Tools to Promote Grad Student Success: Presentation/Teaching/Media Skills

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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.

photo credit: derekbruff via photopin cc

photo credit: derekbruff via photopin cc

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.

The presentation skill most often ignored is probably media skills. Clearly communicating research findings to a lay audience can be daunting, and is actually really difficult. You might think that grad students do not need media training for success, but clearly presenting one’s own research, as well as offering jargon-free, thoughtful statements about one’s discipline and research area, can certainly help on the job market as students try to make their scholarship seem compelling to a variety of scholars and individuals with varying degrees of knowledge of the field. When on the job market and speaking with the Dean, it might be nice to have some training on how to clearly communicate the significance of your research to someone who may not even know your field at all.  Further, many scholars want to get out of the ivory tower and get their scholarship in the press. The Council on Contemporary Families, which I am part of, started as an alternative to conservative think tanks who were interpreting family scholarship in ways in which supported their agenda. The scholars who wrote the scholarship wanted to interpret it for themselves. CCF is great – check them out. The NY Times recently called out academics for not being in the public discourse enough – so help your grad students, and the field, by incorporating media training. I asked Jeff Grabmeier, Ohio State media guru and all around wonderful person, to come and give a one hour media training during our department brownbag this year, and he happily agreed. I am looking forward to it already!

So, in sum, I am advocating for teaching, presentation, and media training to be incorporated into graduate education to help graduate students succeed and ultimately achieve their post-graduate school goals.

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