The final tool that graduate students need for success is presentation/teaching skills. This topic is often ignored in graduate programs – grad students are rarely taught how to teach before they are thrust in the classroom, and likewise, grad students are rarely taught how to make a good presentation, or practice presentations in front of others. I think that at this point, most universities with graduate programs have something like the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching that we have here at OSU. And, most of these centers have training programs for teaching assistants and graduate student teachers – I took the Penn State Course in College Teaching when I was in grad school. Overall though, most graduate students are given very little guidance on how to become a great, or even adequate instructor. We have added professional development requirements to our graduate program, and one of the offerings was a course in college teaching. The course filled, and the students got a lot out of it. Why don’t more grad programs offer these courses, or require their students to take these kind of courses prior to graduation? Even for students who are more research focused and do not want to go on to academia, teaching training would help them in the long term as they will inevitably have to make presentations as part of their work.
Speaking of presentations, you can immediately tell at any academic conference that academics have not been trained how to do compelling presentations. For that matter, very few people have been. Someone in my social network runs a TEDx event, and from what I can see, she spends hours with people trying to help them make excellent, compelling presentations. So, I think that graduate programs could really benefit from having presentation training for graduate students. Perhaps these should be part of what is offered by teaching centers, but, tips could be given during brownbag presentations or during seminars that introduce students to graduate school. Even having a one hour meeting around conference season could be incredibly helpful for students. And, these presentation skill trainings could come back to really benefit the graduate program – if students give better presentations, they will craft more compelling job talks, and perhaps ultimately end up landing a better job, or at this point, any job. Because one metric by which graduate programs are evaluated is by whether, and where, they place their graduate students, the graduate program would benefit if more student landed any, and better, jobs.
I am still on the topic of self-regulated learning and graduate education. Today I want to discuss another tool that graduate students need for success: research skills. The art of conducting research has many components. First, students need to formulate research questions, preferably research questions that are going to be incremental, if not significant, additions to the field. This is a hard skill to teach, and one students really want to learn how to do. In fact, I was just on a panel at a first-year graduate student orientation, and a student asked – how do I come up with good research questions? There is no easy answer to this question. But, I have a few ideas of how we can help grad students gain skills related to formulating research questions.
First, we need to teach graduate students how to find and consume research. Faculty often assume that because our students are so tech-savy, they know how to search the internet for research related to their topic of interest, and find relevant articles. However, what faculty forget is that as undergraduate students, our students most often use their computers for social networking and consuming information. It is a very different skill to use the internet to find research. In a future post, I want to talk about skills related to finding research, but that is outside of the scope of this post. Let me just say that we need to teach students how to use the internet (my favorite is google scholar) to find research articles, rather than assuming they know how to do this.
On the topic of how to consume research, I think most students come into graduate school thinking they need to read every word of every article, and that they need to read every single article on their topic. Students will eventually realize that this is impossible. We might save them time by recommending ways to figure out which articles they should read in their entirety (i.e. classic articles in their field, articles that they are directly building on with their research) and which articles they can skim (i.e. articles for class that our outside of their field, articles that they are using just for a particular citation). We also need to help them understand when they have enough of a grasp of their area to begin to move towards research questions. I try to cover how to consume research early in the grad student proseminar I lead (see a syllabus here), but grad students can go years without really understanding how to consume research in an effective, efficient way. It feels overwhelming to get to know a field when you are a beginning grad student, so the earlier grad programs and advisors can give tips for consuming research, the better. Advisors are also the best individuals for helping a student know when they are ready to go to the hypothesis building phase, and have read enough. I have seen students fall in this trap where they think they don’t know the literature well-enough to formulate and test research questions, even after years in graduate school, and these students tend to flounder and not get the publications needed to land jobs.
Well, apparently I took the summer off from blogging. I wasn’t necessarily planning that, but I was really busy with grant submissions, travel, paper revisions, etcetera. I had a great time at the International Association for Relationship Research conference in Australia in July, and I also visited and gave talks at the University of New South Wales’ Social Policy Research Centre and the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. I was also appointed to the National Council on Family Relations’ Future of Family Science Task Force and attended a 3-day meeting in Minneapolis where the task force met. More on that in a future post. I should also mention I had fun too – lots of baseball and t-ball for my sons, a Nashville bachelorette party for my sister, and trips to Cedar Point and Kelly’s Island with my family. Overall, great summer!
For now, I want to get back to the topic of self-regulated learning and graduate education. My last post posed the question “What information could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?” Now I want to move on to “What tools could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?”
When I think of the tools of the trade for myself, the most important tools that come to mind are: writing skills, research skills, and presentation skills. Let’s discuss each of these in turn.
The most critical skill we could provide to our graduate students, in my opinion, is exceptional writing ability. Excellent writing skills can improve a students’ likelihood of grant funding, manuscript acceptance, and can ease the milestones of graduate school, such as comprehensive/qualifying/candidacy exams. Each of these can help students achieve their post-graduate school goals. Further, excellent writing skills can lead to further intellectual development as they can help distill ideas and lead to new discoveries. Learning is also improved with good writing – students will be more likely to retain information when they are able to succinctly and logically summarize critical ideas.
