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For context, I am a graduate student in my academic department ⁠— agricultural economics. I wanted to bring up the idea to the Department Chair that introducing some applications like JupyterLab, GitHub, and R to our future graduate students could be a great move to not only support the move to online learning, but allow students in our department to get additional skills that are widely used in industry and currently not offered by our courses, but for which I know a number of our professors use routinely.

As a graduate student, I don't have the authority to suggest how the department should conduct itself and I do not want to come across this way either. So I am curious how I could go about offering this idea as a suggestion while still being respectful of my place within the hierarchy of my department. I have a good personal relationship with the department chair as well, but I still want to be cautious of how I approach this.

I should also say that i'm done my course work, so it does not impact me at all if the Department chooses to follow through or not on the suggestion. I am however thinking about the development of future students which is the only reason I am actually considering making the suggestion.

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    The title of this question is very different from the content. The title suggests that you're going to tell your department how to move to online learning, while the content suggest that you're going to suggest some useful things that the department could offer students (not only for online learning). – ff524 May 21 at 17:51
  • @ff524 edited the title. Thank you. – GrayLiterature May 21 at 17:55
  • Does your department or program have a steering committee or education committee? – Bryan Krause May 21 at 20:01
  • In my dept., I would start with the director of graduate studies (DGS) before the chair – Azor Ahai May 22 at 16:51
  • I'd caution you on the technical validity of the proposal JupyterLab, GitHub, and R are very different things. Jupyter is a Python interface, R is a programing language, GitHub is source control. Your proposal shouldn't be tool oriented but rather concept or application oriented. – Mikhail May 22 at 21:15
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As a graduate student, I don't have the authority to suggest how the department should conduct itself

That’s incorrect. You absolutely have the authority to suggest improvements to the program curriculum, and in all but the most incompetently run of departments, your suggestions would be welcomed, and given at least fleeting consideration; in a really well-run department they may in fact be considered quite seriously. Whether they would be adopted or not in a separate question, but if they are not adopted, it’s not because anyone thinks you don’t have the authority to suggest them. Regardless, no one would think you’re overstepping your role as a graduate student by making a suggestion (as opposed to making a demand or coming across as someone who thinks they’re entitled to run the place).

I wanted to bring up the idea to the Department Chair that introducing some applications like JupyterLab, GitHub, and R to our future graduate students could be a great move to not only support the move to online learning, but allow students in our department to get additional skills that are widely used in industry and currently not offered by our courses, but for which I know a number of our professors use routinely.

It sounds like these professors you mention already see the value in what you want to propose. Why not try to enlist them as allies and supporters of your idea, while offering to do the grunt work of promoting it? For example, you could send them an email where you outline your proposal, say you are contacting them because of their interest in these software applications and that you intend to present it to the department administration (not necessarily the chair - see below), and ask whether they are willing to be included in the correspondence and to be mentioned as possible endorsers of the idea. Stress the fact that they wouldn’t need to get involved in the effort in any more substantial way than that if they didn’t want/have time to.

I have a good personal relationship with the department chair as well, but I still want to be cautious of how I approach this.

That’s good, and the department chair may be a good place to start. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the department chair is usually an extremely busy person who is stretched thin between managing a whole bunch of completely different aspects of the department. In particular, at all departments I’m familiar with (including the one I was chair of for several years), the chair would not get directly involved in detailed thinking about the graduate program curriculum - that’s simply too “micro” for the level of detail the chair is able to handle. Usually there will be other people below the chair — a graduate vice chair (sometimes called the graduate program chair or graduate chair), graduate program committee etc — who make those sorts of decisions (maybe with the department chair ultimately being asked to sign off on any major decisions).

I suggest that before you officially propose the idea, do a bit of l asking around informally to find out who are the person or people who are in charge of thinking about these sorts of issues within the department. This way you won’t waste people’s time and your own time getting bounced around from one person/committee to another, with the attendant risk of the communication being misdirected or misinterpreted at each step along the way.

Good luck!

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I suspect that you will have little impact in "asking". And you may not be considering the actual requirements of implementing a change, since you are asking experienced professors to do something new and even if they are willing, they will find it awkward to change, causing disruption. The chair will probably recognize this disruption and will not be wildly in favor.

But if you want to make a change (a) start small and (b) use evidence based reasoning. And the evidence should be local, not just what you see and read from the experience of others (see disruption, above).

Starting small would be to suggest it to a professor who might be open to it, finding difficulties in the current pandemic situation. Work with them to show a positive experience and work out the kinks. Now you also have an ally who can help you spread the word.

The chair would be more willing to listen to a small group of faculty who have already had some positive experience than to a grad student with a "wild idea".


Note of caution. Some departments are very set in their ways and don't like to hear that they could be doing something "better", already believing that they are perfect in every detail. Others are more open, of course, but test the waters before you dive.

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