Michigan Graduate Students Design their Way Forward


How do you get 36 University of Michigan graduate students IN

departments ranging from music performance to business administration to spend 6 consecutive weeks together? Food? No. Course credit? No. Life Design? Apparently.

After attending the inaugural Life Design Studio in June, Laura Schram, Director of Professional and Academic Development at Rackham, went straight to work. All good prototypes seek to answer a few questions -- they are mini experiments to learn - and Laura had a few questions in mind. For one, could doctoral students, in particular, feel more hopeful and confident about their future careers? Secondly, would any graduate students even want to participate in a longer term career development series if it wasn’t for credit? And, finally, would it “work” to have an extremely diverse group of students who don’t know each other talking about life together? Not all prototypes come back with positive results, but Michigan’s did. All the answers to Laura’s questions were yes.

Laura led a diverse group of students through 2 hours sessions that met for once a week for 6 weeks consecutively. She focused heavily life design prototyping. She emphasized networking so students could make contacts and have conversations to prototype their lives. And she really taught the power of a good brainstorming session with her students -- to come up with your best prototype ideas for your future you need many. She also used the StrengthsQuest assessment and strengths reinforcement activity from the Life Design Lab.

Michigan’s robust team of 5 Life Design Studio attendees aren’t just stopping at Rackham’s new offering. The Ross School of Business hosted a 1-day life design workshop and others are integrating life design into their coursework. And Laura’s going to host another seminar. Even though all the answers to her original prototype questions were a resounding “yes” (she did a pre-post study on hope and confidence in the students’ future careers and found a statistically significant increase), there are elements of experience and content that she plans to tweak the next time around. “I would tweak the curriculum to include more 1:1 conversations. I really want to know what happened to people's prototypes and have the opportunity to debrief those.” Laura found she was craving more 1:1 coaching opportunities with students, so she is going to experiment with requiring one 1:1 session with her next time around and measure student uptake.

With or without 1:1 coaching, Michigan has confirmed what we consistently see in our graduate population at Stanford. Graduate students from MA to PhD, law to business, are hungry for this kind of life design conversation -- and at Michigan, it turns out, hungry enough to engage without external motivators.

Read Laura's take on the process in her article from Inside Higher Ed.