Developing professional researchers: research students’ graduate attributes

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Chinese University of Hong Kong]On: 20 December 2014, At: 04:48Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Developing professional researchers:research students graduate attributesCatherine Manathunga a , Paul Lant a & George Mellick aa University of Queensland , AustraliaPublished online: 20 Feb 2007.

    To cite this article: Catherine Manathunga , Paul Lant & George Mellick (2007) Developingprofessional researchers: research students graduate attributes, Studies in Continuing Education,29:1, 19-36, DOI: 10.1080/01580370601146270

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  • Developing professional researchers:

    research students graduate attributes

    Catherine Manathunga*, Paul Lant and George MellickUniversity of Queensland, Australia

    The impetus to broaden the scope of research education is not new. Since the 1970s, concern has

    been expressed about the suitability of research education as preparation for a research career

    outside academe. Universities have been criticized for producing over-specialized research

    graduates, who struggle to apply their expertise to new workplace problems and agendas. These

    concerns have been heightened by the demands of the knowledge economy. One approach that

    may begin to address these concerns is to design a systematic program to develop research

    students graduate attributes. While much attention has focused on developing undergraduate

    generic attributes, it is only recently that universities and governments have sought to identify and

    develop research higher degree students graduate attributes. This article seeks to explore the

    development of a research student portfolio process (called RSVP), which was originally developed

    in the Advanced Wastewater Management Centre (AWMC), and subsequently modified and

    applied across an Australian research-intensive university.

    Research higher degree programs, particularly doctoral degrees, seek to transform

    students into highly proficient, independent researchers, capable of adapting to a

    range of employment destinations and taking up leadership positions in academe,

    industry and the professions. Increasingly, these research graduates need a variety of

    interdisciplinary knowledges, skills and attitudes to thrive in the twenty-first-century

    knowledge economy (Gibbons, 1998; Nowotny et al ., 2001). While it is a contested

    concept, the knowledge economy notion argues that post-modern economic growth

    depends upon highly skilled workers who are able to synthesize and apply their

    interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to create innovation and quality improvement

    in a context of continuous and rapid change (Brown & Hesketh, 2004). Many

    commentators argue that traditional Ph.D. programs are too narrow, lacking broad

    professional development opportunities and producing overly specialized graduates

    who struggle to adapt to the post-modern workplace (Stranks, 1984; Sekhon, 1989;

    Clark, 1996; Kemp 1999a,b). Many doctoral graduates also experience difficulty in

    articulating the range of knowledges and attributes they have developed when they

    are responding to selection criteria for employment (Cryer, 1998).

    *Corresponding author. Teaching & Education Development Institute (TEDI)/Graduate School,

    University of Queensland, Q 4072, Australia. Email: c.manathunga@uq.edu.au

    ISSN 0158-037X (print)/ISSN 1470-126X (online)/07/010019-18

    # 2007 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/01580370601146270

    Studies in Continuing Education

    Vol. 29, No. 1, March 2007, pp. 1936

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  • While there has been significant educational research conducted into the

    identification, mapping and development of graduate attributes for undergraduate

    students (Bowden et al ., 2000; Barrie, 2004; Bath et al ., 2004; Leggett et al ., 2004;

    Sumsion & Goodfellow, 2004), developing research students graduate attributes is a

    more recent concern. This article seeks to explore the development and broad

    implementation of a research student portfolio process (called the Research Student

    Virtual Portfolio*/RSVP1) developed in a small research centre at an Australianresearch-intensive university and then extended to diverse disciplinary and inter-

    disciplinary settings within the same institution.

    Producing professional researchers

    Explorations of doctoral pedagogy are relatively recent and highly contested.

    Only a few scholars (Pearson & Brew, 2002; Manathunga, 2005) have explicitly

    sought to draw upon pedagogical theories about cognitive apprenticeship (Collins

    et al ., 1989) and legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) to

    investigate teaching and learning in research studies. In countries where the

    traditional British model of Ph.D. by thesis or creative work is used, research

    higher degree programs operate with a nebulous, implicit curriculum (Delamont

    et al ., 2000; Acker, 2001), tailored to individual students learning needs. This

    perhaps goes part of the way towards explaining why students appear to have

    such difficulty in articulating and reflecting upon their attributes as professional

    researchers (Cryer, 1998; Delamont et al ., 2000). Very often research graduates

    are more likely to rely on disciplinary descriptions of their professional identity

    and to point to their thesis or creative work as evidence of their knowledge and

    skill as professional researchers. These strategies create difficulties for research

    graduates when they are seeking employment outside academe. Even within

    academe, selection criteria require graduates to describe not only their knowl-

    edge and expertise but also their communication and team-working skills

    (Osborn, cited in McWilliam et al ., 2002).

