Monday, 9 March 2020

What do we get out of Master's study?

I got to thinking about what Master's students got out of undertaking a programme of study, and did a bit of hunting to try and find some New Zealand data. 

Firstly, I was lucky enough to find a summary of a 2008 supervisor survey undertaken by Julie Dlaskova and Romain Mirosa from Otago, which found ten characteristics: intelligence; independence/confidence; commitment; literacy/numeracy; Time management/organisational skills; curiosity/ability to learn; enthusiasm and passion; ability to think; hard working/ diligence; and motivation. If we count the number of elements minus the forward slashes and 'ands', Otago came up with 16 strengths or skills, honed by post-graduate study in the eyes of supervisors.

Secondly, the University of Edinburgh came up with three groups of strengths: knowledge; skills; and experience. However, they expand skills into an eleven point list: Independent project management; critical thinking and analysis; creative problem-solving; cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration; applying inquiry skills; professionalism; making decisions from complex, unpredictable, and incomplete information; being an independent learner; critically analysing literature; effective communication to a range of audiences; self-motivation.

Thirdly I found a 1999 study by Demb and Funk from Ohio State University about the perceived benefits of a master's thesis. They found that students were layered in eight developmental stages: "a) the decision, b) framing the research question, c) literature review, d) data collection, e) data analysis, f) writing, g) the oral defense, and h) finishing" (p. 21), which then led to a number of learning outcomes. Students learned scoping and literature to get to a question. The literature review taught critical reading, analysis and deep reading. Data collection taught interpersonal skills, instrument design, pattern-seeking and questioning, while data analysis encouraged tenacity and pattern-seeking. Writing developed audience-identification skills, evidence-focus, objectivity and specificity. Collectively this led to greater self-confidence, a sense of achievement and professionalism.

While realising that this is a once-over-lightly analysis, if we tabulate these results, we get some reasonably clear cross-over:

Otago Edinburgh Ohio State Summary
Intelligence; curiosity/ ability to learn Knowledge Learning
Time management/ organisational skills; Independent project management Project management
Creative problem-solving
Ability to think Critically analysing literature  Scoping and using literature to get to a question; critical reading, analysis and deep reading Critical thinking, deep analysis
Critical thinking and analysis Interpersonal skills, instrument design, pattern-seeking and questioning Questioning 
Commitment; hard working/diligence Critical thinking and analysis Tenacity and pattern-seeking Committed pattern-seeking
Effective communication to a range of audiences Audience-identification skills, evidence-focus, objectivity, and specificity Clear audience-identification and communication 
Confidence Self-confidence Confidence
Sense of achievement
Professionalism Professionalism Professionalism
Motivation Self-motivation Motivation
Independence Being an independent learner Independent learning
Making decisions from complex, unpredictable, and incomplete information
Cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration
Applying inquiry skills
Literacy/ numeracy
Enthusiasm and passion

Where two items roughly matched, then I have assumed they have a place in the summary. This gives us a fast-and-dirty list of ten items: learning; project management; critical thinking, deep analysis; questioning; committed pattern-seeking; clear audience-identification and communication; confidence; professionalism; motivation; and independent learning.

There appears to be some reasonable cross-over. It would be interesting to do a proper study in this area at some stage, rather than a skim.



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