The Hidden Curriculum In Graduate Education

As we prepare to roll out the final #GradSciComm Report this week, I’ve been revisiting the moments of inspiration and flashes of insight that shaped our work. Like clay on a potter’s wheel, the best projects often begin with a vision but take on surprising and idiosyncratic texture as they spin into being.

One of the things about Twitter that I love is how it functions as something of a personal diary. I know, for example, that after several weeks of intensive writing, it was just before noon on December 9th that I ran into the paper, “Stunting professionalism: The potency and durability of the hidden curriculum within medical education” by Michalec & Hafferty (sorry, it’s paywalled). My delight bubbled over into livetweeting as I read it:

liztweetliztweet2In addition to a few memorable turns of phrases, the paper delivers a powerful argument: despite the considerable rhetoric about – and effort invested in – training medical students to be compassionate, collaborative professionals with a patient-centered focus, the social norms and culture of medicine transmit contradictory messages of power, authority, and elitism. This so-called ‘hidden curriculum’ is just as influential in shaping attitudes and behaviors as any class. As the authors say, “Professionalism will not thrive until the culture and climate of medicine… is fully explored and dissected.”

Like medical school, becoming a scientist is a combination of mastering the technical knowledge imparted in coursework and research, as well as absorbing the implicit professional norms imparted in the hallways and happy hours of graduate school. Our practices as science communicators may be even more heavily influenced by social norms, and the weight of what goes unsaid. From properly sourcing and citing material, to engaging with the relevant literature, to actively fostering diversity in all its forms, our aspirations require us to work harder and confront uncomfortable truths. It is perhaps more important than ever that we walk the talk when things are especially difficult or stressful, because those moments are when core values are truly revealed. Integrity isn’t cheap, but it is a good investment.

It’s worth thinking hard about how this is playing out in your lab, your department, and your online communities right now. Where are our everyday practices contradicting our best intentions? How often is what we are doing undermining what we are saying? It’s time to tackle the hidden curriculum.

 

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