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Sep 20 / Kristine Peterson

Microcredentials: A New and Popular Way to Showcase Your Skills

The PhD is not only a measure of technical skills you’ve acquired during your time at the bench, but hopefully, also an indicator of your tenacity, resilience, social intelligence, and communication proficiency—in other words, the coveted transferable skillset. STEMPhDs often do not get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to transferable skills.  We’re usually pigeonholed into stereotypes: think dorky, socially awkward, whitecoat-clad lab geek channeling the Big Bang Theory. But if the BEST program has shown us anything, it’s this: To succeed in ever-evolving and increasingly demanding careers across all sectors, we need more than technical savvy, we need the ability to demonstrate our utility in a plethora of other domains.

We already know that we have these skills on some level.  I’ve written about that on several occasions, including here and here. But how do we convey this to our potential employers?

Beyond academia collectively acknowledging the importance of transferable skills and implementing ways to cultivate these proficiencies (such as the NIH BEST program), many institutions now offer microcredentials.  A microcredential is a digital representation, or badge, awarded for “bite-sized” learning or mastery of a very specific skill that is relevant to career success.

Microcredentialing is taking off across all industries.  In 2017 at Wayne State, Dean Ambika Mathur tasked Dr. Annmarie Cano, professor of psychology and, at the time, associate dean of student services in the Graduate School, with creating a competency-based professional development program that included microcredentialing. Together with Graduate School staffers Cindy Sokol, manager of the Graduate Council and academic affairs, and Sarah Sheesley, the web editor, a set of competencies and skillsets were identified and distilled into short courses.

“The Graduate School had been offering some professional development programming already as part of the NIH BEST program; however, we had not yet arranged the professional development seminars into a coherent competency-based framework,” Cano says.

By researching organizations such as the Council of Graduate Schools and the National Postdoctoral Association, Cano learned more about the competencies that graduate students and postdocs are expected to master during their training.  These are divided into five groups: communication, leadership and professionalism, teamwork and collaboration, career development, and ethics.

“Seminars were then created, some existing and many new, to deliver skillsets within each competency,” Cano says. “The really innovative piece was to attach microcredentials to the seminars, allowing participants who showed mastery of the skills to claim a digital badge that could be showcased on their LinkedIn pages.

“‘Stacking’ a set of microcredentials can position learners for job opportunities by showing they have gone above and beyond in their training or are truly invested in developing particular competencies. For instance, a trainee who has voluntarily achieved a set of teamwork and collaboration microcredentials is signaling to future employers that they value working in a team and are doing all they can to prepare for that next step.”

The microcredential courses are open to all members of the WSU community.  Obtaining a microcredential begins with attending one seminar. Most of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development (GPPD) seminars have an associated microcredential.

“Attendance at an interactive seminar is the first step but after each seminar, attendees are asked through additional assignments, including quizzes, essays, or examples of work, to demonstrate their learning. Only after the presenters judge the mastery of the work is the microcredential issued,” Cano says.

All of the available badges can be found on the Wayne State University Graduate School site on Credly.

According to Cano, the most popular seminar during 2017-18 was Landing a Career with LinkedIn, followed by seminars on the Academic Job Talk; Leadership Styles; Poster Design and Presentation; Microaggressions; and Empathy and Perspective-Taking.

“Graduate trainees are interested in a variety of careers. We believed it was essential for trainees to be able to show they are learning essential transferable skills that can position them for success in any field they choose. It has been gratifying to watch how the interest in our professional development seminar series has skyrocketed.”

The Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development seminars have kicked off for the 2018-19 year. All doctoral and master’s students and postdoctoral scholars may check the Graduate School website to see the developing schedule.

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

Note: WSU’s BEST program officially ended August 31, 2018. However, the Graduate School will continue to offer a full slate of career and professional development activities.

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