If you’re a Huck graduate student reading this post, then you may have seem some e-mails floating around over the last couple of weeks regarding participation in the Huck Graduate Student Assessment System. Whether you have heard about this assessment system before reading this blog post or not, you may be thinking… what is this assessment system and why should I care? If so, read on!

The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences in coordination with the Industrial/Organizational Psychology program have been working on this assessment system since Fall 2014, with pilots of the program being conducted throughout the summer and fall of 2015. In addition to being one of the students to help pilot the program, I also spoke with Jeffrey Lovelace, who designed this assessment program, on several occasions to offer advice on its design from a graduate student perspective. As such, I thought I would write up a post about what exactly this assessment system entails and why I think it’s such a beneficial process to go through.

The purpose of this blog post is to give an overview of the assessment system. For more details and to contact those running this assessment system, please visit their website here. Additionally, you may contact Jeffrey Lovelace (jbl942@psu.edu) for more information or to sign up!

What is the Huck Graduate Student Assessment System?

As part of the assessment, graduate students participate in a series of exercises to evaluate their skills and abilities on essential job-related tasks related to interpersonal skills, including  leadership, team building, and communication. Students receive feedback that provides critical insight into their personal strengths and developmental opportunities so that they can better prepare for the job market and future success. Companies around the world use similar assessment systems to hire and further develop top talent in their organizations!

What sort of interpersonal skills does the Huck Graduate Student Assessment System test?

Source: www.walkerandersen.com

There are six main competencies focused on in this assessment system:

1. Making decisions and initiating action
2. Supporting and cooperating
3. Presenting and communicating information
4. Planning and organizing
5. Adapting to and coping with pressure
6. Achieving goals and objectives

For more information on what these competencies entail, visit here.

If I sign up for this assessment system, what do I have to do?

The Huck Graduate Student Assessment System takes place in three phases:

Information collection is Phase 1, which involves filling out a survey online, submitting your CV/resume, and writing individual goals, which includes two short-term goals and two long-term goals.

The interactive assessment is Phase 2 and is a one-hour meeting with you and at least two assessors in which you will: (1) take part in a semi-structured interview, (2) a 5-7 minute presentation on your research geared towards a broad audience, and (3) a third exercise that takes ~5 minutes and remains confidential until the student is at the end of Phase 2.

Phase 3 is an hour-long feedback meeting that occurs within 10 days of your interactive assessment. At this feedback meeting, the student receives an individual feedback summary (~25 pages long) about his/her strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, the student is provided with resources to focus on future development.

For a more detailed explanation of these three phases, please visit here.

This sounds like a lot of work… is this going to take up a lot of my time? I am a busy graduate student after all.

To be completely honest, this process doesn’t take that long at all, and is definitely worth it with how much you get out of it in the end! Phase 2 and Phase 3 are each hour-long scheduled meetings, so Phase 1 is the only variable time. Also, the personnel running the assessment system are extremely accommodating and will work with you to fit in the assessment with your schedule.

Source: http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/

The survey in Phase 1 won’t take you long at all (~25 minutes), and depending on what stage you are at in graduate school, you might already have the other two requirements (CV and goals list) of Phase 1 done!  Whether you are a first-year or sixth-year graduate student, I’m sure you have a CV or resume of some sort already written to use for this assessment. Also, if you are an older student or are a student who has completed myIDP, then the goals list shouldn’t be too hard, either.

The creators of this assessment program put a lot of thought into how to structure this so that students would use components of documents they already had or would eventually need anyway. So, even if you have to start from scratch with a CV and/or goals list, its not like you will never need these documents for anything else in the future!

Why should I do this? Isn’t my science enough to land me a job?

Multiple studies have shown that there has been a bit of a PhD surplus in the last few years as well as fewer jobs and more unemployment (check this article). That doesn’t mean we all need to freak out about not finding jobs, because studies also show that PhDs will eventually find a good job, it might just take a little bit more time than expected. But how can you help to shorten that time? Flaunt your interpersonal skills!

Don’t get me wrong, you need to have the scientific background and skills to get the kinds of jobs a PhD is sought for, but being able to communicate your ideas (verbally and written), having strong leadership skills, being able to problem solve, and being able to work in a team are also highly sought after by employers.

Source: http://www.ascb.org/where-will-a-biology-phd-take-you/

What did participants like best about the assessment system?

First, my thoughts…

While you might think that you are already pretty knowledgable of your strengths and weaknesses, an outside assessment system can help you to hone in on what you are actually really good at but also maybe not so good at. These assessment systems have helped many people realize that what they thought they were really bad at, they’re actually pretty good at, and vice versa.

Phase 2 of the assessment system also includes a short presentation of your research designed for a general audience as well as a semi-structured interview with the kinds of behavioral questions you’ll face in almost any job interview. Getting real practice for both of these activities through the assessment as well as getting direct feedback were both things that I really valued in taking part in this assessment system.

My favorite part about this assessment system is that not only does it identify your strengths and weaknesses in an individualized, detailed summary that the assessors go through with you, but it also then provides you with specific developmental opportunities to work on these skills. These developmental opportunities are broken down by the competencies mentioned earlier and include classes at Penn State you can take, extracurricular activities you can participate in, and reading and webcast materials.

Thoughts from other participants…

“I liked that the system was very interactive and allowed me to show the skill set that I have acquired during my undergraduate studies.”

“I liked the fact that minute details were assessed and taken into account. I felt as if the whole process was tailored precisely to me.”

“The system provided a platform for critical feedback from non-employers, and it really helped in picking out and identifying my strengths and weaknesses.”

“The system did not just assess the potential of students but also provided suggestions and solutions on how to improve oneself in deficient areas.”

Have you participated in the assessment system? Leave a comment below with your thoughts on the whole process!

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2 Responses to Review of the Huck Graduate Student Assessment System

  1. Carrie Lewis says:

    Thank you, Sam! The Huck Institutes has been working hard to not only be innovative with our science but also with enhancing professional development opportunities for our graduate students. This assessment system has been a great addition, and we’re glad other people see that, too.

  2. Sam Billings says:

    Huck really is the big boss in the field. I’ve noticed that they come up with plans that the people want rather than what they want, their core thinking is on UE, I hope others take a lesson from them start innovating and start organizing fruitful events.

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