The problem of communicating something different

Ironically for a program with translation in its name, one of the hardest challenges we consistently face is communicating the essence of the program to prospective students. I cannot tell you how many times after a face-to-face meeting with a prospective student do I hear something like:
“Well, I liked what I read on the website, but it is only after talking to you that I think I have a better sense of what the program is trying to do.”

Why can’t our website capture and communicate the depth of what we are trying to do with the Translational Research Program? Is it an issue of content? Is it an issue of structure? Is it an issue of interpretation and meaning?

Likely a combination of all of the above.

The TRP is entering its third year and as a program that was originally designed to be flexible and adaptive to its students and the intellectual spaces between domains and silos in a constantly changing landscape of health innovation, the program itself changes and has changed over the last two years. Even students in the program don’t appreciate how much influence and say they have in the direction of their educational experience. This flexibility is not something most students have come to expect or know exactly how to navigate. Nor is it easy to make prospective students believe that we try to listen to student input… many programs claim this!

And I think that strikes at the heart of the second point. Many of the “words” we use to describe the TRP have become fashionable in the time it took to conceptualize and implement the program. Words like: experiential learning, design thinking, patient experience, patient needs, reflection, translation, etc., have become commonplace. Let’s face it, in the health sciences, almost everyone claims to be involved in translation or knowledge translation at some level. But using these words, or tacking them on to the end of a grant or research proposal is not the same as actually spending the time to understand their meaning and significance towards health innovation—even the words health, medicine and innovation are incredibly problematic in their use and interpretations. So it’s not all that surprising that telling people we don’t teach the signs but the skills and competencies to help students critically engage with problems and the stuff around the science that can make tangible impacts on people’s health, can seem flat and empty without a greater understanding of the mission, philosophies and teaching methods that underpin the program.

But let’s be frank, who really spends the time to try to understand the boring didactic underpinnings of a graduate program. Most people just want to know how many classes they will need to take, or what career paths will be open to them. Trying to articulate that the TRP is about teaching people how to become creative life-long learners, to learn to be flexible and adaptive in their thinking, and to work collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams to have a real impact, not just in a JOB but in any life or career they pursue in the future.

It’s hard to try to convince someone focused on the cost of tuition, that if we as a program commit to you, we commit to facilitating your development and objectives. So, what I am going to try to do, over the next few posts, is to highlight the aims and the core value proposition that the TRP has for a broad range of people; people who want to make their work matter; people who want to have impact; people who want to achieve a sense of mastery in what they do; people who strive for autonomy; people who have many interests and are driven to explore new skills and ideas. My hope is to try to articulate what a diverse group of people with many backgrounds who want to have the ability to make a difference in health and care may achieve by applying to the TRP.

So stay tuned. And if you are still unclear, let’s chat face-to-face and I will try to explain in another medium.

Joseph

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