    Research indicates that employers are fundamentally interested in graduates

    abilities to formulate and solve problems, to communicate and to manage and

    lead projects (Sekhon, 1989; Clark, 1996; Bowden et al ., 2000; Bath et al .,

    2004; Leggett et al ., 2004; Sumsion & Goodfellow, 2004). They are seeking

    graduates who are able to apply their disciplinary-based research expertise

    flexibly to other contexts and problems (Holdaway, 1996; Cryer, 1998; Pearson

    & Brew, 2002; Usher, 2002; Borthwick & Wissler, 2003). Increasingly, employ-

    ers are also seeking graduates who can understand and apply a range of

    international and interdisciplinary perspectives (Klein, 1996; Gibbons, 1998;

    Barnett, 2000; Bruhn, 2000; Somerville & Rapport, 2000; Brainard, 2002;

    Evans, 2002; Usher, 2002).

    20 C. Manathunga et al.

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  • Research students graduate attributes*/tensions and dilemmas

    A growing number of scholars have begun investigating how we can produce research

    graduates able to demonstrate and articulate the skills that employers desire

    (Holdaway, 1996; Cryer, 1998; Pearson & Brew, 2002; Borthwick & Wissler,

    2003; Gilbert et al ., 2004; Kiley et al ., 2004; United Kingdom GRAD programme,

    2004). These scholars adopt varying approaches to research graduate attribute

    development that will be explored below. In designing RSVP, we have sought to

    wrestle with some of these inherent difficulties and tensions. These problems include

    philosophical dilemmas, problems in identifying and individualizing graduate

    attributes and implementation issues.

    Firstly, there is a debate about whether articulating separate attributes is overly

    reductionist and instrumental. Some supervisors argue that graduate attributes

    homogenise [students] and remove creativity and individuality (Biology supervisor

    cited in Gilbert et al ., 2004, p. 375). Others argue that the graduate attribute agenda

    can restrict the development of a holistic picture of graduates as accomplished

    researchers (Sandberg, 2000; Gilbert et al ., 2004). Gilbert et al . (2004) point to the

    irony of arguing that research graduates should develop a set of common skills when

    the fundamental goal of research degree programs is that students make an original

    contribution to knowledge.

    There is no doubt that strong government and employer support for the graduate

    attributes agenda is situated within neoliberal, utilitarian approaches to research

    training. These perspectives tend to support dated notions of professional

    education as involving step-wise, cumulative knowledge and skill in ways that are

    largely decontextualized from practice (Ericsson & Smith, 1991; Hoffman, 1992;

    Sternberg et al ., 2000; Sternberg & Ben-Zeev, 2001). They represent a rationalistic

    view of education, where the focus on acquiring measurable attributes results in

    simplistic understandings of professional expertise (Sandberg, 2000; Gilbert et al .,

    2004).

    On the other hand, research into student perceptions (Borthwick & Wissler, 2003)

    and evidence collected as part of this project indicates the depth of support students

    and graduates have for the graduate attributes agenda. For example, one student

    commented that he believed these g[raduate]a[ttributes]s are things that would

    make me more employable (AWMC email, 5 March 2003). After all, research

    students fundamental goal is to achieve stable, challenging employment or

    advancement in their careers. So too, research in Australia and the UK has

    established the importance of assisting research graduates to enhance their knowl-

    edge of and ability to articulate the particular general attributes they have developed

    during their research studies (Cryer, 1998; Borthwick & Wissler, 2003).

    This is not to argue that research education should be reduced to simplistic

    attempts to quantify the development of generalized skills to service a rapacious

    knowledge economy. The creative and embodied production of qualified resear-

    chers can continue to occur through students intensive enculturation into the

    practices and discourses of their disciplines (Delamont et al ., 2000). Through

    Developing professional researchers 21

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  • a process of intense engagement with their supervisors and the broader research

    culture, research students usually adopt disciplinary ways of knowing, thinking,

    acting and being. While these remain fundamentally significant aspects of research

    education, they do not necessarily enable students to adopt the discourses of

    employers. While it may be controversial to suggest that students should, when

    appropriate, engage in the discourses used by employers, they generally require a

    certain level of familiarity with this kind of language if they are to respond

    successfully to job selection criteria and obtain meaningful employment.

