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Graduate Studies

Skills development

York University currently offers a variety of professional development opportunities through the library, Teaching Commons, Research Office, and various faculties. See the Professional Skills Development calendar of events below to find current and upcoming workshops and talks.

Why develop transferable skills?

The importance of including transferable skills in Ph.D. programs is drawing increased attention at many universities. Doctoral students around the world have traditionally been expected to focus mainly on the acquisition of research expertise and professional skills tailored to the academic setting, with the standard assumption that this expertise will be later applied in university careers. Indeed, that is still a central mission of Ph.D. programs, and many graduates will proceed to jobs within the academy. However, statistics in Canada and beyond indicate clearly that the majority of Ph.D. graduates pursue careers outside university; this is attributable not only to the limited number of tenure stream jobs available at universities, but also to a generational shift which has seen a general increase of Ph.D. students in many disciplines, many of whom have non-academic career aspirations from the outset of their studies.

As universities increasingly recognize these realities, a subtle transformation is underway—a re–conceptualization of doctoral studies and the inclusion of transferable skills and both academic and non–academic professional development.

Although there is no precise definition of transferable skills, it refers to a set of competencies that extend beyond the acquisition of research expertise, and includes, for example, team–building, communication skills, entrepreneurship, and international mobility. In other words, these are skills that enable doctoral students to access opportunities and careers in a variety of contexts and sectors, and thrive in these settings, as well as skills that make them more effective researchers and teachers within the university.

Canadian universities are in relatively early stages of addressing transferable skills and professional development, but are benefitting from the experience of international cooperative ventures such as TransDoc, of which York University is a member. An intensive two week program last summer at the University of Buffalo, for example, included York students and focused entirely on transferable skills.

The challenge of addressing transferable skills in Ph.D. programs is not straightforward, not only because it necessitates culture change within universities, but also due to the diversity of doctoral programs and students and the dynamic global context in which we operate. But change is underway, and we are moving unmistakably toward a future in which Ph.D. programs will address transferable skills as part of their fundamental missions.


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