Self-regulated Learning and Graduate Education: What Graduate Programs Should do Part 1

Today I want to wrap up my series on self-regulated learning and graduate education. I want to revisit my original question: “What information, tools, tasks, and activities could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?”. Over a series of posts, I reviewed information and tools (writing skills, research skills, and presentation/teaching/media skills) to promote graduate student success. My posts on tools ended up discussing tasks and activities to master those tools as well, so look in those posts for those discussions.

If I had to sum up my series of posts, I think that the keys to a graduate program informed by self-regulated learning principles would be a focus on professional development and goal setting and feedback. I want to discuss both; in the post I am focusing on professional development.

After writing these posts, I have been reflecting on graduate training. Of the tools I identified that graduate students need, I think most graduate programs focus primarily on teaching students the scholarship of their field, and how to contribute to it, which would fall under the category of “research skills”. The other tools I identified are largely ignored in graduate training, unless an advisor takes it upon themselves to teach them: writing skills, presentation/teaching/media skills, and those parts of research skills that do not deal with conducting research (such as consuming research). I now believe all graduate programs should have the following, and that these could lead to improvements in graduate student achievement.

photo credit: seeveeaar via photopin cc

photo credit: seeveeaar via photopin cc

1)      An introduction to graduate studies course
As I discussed in this post, an introduction to graduate studies course is essential in that it gives students information that most advisors assume they know, and it lays out the keys to succeeding in graduate school early on. It should also include a major goal setting component, which I will discuss next week. You can see the syllabus to the one I teach here.

2)      A writing course
Why do we assume that outstanding undergrads can write well, or know how to succeed at academic writing? Let’s take the guesswork out of good writing and have a course dedicated to teaching these critical skills.

3)      A teaching course
A teaching course can help students improve across a number of dimensions that will have long-term implications for future success, as I discussed in this post. Graduate students are rarely taught how to engage an audience and best strategies for teaching. Let’s change that.

4)      A job market course
There is great variability in how much students know about the job market, and most information they know comes from their own homework, or their advisor. We all want our students to find a job, whether it is an academic or nonacademic job. Let’s help our students achieve their goals by giving them all key information that will improve their academic, and nonacademic, job market success. I like the Professor is In’s blog for this purpose, and my own job market posts. You can see a draft of the syllabus to the one I will teach this spring here.

5)      Occasional professional development seminars
As I mentioned in this post, I think that finding time to have professional development seminars on topics such as time management, media training, and your online media presence are really useful and easy to put together.

6)      A detailed handbook with tips and advice for success
Because there is variability in advising, I think have a detailed handbook, as I mentioned in this post, can lead to increased student success because they may not be getting information from their advisor, and may not be aware of it. One section of our handbook that I like is about “what classes should I take”.

There is variability among advisors in how much effort/time they put into conveying the skills I mentioned above. Some advisors do not have the time, some may not have the skills themselves, and some may not care. Unfortunately, this translates into some students getting excellent information early on, and excelling when they use it. Other students may never get the information, and by time they realize that they have been focused on the wrong things, it is too late for them, or for their CV. Having these professional development activities incorporated into a graduate program, across the curriculum, should help even the playing field among graduate students in that at least all the students are getting basic information that will lead to success in graduate school. From there, it is up to each student to decide what they want to do with that information. But, at least all students will receive it.

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