Last week I posed the 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?” So, let’s start with the first part of that question – what information could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?
There are several pieces of information, as well as ways to disseminate that information, that can promote graduate student success.
The first piece of information that comes to mind is the grad handbook. Our handbook now has several “tips” sections for students. We have 1) tips for success (i.e. meet with your advisor often; get to know your fellow grad students), 2) application tips (i.e. be yourself; proofread), and 3) tips for registering for courses (i.e. talk with your advisor; make it count). We also have advising best practices (from the OSU graduate school), including both graduate student responsibilities and graduate advisor responsibilities. Finally, the handbook includes guidelines for making reasonable progress through the program, including information about what reasonable progress may look like each year (i.e. first-year students will want to be involved in research and have a minimum 3.0 GPA; fourth-year students will want to have a first-authored conference presentation and complete their required coursework).
By having a detailed handbook with advice and tips, students can 1) plan a course of study that is going to foster success, and 2) use reasonable progress standards to set annual and long-term goals for themselves.
I have been working on revising our grad handbook, and leading some revisions to our graduate curriculum this year in my role as grad studies chair. One process I looked at was the end of the year report. We have grad students submit annual evaluations. These annual evaluations were used to give students a rating of “satisfactory”, “excellent”, or “unsatisfactory”. Starting next year, to be in line with the OSU grad school, we are changing the ratings slightly so that they are “reasonable progress”, “excellent”, and “warning”. As part of this change, I wrote up some guidelines for what reasonable and excellent progress might look like for graduate students. My thinking was that students might want to see what would be needed to achieve these categories. My colleagues reacted negatively, in particular, to the “excellent” progress guidelines. Thus, I began to reflect on this question – what motivates graduate students?
I started my search for the answer with a search of the literature. I found almost nothing on motivation or self-regulated learning among graduate students. Indeed, it seemed that there was virtually no literature on the topic. Lucky for me, I have two new fabulous colleagues in my college that are experts in self-regulated learning – Chris Wolters and Shirley Yu. I had coffee with both of them, and they agreed with my assessment – there was virtually no research on motivation and graduate students.
Thus, I was on my own. I discussed with both Chris and Shirley about strategies that work with regard to grad students and motivation. The first thing I learned was that intrinsic motivation is much better for achievement than extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation exists within the self, and stems from a personal interest in the task itself. Extrinsic motivation is externally motivated, and usually stems from an external entity setting the goal. That is, the motivation to do the task is that the outcome is desired, not that the task is inherently interesting to the individual. Intrinsic motivation is related to greater achievement.
As I thought more about motivation, that lead me to the concept of self-regulated learning. There has been much written on self-regulated learning as it applies to undergraduate education. What is self-regulated learning? According to Zimmerman (1990), “self-regulated learners plan, set goals, organize, self-monitor, and self-evaluate at various points during the process of acquisition” (p. 4-5). Sounds like the perfect graduate student, right?
Designing syllabi for graduate courses is a lot of work, particularly when they are seminars, and particularly when you are in an interdisciplinary program. In an interdisciplinary program, you might want to teach a seminar on a topic, say intimate relationships, but may only know the research in the discipline (e.g. clinical psychology) you were trained in. This is one instance where crowd-sourcing can really help.
Here is my story. I teach a graduate course in family theory and research. There are several constellations of family relationships (i.e. couple relationships, sibling relationships, parent-child relationships, in-law, grandparent-grandchild, etc.), as well as several theories related to the study of families. Thus, putting together the syllabus for this course the first time was overwhelming.
I began by looking at a syllabus for a family theory/research course I enjoyed that I took in graduate school in HDFS at Penn State taught by Catherine Cohan, HDFS 525 for you Penn State HDFSers. Next, I googled “sociology of the family”, “economics of the family”, “family communication”, “family psychology”, and “family theory”, and variations on these, with the word syllabus to try to find syllabi that might be relevant. In writing this post, I looked back at my folder of syllabi, and I have several sociology, HDFS, economics, and psychology syllabi related to the family that I used to get ideas of what important readings I might want to include.
Next, I put together an initial draft. I circulated the initial draft among 12 faculty outside of my home institution and my colleagues at Ohio State. I sent the following message:
I did a presentation a few years ago for prospective graduate students at the National Council on Family Relations annual conference. In preparation, I gathered advice for students applying to graduate school. You can see the contributors below. Do you agree with the advice? What is missing?
Contributors: Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, Paul Amato, Mitchell Bartholomew, Alan Booth, John Casterline, Jeff Dew, Karen Fingerman, Gary Gates, Elizabeth Hay, Claire Kamp Dush, Tina Kauh, Andrew Martin, Lauren Rinelli, Karina Shreffler, Katherine Stamps Mitchell, Miles Taylor, Alexis Walker, Nick Wolfinger
What SHOULD an undergrad or graduate student who is applying to graduate school or a Ph.D. program do?
