In the midst of taking rigorous PhD courses in theory, research methods, and statistics, each spring our first-year students get a bit of an academic “break” in their Research and Professional Development course. This one-credit required course exposes students to some of the expectations, responsibilities, and challenges that professors face.
As the PhD program director, I run some of the sessions, but most other sessions invite faculty and associate deans from the Carson College as guest speakers. We believe it’s very important for our students to get exposed to views and people from outside of their home departments. These faculty volunteer their time to help prepare future generations of professors.
Several sessions cover academic research, including the paper review process, time management and working with coauthors, plagiarism and ethics in academia, and publishing in top journals. Presenters provide research tips while also conveying the scope of the process. Similar to a professional athlete being drafted by the pros, earning a PhD is only the beginning of the research journey. Professors have to “prove themselves on the court” regularly to remain relevant and in the academic research “game.”
The course also features sessions on teaching. These sessions provide an excellent preview and complement to the three-credit teaching course students typically take in their second year. Topics include preparing good lectures, teaching cases, motivating and engaging students, teaching large classes, and teaching in the online environment. One clear message is that different teaching styles and techniques can all be successful—there is not one right way to teach a class.
We also hold several sessions on topics other than teaching and research, beginning with how to prepare an academic vita. We also discuss the extremely important faculty role of service, both for the university and the profession. In fact, one requirement of the course is for students to provide several service hours to the college during the semester. In April, we offer a session on being a good college citizen, followed by an interviewing tips session. At the end of the semester, graduating students who have received job offers share their interviewing experiences with first-year students during a panel discussion. While the interview process may seem far off for first-year students, the takeaway from the final two sessions is that successful job placements tend to come to those who start preparing for the job market early in their program.
We hope that the varied sessions in this course help our students get through their program and have a leg up on their future in academia. Nobody ever said getting a PhD is easy, but the rewards are worth the journey.
PhD Program Director