    We have attempted to retain the individuality of each research students

    developmental journey by designing the RSVP process as a tailored developmental

    plan where students and their supervisors collectively identify students existing

    strengths and areas for improvement and their own unique career goals. This also

    goes some way towards addressing Gilbert et al .s (2004) concern about which

    attributes represent minimum requirements and which could be considered optional.

    While most researchers have argued against bolt-on short courses (e.g. United

    Kingdom GRAD programme) for developing students graduate attributes, many

    still struggle with how this development might be effectively embedded within

    students research projects (Cryer, 1998; Pearson & Brew, 2002; Borthwick &

    Wissler, 2003; Gilbert et al ., 2004). RSVP has been designed to engage students and

    supervisors in a dialogue and planning process about how each of the graduate

    attributes that have been translated into local, disciplinary dialects can be achieved

    through the students engagement in the research process. Many other researchers

    leave the collection of evidence of students graduate attributes to students

    themselves. This has generally not served research students well, as they continue

    to struggle to articulate how the writing of a thesis or the production of creative work

    enables them to demonstrate the specific, transferable research skills and attributes

    referred to in employment application processes.

    Research context and methodology

    The RSVP process has been progressively developed, refined and adapted across a

    number of disciplines at an Australian research-intensive university. This article will

    explore its original development, trial, evaluation and revision in the Advanced

    Wastewater Management Centre (AWMC) (Manathunga, 2003). It will then

    examine briefly how it was modified and implemented in Animal Studies and

    several Health Science fields. It will also show how RSVP preceded and then

    informed the development of the universitys recent policy on research students

    graduate attributes (http://www.uq.edu.au/hupp/index.html?page/25167&pid/25141).

    RSVP was originally designed and implemented in a small, interdisciplinary

    research centre, the AWMC. The AWMC is a small, innovative research centre

    where researchers and research students work to develop effective, sustainable

    solutions to the management of wastewater using the interdisciplinary skills of

    22 C. Manathunga et al.

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  • microbiologists, chemical engineers and some social scientists. Established as a

    research centre in 1996, the centre at the time of the research had five academic staff,

    five postdoctoral and five other research-only staff, 20 Ph.D. students, 10

    international visitors and three administrative staff. The majority of these researchers

    and students were involved in the various stages of developing, trialling, evaluating

    and revising the RSVP process.

    In designing this graduate attribute process, our research team was seeking to

    achieve the following objectives:

    1. A systematic method for contextualizing broad generic attributes in specific

    disciplines/interdisciplines.

    2. An individualized process for enhancing graduate attribute development that

    went beyond a skills audit approach and was flexible enough to respond to

    diverse students pre-existing skills and desired career goals.

    3. A process intimately linked with each students research project.

    4. An effective method of documenting and storing evidence of students

    achievement of graduate attributes that would assist them in applying for jobs.

    An action research, participatory methodology was employed to achieve these

    objectives. Specifically, this consisted of:

    . two focus groups to identify and agree upon the particular graduate attributes theAWMC wanted to develop in its research graduates;

    . a sub-committee of researchers and students to design the process;

    . interviews with one postdoctoral fellow and one research student;

    . two further focus groups with researchers and students to resolve concerns of bothgroups prior to the trial of RSVP;

    . trial of RSVP by 11 research students, four supervisors and two research-onlystaff;

    . feedback from researchers and research students (including those who did notparticipate in the trial) about further improvements to the process;

    . revision of RSVP for further trials in other disciplines across the university.

    Data were collected from all of these activities, allowing for a triangulation of

    perspectives (e.g. students, supervisors, postdoctoral fellows) and a triangulation of

    methods (e.g. documentary analysis, focus group outcomes, interviews). At all stages

    of the project, data were collected and analysed not only by the interdisciplinary

    research team but also by AWMC supervisors, postdoctoral fellows and students.

    Ethical clearance was obtained from the relevant university ethics committee. All of

    the participants signed consent forms covering all aspects of their involvement in the

    project. Additional special permission was granted by the students whose de-

    identified reflective review sections and action plan are quoted below. A total of seven

    individual students, four supervisors, one postdoctoral fellow, and comments from

    two separate focus groups from the AWMC are quoted in this article.

    Developing professional researchers 23

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  • Research Student [Virtual] Portfolio

    RSVP consists of a:

    . set of research students graduate attributes;

    . reflective review tool that translates these attributes into the local disciplinary/interdisciplinary dialect and lists ways in which students can demonstrate each

    graduate attribute;

    . portfolio based on evidence of the achievement of the graduate attributes;

    . resource package for students and supervisors;

    . training program for supervisors.

