Universities are increasingly interweaving leadership modules into a variety of degrees. Most previous research has focused on effective pedagogy for leadership development. Yet to develop effective leadership curriculum for undergraduates, it is crucial to ask why students should choose to layer their discipline-specific education with leadership. We were able to capitalise on a unique opportunity to survey students in two emerging science leadership programs at Monash University Australia (Science Future Leaders and BSc Advanced - Global Challenges (Honours)). The programs develop leadership skills including communication, self-awareness and interpersonal skills. Our aim was to explore undergraduate motivations for undertaking leadership education alongside a traditional science degree. We surveyed 65 students enrolled in the aforementioned programs and interviewed 13 of this group. We asked open-ended questions about the reasons for enrolment and coded student responses to identify common themes. All surveyed and interviewed students indicated that employability was important to their decision, with most wishing to broaden their employment options and adaptability in the workforce. Most students also cited developing their capacity to create positive social change in careers in or outside of science. Our findings suggest today’s science students are receptive to broadening their skills and competencies beyond the technical and content-rich discipline training traditionally offered in the discipline degree. Our results may apply to a variety of other disciplines, with transferable ‘soft skills’, including interpersonal, communication and other leadership skills, perceived as equally valuable to students as more discipline-specific academic and technical learnings.
This research strongly conforms to the conference theme “Learning for life and work in a complex world”. This is because the study explores undergraduate motivations for undertaking leadership education alongside a traditional science degree. It examines two emerging science leadership programs at Monash University Australia (Science Future Leaders and BSc Advanced - Global Challenges (Honours)). Both programs focus on developing leadership in adaptive and complex environments, where personal and professional change is constant and outcomes are difficult to predict.
This research also clearly aligns with the sub-theme “Educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals”. The primary aim of leadership education is to equip students with the skills and competencies to enact change through responding and adapting. Our findings highlight that undergraduates are motivated to become responsive and adaptable professionals. Students undertake leadership development to broaden their employment options, adaptability in the workforce, and capacity to respond to major issues facing society. Transferable ‘soft skills’, including interpersonal, communication and other leadership skills, were perceived as equally valuable as more discipline-specific academic and technical learnings for equipping students in their professional lives.