Research published by the University of Toronto School of Graduate Studies shows that one-third of the 10,000+ U of T PhD graduates from 2000-2015 work in public, private, charitable and other sectors outside post-secondary education (for more information, consult the SGS 10,000 PhD Project's webpage and Reithmeier et al., 2019). In response to this trend, a team from the University of Toronto Scarborough has created the Work Project Practicum to provide project-based, work-integrated learning opportunities for U of T PhD students who are considering nonacademic careers.
The Work Project Practicum enables selected PhD students to participate in highly successful programming at The BRIDGE, where Dave Fenton creates and supervises projects that connect students with community and industry partners. As the PhD students contribute to new or improved services, products or technologies, they engage in a form of public scholarship that benefits society, enhancing the students’ sense of the potential impact of their specialized skills and knowledge. Their work projects may directly relate to their PhD research or may explore new areas of application for their skills, in job sectors beyond the fields most closely related to their PhD program.
The Practicum’s work projects are limited to one semester and are arranged flexibly around the graduate student’s research and teaching commitments. The Practicum is administered by UTSC’s Centre for Teaching and Learning as an offering within the tri-campus GPS (Graduate Professional Skills) program. It is open to University of Toronto students (all campuses) who have been admitted to candidacy in their PhD program. Spaces in the Practicum are limited: qualified students are invited to fill out the Work Project Practicum application.
The Work Project Practicum has two concurrent parts:
- Individual work projects. Before the term begins, the work-integrated learning projects supervisor at The BRIDGE establishes in writing the exact parameters of each project, so that the PhD student, the student’s faculty supervisor and the external partner have a clear agreement concerning the student's and the external partner's roles, any COVID-19 accommodations, and the project's desired outcomes and learning objectives. Each project will have unique learning objectives that will reflect the individual PhD student’s goals.
- Group meetings of the Practicum cohort. All participants in work projects during a given term convene (remotely, when necessary) for three one-hour meetings (beginning, middle and end of the term), under the guidance of a GPS instructor/facilitator. During these meetings, the PhD students prepare for, reflect on, share and integrate the learning from their work projects, with both peer support and the facilitator’s expert mentorship. The Practicum’s meetings also help maintain open channels of communication about any problems the graduate students encounter as they are under the supervision of The BRIDGE and the external partner’s project supervisor.
Participants who complete the Practicum earn GPS credit and a certificate. It is hoped that the program’s alumni will become possible mentors or guest speakers in future years of the Practicum.