    The identified list of graduate attributes included those items listed in Table 1.

    The research team acknowledged that the broad description of these attributes is

    of little use to students and supervisors so they designed a reflective review tool that

    translated each graduate attribute into a full interdisciplinary description and

    explored how each attribute could be achieved. Interdisciplinary research skills,

    attitudes and behaviours feature in each of these graduate attributes. To illustrate the

    process used, the development of communication skills will be outlined in full.

    While a great deal of attention is placed on communication skills at any level of

    higher education, there have been only a few attempts to define precisely what these

    skills involve at the research higher degree level (Borthwick & Wissler, 2003). In

    addition, UK research conducted by Cryer (1998) has suggested that many research

    students are unable to articulate the exact nature of their highly developed

    communication skills and how these might be transferred to various workplace

    settings and professions. Table 2 identifies the nature of these skills in the AWMC

    context and how these could be demonstrated.

    Designing and using the reflective review tool

    A two-step process was constructed. This involves students completing a reflective

    exercise each year with their supervisor as part of the annual review process. It also

    enables students to construct a portfolio or career development tool that organizes

    and documents their continuous development of graduate attributes. This builds

    Table 1. Attributes of research graduates

    1. Problem solving and problem formulation from different perspectives

    2. Communication skills

    3. Project management skills

    4. Industry focus and/or professional experience

    5. Understanding and applying multiple disciplinary and international perspectives

    6. High-quality research skills

    7. Expert integrated knowledge

    8. Social, ethical and environmental responsibility

    24 C. Manathunga et al.

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  • Table 2. Communication skills in an AWMC context

    Description How this could be demonstrated

    To express an idea: The student has:

    . The student will be able to present their workin several forms (written, spoken or graphically)

    in different contexts and to different audiences

    . The student will have gained experience inteaching/training and supervision of people

    . Effectively presented their work at internal seminars and/or conferences, congresses, etc.

    . Clearly expressed their ideas and results (orally and in PowerPoint), gathered feedback,and demonstrated how they have improved their presentation skills based on this feedback

    . Written well-structured, highly effective reports/papers and indicated their attempts toimprove their writing skills

    . Demonstrated the ability to plan and organize lecture, tutorial or training sessions anddevelop and deliver effective training materials and activities

    . Facilitated the successful completion of honours projects as honours supervisors

    . Disseminated special skills such as statistical analysis methods to other students

    To understand and value other knowledge: The student has:

    . The student will be able to read, listen toand appreciate other peoples ideas

    . Compiled an interdisciplinary literature review that will provide them with ways to expandtheir own work

    . Applied other disciplines languages and concepts to their work

    . Actively participated in meetings and seminars showing that they understand otherpeoples perspectives

    . Emailed other experts in their field after being introduced by their supervisor, keeping thesupervisor in the loop with email communications

    . Received tutor training and been involved in teaching and postgraduate supervision

    Working in interdisciplinary teams to develop

    social skills, self-confidence and conflict

    resolution and negotiation skills

    The student has:

    . Shown effective participation in team work by giving input to the general project andapplying the outcomes to their own work

    . Established a bridge between different perspectives as a result of their developinginterdisciplinary knowledge

    Dev

    elopin

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    research

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  • upon the reflective approach initially advocated by Cryer (1998). The involvement of

    the supervisor/s in the process is also regarded as important (Borthwick & Wissler,

    2003). In order to demonstrate how RSVP has been tailored for research students at

    very different stages of their professional careers, two case studies from the initial trial

    in the AWMC have been included. These students gave additional permission for the

    authors to include excerpts from their reflective reviews after they had completed

    them. In particular, these case studies demonstrate that the RSVP process does not

    only support the career development of less experienced students like Ramonez2

    but also enhances the career planning skills of experienced professionals such as

    Erica.

    Erica

    Erica is approximately half way through her doctoral studies and has had a lengthy

    professional career. Her sophisticated understandings of practice are evident in her

    reflections. She indicated that she considered communication skills to be one of her

    strongest attributes:

    I have presented my work at seminars . . . and workshops and conferences. As anexperienced [worker], I have developed the ability to actively listen and draw together

    ideas. However, both my written and verbal communication would benefit from the use

    of mind mapping to structure the approach. My literature review is interdisciplinar-

    y . . . and I have maintained contact with my associate supervisors . . . [in otherdisciplines]. I have worked in many teams. (AWMC student, reflective review)

    Her supervisor agrees but recommends that we need to think about your ability to

    present research outcomes*/this is a very different and difficult skill (AWMCsupervisors comments on student reflective review).

