Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Value and Contribution of Sessional Instructors - Diverse Expertise and Relevant Professional Experience

Great 2014 article by Usher on sessionals on the Higher Education Strategy Associates' Blog:

In the blog, Usher outlines reasons why sessional instructors are a growing proportion of academic staff in higher education: universities are paid to teach, and spend a great deal of time also doing research. The part that most interested me, however, was that in which Usher described two broad categories of sessional instructors: those who have full-time employment elsewhere and recent PhD graduates. This quote about the first category of sessionals resonates with my experience in our School of Education, especially the part where we are much better for their presence: 'First are the mid/late-career professionals who already make good money from full-time employment elsewhere, and who help provide relevant, up-to-date content based on practical experience in programs like Law and Nursing. For them, sessional teaching is a way to pick up an extra cheque, and maybe have some fun doing it. Outside Arts & Science, this is the dominant model of sessionals, and universities are much the better for their presence".  The second category of sessionals include recent PhD graduates looking to get a tenure track position in academia.

The blog resonated with me because I am privileged to work alongside a cohort of sessional instructors in Graduate Programs in Education, and I make these observations about my highly valued colleagues:

· The majority of GPE Sessional instructors hold full time employment elsewhere, and teach one or two courses per year with Werklund School of Education.

· Contrary to the national public discourse on sessional colleagues as under appreciated, underpaid individuals who “want to be on the tenure track”, the sessional instructors who teach in GPE are not seeking a tenure track position and they report high levels of satisfaction in their teaching roles, experience success in their teaching, and feel valued for what they contribute to graduate students' learning and development

· Each of our sessional instructors bring deep expertise in their discipline, broad experience in their profession, and current knowledge and highly relevant insights from their employment elsewhere, all of which greatly enriches and expands our graduate program offerings

· Sessional instructing also offers diverse and expanded opportunities for our doctoral students to develop teaching experience in higher education, as well as contribute their unique expertise and diverse strengths to the graduate program.

I encourage you to read Usher's blog - it offers a different perspective on the debate about sessional instructors.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My response to: Are there too many PhDs? Turns out, maybe not: A look at where PhDs end up after leaving the Ivory Tower

Here is my response to the National Post article by:  Catherine McIntyre:

Along with Danny and Stephanie, PhD candidate, I was a panelist at the CSSE session June 1 during which we discussed the changing contexts for graduates from doctoral programs. As the Associate Dean, Graduate Programs in Education, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, I can offer the academic perspective that is largely missing from this article. I contend that Schools of Education have already re-imagined doctoral education to reflect the needs and reality of our changing global contexts by preparing diverse doctoral students, who bring diverse career goals and expectations, for diverse career outcomes. For example, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, offers three different doctoral degrees. First, we offer a professional Education Doctorate (EdD) in Educational Research that prepares scholars of the profession who lead and study change in diverse learning contexts, from schools, to health and corporate settings, and in diverse disciplines in higher education. Werklund School of Education also offers the Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Educational Research, which is a research degree that prepares scholars of the discipline who aim to research and teach in higher education. Third, we offer the Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Educational Psychology that is a professional research degree that includes a one-year internship; graduates from this program aim to teach and research in higher education or to lead and study change and innovation in professional psychology settings. In Education, at least, I argue that we need to rethink the call to rethink the PHD because we have already done so with the creation of the Professional EDD and the Professional PhD with Internship. Education already provides high quality research and professional doctoral programs that meet respond to global trends and the demands of disciplines and professions in transition by being Accessible, Agile, Flexible, Responsive and Collaborative. Graduates who hold an EDD or a PHD enjoy the highest employment rates amongst all undergraduate and graduate degree holders in Canada. While I fully agree that universities must prepare students for life within AND beyond the ivory tower, and for careers beyond the professoriate, I disagree that the current employment rate of PhDs as professors is a cause for alarm – graduates from doctoral programs contribute their deep expertise, their critical and analytical thinking, and teaching and research experience across higher education, public education and many other sectors. While many doctoral students do plan for a life in the academy, a substantially higher number of students who pursue PhDs and EDDs are not planning on a life of higher education teaching and research. Like Education, faculties across disciplines should probably consider how they might provide different pathways to the doctorate. Academic faculty who are already experts at promoting a culture of research and teaching do a great job of preparing doctoral students for the academy; across Canada, Universities need to invest in expanding faculty capacity to promote and support a culture of research informed professional practice and leadership of innovation and change across sectors. 
Dr. Michele Jacobsen,,