Grant supports resource to ‘future proof’ graduates

L-R: Associate Professor Elizabeth Davis and Associate Professor Michelle Lazarus.
L-R: Associate Professor Elizabeth Davis and Associate Professor Michelle Lazarus.

Graduates leaving university will encounter an increasingly changeable professional environment where, for example, research tasks may be replaced with artificial intelligence; the result is graduates with uncertain career futures who may be stressed and anxious.

Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s (BDI) Associate Professor Michelle Lazarus is leading a project focused on developing evidence-based resources for educators to help their students develop the ability to thrive in such uncertain and ambiguous times. The project has been backed by a Monash Education Academy Inter-Faculty Transformation Grant of $68,000.

Associate Professor Lazarus, Deputy Head of the Monash BDI’s Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology (Education) & Director of the Centre for Human Anatomy Education, is leading a diverse research team that includes Monash educators from business, pharmacology, psychology and nursing as well as science, to support the research and development of the educational resources.

“I’m really excited about the grant,” Associate Professor Lazarus said.

“This grant supports engagement with a variety of faculties we don’t normally get the chance to collaborate with,” she said.

Associate Professor Lazarus said the study was born from observations that new graduates felt overwhelmed and stressed when they entered the workplace, in part because workplaces often do not have the certainties or ‘right answers’ of the education system.

“Many students are taught from primary school onwards to perform in exams where there’s a single best correct answer,” she said.

“I think we’re doing a disservice preparing them for future workplaces where multiple answers may be accurate.”

“We’re trying to help higher educators build their content in a way that helps foster the critical skill of what’s called ‘tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity’ so graduates can feel curious, excited and empowered when faced with these uncertainties.”

The idea struck a chord with the academics Associate Professor Lazarus approached to be part of the project, who had also witnessed the problem in their own classrooms. Monash BDI’s Acting Director of Education, Associate Professor Elizabeth Davis, will lead the exploration of science education curricular development in relation to the tolerance of ambiguity.

The Monash Education Academy grant selection panel, in congratulating Associate Professor Lazarus and her team, said the project was an important concept, in an under-researched area, and had the potential to benefit many students and faculties. This research project was up against ‘a high number of excellent applications which underwent a stringent ranking and review process’.

The two-year project will investigate classroom experiences to develop educator resources for merging course content and knowledge with students’ development of tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity. It will initially focus on auditing existing Monash curricula to create a snapshot of Monash best practices of ‘tolerance of uncertainty’ and ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ curricular integration, then recruit and collect data from students participating in best practice curricula, before designing the final exemplars.

A pilot research study of undergraduate medical students within the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology found that curricular changes can help students develop a tolerance of ambiguity, but this will come with emotional discomfort. Future research will explore whether this emotional discomfort improves with time.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.