Graduate Transformative Skills Project Series: Faculty 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. 

Faculty Perspectives

Jon Farthing is a Professor in the College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan. His research focuses on Human Performance, Healthy Aging and Management of Chronic Conditions, and Neuromuscular Physiology, with specific interest in adaptations to various types of acute and chronic strength training. Dr. Farthing is most well known for his work on “cross-education” effects – where strength training of one limb can enhance strength of both the trained and the untrained limb. His most recent work on cross-education has focused on clinical applications after injuries.

Lisa Birke is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is a result of the collision of video, performance art, painting and installation.  Situating on the border and in the “in-betweens”, she is interested in the stories that we re-cite and re-brand and how these reflect our conception of the world and the tragi-comic perception of ourselves. Filmed unaccompanied in the Canadian landscape, absurd yet insightful performative acts become entangled in complex single and multi-channel videos and installations that trouble viewer expectations in the mixing of referents from art history, popular culture and the everyday. The thin line between theatrics and documentation is blurred, exposing an indeterminate subject and an even shakier subjectivity. In her most current work, Birke has been exploring immersive multi-media approaches, special effects, 360 video and augmented reality.

What stands out to you about the Transformative Skills Project data?

Jon: The difference between the student and faculty perspectives about whether students were well prepared for a future career.  Students often don’t know what they are good at. We need to be able to tell students at the outset of their program what skills and competencies they are going to have when they complete their program so they can take that forward into a career. 

Lisa: You don’t realize what you’ve accomplished in grad school until you’ve been out of school for 6-8 years.  A lot of the skills students are learning aren’t in a specific course and so they’re not aware that they’re already learning real world skills.  We need to find a way to articulate these skills to students and presenting them with different career paths that are related but not necessarily the focus of the program. 

Jon: The professional link between undergrad and careers is clearer than at the graduate level.  If you’re not going to go into a research career, a Master’s can be a hard sell.  We say that students will build their professional skills but don’t actually require them to do so. We need to make a shift and tie in those skills with the actual curriculum. 

Lisa: Do you (Jon) integrate skills development into 990s or other grad student events?

Jon: We don’t build skills development into a specific degree requirement or outcome, but we do encourage grad students to go to conferences. We are working some of this into KIN 990. It’s very dependent on the supervisor and whether they encourage students to present, apply for travel bursaries, go to conferences, etc. What about for your students? 

Lisa: We try to encourage students to present at conferences, and we’ve seen more students do this, but we don’t have internal support for this. Studio visits with practicing artists and curators are mandatory and looped into the seminars, along with writing workshops and a public presentation of the student’s work. 

What questions remain?

Jon: If we are trying to develop competencies for grad students, it makes sense to have centralised guidance to keep us connected and keep offerings consistent. How do we make this happen, and what can we do when views between units and CGPS don’t align well? 

Lisa: Communicating clearly to students what skills they are gaining in a program and blocking out dedicated time (such as week-long intensives in the spring/summer) to focus on building professional skills. Where might this work go next in service to graduate students? 

How do graduate students practice professional skills in your classes and seminars?

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