Navigating Your PATH: Exploring and Supporting Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Development
May 6 – 7, 2011, University of Toronto
ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
In graduate school, students must navigate a path between their work as emerging scholars and the expectations associated with becoming a practicing professional, whether within or beyond academe. While expectations for completing degree requirements may be made clear to students in a graduate program, expectations for working beyond the degree are often less successfully communicated. Students are not always fully prepared for the range of responsibilities associated with an academic position. They may lack the interpersonal and project management skills necessary to initiate and oversee research projects or contribute effectively to course planning or program reviews. They may not have had sufficient opportunities to learn about and practice teaching in their discipline. Graduates can at times face challenges in the non-academic workplace as well, where expectations for effective communication and decision-making are high. Graduate students therefore experience a tension between the idealized role of the intellectual or researcher and the reality of the expectations associated with a professional workplace. Navigating Your PATH will bring together faculty members, administrators, educational developers, librarians, student support staff, professionals, and most importantly, students from all over Canada, the United States and points beyond to examine the latest research and practices in graduate student development and Teaching Assistant (TA) training. In discussing how we prepare graduate students for teaching, curriculum planning, research, publishing, grant-seeking, report-writing, public speaking, community work, etc., we hope to clarify for graduate students (and those who work to support them) the paths that lie ahead.
TIMELINESS OF CONFERENCE
Navigating Your PATH represents a culmination of growing interest in Canada in the support and development of professional skills in graduate students, including the training provided to TAs. Several Canadian institutions participate regularly in annual higher education conferences where the efficacy of TA training is discussed, although never in enough depth. Over the past decade, there has been interest at the national level in this topic. The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) supported a conference on innovation in graduate education in 2005 and the Tri-Council national research agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR) together with CAGS and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) sponsored a gathering of academics and professionals in Ottawa in 2007 to discuss the development of professional skills in graduate students. In addition to this growing national interest in TA and graduate student development, Navigating Your PATH hopes to build on the success of 20 years of conferences in the United States that have focused on graduate teaching assistant training and the development of graduate students as “future faculty”. No such national conference focusing on the combination of TA training and skills development in graduate students has ever taken place in
The conference will focus on the preparation of graduate students for their professional paths, including teaching and research. A main focus of the teaching theme will be the training provided to students who take on duties as TAs. Conference participants can choose to submit a proposal for a workshop, panel, individual paper or poster presentation in any of the following four key areas (the P.A.T.H.):
P – PROFESSIONAL SKILLS – We borrow this clarification of the term “skills” from the document “Professional Skills Development for Graduate Students”, a report prepared in 2008 by CAGS: “By skills, we mean behaviours that can be learned, that can be improved with practice, that require reflection, and that benefit from ongoing improvement. The phrase professional skills is used here in the broad sense to describe skills that are complementary to disciplinary knowledge and that will enhance the graduate’s ability to be successful in the transition from academic to work life.” Such skills may encompass information literacy, effective use of technology, time management, project management, teamwork skills, grantsmanship, oral communication skills, writing skills. This stream will identify and assess how, and when, graduate students acquire these skills.
A – ACADEMIC RESEARCH – This stream will examine the extent to which the management of academic research is explicitly taught as part of a graduate degree program. How are graduate students prepared to initiate and oversee research projects? How are they trained in qualitative and quantitative research methods? What grounding in ethical approaches to research is provided to graduate students and how are they trained to examine the moral implications and societal impact of their work? How are they prepared to write a paper for a peer-reviewed journal or a monograph for publication? Are they given specific guidance in the oral communication of research results or the preparation of a research abstract? Are they encouraged to locate their narrowly-defined research in a larger paradigm?
T – TEACHING COMPETENCE – Are graduate students exposed to theories of learning within their disciplines? Are they encouraged to observe effective teachers in their field, or outside of their field? Are conversations about teaching in their discipline a part of their graduate school experience? Do they have opportunities to lead entire courses, or do they work only as graders or class section leaders? Are they able to teach in a variety of contexts: small group discussions, large class teaching, lecturing, facilitating, mentoring? How are graduate students prepared for their responsibilities as TAs? How does unionization affect the development of the graduate student TA? How successful is the work of undergraduate teaching assistants? How has TA training changed over the past decade? This stream seeks to address all of these questions and more.
H – HOLISTIC DEVELOPMENT – Building on Ernest Boyer’s call for the holistic development of intellectual and ethical competence in graduate students so they can “give larger meaning to specialized knowledge” (Boyer, 1990, p. 68), this stream will explore programming that seeks to combine teaching, research and professional skills development in graduate students. Such programming may focus on responding to change, showing leadership, linking research to societal needs, linking research and teaching across disciplines, active citizenship, the ability to work in a diverse setting, etc. Does such programming support graduates in new ways? How will ill it better prepare graduate students for a dynamic professional life?
CONTRIBUTION TO SCHOLARSHIP
Relatively little has been published on the Canadian approach to training and supporting TAs, or on graduate education in Canada. A chief aim of this conference is to provide an overview of current practices in teaching assistant training and graduate student development in Canada and the United States, and to publish a selection of papers that highlight emerging issues in graduate education and successful strategies for supporting TAs from across the continent. This publication will serve to broaden the conversation around graduate student development at a national level, and will raise the profile of TA and graduate student support across North America. The ultimate goal is to develop a graduate student development handbook that highlights the Canadian context, but that draws on substantial and dynamic international scholarship.
FOCUS ON STUDENTS
Graduate students are strongly encouraged to submit proposals to Navigating Your PATH. They can collaborate with a faculty member to present on teaching practices in a given course or field of study, they can present a paper on burning issues in graduate education or on a topic related to their own professional development, or they can deliver a workshop on effective strategies for skills development at the graduate level. Funding may be available to support graduate students traveling to the conference who will be presenting at the conference. More details to follow. This conference will allow graduate students to network with graduate administrators and industry representatives, and connect with colleagues from across North America who work to support graduate education and TA development.
There are several reasons to visit the largest, most dynamic urban centre in Canada! Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in North America, boasting a range of vibrant neighbourhoods, restaurants and cultural activities. At the end of June, the city comes alive with a variety of festivals. Toronto is also within easy distance of notable tourist sites, such as Niagara Falls and the world-renowned Niagara wine region. Academically, Toronto is at the cutting edge of research and growth in postsecondary education; it is home to three of the largest research institutions in Canada (Ryerson University, the University of Toronto and York University) as well as several colleges with international reputations.