Preparing for the transition to professional work

Leigh Wood, Peter Petocz

Abstract


This paper looks at the final outcome of a science degree program, and considers what happens when students leave university as graduates and the skills they have acquired (or should have acquired). In studying this area we are hampered by lack of data. To study the experience of the large numbers of students entering first year we have good data on students’ entry levels (HSC results and so on), on students’ demographic backgrounds and on their progress through university. This is available at our fingertips on most university computer systems. In contrast, data on graduates are much less extensive. Firstly, many departments do not keep information on their alumni, who are, in any case, spread far and wide. Graduates are no longer a captive audience and any data that are collected will be voluntary. One such source is the course experience questionnaire (CEQ), answered by students a few months after they finish their degree: about 70% of students complete the CEQ each year. In particular, there is no clear indication that students in science courses leave university with welldeveloped ‘generic skills’ such as concepts of ethics (professional or personal), sustainability, creativity, computing skills, information skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills and teamwork skills. This raises many questions: should we as science lecturers be teaching this material, should students be learning it as part of life, should graduates learn the skills on the job, should the careers services of the university be teaching these skills along with résumé writing?

This paper also looks at research on students’ perceptions of their future work and career and the current research that is investigating the connections between these perceptions and their learning at university. We consider ways that professional work can be modelled in classroom activities so that students develop realistic ideas of the workforce and extend their range of proficiency in other areas.

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