    Ramonez

    Ramonez has just commenced her Ph.D. program and has less prior work

    experience. She initially sent her supervisor very brief reflections on her commu-

    nication skills (indicated in the following by normal type). Prompted for more

    information and reflection by her supervisor, she then added the additional

    comments (indicated by bold type). She suggested that:

    I feel that my communication skills are fine. I have always had the ability to convey

    my thoughts and ideas across considerably clearly though I do get exceptionally

    nervous during presentations with groups of people larger than say, 20

    people . . . I am able to listen to peoples ideas, analyse them and I do find it veryvaluable. I have not, as of yet, presented my work at internal seminars or conferences,

    but I will be presenting [soon] I will gather feedback on my presentation . . . I doparticipate in other disciplines seminars (though they have been restricted to my

    friends first year reviews) and do have a general idea of their jargon. I will have to

    make sure that I make an effort to look into the seminars that are presented in

    [another School]. Also, I am hoping that spending time with [postdoc in

    26 C. Manathunga et al.

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  • another discipline] will allow me to get immerse myself into another field of

    science and allow me to understand an area that I have previously not been

    interested in. Lastly, I have had to organise a tutorial and feel that I would be fine if I

    had to organise a lecture on a subject that I am familiar with. Ive already learnt from

    tutoring that there is no better way to understand a subject than actually

    teaching it. (AWMC student, reflective review)

    Her supervisor responded by agreeing that her

    oral communication skills*/one to one*/are excellent. This is a very powerfultool . . . however, from a PhD point of view, it is important that you develop a high

    level of ability in technical communication . . . We need to develop an action plan to help

    you to develop your skills in this area. (AWMC supervisors comment on student

    reflective review)

    Following the review, students and supervisors then negotiated an action plan that

    identified specific activities that students would undertake to develop each graduate

    attribute systematically. We have selected Ericas action plan as an illustration

    because her story is illustrated above and her action plan was particularly well

    developed. Erica decided to focus on the items listed in Table 3 to further develop

    her communication skills.

    Table 3. Excerpt from Ericas action plan (completed and reviewed four months later*/see boldtype)

    GA Action Who When

    3. Communication

    skills

    Improve communication of

    structured/detailed research

    methodology and outcomes,

    using key messages, via:

    Have refined presenta-

    tion of research out-

    comes

    a. 2 presentations to

    AWMC*/on research metho-dology & research outcomes

    Student As negotiated in seminar

    program

    b. Publication in international

    journals such as Water 21

    and Water International

    Student Submit when data available

    c. Presentation at an interna-

    tional conference e.g. IWA

    World Water Congress (Sept

    2004) or IWA sustainability

    conference (Nov 2004)

    Student July 2003 discuss appro-

    priate conferences with an-

    other lecturer. NO

    RESPONSE AS YET

    d. Comment in the preparation

    of the above

    Supervisor As needed

    Developing professional researchers 27

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  • Portfolio

    The portfolio template is currently being developed and piloted in an RSVP trial in a

    social science field. It is designed to provide students with a structured physical and

    electronic template to organize their evidence of achieving each graduate attribute.

    For example, in the graduate attribute on communication, RSVP suggests that

    students file copies of written reports and articles, PowerPoint presentations, written

    feedback on presentation skills and so on so that they can readily access this evidence

    when they are preparing job applications. In this way, it acts as an organizing tool for

    students. It is acknowledged that care must be taken in using this portfolio so that it

    will adequately capture the level of sophistication that research students achieve.

    Research students are capable of accomplishing more than merely listing their skills

    in project management, for example. They become skilful performers (Pearson &

    Brew, 2002, p. 4) and need to convince employers in industry, the professions or

    academe of this.

    AWMC evaluation and modification of RSVP

    During semester 2, 2003, AWMC students and their supervisors implemented the

    research student portfolio process as a pilot trial. A signed studentsupervisorcontract was also developed because some students expressed concern that their

    advisors may be too busy to engage in the reflective review. A further focus group was

    held with students and research-only staff to modify the reflective review tool, and

    concerns raised by the students were relayed to academic staff. Approximately half of

    the research students in the AWMC (11) completed the reflective review process

    with four postgraduate supervisors. Responses from eight students are quoted below

    and the additional focus group responses reflect general feedback given by all

    the students, postdoctoral fellows and supervisors who participated in the study. Five

    students who were nearing completion of their research studies elected not to engage

    in the process. The remaining three students elected not to participate largely

    because their supervisor was not supportive of the process.

