Influential Factors and Recommendations: Modeling the Development of Knowledge Transfer Skills

I am hoping that this posting generates some conversation – what factors influence the development of knowledge transfer skills for doctoral students? Below is one model that maps many of the influences that a doctoral student in the biosciences may have on their development of expertise, including their ability to transfer knowledge. This model is supported by many studies of doctoral education, including The Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, Center for Research and Innovation in Graduate Education (CIRGE), Council of Graduate Schools Re-Envisioning the PhD, reports by the National Academy of Science (e.g., 1995 COSEPUP report) and other publicly and privately funded initiatives.

Picture1_webExamination of program elements can help to shape students’ specific interactions and determine what experiences foster the development of knowledge transfer skills. Toward this end, I am expanding some particularly relevant aspects of development that students should develop in order to aid in the acquisition of transfer skills. These categories were developed based on extensive interviews with doctoral students, recent graduates and faculty in numerous programs nationwide.

In order to enhance their ability to transfer knowledge, students should be able to:

1) Synthesize Information, which is to say develop a knowledge base using multiple experiences and sources of information within an interdisciplinary research landscape. Labs are constantly reframing their research to address timely and relevant questions. It used to be that you studied the same problem forever, for your entire career – you can’t do that anymore.

Characteristics of students who are able to synthesize knowledge include intellectual motivation, curiosity, and critical thinking. The way in which students achieve the ability to synthesize information is described best as a process in which students first develop 1) an appropriate knowledge base about concepts and 2) technical proficiency in conducting the laboratory techniques needed to do their research. These abilities allow create academic maturity, which in turn, imparts in them the ability to relate information from various sources to one’s own work in meaningful ways.

2) Create Interdisciplinary Meanings; the development of interdisciplinary meanings hinges on students first grasping intra-disciplinary meanings. Today, students must be more grounded in the nature of blended scientific disciplines (i.e., they must be interdisciplinary), compared to times past.

3) Act as Stewards; Stewardship is necessary in order to 1) maintain and grow various scientific fields, 2) allow others outside of a given field to understand the work that is achieved within it and 3) garner support for this work. One of the professional responsibilities of doctoral students is to develop these skills as they work through their degree and become leaders in their disciplines.

4) Understand how Science is Intertwined with the World; This area addresses the need for development of understand of the scope of “grand challenges” to various conditions on planet Earth and beyond. Often times, ways in which science is intertwined with the world are addressed when applying for grant funding. This “business of scientific research” is a good reason for students to develop awareness of how science is intertwined with the world. However, it is also important for the development of knowledge transfer skills. Students should be able to consider multiple perspectives, recognize the importance of diverse viewpoints, and understand the meaning of research and findings outside of the United States.

5) Accept the Inherent Complexity of Science and Be Prepared for Non-Consensus; There are often competing theories and accepted understandings within an area of scientific research. This non-consensus means that students must be able to formulate opinions, interpret data and distinguish the importance of his or her work against a diverse contextual backdrop. Students’ ability to see significance in their own amidst complex, competing ideas is essential to allowing students to develop as independent scientists and researchers. The process students go through involves a shift in thinking from novice to expert.

6) Be Able to Recognize Scientific Revolution; Most frequently, the result of graduate work is not revolutionary. As one student put it, the result of doctoral work is that “you personally moved the pile only four inches, but now the total height of the thing is even greater and there are a lot of other ‘yous’ out there adding four inches at the same time.” The ability to use prior experiences and prior knowledge to develop new knowledge is an essential element in fostering knowledge transfer skills, contributing to the capacity to transcend the role of knowledge consumer to become a knowledge producer.

With those six aspects of the doctoral experience in mind, next time, I will write about the ACTIONS related to these aspects of doctoral education. Please do comment on what your experiences have been – what has influenced you and how would you alter the model presented in this posting?

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Amy Prevost

Director, Scientific Courses at BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute
Amy Prevost received her doctorate from UW-Madison in 2012 in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Amy is a program director at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute), a non-profit located on the Promega campus in Fitchburg, Wis., where she coordinates scientific programs for adult learners. She is also a project manager on a grant aimed at understanding student success in advanced manufacturing programs at two-year colleges with the Center on Education Research at UW Madison. Amy’s primary areas of interest in educational research include understanding educational pathways in STEM programs, improving student outcomes at the post-secondary and graduate levels – including access to careers, and trying to map elements of doctoral programs that contribute to students’ abilities to transfer knowledge.

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