As we reflect on the first graduating class of The Next Carson Cougs, we are reminded that Carson PhD students play a significant role in their journey. From teaching assistant duties to serving as the sole instructor for courses, our doctoral students impact the undergraduate student learning experience greatly. To support that responsibility, all PhD students take a teaching course and have the opportunity to participate in a number of teaching development activities sponsored at both the college and university levels. And to ensure a quality learning experience, all international teaching assistants must pass an oral English teaching examination before being allowed to teach courses on their own.
An important element in the revised undergraduate curriculum has been the introduction of the Carson Career Amplifier Program designed to enhance career readiness. As a member of the curriculum revision task force at the time, I supported this major new requirement. Employers have been sending a clear message that college graduates from all over the country have been lacking critical “soft skills” that lead to long-term successful professional careers.
While not quite as formalized, our PhD program has similar soft skill requirements. People often think of PhD holders as highly technical individuals with deep knowledge about a particular subject, but that skill set is hardly enough to land a coveted professor job at a university. While technical skills may help get a research paper published, the daily life of a professor is often filled with soft skill activity, from teaching courses to contributing to meetings, writing recommendation letters, chairing committees, advising students, and communicating research results.
A big part of the PhD job market process involves the hiring faculty attempting to determine if the candidate would be a good fit for the department. Will the candidate teach effectively, become an active contributor in service activities, and get along well with students, staff, and faculty? Nobody is interested in hiring new professors who will be locked in their office all day long, no matter what level of research is being produced.
After four to five years of working informally with faculty mentors to build professorial qualities, our PhD students partake in several formal soft-skill development opportunities. First-year students take Research and Professional Development, a colloquium where they learn about preparing an academic vita, being a good college citizen, time management and working with coauthors, university service activities, and interviewing tips, along with several sessions on research and teaching. Every semester, we have each PhD student make a formal research presentation in front of a peer group and receive constructive feedback on presentation skills. The teaching course is usually taken during the second year. Finally, the Carson College has begun offering weekly “Lunch and Learn” sessions covering a wide variety of topics important for university faculty, and the WSU Graduate School offers a series of soft-skill sessions as part of its professional development initiative.
By the end of year five, we believe that most of our students have transformed into well-groomed professionals suited for faculty roles at universities around the world.
PhD Program Director