In the spring of 2014, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty voted to restructure the leadership and administration of research and graduate education. Consequently, a committee of faculty and staff was charged with examining the campus’ priorities in graduate education. In 2015, the committee issued The Future of the UW-Madison Graduate School: Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Graduate School Restructuring, which identified graduate student professional development as a high priority, with particular focus on careers beyond the tenure track.
In response to the report, staff in the Graduate School Office of Professional Development (OPD) set out to bolster professional development opportunities for graduate students and thoughtfully examine the landscape of graduate student professional development at UW-Madison. OPD’s guiding principles were that the outcome of their efforts be student-centered and relevant to all graduate students across 150+ programs, master’s and doctoral alike; informed by research, reports, and peer institutions’ practices; shaped in consultation with the various units who offer professional development programming across campus; vetted among faculty and graduate students; and creatively tailored to the UW-Madison campus.
Out of this work, OPD developed a framework for graduate student professional development, which outlines nine areas - or “facets” - relevant to all graduate students at UW-Madison: inquiry, discovery, and creation; leadership; interdisciplinary expertise and interdisciplinary connections; career development; managing projects and people; communication; inclusion and diversity; interpersonal effectiveness; and personal effectiveness. Within each facet are several subareas that define and exemplify the facet. These facets and subareas are intended to set goals for life-long learning and professional development beyond graduate school. In fall 2015, the framework was further vetted with graduate students, faculty, and staff, and became the basis for an interactive online tool intended to guide graduate students’ professional development planning, called DiscoverPD.
DiscoverPD, launched in fall 2016, encourages graduate students to review the framework and then engage in a self-assessment, gauging their confidence against each of the subareas of the framework. DiscoverPD generates a custom report based on these responses, which includes recommendations for how to improve in each subarea. Students are encouraged to consider building on areas of strength as well as weakness, by favoriting specific opportunities and to use these activities within Individual Development Plans (IDPs). The multitude of opportunities in the DiscoverPD database are searchable by keyword, modality (online, in-person, etc.), type (event, webpage/reading, course, applied experience, etc.), and level of time commitment.
The Graduate School relies on key partnerships across campus - with the Writing Center, Libraries, Software Training for Students, the Office of Postdoctoral Studies, Delta, Design Lab, school/college career centers, graduate student organizations, and more - to make DiscoverPD a success.
Anyone with a UW-Madison netID can login and use the tool. The professional development framework, on which DiscoverPD is based, was created with graduate students and graduate degree recipients in mind.
If you are not a UW-Madison community member and would like to learn more about DiscoverPD, please contact Alissa Ewer, Assistant Dean for Professional Development and Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like the IDP, your use of DiscoverPD will remain private and will not be shared with your faculty advisor or academic program. Aggregate data may be used to analyze and improve the tool, but individual responses will be confidential.
Teaching is central to the professional development of many graduate students at UW-Madison. When you teach, you build valuable skills and grow in areas that you can find throughout the framework. For example, you consider how best to reach students, which includes selecting the best media and tailoring your message to facilitate learning, plus you consult and listen as you work individually with students. These skills are found in the Communication facet of the professional development framework. You foster creativity and inspire others, which are actions found in the Leadership facet. You may also be mentoring undergraduates or have the opportunity to provide constructive feedback, actions which are found in the Managing Projects and People part of the framework. So in other words, if teaching is part of your experience as a graduate student, it is a key component of the framework for you, and you’ll see it woven throughout many of the facets. This flexibility allows the framework to be universally relevant and meet the needs of all 9,400 graduate students across roughly 150 master’s and doctoral level graduate programs.
After completing the self-assessment, you’ll get a report that shows where you feel most and least confident and recommendations to grow in each subarea. Select opportunities by favoriting them, and build these specific activities into your Individual Development Plan.
The self-assessment uses a self-efficacy scale, which has been shown to be a predictor of performance, and therefore it is a great place to start. Additionally, as you develop your IDP, you should talk with your mentor(s) about your strengths and weaknesses. Ask for constructive feedback with questions like “What skills do I still need to learn? How can I best learn those skills?” and “Where do you see my greatest strengths being? Are there ways I can utilize these strengths to continue advancing?” Review this tips sheet to help prepare for this discussion with your mentor(s).
It’s important to do both. After completing the self-assessment, you’ll get a report that shows both your strengths and weaknesses. Select activities that interest and motivate you, and build these into your IDP. Consider which are highest priority; having a discussion with your mentor(s) can help you in goal prioritization.
Your professional development is lifelong. Being able to assess your skills, seek opportunities and support, and achieve goals are valuable career skills. DiscoverPD is not a checklist of activities to complete before graduation. Rather, it offers opportunities that you can build into your Individual Development Plan and discuss and prioritize with help from your mentor(s).
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