Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The PhD: Notes to My Younger Self

As PhD students, we tend to live day-to-day while keeping in mind the potential of a future in academia. We leave little room to think about how we might frame today’s experiences when they become our past. Dr. David Whillock, who finished his doctoral research in 1986, reflects on the lessons he has learned after 30 years in Higher Education…
They say that hindsight is 20/20.  There is a lot of truth to that. As I get to the end of a long and wonderful career in higher education, there are several things I wish I had known while going through the Ph.D. process and things I wish I had known as an Assistant Professor attempting to gain a reputation and building a case for tenure. I’ll pass these along in hopes I may be able to tap into some of your concerns, frustrations, or hopes.
My best advice to those who are just entering into doctorate programs is to have a passion for and to focus on the subject for your dissertation. The first thing you need to do, I mean the first, is to find an advisor/supervisor that you identify with and will accept your premise and methods of your subject matter. You don’t want to start a program attempting to “change the mind” of your dissertation advisor. That is a long and losing battle you don’t need. Trust me, in defending your dissertation, you want to make certain your advisor is fully on board with your content, method, and findings. Then is not the time to argue a point, but to enlighten the life of the mind.
While in your program, use every opportunity to move your dissertation forward. Attempt to make every class/conference/journal paper an opportunity to use your content and/or methodology of your dissertation.
One more thing, remember you are writing a dissertation, keep that goal clearly in your head. The book will come later, if you can’t finish a dissertation, you won’t earn a Ph.D. Dissertation first, book later. Some colleges and universities won’t even count your dissertation toward tenure, even if it is in book form. So, focus, focus, focus.
When I served as Chair and Dean, many of my new hires were eager to make a name for themselves in their field of study and in the classroom. That level of energy is a good thing. I would suggest being strategic in this desire to make certain that, if you want tenure at your institution, you have a higher chance of getting it.  As Chair, I asked my “junior” faculty to resist volunteering for everything, or anything really that does not move you forward in your desire. Have the Chair help you be selective in the committees you serve on. You want to be known on campus outside of your department and college. Many serve on the University’s committee that will approve, or not, your bid for tenure. Choose wisely. The same applies as a Ph.D student: be strategic and selective.
Interestingly enough, I tell first year students the same thing I would tell my new faculty members: manage your time. It is imperative that you literally put on your calendar time to research and reflect. Take a walk… visit faculty from other departments outside of the building you are working in. Some of my better ideas come from faculty colleagues outside of my discipline. Indeed, several collaborative opportunities have come from these walks. But most important, a clear head and knowing the world will operate and be fine without you for a period of time is important.
One last thing, get balance in your own life. Anyone in any working environment who doesn’t have a hobby nor life beyond the academy, will eventually be lost. I have a lot of colleagues well into their 60’s who have no plans for life beyond the academy. I want to stress the importance to balance your life with people, events, and activities beyond the academy. Eventually even the best faculty realize it is time for a new generation of scholars to take the stage and push a new group of students to excellence. Stay relevant in your scholarship, but “get a life”.
Are there things you already wish you could tell your younger self? Have you been actively selective and strategic during your PhD Life? Tweet us your advice at @ResearchEx, email us atpgcommunity@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.
Dr. David Whillock is the Associate Provost and Dean of the Academy of Tomorrow. He holds a Ph.D. in Critical Studies from the University of Missouri.  His specialization in teaching and research include History and its Depiction in Cinema, The American Vietnam Film, A Cultural Perspective on the Blues, and Ways of Knowing.  He is the guitarist for the South Moudy Blues Band.  He is published in the Journal of Film and Television, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Southern Communication Journal. He has contributed chapters in America Rediscovered: Critical Essays on Literature and Film of the Vietnam War, Hate Speech, and Vietnam War Films.

Demand for People Skills is Growing Faster Than Demand for STEM Skills

by Claire MasonCSIROAndrew ReesonCSIRO, and Todd SandersonCSIRO, The Conversation: 

File 20171109 14167 17phj7s.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

High level interpersonal and problem solving skills are what will make you employable in a digital world. Shutterstock

Advances in digital technology are changing the world of work. It has been estimated that more than 40% of human workers will be replaced by robots. This probably overstates the scale of displacement, but developments in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning will affect all sectors of the economy.