    One student whose supervisor claimed that she was unable to schedule time to

    meet with her was able to engage in the process with a postdoctoral fellow. The

    potential role played by postdoctoral fellows in this process is important for a number

    of reasons. Firstly, their advice to students is particularly powerful because, as one

    postdoctoral fellow emphasized, I feel still very close to the PhD students because I

    do the same type of work they do . . . the experience they are going through [is]

    fresher in my mind . . . [and] Im . . . more available (AWMC postdoctoral fellow

    interview). Secondly, their involvement in processes like RSVP formalizes the

    advisory role they often enact with students and gives them valuable supervisory

    experience that they can document for their own ongoing career development. In

    addition, two postdoctoral fellows completed their own reflective reviews because

    they believed that they would serve as a valuable career development tool at their

    career stage as well.

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  • Students responses

    All of the 11 students participating in RSVP trials indicated how useful it was for

    their overall research planning and future career development. In particular, they felt

    the reflective review was a useful scoping tool and could even be used as a problem-

    solving tool (AWMC students, student focus group). An AWMC student com-

    mented that:

    I found this a useful exercise in critically reviewing my development as a graduate . . . It

    gave me a useful overall picture of where I was at and where the gaps were . . . It allowedme to prioritise certain key actions . . . like . . . gaining more international exposure and

    identifying an additional mentor or support group. (AWMC, student feedback)

    Another student also suggested that RSVP gave students a clearer indication of

    exactly what undertaking a Ph.D. involved rather than just knowing they had to

    produce a thesis (AWMC student, student focus group). Several international

    research students believed that RSVP was relevant across nations and cultures

    (AWMC students, student focus group). One student also appreciated the extent to

    which the process became embedded in [my] ongoing research activities, which

    made it so sensible and comfortable (AWMC, email 21 July 2004). RSVP also

    strengthened relationships between students and their supervisors in four cases

    (reported by AWMC students, student focus group). For example, one student

    commented I got a lot out of my grad attributes discussion with . . . [my supervisor].

    I found that he was willing to support me more in what I want to do that [sic] I

    previously thought (AWMC, email 24 November 2003).

    One student emphasized how RSVP had helped him think more broadly about his

    discipline. Reflecting about the whole process he argued that RSVP reminded him:

    to just be constantly looking at ways and taking opportunities to improve myself as a

    researcher and scholar, even if it is not directly related to . . . my project. In a field likethis I need to keep an open mind for new ideas and methods in order to make myself as

    attractive a graduate as possible. (AWMC student, 22 February 2004)

    Students confirmed the effectiveness of RSVP in helping them plan their future

    careers and prepare employment applications. For example, Erica, who was featured

    above, is now drawing close to completion. She indicated that she is using RSVP to

    plan my post-PhD career. Following planned submission of my thesis in mid-

    September, I plan to conduct a speaking tour of several countries . . . with the objective

    of . . . landing a desirable position. Many of the locations chosen for presentations weredrawn from the list of key contacts identified in my RSVP. (AWMC, email 21 July 2004)

    Supervisors responses

    Four supervisors involved in the trial commented on the RSVP process. In

    particular, one supervisor found RSVP to be a valuable framework for my

    supervision because it helped her to keep an eye on all areas of [her] students

    Developing professional researchers 29

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  • professional development (AWMC, supervisor feedback). Another supervisor wrote

    that RSVP helped [him] to remember to praise [his] students already developed

    graduate attributes and their gradual progress . . . this is very motivating for students

    (AWMC, supervisor feedback).

    Supervisors found the tool valuable for their own professional development

    because it reminded them in a very tangible way to keep planning lots of experiences

    and activities for [their] students (AWMC, supervisor feedback). Developing RSVP

    enabled supervisors to form a shared understanding of the key elements of effective

    research education. We observed many passionate debates between supervisors

    about the nature of postgraduate supervision and what being a professional

    researcher in a discipline meant. One supervisor turned to us after one such debate

    and said You know normally we dont get to talk about supervision . . . we just get on

    in our individual way and do it, we dont usually get to debate it (AWMC, supervisor

    feedback).

    Recommendations to improve RSVP

    Students and supervisors, including those who had not participated in the trial, also

    made a number of recommendations to improve RSVP, either in focus groups or via

    email. Firstly, several students felt that the first six months were too soon to complete

    the first reflective review. Instead, it was recommended that supervisors go through

    the list of graduate attributes and the reflective review tool with students at the

    beginning of candidature, and complete their first reflective review and action plan as

    part of the confirmation of candidature process.

