Knowledge transfer among graduate students: Perceptions and practices reflecting a paradigm shift in Quebec?

Summary of the original article:

Written by Louis Melançon, Research Assistant at Research Impact Canada

The rise of neoliberal ideology and university funding reforms in recent years have created an environment where research is increasingly expected to translate into concrete benefits for society. Thus, federal granting agencies in Canada have integrated knowledge mobilization into their priorities, particularly in the social sciences and health. Now more than ever, public funds must have public benefits. While several studies have explored the motivations that drive researchers to engage in knowledge mobilization activities, few or none have specifically examined the perspective of graduate students. What is their perception of knowledge mobilization? How can universities better support them in their mobilization efforts?

McSween-Cadieux, Chabot et al. documented the perspective of graduate students at the Université de Montréal on knowledge mobilization. Between February 2019 and January 2020, the authors had 137 respondents complete an online questionnaire, and then conducted individual interviews with 25 of them. The targeted students were at the master’s and doctoral level, either in a social science or public health program. The analysis of the results was based on the concept of the “behaviour change wheel” of Michie et al. (2011), which explains the individual behaviours by their levels of motivation, ability and opportunity.

Nearly 80% of the online questionnaire respondents reported having heard of knowledge transfer or knowledge mobilization. Half of the respondents reported having planned transfer activities beyond university settings into their research project, while a third had not planned any, and the remaining had not yet considered it. Only a quarter of respondents report having taken training related to knowledge mobilization as part of their studies, whereas 70% of respondents say that these concepts should be an integral part of their university training.

Although nearly three quarters of respondents recognize the importance of carrying out knowledge mobilization activities at the graduate level, a majority of students felt that they have a poor understanding of what mobilization is and how to best implement it in practice. Respondents also view academia as not conducive to knowledge mobilization. They perceive it as an activity that is undervalued both by their program and by granting agencies. Respondents also felt that they lack the time to carry out mobilization activities with their already demanding schedules.

Interviews reveal that above all else, students want more training to support them in their knowledge mobilization efforts. They mention dedicated training, including practical aspects of mobilization in existing courses, and the organization of networking activities to bring the research community together. Some respondents raised the importance for students to have role models among their professors, so that they can be inspired in their mobilization efforts. Providing better support for students in their mobilization efforts requires action not only within the student community, but also at the levels of professors, university management and their programs.