Graduate Education

Graduate Transformative Skills Project Series: Support Perspective

In 2019-20, 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. This blogpost series examines and translates the data from differing perspectives. We invite you review the data here. This work continues through the Graduate Competencies project, led by Wendy James and Chelsea Smith. 

Support Perspectives

Chelsea Smith: I’m the Professional Development and Postdoctoral Studies Coordinator with the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.  In my role, I support Postdoctoral Fellows and faculty and staff that work directly with postdocs.  Postdocs come to USask to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become independent investigators and to position themselves to transition into a career, either in academia or industry. Part of my portfolio is to expand the availability of professional development opportunities for USask postdocs and grad students to assist with their transition to the next stage of their career.   

Wenona Partridge: I am a Graduate Career Educator with Career Services. I teach GPS 984: Thinking Critically and GPS 974: Graduate Professional Skills Certificate. These two multi-disciplinary courses support graduate students and post docs to develop their own professional and personal learning goals and mission statement, as they work to develop their skills with the support of weekly classes, and document those skills in a portfolio.  

What stands out to us from a support perspective: 

Chelsea: One of the outcomes of the Transformative Skills Project that stood out to me was the need to clarify best practices for graduate career skills training offered at comparable institutions.  We can not only learn about best practices, but we can learn about the challenges other institutions have faced, what they did to overcome those challenges, and what challenges are ongoing. This can hopefully help us to proactively tackle some issues that have already been identified in the key findings, such as student and postdoc capacity, how to increase awareness and accessibility of professional development opportunities, and how to increase the number of opportunities while also maintaining high quality of content.  

Wenona: I noticed the difference in perspectives between graduate students and faculty towards the skills each thought would be needed. While graduate students noted high levels of anxiety towards the future and a perceived lack of career options, or at least unclear career paths, faculty responded more neutrally or even negatively to the idea that professional skills development opportunities should be available. The focus groups highlight that both graduate students and faculty feel pressed for time and unwilling to take on one more thing, and I wondered what impact that might have on reporting about professional development opportunities. It also seemed that the opportunities that are available are not reaching everyone, or were offered at inconvenient times. We have worked to resolve this by creating online training modules that can be accessed at any time. Mitacs has taken similar steps with their professional development programs (  

The table below is from the Focus Group Summary: 

Table 3
Table 3: Comparisons between Faculty and Graduate Student Responses

What questions do you have from a support perspective?