for clarifying who deserves credit for what.

Table 2

Our table discussed the idea that PhD theses could be judged not only on scholarly merit but also on broader impact.

Table 3

Our table was talking about the possibility of changing the dissertation and committee structure, including:

  • Having a committee member from government or industry or anything external to the university on the committee to build connections in advance.
  • Students need to learn how to communicate their research to a general public.
  • The system currently rewards professors who take on many students, which is part of the problem.
  • Advisers need to facilitate students taking ownership of their projects.
  • Put yourself in the position of the student.
  • We should survey graduate students to see what they need.
  • We need to communicate the value of the PhD to the general public and how many skills it imparts no matter what the field: writing, staying on task on a big project; self-direction; collaboration in some instances.
  • Mentoring is better done in teams because different people know different things.
QUESTION 6: How can we provide more opportunities for interdisciplinary graduate student research experiences?

Table 1: Associate dean, another campus leader, a recent PhD, and two current PhD students.

  • The recent PhD has been a part of two interdisciplinary grants on campus. In both cases, the grants encouraged interdisciplinary submissions. One suggestion would be to better communicate those opportunities to graduate students and faculty.
  • One of the current PhD students mentioned the monthly events (GradTerp Exchange) the Graduate School does at Milkboy. She encouraged us to consider creating more spaces where students and faculty can communicate about interdisciplinary work. She valued having to present in a “no jargon” setting because it helps her learn to communicate with others about her research.
  • Intergenerational collaborations were mentioned—collaboration among students and faculty, and potentially among students at different stages of their work.

Table 2

Agricultural Extension education was a topic.  The Extension workplace has changed (in schools, Ag education, and companies)—there is a need for interdisciplinary research that addresses changes.

  • There needs to be deliberate effort to have bridge courses that help connect disciplines.
  • Internships make it really clear why interdisciplinary approach is needed.
  • Could interdisciplinarity be related to extracurricular activities?

Table 3

  1. Fund new initiatives for collaborative research projects (an interdisciplinary project that requires 2 - 3 units to work as team).  External example: NEH Next Generation Humanities PhD – provides planning grants up to $25K for up to 12 mons to (a) reform PhD programs; (b) increase exposure/awareness of multiple (non-academic) career paths; (c) collaborate with other departments and non-academic institutions.
  2. Set up regular ‘lab space’ or event for socializing, or an ongoing series that brings in speakers – can also be grad students – who have done this, to show as a model. Meet and greet needs to be part of it so folks can get to know one another.
  3. Establish a database of students interested in such work and faculty who have guided/mentored this kind of work, with descriptors of what the project (or course) was about.
  4. Establish a grad course practicum in which students identify a problem or issue to work on (e.g. environmental issue, social issue), then develop a research plan and carry out a preliminary study or intervention of some kind, or write a white paper.
  5. Establish a first-year grad course in research methods across disciplines and assign students to ‘teams’, along the lines of #4. This would require funds/course buyouts or course design stipends. Example: Team-teach a ‘digital humanities’ type course for learning how to present research through that medium.
  6. Make attendance at GRID a part of grad course ‘credit’, esp. if # 4 or #5 exists, or make it a kind of raffle/prize if students write up something about posters they visited outside their own field, i.e., ways they might incorporate a method or technique seen into their own research.
QUESTION 7: How should we respond to the increasing diversity of the graduate student population?

Table 1

  1. Increasing excellence requires a more inclusive environment that supports students with a broader range of backgrounds.
  2. We need to improve the pipeline of minority students in our undergraduate population to recruit into our graduate programs. This could involve outreach at the high school level.
  3. We need to institute a more effective system of mentorship, especially for URM graduate students. This will not only help to retain them but also help them succeed. The bureaucratic system often seems inflexible to the needs of many students, and having some guidance could be very helpful.
  4. Increasing diversity of faculty and staff is key to attracting and increasing diversity among the grad student population.
  5. We also need to do a better job of communicating job placement prospects during the recruitment process.
  6. We need to provide more assistantships and fellowships for this purpose.
  7. We need a much more robust and extensive mental health support system.
  8. Abolish the GRE.
  9. Conduct departmental climate site visits/external assessments.
QUESTION 8: Beyond diversity: creating educational models that serve the broadest range of constituencies.