MOST COMMON PIECES OF ADVICE:
DO YOUR RESEARCH (AND MAKE CONTACT WITH FACULTY) BEFORE APPLYING.
As part of my job as grad studies chair, I have received several inquiries into our graduate program. Individuals emailing me are interested in graduate school for a variety of reasons: they love Ohio State and want to teach at OSU, they love teaching and want to teach college students, they love Human Development and Family Science and they want to teach HDFS, they have a lifelong goal of getting a PhD, etcetera.
In my opinion, there really is only one reason to get a non-clinical or practice oriented PhD – you have a research topic, or even a discipline, you are passionate about, and you think that you will be able to self-motivate yourself to study it in depth for the next several years. Often times, students are not emailing me that they are passionate about an area of research related to child development, adolescent development, family science, prevention science, family demography, couple and family therapy, or some other area that our HDFS faculty members study. Instead, they are passionate about teaching, or really liked their undergraduate experience in our discipline. Now they want to pass that passion on to college students. Because PhD programs are primarily grounded in research, a passion for teaching college students will not necessarily be nurtured and rewarded, in the research intensive universities where most PhD programs reside.
Graduate school is long and challenging. The job market for PhDs, at least the academic job market, is very competitive, and research and publications land people jobs, even at teaching-focused universities. So individuals considering graduate school should give some serious thought as to whether a PhD is what they really want. I ask students to google “should I get a PhD” and read some articles, and if they are still interested and have a research topic they are passionate about, they should get back to me. If not, there may be other meaningful ways they could spend the next 5 to 6 years, and less expensive too I might add.
Working with students to get their publications ready for submission can take hours. I have recently been working with a superstar student from the Sociology department here at OSU. This student is bright, eager, motivated, and deliberate. We are working on a paper together, and the student is first author. We had our first formal meeting about research ideas in May 2012. By my count in my Outlook calendar, about 55 meetings later, in December 2013, we submitted a paper with the student as first author, me as second author, and my colleague as third author to the Journal of Marriage and Family [note I had a maternity leave during that year if that seems like a long time]. The longest meeting we had was scheduled for 2 hours. I did a little work on the paper outside of our meetings, but primarily, most of my work on the paper was done side by side with the student.
The paper has received a revise and resubmit, and the student immediately started working on the revision (this student is awesome, right?). By my count, we have met 12 times about the revision (the letter is almost done) and we still have to finalize the revised manuscript, which hopefully can be accomplished in maybe three or four more meetings (positive thinking!). I estimate that we have had about 16 hours of meeting so far about the revision.
I review this to make the point that it takes a lot of work to get a manuscript from idea to completion. I have spent many hours with this student reviewing results, coding in Stata, creating datasets, examining output, and finally, co-writing. The co-writing probably takes the longest. Good academic writing takes much time to learn. The co-writing the student and I have done, including reading every section of the paper out loud and jointly rewriting and clarifying, has hopefully been very helpful for the student. I certainly believe the students’ writing has improved since we started working together, and the student is very appreciative of my time.
But, would I have done this if I were in a Sociology department, or some other discipline that values solo authorship?
My final year of graduate school, I went on the academic job market. I received four invitations for on-campus interviews [aka flyouts], and I attended each. Unfortunately, I did not receive a job offer from any of these universities. The following year, the first year of my postdoc at Cornell University, I applied for only two jobs, received a campus interview for one of the jobs (Ohio State), and I landed the job. Very little changed on my CV in terms of publication and presentations between those two years. I had the postdoc and had finished my dissertation the second year, and the first year I was pregnant, so those things could have made a difference in why I got the job offer my second year and I did not my first. But, one significant thing did change over that time – my behavior and preparation – and I believe that is why I got the job the second time around.
The first time I was on the job market, I read over the CVs of people in the department prior to the interview, and I had a generic list of questions that I asked individuals I met with based on their rank. For instance, I asked assistant professors about their experiences on the tenure track, I asked department chairs about their vision of the department, etc. I felt pretty confident going into these interviews – they wanted me! Yet, just because you are a department’s first choice (I was told this by one of the departments) does not mean you are going to get the job. Our job when we are interviewing you is to flatter you and sell ourselves and our location. We are going to make you feel special. However, we are evaluating you from the time you step off of the plane.
As I was preparing for my interview at Ohio State, a colleague of mine who had recently moved from a small liberal arts college to Cornell gave me this advice. Do your homework. Read the scholarly publications of everyone that you are meeting with. Really get to know what they work on, and show genuine interest. When you meet with them, engage in some small talk, but then ask them about their research. Share your thoughts on their research, and show how it connects to your own research. He shared with me how he had meetings with faculty members, and they would say “Ithaca is a great place to live” and he would respond with “that is great, but actually, I read your paper, and I was really fascinated by XX, and I wanted to ask you about YY.”