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Good of this place

New graduate and professional students, welcome to Duke! You have chosen to come here for a higher degree in graduate, medical, law, business, nursing, divinity, public policy or environmental school. Congratulations on your choice, both in deciding to pursue your degree and in coming to Duke. In today’s world, earning a higher degree is critical to many careers, and, as you know, there are many benefits of higher education—monetary, health and even quality of life.

Duke is a terrific place to be for these years. Not that higher education is easy or that Duke is without its problems, as you’ll read about in the pages of this newspaper from time to time. There are always issues for the administration, Duke Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Council to tackle, including security, child care, racism or sexism, financial aid, health care and insurance, mentoring, communication and the ever problematic parking situation. But after five years here and plenty of discussions with students at other universities, I am still very glad that I chose to come to Duke.

To get the most out of your time here, take a bit of well-worn advice. Graduate or professional school, while certainly a time to challenge yourself academically and prepare yourself for your career, is also an opportunity to continue the education outside the classroom that you began as an undergraduate. As our own President Richard Brodhead said in his 2002 address to the freshmen of Yale College, “Learning by Choice and by Chance”:

“You’ll get the good of this place to the extent that you engage it actively and intentionally; to the extent that you explore the field of possibilities flexibly and broadly; and to the extent that you open yourself to new experience in the widest possible array.”

This is just as true for Duke graduate and professional students as it is for Yale freshmen. I am always amazed at how few people take advantage of the opportunities here. In my first year, Jean Chrétien, then the Prime Minister of Canada, spoke in Reynolds Theater in the Bryan Center to a surprisingly small crowd. Most students at that time, especially graduate and professional students, never realized that Duke brought in major speakers or Broadway musicals on a regular basis. With the recent advent of GPSCNews, an e-mail list of announcements sent out by GPSC, students are certainly better informed about the many educational, cultural and social events on campus.

Every school at Duke has its own culture and activities, but you have chosen to attend a university that has so much more to give than you can possibly get in only one building. I urge you to attend the many excellent events held by the Duke University Union—major speakers, Broadway at Duke performances, movies in Bryan Center, OktoberFest, the Springternational Festival and more. Attend the Duke Chinese Student and Scholar Association festivals and the many other cultural events that are held on a regular basis.

Take a break from lab or homework on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and check out the lectures and discussions that are held on campus. International House organizes and supports a number of networking and social events. Attend a Graduate and Professional Women’s Network dinner or Women in Science and Engineering lunch and learn something new about everything from balancing career and family to women as leaders to finding a job outside of academia. (Hint: Anyone is welcome at most events on campus, even if you don’t fall within a particular group. Expand your horizons!) See the student musicals put on by Hoof ’N’ Horn—or even join the cast, crew or pit yourself.

If you are at all interested in student government or just want to know what’s going on at Duke, attend bi-weekly GPSC meetings or volunteer to serve on a University Committee—students are represented on almost every one at Duke. You even have opportunities to work with the Duke Board of Trustees, which can be an amazing and unique experience.

If by chance you did not find out at orientation about the many resources you have at your disposal as a graduate or professional student at Duke University, stop by the student affairs office at your school. They are always happy to see students and give out information, or in the case of Graduate Student Affairs, candy, T-shirts, pens, pins, bags, umbrellas and hugs. GPSC is also a terrific source of information. Check out www.duke.edu/gpsc or see your weekly GPSCNews for tips on parking, health insurance, facility hours and more, as well as student group event announcements.

Congratulations once again, and I certainly hope that you enjoy your time here as much as I have!

Heather Dean is a graduate student in neurobiology. Her column usually runs every other Wednesday.

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