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Graduate students need broader set of skills

Today's graduate students are the faculty of tomorrow, and they must be trained and prepared to teach in the 21st century.

That was the theme of the Sixth National Teaching Assistants Conference for the Employment and Education of Graduate Teaching Assistants hosted by the University of Minnesota November 6-9 in Minneapolis.

Graduate students will be creating and disseminating knowledge to a generation that is growing up in a high-tech computer age and often starts preparing for placement tests and competitive exams as early as fifth grade. Graduate education must adapt to this, said speakers at the conference.

"Graduate education creates a passion for getting into academia and often develops a lack of appreciation for a non-academic job," said keynote speaker Donald Kennedy, a professor at Stanford University who also was president of Stanford from 1980 to 1992.

"It is time to realize that graduate students are not to be trained and prepared to turn out as just replicas or clones of the present faculty, but to be different and better in their scholarship and wider in their intellectual horizons, prepared to enter the academic and non-academic avenues with equal zest," Kennedy said.

With the development of technology and opportunities opening up in industry, business, administration and advisory positions, graduate students should be prepared to face and conquer the challenges of the new frontiers, Kennedy added.

De Gallow, Carolyn Austin and Timothy Watkins, delegates from the University of California at Irvine, urged the inclusion of programs in all disciplines that will prepare a graduate student for the job market, from writing a resume to presenting themselves at an interview.

Graduate education will be incomplete if, at the end of a long period of excellent research and education, students find they lack the ability to skillfully search for a job, write a resume tailored for a specific job, give a job talk, or communicate a research finding to a specific audience, they said.

UConn's poster at the conference titled "Group mentoring of teaching assistants and its potential application to international teaching assistants," by Caroline Miner, a doctoral student in psychology, described the effectiveness of a group mentoring program developed in 1994 to assist a group of teaching assistants teaching an introductory psychology course.

At UConn, the Institute for Teaching and Learning emphasizes building teaching competence in graduate teaching assistants by offering weekly workshops on the development of teaching and learning skills using the most recent technology. It also has an informal internship program that offers students interested in teaching opportunities to learn from the University's Teaching Fellows.

International teaching assistants undergo a two-week training program in the summer that includes language and cultural aspects, in addition to a one-day university-wide workshop on teaching.

"Teaching graduate students are not differentiated from teaching faculty and are provided with equal opportunity and encouragement to develop their teaching skills and use the resources for their teaching purposes," said Keith Barker, director of the institute and professor of computer science and engineering.

Barker also plans to create a one-credit course for graduate students, taught by a team of experts, that will provide many teaching techniques and skills.

Usha Palaniswamy