Extraordinary and continuous change is a hallmark of the 21st century. Changes are happening in our societies and natural world, in learner needs and opportunities, in learning approaches and technologies, and in the ways that our most highly educated people contribute to the world.
UBC is at the forefront of responding to and building on these changes, through reimagining approaches to research graduate education and exploring flexible methodologies for learners to develop needed expertise.
Key initiatives and areas of support
REIMAGINING THE PHD
The fundamental approach to doctoral education has not changed significantly since it was instituted in the early 19th century as a means to regenerate the professoriate. The world, however, has dramatically changed. Most PhD graduates now pursue careers outside of the academy, where they contribute immeasurably to the public good through diverse forms, approaches, and outputs of scholarship. Expectations from the academy have also similarly evolved. Universities increasingly understand the need to engage with society and all its sectors. Furthermore, the increasing complexity of the problems we encounter, from climate change to refugee crises, requires cooperative and interdisciplinary approaches mandating new ways of thinking, communication, and collaboration. To begin to address these changing realities, UBC has embarked on a ‘reimagining’ process. Among the initiatives stemming from this deliberation are two symposia on Reimagining the PhD (June 2014 and September 2017), the groundbreaking Public Scholars Initiative, Killam Connection courses, the modification of a number of G+PS academic guidelines, and broad-ranging efforts to raise awareness of and support for individuals and programs interested in these types of changes.
Public Scholars Initiative
The Public Scholars Initiative is a pioneering program to encourage and support doctoral students to broaden their dissertation research to encompass new perspectives, to collaborate with those outside the academy (or in alternate streams within the academy), and to embrace methodologies and scholarly outputs outside their disciplinary traditions. The goals of the PSI include direct contributions of the academy to the public good, enhanced career readiness for doctoral students, and demonstration of the enormous breadth and depth of PhD graduates’ contributions inside and outside the academy. Launched in 2015, the award-winning initiative has been recognized as 'revolutionary' and 'transformative', and is cited in UBC's strategic plan as a key component of the University’s goal to ‘deepen the relevance and public impact of UBC research and education’. In its fourth year, PSI has had 150 scholars from almost all Faculties across UBC supported financially and academically and through professional development programs and community-building opportunities.
The Killam Connection is a competitive program that provides financial support to faculty members to design and implement innovative and interdisciplinary graduate courses on matters of general interest and public importance. The faculty invite prominent scholars and public leaders to give public talks and to help teach the course, and students complete scholarly projects oriented to public impact.
Reimagining the PhD SymposiA
Two symposia on Reimagining the PhD were held (in 2014 and 2017) to explore how UBC can most effectively and creatively address the changing needs and opportunities in doctoral education. The 2014 symposium was focused primarily on testing the waters for change, and the 2017 event built on the success of the PSI to probe the barriers and opportunities for continued innovation in graduate education. Recognizing that a culture shift in the academy is still needed to affect sustained change, recommendations emerging from the conference included attention to faculty reward systems and continued 'awareness campaigns'. Further opportunities to conduct transdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship are also needed, as is the development of learning and assessment frameworks for broadened scholarship.
Tracking PhD Career Outcomes
Career trajectories of PhD graduates are much more diverse than in the past, with less than half being employed as research-intensive faculty. If we are to ensure that our educational approaches are relevant to our graduates’ futures, we need to understand what these are. Prospective students considering the significant commitment involved in undertaking a PhD also need to appreciate the range of possibilities for their future careers. To meet these needs, G+PS undertook a systematic tracking project in 2016 to determine the career paths of all 3805 UBC PhD students graduating between 2005 and 2013. Using a combination of survey and internet searches, information was obtained for 91% of these graduates. This approach, and the ability to link the outcomes to student data, allowed a more comprehensive and richer analysis of student outcomes than most studies of this kind. The data have been distributed to all programs, and summaries posted for all prospective students.
UBC understands the benefits of traversing disciplinary boundaries in teaching and in research, to bring new perspectives and understanding to complex questions and problems. To promote interdisciplinarity in graduate education, G+PS supports numerous interdisciplinary graduate programs (including its direct oversight of the individualized Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, now in its 48th year); provides opportunities for interdisciplinary exchange through programs such as the PhD Connections lunches, the Public Scholars Initiative, and the Killam Connection course; and supports student-led interdisciplinary conferences and events. There continue to be barriers to achieving the full potential for interdisciplinary research and education, however, and tackling these is a priority in the G+PS strategic plan.
Consonant with our strategic goal of ensuring that ‘research and professional education are meeting the needs of our rapidly changing world’, we are exploring the concept of supporting and encouraging collaborative, transdisciplinary dissertation work aimed at addressing today’s most challenging issues. What would it look like to develop as a researcher by jointly creating and mobilizing new knowledge with partners across fields as disparate as, for example, the humanities, engineering, science, and law? How could multiple perspectives and ways of knowing influence the questions students ask and the pathways to discovery and innovation?
As graduate students and alumni are increasingly expanding the scope and arena of their scholarly work, it’s essential that they are supported to accomplish this in the most rigorous and effective ways possible. We are thus exploring the development of credentials such as certificates or other qualifications on subjects including data science, knowledge mobilization, management, policy development, or public scholarship.