Asking the Hard Questions: Students Reflect on the Ethics of Graduate Education

In Spring 2003, Rick Cherwitz and English doctoral candidate Julie Sievers began a series of conversations about "ethical commitments and graduate education." Approximately a dozen of UT's best graduate students in the sciences, humanities, social sciences and arts took part in the first meeting.

These discussions will extend into the 2003-2004 academic year; in addition to occasional articles published in the Austin American-Statesman (as part of the "Citizen-Scholars" series), our goal is to share what we learn with the larger academic community both locally and nationally.

What we seek to know:

- Whether graduate students believe that, besides personal motive, their education carries with it certain ethical obligations - to self, discipline, institution and community;

- If students' ethical commitments provide the passion that ultimately accounts for why they are in school and their potential to be successful academic-professionals;

- To what extent current models of graduate education make possible the articulation and fulfillment of those commitments; and

-How if at all, and without undermining or diluting the academic integrity and rigor of research, we might change graduate education to create a greater alignment of ethics and scholarship.

Questions Addressed at the First Meeting:

  • Why - in general and in particular - did you choose to pursue a graduate education?
  • How has your sense of vocational purpose changed over the course of your studies, if at all?
  • What kinds of ethical or vocational questions do you see attaching to your research, your teaching, or your life as a scholar?
  • Has your graduate education influenced how you conceive your role in the various communities to which you belong (global, local, university-wide or civic)?
  • What have you experienced with faculty, administrators, and students, in your attempts to pursue these commitments or goals? Have you found like-minded communities? Have your faculty advisors helped you? Discouraged you? Have you found spaces for discussing questions about ethical commitments, professional vision, or vocational purpose, in your programs of study or professional relationships?
  • What do you now intend to do with your professional expertise - specifically and broadly speaking?
  • What problems do you see in your department, colleagues, or the university as a whole, when it comes to helping graduate students engage questions about professional ethical commitments or vocational vision?
  • What changes or new initiatives you would like to see in your department, or in the university as a whole, with regards to these matters?
  • If all things were possible, what would you like the administrators and faculty present today to do with your comments?

For additional information, please contact:
Rick Cherwitz