More Than an Elective

Professional development courses endow graduate students with tools for success

by Rebecca Bycott


"The best!!"

These were not radio stations' rave reviews of the newest Jackie Chan movie. Graduate students gave the University's Professional Development courses high praise in course evaluations.

With topics such as "Advanced College Teaching Methods," "The Culture of Academic Communication" and "Academic and Professional Consulting" the Graduate Professional Development Program courses represented part of Graduate Studies' effort to prepare graduate students by offering specialized classes designed to give students the edge needed to succeed inside the classroom as well as out.

The University offered these classes as elective courses or requirements within certain discipline programs to help students with tasks such as writing grant proposals or book contracts, publishing scholarly writing and teaching effectively.

"All of the things that you see in these courses now are basically what I would call the tools that people need in order to perform whatever their job is going to be," Vice President Richard Cherwitz, associate dean of Graduate Studies, said. Cherwitz, the mind behind the Graduate Professional Development Program, said the classes were based on professional skills graduate students felt were lacking in their own disciplines.

Cherwitz wanted to provide more intensive classes focusing on these basic skills and offer a unique learning perspective for graduate students: working with students in disciplines outside their own.

"About 75 of our graduate programs on campus had enrolled at least one person in these classes," Cherwitz said. "Those 75 programs come from every single school and college on this campus. So, that means this really is drawing an interdisciplinary audience. It's not something that's geared for one part of campus and not another."

The Graduate Professional Development Program began as an effort imitative of the nationally-successful Preparing Future Faculty program which allowed UT graduate students to teach in and experience different educational environments through internships with partnership universities and colleges. Conceptualized in September 1996, the Professional Development Program helped students venturing into the world of academia become well-prepared for academic as well as professional work.

Wendy Erisman, cultural anthropology doctoral candidate, took Advanced College Teaching Methods during the summer. "It helped me think about teaching philosophies, the kind of classes I'd like to teach and the kinds of assignments and projects I'd like my students to do," Erisman said.

Erisman also cited the variety of students in her class as a highlight.

"It drew students from all over the University, which gave me a chance to see different viewpoints of teaching," Erisman said. "If I weren't graduating, I would take others. I would recommend [the courses] to others. In fact, I have!"

Graduate students from the United States were not the only beneficiaries of these popular courses. The Professional Development Program also offered classes geared towards non-native English speakers. International graduate students could take courses in academic communication, writing and teaching.

Dr. Leslie Jarmon taught "The Culture of Academic Communication" for non-native English speakers as well as several other courses for international students.

"We actually explore how academia is done, is practiced... how knowledge is constituted in the culture of the United States," Jarmon said. "[The way teaching is practiced] has huge implications for the undergraduate classroom as well as these graduate students themselves and their ability to produce enhanced, enriched scholarship for the University of Texas."

Jarmon cited the language barrier between undergraduates and teaching assistant who have a first language other than English as one of the main problems of non-English-speaking graduate students face.

"UT is really in front of the curve on this one, and the graduate school should be applauded for that," said Jarmon.

Cherwitz agreed, emphasizing that the Professional Development Courses were a way of simplifying the seemingly intimidating and overwhelming bureaucracy of Graduate Studies at the University.

"This program is but one example of how the graduate school is constantly doing constructive, pro-active things that are in the interest of graduate students," said Cherwitz.