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Bubble within a bubble

Last August, when I enrolled at Duke as a graduate student in public policy, the first thing I noticed was that Duke is an island of its own, isolated from the rest of Durham. As one turns from Erwin Rd. onto Towerview Rd., the street sign says “Private Street.” One is entering an exclusive community.

Unlike my undergraduate institution, the University of Kentucky, Duke’s campus isn’t transected by city roads lined with stores and traffic. At UK, bars, restaurants, retail stores and non-university apartments closely border the heart of campus. Never was I secluded from the larger city surrounding me.

After classes began at Duke last fall, I learned that the University’s aloofness is aptly named “the Duke bubble.” I also observed that graduate and professional students aren’t just living in the Duke bubble—they’re living in a bubble within the Duke bubble. That bubble is their own degree programs.

Of course, I can’t speak for all G&P students, but I’ve gotten the distinct impression that we get “locked” into our own degree programs and don’t explore the Duke world beyond them.

For example, last year I had not one class outside the Sanford Institute’s building, the home away from home for the many public policy graduate students who virtually live there morning to evening on the weekdays and a noteworthy portion of the weekends. [Inside joke: Don’t even get me started on the 48-hour memo.]

We G&P students seem to socialize with only those in our own degree programs and don’t venture outside them to see just what else Duke might have to offer. In fact, I hear public policy, MBA and environmental management students more often referring to their educational institutions as “Sanford,” “Fuqua” and “the Nicholas School,” rather than simply saying, “Duke.”

For those of you graduate students who aspire to be professors, you’ll one day be spending your working career ensconced in the ivory tower or nestled in your lab. For those of you professional students who aspire to be physicians, lawyers, CEOs or policy analysts, you’ll soon be finding yourself on call at a hospital, struggling to make partner, climbing the rungs to the top of corporate America or trying to save the world in some form or fashion.

So, wake up graduate and professional students! Now’s the time to take advantage of the opportunities lying beyond the walls of your graduate and professional degree programs.

Just what’s out there? Read on.

Undergraduates. Duke has these really cool people known as undergraduates. Unless you’re a teaching assistant, you may not have noticed that they comprise 50.4 percent of the student body. By befriending these happy-go-lucky and energetic individuals (perhaps by purchasing the under-21s drinks—at your own risk), you’ll be quickly introduced to a Duke culture that would otherwise be unknown to you: (which didn’t exist back when I was an undergraduate in the past millennium), the quad system, tenting,and some housing thing called linking that I still don’t quite understand. There’s nothing like the youngsters to reinvigorate you!

GSPC News. Pay attention to that weekly email the Graduate and Professional Student Council sends every week. You’ll learn about intramural sports, pub crawls, free movies at the Bryan Center, talks by leading thinkers, the basketball camp out and other events that will get you out of your degree program and interacting with other members of the Duke community.

Sweat. The Wilson Recreation Center has six plasma televisions. Get up and run, elliptical, climb or row in front of them. There’s also a pool and weight room. Access to the Wilson Center’s parking lot is available in the evenings and on weekends. For those who prefer to exercise outdoors, run from West to East Campuses. Campus Drive makes for some quite scenic jogging.

Parents@Duke. Many G&P students who have children don’t have much time to devote to Duke beyond their coursework. Parents@Duke, though, is a fantastic group that advocates for parents’ interests (such as childcare, family healthcare and family-friendly policies). Its listserv provides an excellent network for linking up with other parents and finding a pediatrician, daycare center or used baby items.

So, to my fellow graduate and professional students, these are our last years of unadulterated freedom before we leave student life and enter that cruel place called “the real world.” So at least get out of your bubble-within-the-bubble and explore what Duke has to offer you.

Preeti Aroon is a graduate student in public policy. Her column runs every other Wednesday.


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