addition to research, grad school programs need to teach their students
how to communicate, work in groups, and solve problems.
the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy issued a report
saying that recipients of graduate degrees must have more than research
skills to be successful in academe or industry. Those graduates need
broad multidisciplinary technical backgrounds, communication and interpersonal
skills, as well as an understanding of the ethical context of research.
expect that graduates of advanced engineering programs would have higher-level
skills than graduates of bachelor's programs. Yet since many graduate
students did not receive their undergraduate degrees from ABET accredited
programs, it is possible to complete an advanced program without having
ever met the minimum ABET standards for undergraduates. We believe that
all graduates of advanced programs should meet at least those minimum
standards. We propose that graduate engineering programs voluntarily
require that their graduates meet ABET's Criterion 3, including
mathematics and science knowledge, design communication, teamwork skills,
and an awareness of ethical issues. In addition, appropriate research-based
outcomes such as learning experimental techniques and writing a thesis
should be added to research oriented programs.
integrating these goals may reduce the amount of time that professors
have to lecture, student groups will learn some of the material on their
own and could even test each other. Within certain guidelines, it would
also allow students in elective classes to choose some or all of the
topics they want to study. Graduate students are mature enough to select
topics and, by doing so, will learn and remember more. An added benefit
may be that the workload for professors decreases since some of the
work is delegated to students. Professors, of course, will need to adjust
their teaching to emphasize planning and coaching instead of lecturing
also have to assess the students' communication and interpersonal
skills and their ability to do creative research. Thanks to ABET, the
assessment tools already in place for undergraduates can be applied
to graduate students. For example, the combination of a student portfolio
and thesis is particularly appropriate for students in research programs.
Portfolios allow students to highlight their accomplishments in industrial
internships, supervised teaching positions, and other activities.
graduate programs, students learn to become researchers by conducting
research, receiving constructive feedback, reflecting, and revising.
The process includes studying the research area, defining important
but doable problems, writing short proposals, designing and conducting
real or virtual experiments, interpreting results, revisiting the design
and experimental steps, and eventually communicating the results. All
of this takes place, of course, under the supervision of the professor.
Advising and mentoring students in research allows professors to observe
the student's growth over a
period of time, which can be very satisfying. (See the COSEPUP publication,
Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend (1997) at http://www2.nas.edu/cosepup
for more information on mentoring.)
at universities where grad students are unionized, graduate students
are classified as students, not employees. But even if they are paid,
it's of the utmost importance that students learn how to conduct
all aspects of research. Interestingly, although the research accomplished
is important, it is secondary to the goal of learning how to do it.
Professors need to be careful, though, and not exert too much control.
Students may not learn as much if they can't make some of their
own decisions. Thus, contracts with very specific goals and tight timetables
may not have enough latitude to allow students to learn the entire research
process. On the other hand, if the professor has too little interest
in the project, the student won't receive the feedback necessary
for growth. Whenever there is a conflict between the professor's
need to publish and the student's education, the student's
needs should come first. Good mentoring means providing the proper balance
at different stages of the graduate student's development.
the links between undergraduate and graduate education will reinforce
the gains made in the undergraduate programs. And, as professors, we
will have met the challenge of re-engineering our graduate programs.
Wankat is head of interdisciplinary engineering and the Clifton L. Lovell
Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University.
Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist at Purdue's
chemical engineering school. They can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
All the Wrong Buttons
- An Underutilized Option