Graduate Studies Launches Institute for Professional Development

Closeup of woman with cow nudging her
Professional development programs offered through Graduate Studies helped Carlyn Peterson, who earned a doctorate in animal biology, prepare for her career with a company in the agricultural field. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

All in a day’s work, Carlyn Peterson talks with fellow Ph.D.s, business people and producers in the dairy industry — and may even share a few affectionate words with cattle.

To finish her dissertation and launch her career in August, Peterson drew on workshops about writing, science communications and more — all now part of a sophisticated ecosystem of skill-building opportunities for UC Davis graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

Next week, the GradPathways Institute for Professional Development celebrates its official launch with an open house for faculty and staff, sample workshops, a virtual tour of Walker Hall, and other events to showcase resources for students and scholars.

Peterson, who works with a global company in nutritional solutions and feed additives for animals, said the professional development, now under the institute’s umbrella, served her well and encourages students and scholars to check out the opportunities.

“I wanted to make sure I had a variable skill set so that I could fit into any role and be able to excel,” said the Davis woman, who topped two other UC Davis degrees with a doctorate in animal biology before starting as a technical services manager with Adisseo.

“In industry, you need to be able to wear a lot of hats and work with a wide variety of people and stakeholders and get your job done,” added Peterson, who works to help improve cattle nutrition and health with precise feeding including amino acid balancing and providing required supplements.

Preparation for the academy and beyond

Closeup photo of woman

To create the institute, the campus has built on its GradPathways program, launched in 2012, to integrate into graduate education a comprehensive program fostering core competencies for academic and career success. It has also expanded offerings to more than 200 workshops, lectures, advising sessions and other resources.

Teresa Dillinger, director of the institute, said it was born out of the need to help students explore and better prepare for chosen careers in the academy and beyond. Traditional graduate education, she said, has focused on preparing future faculty members at a time when 80 percent of doctorate recipients will engage in careers in industry, government and not-for-profit organizations.

“While many of those positions beyond the academy prefer or require graduate level education,” she said, “candidates may need additional professional development to bridge that gap.”

To help with equitable access

Dillinger said the institute will also help address the “hidden curriculum,” or unwritten rules, of graduate education that can be a barrier to success, particularly for first-generation and underrepresented graduate students.

“The mission of the GradPathways Institute,” she said, “is to help ensure all graduate students and postdoctoral scholars have equitable access to the preparation they need to succeed — both in their programs of study and in their chosen career paths.”

Focus on core competencies

Programming focuses on building eight core competencies:

  • Success and Socialization
  • Writing and Publishing
  • Presentation Skills
  • Teaching and Mentoring
  • Leadership and Management
  • Professionalism and Ethics
  • Career Management
  • Wellness and Life Balance

The institute organizes workshops, connects students with courses and other programs, offers individualized advising, holds activities to build community and provides other resources.

Pilot program in microcredentials

With the launch of the institute, graduate students and scholars are being sought to participate in a first-of-its-kind microcredential program. Dillinger said the microcredentials are being designed to help students define goals, assess learning needs, navigate their professional development and represent their acquired skills to prospective employers.

To provide its programs and services, the institute is partnering with campus units, including the Internship and Career Center, the Center for Educational Effectiveness, the University Writing Program, Counseling Services, the Graduate School of Management, and the Mike and Renee Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, among others.

Reducing isolation

Hugh Kearns, a leading practitioner and researcher in cognitive behavioral coaching, will return to UC Davis — virtually — to present a workshop for the institute’s launch week. A lecturer at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, he said professional development not only helps students acquire skills necessary to be a successful researcher or professional in any field, but can also help combat the isolation that can be part of their research experience.

“Programs and workshops are a great way of connecting with their peers, discussing similar experiences and reducing that sense of isolation,” Kearns said.

While the pandemic has prevented in-person events, Dillinger noted, it has jump-started the institute’s development of virtual programming that can include graduate students and scholars at the Bodega Marine Laboratory and Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “It opens up for us an audience we haven’t been able to serve,” she added.

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