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Graduate School to expand career services

In response to students’ growing need for broad career options, the Graduate School is expanding its professional development services.

A Graduate School “task force”—commissioned by Jo Rae Wright, dean and vice provost of the Graduate School, and Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta—is in the process of developing an initiative to coordinate and enhance career services for graduate students. The need for a reformed system comes from an desire to apply Ph.D.s to careers outside of research and professorships, Moneta said.

“The number of Ph.D. [students] who are looking for careers outside of traditional academia is growing,” he said. “For whom there is not a clear path, faculty might not be the best to know where you take their degree into an industry… but there are alternate ways a degree can be applied.”

Moneta acknowledged the effect of the 2008 economic crisis on the job market—particularly for University faculty positions—but attributed students’ desires to broaden their career options to a changing world with a growing need for Ph.D.s outside of the university setting. He added that graduates might work in multiple professions, and a Duke Ph.D. should prepare them “more than adequately” for every position—but noted that administrators do not want to steer students away from traditional academic careers.

Wright wrote in an email that the new initiative would bring together several already established services to follow Ph.D. candidates from matriculation to graduation, equipping them with the necessary resources to pursue any career of their choosing—from faculty positions to nonprofit work.

“The plan is to develop an integrated program that coordinates activities in the Career Center, the Graduate School, the departments, faculty and alumni,” Wright said. “This is about preparing Ph.D. [students] for jobs, not preparing professionals for jobs.”

Jacqueline Looney, senior associate dean for graduate programs and a member of the task force, said the skills students learn while pursuing a Ph.D.—such as writing and information analysis—can be easily translated into many careers.

The professional development services, however, would help students cultivate additional skills that might not come as naturally, including networking and presenting information to a general audience as opposed to an academic one.

Looney noted that these services are currently available, but the challenge is to coordinate them across the many diverse departments within the Graduate School.

“It’s not that the need is not being met because we’ve always focused on some sort of professional development resources,” Looney said. “It’s just making sure students are aware that professional development is important… and we know it’s difficult out there. An integrated structure makes the most sense.”

Daniel Heard, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in statistics who wants to pursue a career in government rather than academics, said he has received significant guidance about preparing for multiple careers, but noted that most of this help has come from the statistics department rather than the Graduate School itself. He added that Duke could do a better job helping students network and establish relationships with people outside of the University world.

“It seems as if there’s a lot of [graduate] placement in academic jobs rather than in industry jobs,” Heard said. “While some of that is because of people’s desires, a fair amount has to do with placing someone in a professorship in a school where Duke faculty have connections.”

Moneta noted that the Career Center recently created two standing positions for counselors who work with graduate students specifically—a step forward in the process of establishing career and professional development services with a graduate student focus.

Looney added that the task force is currently reviewing a report detailing graduate students’ needs before taking any additional steps.

“We’ve already found the resources and the staff—this is more about coordination,” Moneta said. “We have all the components, and the next step is to tighten the components.”

Correction: The commissioners of the Graduate School “task force” have been updated to reflect the roles of Jo Rae Wright, dean and vice provost of the Graduate School, and Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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