Supporting student professional development: An individual approach

Professional Skills Foundations

In the academic context, we often refer to graduate students as if they belong to one group, defined by their engagement in graduate studies, however, in reality, we know that each of our graduate students is unique.

For example, there are:

  • graduate students in professional and research-based programs;
  • those who are returning to studies to pursue a career change;
  • some who have always been students, moving from high school to undergrad to graduate studies;
  • international students, from countries all across the world; and,
  • students with interests in more career paths than we can count.

In understanding that our graduate students bring with them a unique set of skills, experiences, and goals, there is no “one-size fits all” answer to graduate student professional development. That’s why the structure of Professional Skills Foundations is based on the need for an individual approach. So, how does this work?

To get started, Foundations participants engage in an introductory workshop that immediately focuses on each student as an individual through the completion of a skills self-assessment. This is a starting point for each participant to develop personal goals and objectives for their professional development. Once current skills and goals are identified, participants begin to structure an Individual Development Plan (IDP). Each participant identifies a series of workshops and activities, individually selected to support them in achieving their goals. For example, a participant seeking to improve their oral communication skills may include the Writing and Communication Centre’s Speak Like a Scholar program on their IDP, while another student interested in commercializing their research may add participating in Velocity’s $5K pitch competition.

IDPs are individually tailored, but students aren’t alone in developing their plans! As part of the Foundations program, there is always a staff member available to provide guidance, and each participant meets one-on-one with Foundations staff to review and approve their IDP. In the one-on-one meetings, the Foundations staff member (currently Kirti or Graeme) begins by learning about the student – asking questions about their current program, past experiences, skills self-assessment and goals. Only once a staff member has heard about their needs and goals, do they begin to explore the IDP with the student.  Based on their knowledge of opportunities available, and the goals shared with them, Foundations staff provide suggestions and feedback, adjusting the IDP as needed until it is best suited to the student, with no two IDPs looking the same!

All staff members are familiar with the wide range of professional, personal, and academic development opportunities across campus (and within the community at large, as Foundations participants aren’t limited to opportunities on campus!) and understand the unique needs of graduate students, as they are all current or former graduate students.

Whether a graduate student is in their first or final term, taking the time to explore their unique set of skills and professional development needs and goals is a valuable exercise. Registration for the Foundations program is always open, with participants able to complete the asynchronous online introductory workshop at any time and at their own pace. Those who are registered are also notified about upcoming in-person workshops. So, sign up today, to begin your individualized professional development journey.