rethinking our graduate program

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I'm part of a group of people in our department who are beginning to rethink our graduate program, and where it could/should go. It began as a "career-changers" program, because there were no undergraduate programs in IT for it to build upon. But as we--and the field--have matured, there's a growing need for in-depth, graduate level study in more focused areas than what our current program offers.

So the question becomes what, exactly, we want to be teaching. And along with that, what are we best at? And what students do we want? And who will their employers be? And what will those employers expect? Lots of questions, really. But lots of enthusiasm about exploring them.

We've got a number of areas that we're particularly enthusiastic about exploring, many of them related (directly or indirectly) to what many people seem to be calling "social software." We've got lots of strength in HCI, information architecture, XML, web development, game programming, VRML, multi-user media spaces, etc. So how can we knit that into a coherent graduate program?

So, faithful readers, what do you think? What kinds of graduate programs are missing right now? What niches need to be filled? What kind of program would you want to hire someone out of? What kind would you want to attend yourself if you could? I'd love to leverage the expertise of the blogosphere on this question, especially right now during the formative stages of this discussion...

updated 4:40pm
Dorothea asks in her comment for a pointer to our current program. Should have thought to include that to begin with. We've got a "purpose and goals" page, as well as a list of courses in the program. Also, fwiw, here's one to our faculty "research interests."

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I'd love to comment -- and I will -- but can you point me to a succinct description of your current program, so that I don't make an idiot of myself suggesting things you're already doing or have no business doing?

Well, I’ started several responses, Liz, and dumped them all (“how I spent my Wednesday evening when I should have been clearing out office work”).

The single most important criterion I can think of is energy, yours and your students’. If it gives you an expresso-like jolt, if it stimulates your students’ cortexes (or “rtices”), go with it.

OK, make that “I’ve,” and “cortices.” And the whole comment sounds fatuous—but it really reflects my involvement with several graduate programs. Some end up as service programs, and they may be very good service programs, but that falls far short of what the participants might attain if they were tackling problems and hunches that thrilled them.

Part of what I'm trying to find out is what would thrill the kinds of students we want (some of whom are out there in the blogosphere), rather than what would thrill the students we have (many of whom are not interested in serious graduate study--what they really should be pursuing is advanced certificates).

We are following the energy right now, for the first time in a long time. We're trying to focus on what we love and what we're excited about. But there's a financial reality that we need to be sure that there's a market out there for those things, and I'm hoping to find some validation from outside voices as we go along.

This echoes a discussion I had with another faculty member earlier today. The lifeblood of a department is its undergraduate and (IMHO especially) graduate students. So the trick is being able to locate those students.

It's pretty circular. I was attracted to my graduate program more by the other graduate studentsn that, particularly, the faculty. The question is how to bootstrap this, how to give it the jolt that it needs.

I've seen this happen successfully in two department/schools at my last university, for two different reasons. The first was an established Library school that hired a costly, but dynamic, new dean. The dean was given a mandate (read "funded well") and was very activist. He would show up during classes and recruited heavily into the faculty. The school, while it may not have jumped in reputation overnight (never happens) does have something of a reputation nationally for pushing the envelope now.

The other was a non-department: the comparative history of ideas (CHID). It was an interdisciplinary program with next to no funding but with some passionate profs and students who saw it as something of their own club. Without the overhead of bureaucracy and politics that seems to define university life, they managed to make some really interesting connections and carve out a new place in the university. They kind of came out of the blue, and ended up fostering an exciting intellectual environment that became a model of sorts for the rest of the campus.

None of this is likely to help you. So: (a) specialize and (b) aim for hipness--you actually can be cool by design.

Hope I have some relevance to add to this subject since I just started the bridge hell for the IT Master's program. I went to information sessions, & met with an advisor. Currently RIT is "selling" the Master's program as simply the only option really if you already have a bachelors. I walked in thinking I might want to pursue another BS in a more useful area (IT), than my previous liberal arts degree. But was very quickly talked out of that, and pointed to the graduated program being told "if you have a bachelors you want a masters, don't waste your time."

Cerificates always sound cheesy. Who wants to say they are getting a "certificate?" It feels too much like those little Power Point generated certificates of achievement you got for attending some mandatory and often useless training at work.

I'm not sure if the capstone wasn't dicussed because it's too early in the program for me to even consider it, or RIT is afraid if they mention that scarey word "research" potential students will grab their check books and run.

Considering the overwhelming growth of the IT department, it's hard to tell RIT was ever interested in research. This is the first I've heard of the research being potentially the focus. Maybe RIT needs to spend more time discussing it with new students. The most I've heard was from one current RIT Grad student, not at all from faculty, and it's treated like an extra course. A real pain in the butt one.

Where would a new, or should I say potential, grad student look for help in determining what topics they might consider? Is this something I should have already thought about? When is it discussed? I was already told I could apply for the grad program...

I'm assuming in the grad application there is a section about research, and that is why I haven't heard about it?

cher

Cher, I'll respond to you in more detail via e-mail. But what you describe is very much a function of our current lack of clear definition in the role and purpose of the graduate program.

Right now, as you point out, we're still very much in the mode of "selling" the grad program as a replication of the undergrad program, but for people who already have a degree. And that's what we want to move away from. If what you want is a focus on the skills acquisition, the undergrad program really is a better choice. The grad program needs to move towards specialization that builds upon generalist skills on the undergrad level. The big question for us is going to be *which* specializations to focus on, and whether there's genuinely a common thread that knits these all together.

Personally, I'd like to continue specializing in the web development/design, database and XML technologies that I am currently focusing on in the undergrad program. However, the game programming also interests me as video games (if you ever checked your e-mail ;-) ) are another big passion of mine, so I'm still not sure what I'm going to end up doing or if I will be able to mix and match.

For the graduate level I'd expect bleeding-edge technology to be used 100% of the time (like in the XML for the Web seminar you're currently in, I'm still a little bummed out I had to give it up) - all too often I've been in classes that were dealing with things that are already somewhat dated or drastically changed. I'd also like to see professors who not only have an intimate understanding of the topics they will be teaching but a deep passion for them as well, they genuinely like the topic and want to teach and use it but can do so in an unbiased manner with no personal criticisms against student work. For the most part that hasn't been a problem from my experience at RIT but for clarity's sake I thought I'd make a note of it.

The undergrad program offers quite a bit in terms of diversity and you can fit three concentrations into your degree if you schedule your classes right. I'd hope the grad program has the same kind of flexibility.

 

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on January 8, 2003 4:06 PM.

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