Table 1

  • Programming and curriculum should be based on the interests of students and where they want to go post-graduation.
  • Promote interdisciplinary activity by using topics to drive discussion and research rather than strictly discipline focused. Bringing together multiple points of view.
  • Need to think about the difference between professional programming and academic programming.
  • Building a culture in which the student understands their own discipline in depth but is able to appreciate other viewpoints.
  • Encourage students to take classes outside of their own department and discipline to broaden their knowledge and skills.
  • Encourage training a la studio projects in which students learn by doing.
  • Need to differentiate between formal education and training. Need to develop curriculum that is flexible and useful both within the general doctoral education as well in the discipline.
  • The role of the dissertation committee members needs to adapt. Members need to be more involved in the overall process. Need to form interdisciplinary committees and teams that develop and conduct research that provides value to the disciplinary community and the wider community. Suggest a triad: industry/faculty/student.
  • In terms of incentives for accessing and participating in the training, the faculty need to model the behaviors that are desired. Working with people outside of the discipline should be encouraged.
  • Thought should be given to the pros and cons of the European model – not course based. Do we need to keep the same model of course based training?
  • Can tackle the issues quickly with the low-hanging fruit:
    • Have students take courses outside of the discipline.
    • Create interdisciplinary seminars.
    • Have at least one member of the dissertation committee outside of the discipline.
    • Have the committee members take on a more formative role throughout the process rather than just reading and commenting on the dissertation at the defense.

Table 2

We defined constituencies as: first-generation, international, adult (with children), race, class, gender, underserved, rural, indigenous, Appalachian.

Needs:

  • Recruit diverse teachers
  • Bring business leaders to campus
  • Adults have no connection to campus; there is an age issue
  • People who come to campus don’t know about resources
  • More connection to families; involve our families on good education
  • Mentoring model, on-line mentoring
  • Community that is supportive
  • Articulation agreements with the community colleges
  • Revise APT of faculty to include mentoring
  • Need graduate student housing on campus to develop community
  • Learning communities that support each other, study together, answer academic questions, support one another through getting through program (Tinto)
  • Incentives to have faculty be responsible for mentoring
  • Assign veteran teachers to help new teachers
QUESTION 9: What is the place of professional education in a research university?

Table 1

Here were the following comments/topics:

1.   Being flexible and student-centric in our degree programs helps ensure we are keeping pace with the changing workforce.

2.   Professional programs are a value, but require unique faculty expertise and campus policies to be in place to ensure successful outcomes of these programs.

3.   Engagement by these programs with professional workforce representatives is key; the research faculty will not likely have the requisite expertise to build these programs.

4.   Time limits on such programs may be required, both for the students within the program and for the programs themselves, owing to the rapid change of some professional fields.

5.   Advisory councils of workforce representatives, students, and alumni are critical to the success of such programs.

Table 2

Morrill Act established professional education in the mission of land grant universities.  Unnecessary to make a distinction between professional and other academic disciplines.

  • Distinction between applied and basic research is fuzzy.
  • Distinction between professional and academic education is more imagined than real.
  • Preparing students for jobs in industry and professions requires industry-oriented faculty. Who will pay the premium for these faculty?
  • Professional education advances rapidly in China, more slowly in US.
  • Constant innovation is required to prepare students for the professions of the future.
  • When you move quickly to innovate you run the risk of big errors.
  • Do we have the mindset to constantly review our curriculum?
  • A PhD is a degree in “how to do something” – how to identify and solve a problem and communicate about it. These are skills highly applicable to work in professional settings.
  • Some Master’s degree students are already engaged in professional work, either before or during their educations.
  • Professional education is competence-based learning.
  • When professional education takes place in a professional setting you lose diversity of perspectives, must offer a rich environment to justify the location.
  • Intellectual component – we diminish professional education and do students a disservice when we characterize it as training.
  • Emphasizing a difference between PhD and professional Masters degrees is part of the problem.

 

 

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