    Other modifications included:

    . revising the order of graduate attributes so that the review process would start withmore familiar goals and work up to the more difficult attributes;

    . adding entrepreneurship and commercializing ones intellectual property to theindustry-focus and/or professional experience attribute;

    . condensing the written material contained in the reflective review tool;

    . making explicit reference at the beginning of the reflective review tool that this wasintended to be a forward planning exercise;

    . recommending that students not attempt to complete the whole reflective reviewin one sitting (feedback from AWMC supervisors and students).

    RSVP moves into other disciplines

    A shorter version of the original collaborative process of translating the list of

    graduate attributes into different local disciplinary dialects was then used with one

    supervisor and his team of five students in Animal Studies and with two supervisors

    and their eight students from two different Health Sciences. RSVP has now been

    trialled and evaluated by a total of seven supervisors, 24 research students and two

    research-only staff members from a range of disciplines. Although not explicitly

    30 C. Manathunga et al.

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  • claiming to be an interdisciplinary area, RSVP confirmed for the supervisor and his

    five students in Animal Studies the importance of developing their ability to work

    across disciplines in their evolving industry (Animal Studies focus group).

    One of the Health Science supervisors used RSVP as a diagnostic tool to ascertain

    which particular attributes students wanted assistance with. Her six students

    unanimously asked for help in developing their critical analysis skills. As a result,

    she developed and facilitated a critical analysis interest group, in which her students

    collaboratively developed a shared framework for critiquing literature in their

    discipline and practised their critiquing and debating skills on journal articles and

    sections of their own writing (Manathunga & Goozee, 2007). Another research

    graduate from a social science school indicated that reading the RSVP reflective

    review tool helped her to rethink her recent Ph.D. experiences and translate aspects

    of her experiences into responses to selection criteria for a research position (social

    science graduate, letter from PG Coordinator).

    RSVP has been adopted as the university-wide method of embedding UQ RHD

    students graduate attributes into all Schools research programs (see UQ policy

    http://www.uq.edu.au/hupp/index.html?page/25167&pid/25141). By the time theextensive trial in a large Social Science field and the international trial at a university

    in the United Kingdom have been completed, approximately 150 students from two

    universities will have used RSVP.

    Discussion

    There is still a great deal of work to be done in developing an effective graduate

    attribute process for research higher degree students that adequately prepares them

    for the workforce, without detracting from their individualized development as

    embodied, creative disciplinary scholars. There is no real way to reconcile the

    instrumentalist philosophies underpinning the graduate attributes agenda with

    more complex sophisticated understandings of the development of professional

    expertise (Sandberg, 2000; Gilbert et al ., 2004; DallAlba & Sandberg, 2006). The

    most effective argument for the introduction of a graduate attributes process for

    research students is that it can support traditional research education pedagogical

    strategies by making them more explicit and structured.

    In this way, graduate attribute processes like RSVP can encourage broad dialogue

    between students and supervisors about students overall professional development,

    taking the focus away from the narrow completion of a research project (Cryer, 1998;

    Borthwick & Wissler, 2003). As a result, RSVP may improve supervision relation-

    ships and practices by providing explicit frameworks that identify the many roles and

    responsibilities of both supervisors and students in research education. In particular,

    it underlines the broad mentoring role supervisors need to play in supporting their

    students transition into professional researchers (Pearson & Brew, 2002;

    Manathunga, 2005).

    Developing professional researchers 31

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  • It may also help to give students more structured and transparent access to

    opportunities to engage in the local and international research culture, potentially

    improving their enculturation into their discipline or interdisciplines. Identifying in a

    structured, systematic way through action plans a sequence of opportunities like

    conference attendance, engagement in industry projects or with professional

    associations, and the building of professional networks enables students to engage

    in the research culture of the discipline. Incorporating these plans into larger school-

    based processes like confirmation of candidature and general financial and resource

    discussions helps to make school support for research students more transparent and

    visible. So too, engaging in graduate attribute processes like RSVP may also enhance

    the cohesion and strength of research cultures because they provoke school or centre-

    wide debates among students and supervisors about the nature of research

    education, the roles of supervisors and the steps it takes to prepare people to

    become professional researchers in their fields.

