Background

In the spring of 2015, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) began plans to develop a centrally coordinated program to help graduate students become better prepared for their professional life after graduate school. Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs was supported by a working group of stakeholders from across campus, including representatives from the Graduate Student Association, Library, Centre for Career Action, Centre for Teaching Excellence, Office of Research, Writing and Communication Centre, Student Success Office, and Organizational and Human Development.

The GRADventure program helps to advance the “Outstanding Academic Programming” theme of the University of Waterloo’s Strategic Plan, in which The University committed to having more graduate students engaging in professional skills development.

Our name: a grad student's idea

The GRADventure program name was a chosen from among over 60 submissions to our naming contest, which was launched in October 2015. Adam Kraft, a MSc student in the biology program, explains why he liked this name:

"The name GradVenture is a play on the words 'grad' (graduate student), 'venture' (to set out, dare to do something) and 'adventure' (a new and exciting experience).The name is appropriate given the goal of the new program, which is ultimately to help grad students successfully transition from their studies to their careers and it makes no assumptions about what path the students choose to pursue, only implying that it will be an exciting next step in their lives."

Recommendations for change

Given the competitive nature of the professional job market and increasing expectations of employers, several organizations with an interest in graduate studies have released reports recommending changes to better support graduate student professional skills development:

  • A 2013 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council report (PDF) recommends “changing the PhD programs themselves, reforming doctoral training so that it leads to a multiplicity of career paths instead of only one.” It also suggests “that new PhD programs should be reoriented toward active participation in the world, should promote collaborative and interdisciplinary research, and should develop new kinds of teaching, research, and research deliverables.”
  • A Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario report highlights the fact that “some PhD students feel unable to talk openly with their supervisors about their thoughts or plans to pursue a more applied form of employment after graduation, and the lack of support from many faculty to pursue this path is an issue that requires more attention.”
  • A 2008 Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS) report (PDF) argues that “[b]y taking a more structured approach in the area of professional skills, universities can enhance their ability to help their graduate students achieve a higher level of competitive expertise.” The four skills that CAGS highlights as priorities for universities to focus on were the skills of communication, management, teaching and knowledge transfer, and ethics.
  • A recent article highlights the need to “shatter the silos” between academics and career service professionals. The author points out that “[a]cademics across disciplines know there is an employment ‘problem,’ but the topic is discussed behind closed doors and all too often, the very people who are left to implement institutional plans–the career service professionals–are not invited to the table.” 

Calls for action by key players in post secondary

Though it may seem as though it is a new area of focus, concern over graduate students' professional skills is not new. For many years now, some key national and provincial bodies have been advocating for better professional development for graduate students. For a few examples, check out the following:

  • Tri-Agency statement of principles on key professional skills for researchers (2007)
  • CAGS' Professional skills development for graduate students (2008)
  • Ontario Council for Graduate Studies (OCGS). Taskforce on professional skills report (2011)