However, the impacts of digital disruption will not be evenly distributed. Previous waves of technology had the greatest impacts for workers in routine jobs, but now a growing number of roles may be at risk.

Even so, workers whose skills complement but are not substituted for by technology can use the new technology to be more productive and command higher wages.

What types of skills will ensure you are employable in the world of human and robot workers?

Two recent reports, “The VET Era” and “Growing Opportunities in the Fraser Coast” challenge the rhetoric around the importance of STEM skills in the digital economy, by revealing how demand for skills has changed over time.

1. Increasing demand for highly skilled workers

These analyses show a major shift in the skills profile of the Australian workforce. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) classifies occupations into skill levels based on the amount of training and experience required to perform the job.

In 1986, the largest group of workers was in occupations classified as skill level 4 (roughly equivalent to a certificate II or III). Since then, demand for highly skilled workers has grown rapidly. Nowadays, the largest group of workers is in the highest (skill level 1) category - occupations requiring a bachelor degree or higher qualification.

Essentially, increased reliance on technology in the work environment raises demand for more highly skilled workers, because the more routine work is automated. While it is good that more of us are working in more rewarding jobs, not everyone has benefited from this shift. Nor can the current winners in the digital economy afford to be complacent. As the capability of digital technology increases, a growing range of tasks (such as data analysis and diagnosis) can be automated.

So what types of skills should we be developing when we invest in the higher qualifications that are now required in most jobs?

To answer this question, we linked Australian employment data with United States data on the skills and abilities associated with different occupations.

By linking these datasets, we could estimate (based on the changing occupational composition of the Australian workforce) which skills and abilities were becoming more or less important. For simplicity, we have grouped these skills and abilities into four categories: traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills, communications skills, technical skills and generic STEM skills.

2. Communication and people skills are increasingly important

The analyses reveal that, despite all the hype about STEM skills, occupations requiring communication skills are actually growing fastest.

As our work becomes increasingly technologically enabled, human workers differentiate themselves from machine workers through their ability to connect, communicate, understand and build relationships. Most of us now work in the services sector. This is the sector that will continue to grow as the population becomes older and wealthier, as we up-skill and re-skill more often, and as the incidence of mental disorders, chronic diseases and obesity continues to rise. The delivery of these services requires people-focused skills such as active listening, empathy and teamwork.

3. Programming skills are less important than digital literacy

Given that coding is now part of the curriculum for Australian primary school children, it may be surprising to learn that growth in demand for communication skills actually outstrips growth in demand for STEM skills. More detailed analyses provides further insight into the way demand for STEM skills has been evolving.

What they reveal is that the STEM skills needed in a wide range of contexts and roles are those that involve working with (rather than programming) technology - skills such as the ability to think critically, analyse systems and interact with computers.

More traditional STEM skills (such as physics, mathematics, and programming) have been experiencing relatively low growth. In fact, recent research from the United States found that there has been a slight decline in the number of traditional STEM jobs since 2000.

Although traditional STEM skills are important, they are only needed by a relatively small number of highly skilled professionals - perhaps because programming work is itself able to be automated and sent offshore.

These STEM professionals also tend to achieve higher incomes if they combine their technical expertise with strong social skills, allowing them to make the connection between technological capability and social needs. While the most skilled coders will continue to have great opportunities, most of us will just need to be able to work with technology. People skills will continue to become more, not less, important.

As the capability of technology continues to develop, human workers need to focus on building skills that complement technology. High-level interpersonal and problem-solving skills are not so easily automated. Given that we will need to find new jobs to replace those lost to the robots, we also will need entrepreneurial skills to create and grow the new economic opportunities enabled by these developments.

The ConversationAs technological advances occur ever more rapidly, we will need to keep discovering new ways of using technology to perform our work. With strong communication, problem-solving and digital literacy skills, we can harness the power of digital technology to solve a customer’s problem, grow productivity and improve our world.

Claire Mason, Data61 Senior Social Scientist, CSIRO; Andrew Reeson, Economist, Data61, CSIRO, and Todd Sanderson, Research Scientist in Digital Economics, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.