Leaders in Graduate Education

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​June 26, 2015: Upper Library, Massey College, University of Toronto

By Karen Williamson, Administrative Coordinator, 
Graduate Professional Development and Engagement and Graduate Programming 
School of Graduate Studies.

​Professor Reinhart Reithmeier wants all graduate students to succeed. For many years, Prof. Reithmeier (pictured, below) has developed initiatives and has led Graduate Professional Development (GPD) in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto. As the newly appointed Special Advisor to the Dean, Graduate Skills Development and Engagement at the School of Graduate Studies (SGS), he is focused on achieving the goal of GPD at SGS.

Reinhart Reithmeier

“The goal is to ensure that all U of T graduate students and postdoctoral fellows develop a broad skill set and network to be able to take advantage of the diverse career opportunities available to them in today’s global job market.”​

Reithmeier and SGS's Dean, Locke Rowe, launched a Summer 2015 kick-off event to explore GPD at U of T and across Canada. The SGS Leaders in Graduate Education event connected graduate students, senior U of T faculty, administration, and graduate educators from all three campuses (St. George, UTM, UTSC), with the Conference Board of Canada's Diana MacKay, Director, Education, Skills and Immigration and Jessica Edge, Senior Research Associate, Industry and Business Strategy.​

On June 26, 2015 at Massey College the Conference Board presented the findings and recommendations of its draft report, "Building a Canadian Strategy for PhD Skills for Careers Inside and Outside the Academy" and updated U of T educators on their progress related to Enhancing Skills Formation and Career Planning in the PhD Curriculum, a major theme of the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education, a research initiative of the Conference Board established five years ago.​​

Diana MacKay and Jessica Edge

​The SGS Leaders event highlighted the Conference Board’s progress, achievements, and draft report recommendations and provided a forum for graduate educators to provide feedback, present their ideas, and to report on their own initiatives and successes surrounding GPD and careers after graduate school.

The Conference Board presentation shared an overview on career pathways and outcomes for PhDs, difficult career transitions for PhD students, professional skills development initiatives, and recommendations for strengthening PhD skills. A lively and robust discussion followed, at which time Jessica Edge and Diana MacKay (pictured, left) answered questions from participants invited from all across U of T. The 50 participants included Vice-Provostial representatives, representatives from each Faculty, and graduate departments that feature GPD initiatives.

One of the main areas of discussion emph​asized the need for embedding professional skills (e.g., writing, presentation, networking, and team-building skills) into programming and curriculum. Another topic was surrounding communication—more specifically how academic administrators can better communicate what GPD activities are offered to graduate students, colleagues at U of T, and to colleagues at other universities across Canada.

Professor Margaret Blastorah, Graduate Program Chair at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, emphasized the need for professional skills training in Faculties such as the Faculty of Nursing and the Faculty of Medicine. Prof. Blastorah commented that it is "a dichotomized issue—​academic vs. non-academic" and graduate students in these areas "have a foot in both camps." Both skill sets are equally important when training a clinician-scientist, for example, and this may differ compared to training PhDs in other disciplines. There are many models of success.

Eric Gracey

Eric Gracey (pictured, right), a PhD student in Immunology, posed the question, "Are we trainees or professionals?"  Prof. Reithmeier answered, "You are both."

​Students from other disciplines also posed questions for the group to discuss. It was agreed that the nature of the PhD has changed, and that education and employment are no longer separate entities.​

“A cultural change is required,” said SGS Dean and Vice-Provost, Graduate Research and Education, Locke Rowe, “We need to know who is hiring our PhDs and grow programs like GPS that give graduate students the essential skills they need.”

​As the discussion continued it was recognized that the type of GPD training is as important as the training itself. Each discipline has its own requirements and each student has their own interests and strengths. Graduate educators need to be both creative and nimble when developing skills training. What was clear is that students need GPD, and there is a need to telegraph GPD offerings and information effectively. Par​t of communicating information is recognizing the requirements. Professor Mihnea Moldoveanu, Vice-Dean of Le​​arning and Innovation at the Rotman School of Management, said that he has been studying cognitive and non-cognitive skills for graduate students for the last five years.

Prof. Moldoveanu stated that we don’t yet have a "transformative skills matrix" (e.g., a matrix of skills transferred, versus skills required by the market for graduating talent). He proposed that knowledge amassed at the SGS Leaders’ event coupled with the Conference Board research report could help to develop a skills matrix based upon current research rather than out-of-date databases.​

M​any participants shared similar sentiments about the importance of the typology of graduate skills, of gathering accurate and current data and statistics related to graduate employment, and of teaching graduate students ho​w to "make their own jobs." Other participants made a call for the basics: teaching graduate students the 31 core competency skills cited by industry, highlighting non-academic graduate student employability, and finding the ways to unearth "hidden" jobs in the marketplace.

After a day meeting with th​e Conference Board, the key takeaway was that there is no shortage of successes to build upon, but more can still be done. Graduate educators and administrators will continue to be creative, flexible, and most importantly, they will keep the conversation going. Having been inspired by the full-day event, participants gathered informally in small groups to exchange ideas, forge new relationships and strategies, and to think even bigger. SGS and Prof.Reithmeier are providing critical leadership in graduate professional development at U of T. Please join the conversation, participate, explore, and celebrate graduate student success.

Nana Lee and Melissa Dalgleish 

Nana Lee (above left), Director GPD, Biochemistry and Immunology and Melissa Dalgleish, Coordinator, Research Training Centre, Research Institute, SickKids

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