Challenge To Graduate Students: Create a Better Future

Challenge To Graduate Students: Create a Better Future

This is a guest post from Master of Digital Media Program Director Richard Smith.

Forgive me if you’ve heard this, the first part is a story I have told a few times before…

When I first took the job as Director of the MDM program, one of my colleagues at SFU pulled me aside to give me some advice. He had been director of a professional school for some years and he cautioned me about the way in which industry demands can sometimes divert a program from its mission. What I would find, he said, was that the industry (and even the students) would be keen for me to provide an education that would reproduce the people and skills that the industry already had, to fill the jobs that they had right now.

My challenge would be to move beyond that, to help faculty and students (and the industry) to see that the future of the industry would depend on producing graduate students who would not be satisfied with recreating the present (or the past) but would want to challenge themselves and each other to do the hard work of creating the future.

My challenge would be...to help faculty and students (and the industry) to see that the future of the industry would depend on producing graduate students who would not be satisfied with recreating the present (or the past) but would want to challenge themselves and each other to do the hard work of creating the future.

Graduate students are not simply learning how to deliver known solutions. Instead, they take on problems without an obvious solution, design and do the research to develop a possible answer, and then build something that allows them to test (and hopefully prove) their hypothesis.

Recently, I challenged all of our students to think about how their summer projects were going to change the world. I asked them to think about one dimension (social, economic, ecological, health) that would be improved by the work they were doing. Then, I said, try to find a reproducible, replicable, accepted metric for that improvement, and track your work against that measure.

Rising to that challenge won’t be easy, and it isn’t clear that we’ll be able to succeed in every case. But we are going to try. And that is the challenge back to us, the academic community, industry partners, faculty and our staff: what are we doing to make the world a better place? And how are we engaging with these graduate students in a way that doesn’t merely reproduce a known solution but instead challenges them to come up with something new, and better?

What are we doing to make the world a better place? And how are we engaging with these graduate students in a way that doesn’t merely reproduce a known solution but instead challenges them to come up with something new, and better?

The MDM program has embarked on an exciting journey of discovery this summer, with projects spanning a dizzying array of challenges. I look forward to seeing the solutions that these students devise, and how they are—with our help—making the world a better place.

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