So many (grad development) books!

hundreds of pinpoints of light, each a galaxy. They are dots and streaks of many colors - yellow, blue, red. There is a starburst one in the center.

There are so many books recently released about graduate student development. Shameless plug alert: see two recent books I had a hand in: Preparing for College and University Teaching: Competencies for Graduate and Professional Students and Teaching as if Learning Matters: Pedagogies of Becoming by Next-Generation Faculty. My shelf of books to read – books I’ve placed in priority reading order – is already full! The titles sound like things I should definitely know about for the work I do in graduate student development. 

There’s something curious to me, though, about a couple recent finds: A Practitioner’s Guide to Supporting Graduate and Professional Students and A Handbook for Supporting Today’s Graduate Students; I haven’t recognized the names of the editors or the authors of the chapters. I’ve been involved with POD and graduate student development for 22 years. It has baffled me that I don’t know who these people are. 

Yesterday, I went to the publishers’ web pages and read the bios for the editors and authors. They are faculty and academic professionals with advanced degrees in higher education (HESA or higher education and student affairs) and working in student affairs-facing offices. I’m an academic professional with an advanced degree in biology. Most of my colleague-friends working in centers for teaching and learning, graduate schools, and graduate career centers have advanced academic degrees and are on the academic affairs side of higher education.

We’re in the same universe of academia. We’re doing similar and related work in supporting the graduate student experience. And yet we are operating in different worlds (ontogony), viewing graduate students first as either students or junior academic labor. In some academic offices like graduate schools and research offices, we call graduate students trainees, which is STEM grant-speak that blurs a distinction between student and worker. From these standpoints and worldviews, we’re using very different frameworks and methods (epistemology) to engage in the graduate student support and development world. 

I don’t believe any of these approaches is wrong. I’m capable of dialectical thinking and often say “both/and can be true” in conversation. But I’m concerned that our viewpoints and approaches are incomplete without awareness of other approaches. HESA folk bring important knowledge and tools of student development, adult development, and the social work aspects of student affairs. Folks with academic degrees apply their disciplinary thinking to the challenges graduate students bring to them; they also apply their own wisdom of experience being part of the laboring class of higher education – teaching, research, service – and navigating labyrinthine and opaque academic structures for support. 

I hope we have wanderers among graduate student development researchers and practitioners who can serve as bridges between these ontologically and epistemologically distinct knowledge communities. We need to point these books, articles, and conversations out to each other. We need colleagues in graduate student development who can share the knowledge and practices among the student affairs and academic affairs communities. We can improve our student academic and professional development support practices with more complete awareness of the graduate student experience. We can foster better networks and communication with staff and administration partners that cross fiscal boundaries under Responsibility Center Management practices. We can be better communicators and advocates for a positive resolution for our graduate students during conflict mediation, such as the current graduate student worker strikes occurring across the United States. 

To me, all of these possibilities are about being in community and good relations with graduate students and the people who work on behalf of them.

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