Name One Thing with Instructional Designer, Ms. Kim McHugh. Advice on being in the wrong graduate program and how to be a better professor.

This image is a header for the Name One Thing Advice for Graduate Students Series. On the left are the words indicating this, on the left there is a picture of a sign hanging off a brick wall with the word ASK printed in large letters.

Welcome to Name One Thing the interview series where I ask academics, researchers, postdocs, and other professionals what they wished they’d known in grad. school. Today’s guest is Ms. Kim McHugh, an instructional designer who realized she was in the wrong graduate program and faced starting her master’s degree over for a better fit.

Portrait of instructional designer Ms. Kim McHugh, who found herself in the wrong graduate program, hugging her Malamute.

Name: Kim McHugh
Degree: M.Ed., Training and Development. B.S., Biology, APTD certified
Current role: Learning Experience Designer with Fidelity

1) Name one thing you wish someone had told you when you were a graduate student.

Finding ways to apply the things you’re learning is the best way to reinforce it and it builds experience you can use for your resume and in interviews. Look for opportunities to do just that. You’re still going to have to do a lot of training on the job once you graduate related to tools and industry, so don’t sweat the actual grades too much.

2) You changed your master’s program from accounting to instructional design part way through. Many students stay in programs they are misaligned with because of the time and money they have already spent. Name one thing you would want students who find themselves misaligned with their programs to know.

Recognize that not everything is going to match your expectations. I went into an accounting program targeted at a personality type I just didn’t have. I could have pushed through and had a decent career, but life circumstances happened and showed me a path that’s given me a lot more fulfillment and similar pay. The whole reason I went to grad school was to find a new path to financial independence and I lucked out in finding something I really enjoyed. Stay open-minded to changes rather than focusing on finishing something that may not be a good fit. 

Also, not all programs are designed the same so it’s important to find one that resonates with how you want to accomplish your goals. You’ll find it a lot more motivating and you’ll need that when you’re hitting the proverbial walls.

3) Many graduate students complete teaching assistantships and some go on to be university professors without any training in instructional design. Name one thing that they should do to become more effective instructors.

Spend some time looking into learning strategies and and models (not learning styles) relating to how people actually learn. Cognitive behaviorists have done a lot of research and there are a handful of writers who have distilled this well. Develop plans to help your learners get where they need to be and create activities that have a realistic focus/application. 

If you’re teaching adults, they really need relevance as a motivational component, and taking the time to link that is really worth it. It’s important to always keep the learner experience in mind when you’re designing. 

There are also some great books out there with these concepts laid out simply. I’d recommend starting with Julie Dirksen’s Design For How People Learn and go from there. Other books for a deeper dive include Make It Stick by Peter Brown and Understanding by Design by Wiggins & McTighe. Map It by Cathy Moore is also great when you’re ready to dive into the actual work.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Ms. McHugh! We appreciate the insight on being in the wrong graduate program and making the bold move to switch and in helping aspiring professors better prepare for their roles.

Wishing You All the Best in Your Academic Success.
Dr. Cristie Glasheen, Your Graduate Student Success Coach.

Interview Disclaimer

We aim to share diverse perspectives and experiences. The views, opinions, and experiences shared by our guests in this interview series are solely their own. Their participation is not an endorsement of our services, products, or views, nor does it imply an endorsement of their services, products, or views by us.