Why Graduate Professional Skills?

Increasingly, graduate and postdoctoral students are finding employment outside academia.  The key skills required for employment within and outside academia include many of the things valued in graduate programs, such as building a well-developed argument, making ethical decisions, and working independently.  Sometimes students cannot identify or describe the skills they have acquired or require opportunity to develop skills that are not learned within their graduate and postdoctoral degrees. The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL) funded a faculty fellow, Dr. Loleen Berdahl, to study the needs for graduate student professional skill development at USask and recommend next steps.

Project Structure

Outcomes

  • Identify perceptions of USask graduate students and faculty regarding the  skills needed by graduate students;
  • Clarify best practices for graduate career skills training offered at comparable institutions;
  • Construct proposed, faculty-supported, solutions for building skills into graduate course work;
  • Lay the foundation for a pilot program in which graduate students are explicitly taught skills within existing graduate courses across the university, combined with co-curricular offerings to fill identified holes;
  • Produce knowledge mobilization products produced with the USask Office of Research Profile and Impact.

Partners

The College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (CGPS) and the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL) were the two main partners in sponsoring this work. This project had the support of the Office of Research Profile and Impact, and the cooperation of the University of Saskatchewan Graduate Students’ Association (GSA).

Project Team

Dr. Berdahl is a professor who, at the time was the head of the USask Department of Political Studies  when the project started.  Currently Dr. Berdahl is the Executive Director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS). She has an active research agenda examining the embedding of career skills training into undergraduate and graduate programs.

Inspired by her background working outside academia, Dr. Berdahl is committed to helping students recognize and develop career-relevant skills that employers and society need. She is the principal investigator on a SSHRC Insight project examining doctoral professional development, and her most recent book is Work Your Career: Get What You Want From Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD (2018, University of Toronto Press; co-author J. Malloy).

The faculty fellow lead the process of data collection and sharing, and conducted an environmental scan of other U15 universities’ approaches to future skills development.

Naheda Sahtout completed her B.Sc. (Honours) in Biology from the University of Waterloo, M.Sc. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Guelph, and Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Saskatchewan. 

She developed a strong interest in STEM outreach and finding innovative and creative ways of bringing STEM to rural and Indigenous communities during her graduate programs, and is an advocate for better equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in STEM graduate education. She also found her passion in enhancing graduate education and as a student leader worked hard to strengthening the student-supervisory relationship, finding more resources for graduate students, increasing the networking opportunities for graduate students with non-academic partners, and working on initiatives that prepare graduate students for non-academic careers. Naheda is the former president of the University of Saskatchewan Graduate Students’ Association.
  • Wenona Partridge, Educational Development Specialist, Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning 
  • Dr. Wendy James, Manager, Professional and Curriculum Development, Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning

Consultations

Gathering information and consulting faculty

The data collection occurred between Dec. 2019 and Dec. 2020 with ethics approval.

It included:

Online surveys of faculty

view questions

integrated survey data summary
Online surveys of graduate students

view questions 

Focus groups and workshops with graduate chairs and graduate students

view questions

focus group results

Interviews to determine best practices and programming opportunities available in comparable institutions

view questions

interview synthesis

 

Results

View the summary report for recommendations for guiding and coordinating offerings and potential methods for learning professional skills that align with feedback from faculty and students.