NRT-IGE: Workplace Inspired Approaches for Improving Graduate Student Professionalism

This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award in the Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) Track to the University of Tulsa will test the effectiveness of an innovative approach to enhance the professionalism and productivity of engineering graduate students. Graduate school, as it currently exists, enables students to acquire concrete technical skills with admirable efficiency. To complete their preparation as professionals, however, graduate students also need to develop non-technical skills, such as leadership, conflict management, and adaptability. This pilot project will develop a novel professional development system that provides graduate students a mental framework to practice these non-technical skills and uses an online tool to facilitate and track professional development.

The primary goal of this test-bed project will be to develop and assess a novel program that enables the intentional practice of non-technical skills. Intentional practice is a deliberate process where a skill is broken down into parts and there is focus on improving a particular part, frequently with immediate feedback from a coach. This research will answer three central questions: What are the core professional competencies that are essential for successful graduate students? Can approaches developed and validated in workplace settings be adapted to improve graduate student professionalism? Does increased professionalism improve graduate student productivity, retention, and success? These questions will be answered through a set of online assessment tracking tools that will capture student self-assessments and peer and advisor assessments. Students will be mentored on how to make intentional decisions about professional development opportunities and how to develop the ability to be intentional about practicing these professional skills. Qualitative assessments will be coupled to objective measures of student performance, such as productivity and graduation rate, to determine if the competency development approach is successful.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative, and scalable models for STEM graduate education training. The Innovations in Graduate Education Track is dedicated solely to piloting, testing, and evaluating novel, innovative, and potentially transformative approaches to graduate education.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Graduate Education (DGE)
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Laura Regassa
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University of Tulsa
United States
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