U-M Rackham Graduate School invites higher ed leaders to reimagine graduate education

School has launched new vision for graduate education at U-M

January 28, 2020
Written By:
Laurel Thomas
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—Much emphasis has been placed over the last decade or so on reforming the educational experience for undergraduates.

Now, the University of Michigan is leading the charge to transform graduate education and is inviting national education leaders to join in a conversation about the future of the graduate student experience.

The U-M Rackham Graduate School will hold a national symposium, “Advancing New Directions in Graduate Education,” 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Feb. 7 to discuss issues and share a new vision for graduate education. U-M has invited higher education leaders from top research universities to participate as panelists at the symposium, including representatives from U-M, Duke, Yale, MIT, Georgia Tech, UCLA and UC San Francisco, as well as several major foundations and research organizations.

Rackham Graduate School Dean Mike Solomon said it is time to look at how universities have traditionally taught those earning advanced degrees, in light of current opportunities for graduates and the pressures on higher education.

Solomon said these include the desire to prepare degree recipients for new career pathways, the need to be nimble in response to emerging fields requiring advanced knowledge and training, increased concerns about graduate student mental health, and growing skepticism about the costs and benefits of graduate education.

“People with advanced degrees are increasingly in demand in the private sector, with nonprofits, in government service and in other areas beyond academia,” Solomon said. “More than half of Michigan doctoral recipients pursue careers that are not on the tenure track. Even those who do go on to teach at the university level must be ready to do so in an increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative academy.

“Meanwhile, master’s training has struggled to keep up with the changing needs of society and to develop new programs in emerging fields as well as accommodate the growing number of students who seek research-based master’s degrees.”

Rackham has created a multiyear Strategic Vision for Graduate Education that outlines goals and objectives to reimagine graduate education with an emphasis on a holistic view of training. Among other things, it includes preparing students for an expanded range of career opportunities, strengthening student diversity and providing outlets for interdisciplinary, project-based approaches to solving complex, real-world problems for both doctoral and master’s students.

“I believe we are positioned to seize an opportunity, especially at Michigan,” Solomon said. “Given our scope as a world-class research enterprise and our position of leadership in graduate education on the national level, we can respond to the pressures we are facing by seeking to transform the model of graduate education.”

Work toward U-M’s goals already has begun with four new Mcubed Diamond projects to drive innovation in both master’s and doctoral education. The MCubed program, launched in 2012, provides real-time seed funding for faculty and researchers to stimulate innovative research and scholarship.

Other initiatives underway include a Graduate Student Mental Health Task Force and a review of the Rackham Merit Fellowship program, with an eye toward enhancing students’ sense of belonging and inclusion in their programs.

Several program initiatives that align with the graduate school’s efforts also reflect the emphasis on interdisciplinary learning and tackling real-world problems, including:

  • A Ph.D. in comparative literature that combines multilingual, interdisciplinary and theoretical training with practical experiences in local and global engagement.
  • A workshop series aimed at training graduate students in the Department of Climate and Spaces Sciences and Engineering to translate and communicate research to drive sustainable design, planning and engineering solutions. This will better prepare students for diverse careers that apply their foundational scientific understanding and research to relevant societal problems.
  • A Problem Solving Initiative through which students develop tools to address real-world problems including “fake news,” toxic airborne emissions, human trafficking, automation in the workplace, firearm violence, sustainable food systems, concussions in youth football, and more.


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