DCU’s Enrich framework will encourage graduate students to develop skills for further careers in enterprise. Claire O’Connell reports.
When you are doing a PhD or research master’s, your main focus is – understandably – getting that all-important thesis work done. But, in the right environment you can build plenty of other skills and behaviours that will stand to you in your future career, whatever that might be.
That was the message yesterday from the launch of the new Enrich framework at Dublin City University (DCU), which will offer graduate students the opportunity to identify and build skills and practical experience for the road ahead.
The framework is designed to encourage graduate students to spend time in a professional setting outside the university, to ‘tune into’ the conversations about enterprise going on in DCU, and take accredited modules that develop skills and mindsets such as entrepreneurial thinking, professionalism, self-confidence, project planning, communication methods and cultural awareness.
The Enrich framework brings together many existing initiatives and modules in the university.
Dean of graduate studies at DCU Prof Lisa Looney stressed that it had to be flexible, because students start graduate programmes with different levels of professional and enterprise experience behind them.
“The starting point isn’t a blank sheet, and one of the things we wanted to ensure was that the framework was flexible enough to accommodate the discipline difference and starting point. There isn’t one size that even fits most, it had to be student driven and flexible,” she said.
Looney added that many students are driven to start a research programme by their interest in the specific topic of study: “We should never lose sight of that.”
She also hoped that the Enrich framework would help students to develop their perspectives on moving out of academia if that is where their career takes them.
“I think that is something we need to reframe for our research students, so that they don’t feel they are heading one direction, and because it gets too narrow they have to go another way, but that they actually have a choice and they have something to offer both [the academic and enterprise] sectors,” she said.
“For us, Enrich will be the vehicle through which we can do that with our research students.”
Tune in, build skills
The Enrich framework will encourage students to spend time outside of the university where it can help them build knowledge and life skills. PhD student Luca Bernardinelli from the School of Mathematics spoke at the launch about his recent internship with IBM in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I acquired a lot of technical skills and soft skills,” he said, noting that the internship saw him working with a diverse team, looking at how the types of mathematical models he works on can be applied in the energy sector and improving both his programming skills and proficiency in Portuguese.
“Starting a new job in a different country with a different culture is a good way to push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Overall, the experience was worth even more than the credits.”
Even without leaving the university, students can build their knowledge around intellectual property and commercialisation thanks to a module developed by DCU Business School and Invent.
“The idea is to give PhD students a practical introduction to the protection and management of IP in a research environment,” said Dr Teresa Hogan, who has been delivering the module for several years. “They work on business plans, learn how to do patent searches and explore how commercial potential of science knowledge is realised.”
Graduate students are also being encouraged to tune their antennas into the ongoing events around DCU, such as hackathons, the UStart student business accelerator, the Enactus social enterprise competition and numerous seminars and conferences.
“We are trying to expose the students to new knowledge and also to new ways of thinking, and to tune into the deep enterprise environment here at DCU and learn a new vocabulary,” said Looney. “These elements together will change how research graduates think about ideas and careers.”
“We need to enable our graduates to flourish in society, in the workplace and in their personal lives,” said DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith at the launch, where he spoke about both the privilege and responsibilities of providing education.
“[Enrich] is a framework for developing PhD graduates for this age that can flourish in the broader world. It is carefully designed so that a graduate coming from any discipline gets rounded in a manner that is suited to meet the increasing demands of a rapidly changing external environment.
“Quality PhDs are critical for economies to advance, and we want to enrich the student experience and world view of the students in terms of what they can bring to academia and enterprise, and also enrich the experience of the enterprise engaging with our graduates.”