What is Professionalism? Part 1: The professional degree program
Did you KNOW?
As it turns out the academic designation is perhaps the easiest to deal with. A graduate program, masters or PhD is understood to be a course of advanced study. A master’s degree historically has been understood as a step towards a PhD that moves a student beyond a bachelor’s information dump towards a better understanding and more critical thinking required in PhD programs. However, some master’s programs are intended to provide students with advanced understanding towards a specific field of work—think law, engineering or business. These types of programs generally have been course-based (rather than thesis-based) and have prioritized domain-specific knowledge or applied research to support a career trajectory rather than groom students specifically for PhD programs.
Recently, a range of professional master’s programs have been developed that seem to aim to provide students with advanced standing but are generally only loosely affiliated to a specific profession or field of work. These programs seem to focus on the credentialing to be able to give students a professional advantage or designation and provide degrees as a measure of accomplishing a minimum standing in a series of courses.
Perhaps at the other end of the professional program spectrum has seen the rise of professional programs that continue the tradition of advance study but also incorporate professional-oriented skills or competencies. This type of program, in the context of graduate degrees, is more difficult to categorize according to established taxonomies, because it may not be specifically affiliated with a specific professional domain, may not have a basic or discovery research focus, but may still allow for advanced study as well as a focus on skills and competencies that may be understood to be transferable and professional.
The TRP falls into this latter—ill-defined class of “professional” master’s programs. It is intended to allow students to pursue self-directed advanced study—the self-directed nature and a current lack of a formally designated profession of translation means it is not affiliated with a specific profession (our students are interprofessional). The TRP is not thesis-based so it does not require a written tomb for graduation—though students produce reports, white papers, artifacts, and other forms of deliverables. The lack of a thesis, however, does not mean that students are not engaged in research and the generation of new knowledge. In practice, most Capstone Projects to date have involved a high level of research and methodological rigour, including research ethics approvals and highly structured protocols. However, these have generally been focused on innovation and impact rather than publication.
Admittedly, articulating the skills and research accomplishments of our graduates is an important area for improvement. Demonstrating the depth of understanding and the achievements of students in familiar research domains (despite the ‘professional’ designation of the degree) means that our students have significant value to the research community both before and after the program, and are not barred from pursuing PhDs or other advanced study opportunities when they choose to.
The opportunity for students to pursue advanced study while simultaneously developing transferable workplace skills, means that the program provides an unconventional type of educational experience that blends the rigour of a traditional masters degree with knowledge that allows students to excel in areas that involve multidisciplinary collaboration, creative problem-solving, teamwork, navigating ambiguity and leadership—not usually competencies historically prioritized by traditional research masters programs.
This is perhaps half of the “what” of the TRP related to its professional designation. The “How” and the “Why” of professionalism will remain for Part 2: Defining Professionalism and Part 3: Significance of Professionalism in Translational Training.