Working Groups: Bridging Gaps in the Apprenticeship Model by Joe Waggle

At the November meeting of the Graduate Student Forum, one of the primary topics of discussion on the agenda was the department’s latest effort toward an apprenticeship model. At a previous meeting of graduate students and their director, Bill Falk, one of the proposed methods of instituting this apprenticeship model was by establishing working groups, where students and faculty could come together in small groups to share work, review literature, and discuss some of the issues pertaining to that group’s interest.

Under this proposed working group system, students would be able to suggest groups that they would like to see instituted, so that these groups would more closely align with current student interests. These could mirror our department’s specialty areas, but could also cut across specialties. For example, there could be a general demography group, but there could also be a group each for studying migration, fertility, and health and mortality, each of which encompasses elements of various other specialties. Likewise, there could be a group for demography in an American context, one in a Western context, and one in a developing context. There could also be groups where students from many specialties come together to discuss a common research method of interest. Through these examples, it is clear to see that these groups could bridge interests in demography with interests in stratification, development, globalizing theory, and other specialty areas. This cross-sectional approach would lead to more diverse groups with a more inclusive list of interests and skill sets, and would thus appeal to broader swaths of faculty and students.

These groups would be arranged around their own internal logic. The students involved in those groups would set the agenda, which could include reading and critiquing one another’s work, exploring the latest literature relevant to that group’s interests, negotiating the ups and downs of the publication process together, or serving as critical practice audiences for up-coming conference presentations. Basing these groups on their own internal logic means that the students and faculty in these groups would have a certain level of flexibility in how the group develops over time.

This working group system is especially important for students who intend to do an alternative specialty exam; by proposing that exam as a working group, or by measuring their interest in that alternative specialty against an existing group, those students are exposed to research and methods that they may not otherwise consider. They would also be exposed to faculty who may be instrumental in advising their future research.

Very soon, graduate students can expect to be contacted through department email about this working group system. To streamline the process of proposing groups, second-year graduate students Lori Reeder and Joe Waggle will be setting up an online forum, where interested students would be asked to submit, among other information, a group title and an agenda for that group. Once a list of proposed groups is gathered and circulated among students, the goal is to have these groups established as one-credit classes.

Ideally, these groups would run consistently every semester, though the faculty who participate could change as schedules permit. This way, the idea is that the graduate students are accountable for consistently showing up, participating, and setting the agenda, and the faculty would be called upon to serve as resources rather than directors. This is not to say that the faculty would be excluded from any decision-making power in these groups; in fact, they are encouraged to bring in anything from their experience and work that they feel may invigorate or enrich these groups. However, the system, as proposed, places the majority of the accountability and direction in the hands of the graduate students.

If implemented properly, this new system could add some powerful and productive energy to the graduate school process. It would put students and faculty in the same room who may otherwise not work together. The potential for collaboration and mutual support within this system is great, and has exciting implications for the future of the department’s efforts toward apprenticeship.

Joe is a 2nd year graduate student.

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