A colleague recently said to me, “Graduate education is fundamentally a fact-based activity.” I respond to that somewhat misguided view in the latest video. In my view, a graduate education (particularly PhD) is a skills based endeavor, not a fact based one.

    5 replies to "What is the real purpose of a graduate education?"

    • JoVE

      A colleague said that? Maybe it’s because I’m a social scientist leaning towards the humanities end of things, but I don’t even think and undergraduate education is primarily about facts. Indeed when I taught Intro to Sociology, one of my goals was to shift them from thinking of learning as remembering a lot of facts and information towards thinking of themselves as novice sociologists, using facts and information to make arguments and engage in debates.

      I encourage faculty to think of graduate education as an apprenticeship. Just like plumbers, some of that apprenticeship takes place in a classroom, but some of it takes place working alongside a master in the field, learning how to DO what people in your field do, and having safe opportunities to try doing it yourself under the supervision of a master.

    • Morgan

      Hey JoVE- yes, a colleague did. I can’t really give more detail about who or in what context, but when I heard it, I was quite surprised.

      Your view of graduate education as apprenticeship is great. To me, that is the whole purpose. But I constantly see faculty wanting to pile on requirements – more classes, tests, etc – that are all “fact” based rather than skills based. Sometimes it drives me a bit crazy.

    • JoVE

      interestingly when I tweeted about your post, one grad student (in the social sciences) told me that she had found her program “haphazard” — regimented in course requirements and almost left to her own devices regarding the research side. I’m pretty sure that is not uncommon. I plan to blog about it myself.

    • Morgan

      Joe –
      What you relate about the grad student isn’t surprising. It sounds like two extremes mixed together, which isn’t a good mix. It seems like a bit of classwork to give necessary background, combined with gentle guidance on the research end would be a lot better.
      I look forward to seeing your blog post about it.

    • Steffen VFX

      Hey Morgan,

      thanks for the video and topic to discus. You know, I think Jove’s comments about the tendancy of “haphazard” programs is pretty true and common for many of today’s smaller, more specialized programs. I could echo a similar experience for mine. I think that stem from the specificity and uniqueness of some of the boutique educations. If they seem haphazard, it might be from the newness of many of these programs. I think when it comes to the sciences, so many new branches of studies have opened up within the last generation of students, Universities have yet to clearly define the most successful approach to teaching them.

      With regards to the topic at hand, and the “factual” nature of graduate school. I think you’re right on the money there. Understanding the “language” of science is exactly what my Masters of Science allows me to do. I can now communicate, investigate and inquire about the nature because I can now speak the “language” other scientists communicate with.

      Having said that, I feel like this denotes a fundamental deficit in the entirety of our liberal arts education here in the United States. The ability to communicate and investigate independently is a skill set that is unspecific and general, and in that context, I wonder why its reserved for graduate school. These are skills that should be taught at the beginning of a students college experience, and not the end. By the time students get to a graduate level, both their time and money should be spent on making new, radical contributions to science, not just learning how to communicate.

      Thanks again Morgan. I look forward to more interesting topics


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