4 thoughts on “What would be the added value of establishing discipline-independent, regional education centers for professional skills?

  1. The value of such centers would be immeasurable, particularly if they focused on the “softer” professional skills, like communications. The fact is that succeeding as a scientist in the 21st century requires a range of skills beyond laboratory acumen that our current infrastructure teaches poorly, if at all. Successful scientists must be good writers, good teachers, good managers, good marketeers, and good citizens. The establishment of regional professional development centers which provided low-cost, discipline-independent, intensive training in these skills would greatly bolster the career prospects of the students they trained, both in and out of academia, and would quite likely also serve as a nexus for the transdisciplinary cross-pollination of scientific thinking that is so often the genesis of modern research breakthroughs.
    This is a very, VERY good idea.

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  2. I wholeheartedly agree with timmillerb — there is a HUGE need for this non-STEM, non-discipline professsional development, a need in communications and other soft skillls for the work world that graduate students are are magically expected to know or figure out through guess-and-test.

    To consider, maybe at a later point:
    Would the centers be standardized (offer the same classes or training)?
    Would there be a governing body? NSF? Would they jointly form a coalition and have an advisory board?

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  3. It seems logical that the centers would offer a standardized curricula. My thought is that the first incarnation of the centers would be a small grant-funded consortium to prototype the model and solidify the offerings. Upon expiration of this starter grant, the consortium could transition to a tuition-supported model and expand the number of sites, with the understanding that PIs who sent students to the centers could partially fulfill the broader impacts or post-doc mentoring requirements of their research grants. Several similar geographically dispersed networks have been developed through past projects; the experience gained from that work could be intelligently leveraged in this new endeavor.

    I sure hope this becomes an RFP!

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  4. My company offers a number of classes in soft skills and professional development because even experienced professionals need to fine tune their skills. Many times, I feel that students in STEM feel that writing papers or crafting and giving presentations is a distraction from what they are really “there to study”, but business acumen and soft skills are incredibly important to every role. Working in the field of IT, it’s easy to hide behind a screen and write code, but the ones advancing in their careers recognize that software is there for some business purpose, have superb communication skills, give you a good hand shake when you meet them, and look you in the eye when they speak.

    Soft skills, communication, and business basics are broad topics to start with, but I would focus specifically on communication-crafting, negotiation, leadership, analysis, and logical argument.

    As far as format of classes is considered, this type of class is likely best delivered in a short-format. University classes require too much commitment for a professional just looking to brush up on a skill, and organizations may be willing to foot the bill of a class if it was reasonable. University of Missouri St. Louis offers a “micro-computing” program, with most classes focused on learning specific software or programming languages. These are a great length, requiring only one or two days of time. Most students are working professionals that are hoping to learn something new. This format would be very close to what I would expect for a professional skills program.

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