    For research students in particular, engaging in graduate attribute processes

    should help them to articulate more clearly their abilities to formulate and solve

    problems, to communicate effectively in a variety of media and to a range of

    audiences, and to manage and lead research projects as well as their in-depth

    disciplinary knowledge (Cryer, 1998). RSVP draws upon a number of significant

    principles and techniques of professional education and development, which try to

    ensure effective, individualized development and enhancement of graduate attri-

    butes. Reflective techniques, which are recognized as a fundamental facet of effective

    professional practice, are a key feature of the program. Schon (1983) and others

    (Cryer, 1998; Bolton, 2001; Evans, 2002) have demonstrated conclusively the

    importance of learning to reflect upon and systematically question your own decision

    making and actions as a professional. By requiring students to write reflections

    on their ongoing development of their attitudes, RSVP aims to ensure that research

    students also enhance their ability to become thoroughly professional reflective

    practitioners.

    The RSVP program also draws upon experiential and active learning techniques

    (Brookfield, 1990; Biggs, 1999). Some of the key interdisciplinary research skills,

    such as the ability to understand and apply multiple disciplinary and international

    perspectives, to be flexible and have a high tolerance for ambiguity, and to develop

    social, ethical and environmental responsibility, are essentially about attitudinal

    change and development, which rarely can be taught didactically (Clifford, 1998;

    Mezirow, 2000). Even some of the more technical skills, such as effective

    communication and team working, are best learnt by doing (Jackson & Caffarella,

    1994; Evans, 2000). As a result, RSVP situates research students graduate attribute

    development within students individual research projects.

    This decision is supported by previous studies of developing students skills and

    attributes at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Pearson and Brew (2002) warn

    of the dangers inherent in viewing graduate attribute development as bolt-on aspects

    of research education. As Pearson and Brew (2002) indicate, this mirrors the debate

    about embedding generic attributes in undergraduate degree programs (see

    32 C. Manathunga et al.

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  • Bowden et al ., 2000). Cryer (1998, p. 212) suggests that these skills need to be

    embedded within students research degree programs so that they are part of the

    students everyday thinking, help develop proficiency, facilitate transferability, and

    develop the habit of lifelong learning.

    The RSVP program further assists this process by providing students with a

    portfolio framework within which to organize evidence of their professional

    development. This should assist students in preparing employment applications

    and responding to job selection criteria. As a result, the RSVP process should help

    research graduates to operate effectively as professional researchers in a number of

    employment settings including industry and business. Indeed, the boundaries

    between industry, the professions and universities are blurring and any researcher

    will require the ability to work effectively across and between all of these types of

    organizations (Tyler, 1998; Rip, 2004).

    A number of dilemmas remain within the research graduate attribute process

    that will require additional research to resolve. Firstly, the vexed question of

    examining students attainment of graduate attributes is difficult to address and

    opens up some significant disciplinary differences. In most cases, the students and

    supervisors we worked with believed that such an examination would be

    unnecessary and inappropriate, especially in areas such as social and ethical

    understanding. Students, in particular, were opposed to the inclusion of additional

    hurdles in research education, which was already a frenetic experience for many

    students.

    There was also disagreement in some disciplines about whether graduate attribute

    development should be reported on at university level or retained as a private

    developmental process essentially between supervisors and students. Essentially,

    RSVP has been designed as an individual career development tool that is separate

    from university accountability processes, but valid concerns are held about whether

    its developmental nature will be preserved in the face of neoliberal government

    attempts to over-regulate research training.

    Conclusion

    In this paper we have outlined in detail the design, implementation, evaluation and

    modification of one graduate attribute process, RSVP, in a small interdisciplinary

    research centre that has later been applied to different disciplines across an

    Australian university. Further internal and international trials will continue to test

    the flexibility and effectiveness of the RSVP process and will generate other

    questions requiring additional research. This study suggests, however, that the

    RSVP process has the potential to become a valuable professional education and

    development tool that may assist research students to become proficient, profes-

    sional researchers, capable of working in academe, industry or a range of

    employment organizations.

    Developing professional researchers 33

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  • Acknowledgements

    The authors would like to acknowledge the work of research assistant Ann Webster-

    Wright in this project, which was funded by the University of Queenslands DVC

    Research, Professor David Siddle, and the Director of the Graduate School,

    Professor Alan Lawson. They would also like to thank Dr Gloria DallAlba for her

    insightful comments on an earlier draft. Finally, they would like to thank all of the

    staff and students of the AWMC for their enthusiastic involvement in the project and

    the students willingness to give the authors additional special permission to quote

    sections from their reflective reviews and action plan.

    Notes

    1. This acronym is used throughout this article because RSVP has now become a product with

    that name, known across the university in that way, and an application to register this

    product name has been made in the process of commercializing it.

    2. All names have been changed.

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