Knowledge Mobilization (KMb): Multiple Contributions & Multi-Production Of New Knowledge

The Importance Of Graduate Students As Boundary Spanners

FGS  (Photo by Shawn Chong)

Knowledge mobilization is about critically examining, extending and exchanging knowledge and values within our world. Together each of us has a role to play in furthering our collective human understanding.

Within human understanding there is a constant and dynamic element of knowledge exchange – which is learning, teaching and research. Learning, teaching and research within our global knowledge society requires inspiration and resourcefulness while seeking to improve communication and co-operation across all disciplines and borders that define us. Furthering our collective human understanding requires us to open up relationships that develop harmony in an interconnected world within our communities – and particularly starting within academic communities where formal learning, teaching and research take place.

Many of our greatest human challenges occur because of our differences within often narrowly focused disciplines and boundaries, while many of our greatest developments occur at the intersections of knowledge uptake (learning),  knowledge transfer (teaching) and knowledge exchange (research) which often is first formally learned within the world of academia. This is why teaching students – particularly graduate students – about this type of broader learning to include knowledge mobilization within our global knowledge society has never been more important than now for the future.

Effective knowledge mobilization requires that graduate students be free within their respective disciplines to learn, teach and research by also developing scholarly inquiry that is interdisciplinary. Effective knowledge mobilization rests on their unique cross-boundary role as learners, teachers and researchers across disciplines and subjects.

Graduate students play an integral part in the ability of universities to provide a broader quality of educational experience by reminding students about the importance of acknowledging our human commonality within our diversity which is often reflected in universities that have very diverse student populations and a full-range of academic subjects and research interests.

Graduate students supplement and complement the teaching and research activities of faculty, while providing the institution with an opportunity to recognize the integral and multiple roles that graduate students play as learners, teachers and researchers in contributing to the university – and more importantly to our global knowledge society.

Universities have the responsibility of providing graduate students with an excellent education and the best possible preparation for their future careers since graduate students can play a crucial link as institutional boundary-spanners (as Angie Hart refers to from the work of Etienne Wenger) not only within the university but also within a new paradigm of community/university engagement. University Faculties and departments should offer suitable training for both academic and non-academic careers that recognize a community/university connection in learning, teaching and research that extends beyond the realm of academia.

Communication between graduate students, faculty and advisors can create opportunities for community contact, collaboration and community-building through student internships which are essential in developing the important learning, teaching and research links between community and university to promote knowledge beyond the university.

For effective knowledge mobilization every human being must understand the universal declaration of human rights to be free from discrimination based on race, colour, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age and ability, as well as socio-economic or family status. Like every human being, students have the right to an educational experience that is also free from such discrimination. This fundamental human value is the most important knowledge that the university can teach students – particularly grad students as boundary-spanners – so that students may learn how to improve communication and co-operation across all disciplines and borders for better knowledge mobilization in doing research to make the world a better place for everyone. It is in this way that the university is a microcosm of the world and graduate students have an opportunity to become boundary spanners within the university and beyond by engaging with community.

York University is an outstanding example of a campus that has a very diverse ethnic and cultural student population reflecting more than most universities the progressive and multicultural inclusiveness of Canada. York promotes and protects human rights and values with a strong commitment to social justice, while offering a full-range of academic subjects and research units in developing scholarly inquiry that is interdisciplinary and inclusive. York University is the third largest university in Canada with a student population of over 55-thousand from a wide-range of backgrounds and belief systems.

Celebrating 50 years of the importance of graduate students, York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) promotes graduate student learning, teaching and research within an interdisciplinary university that extends across traditional academic and community boundaries as graduate students pursue professional training for academic and non-academic careers. Examples like FGS at York University help graduate students recognize their potential for knowledge mobilization as learners, teachers and researchers to move beyond fragmented research knowledge and include community in their work.

Assisting universities and graduate students is Mitacs – a Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities for graduate students.

“Through unique research and training programs, Mitacs is developing the next generation of innovators with vital scientific and business skills. In partnership with companies, government and academia, Mitacs is supporting a new economy using Canada’s most valuable resource – its people”…including graduate students.

It’s time all universities and graduate students recognize the importance of being learners, teachers and researchers knowing they are valued and being supported at institutions such as York University and Mitacs. Graduate students need also to go beyond an understanding of a specific discipline and see themselves as boundary-spanners – within the institution and society – by examining, extending and exchanging knowledge and values within our world through knowledge mobilization.


7 responses to “The Importance Of Graduate Students As Boundary Spanners

  1. Anne Rathbone April 14, 2014 at 5:01 am

    This is a great post. I think the thing that would make it richer for me is some recognition that academic institutions still hold most of the power when it comes to identifying when knowledge is seen as valid and society in general looks to academia to provide credible knowledge. This is understandable and valuable to a point, but knowledge – especially but not exclusively in the social sciences – will always be limited as long as it fails to involve communities in a truly meaningful way as their experiences mean that they are in a unique position to help academics co-create what Fals Borda calls “a total scientific knowledge of a revolutionary nature”(1991). It can maximise the richness and accuracy of research generated knowledge. It’s harder to involve people directly in research that affects them. Its untidy and frustrating and you have to work harder and be so disciplined to do it well, but ultimately in my view its the way to create knowledge that contributes to better social justice and individual and collective emancipation and is ultimately a better use of public money for many research projects. There is more talk about this than there is meaningful action from my perspective.

    Mature graduate students in particular are more likely to have more than one boundary spanning function and possibly may be more linked in with their communities than most. When I look around at my fellow PhD researchers, the mature students I know are all boundary spanners and tend to have a deeper sense of how academic research needs to relate to the “real world” and different ways that this can be achieved. I wonder if anyone is looking at the particular contributions of mature graduate researchers and how more can be encouraged to get involved (and stay involved!) to enrich community university integration.

    • KMbeing April 14, 2014 at 7:51 am

      Thanks for your comment Anne. Knowledge mobilization is about connecting community to university and acknowledging the many voices of knowledge that exist – not just those that are ‘legitimized’ within the university structure. I’m also glad you see graduate students as boundary spanners in the sense of the work that people like Angie Hart at CUPP Brighton UK are doing along with the work of ResearchImpact in Canada. I appreciate you taking the time to comment from your valued perspective and experience. 

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