Figuring out the next step in your career feels like one of the quintessential struggles of a college student. It’s a tricky task, no matter who you are or what you plan on pursuing. Sure, it’s easy to conjure up an image of “future you” prospering in a dream job—you can practically see it before your very eyes—but it’s hard to know how to get there. It feels even harder when that dream job is in a creative industry.

What should I be doing right now to prepare? Am I making the right decisions? Am I meeting with the right people? In my arts career journey, those were all questions I had. And even though I graduated in May and am currently working at Disney as a member of the Disney College Program, the questions still remain (I’m convinced they never fully go away). There are a plethora of fantastic opportunities and resources at Duke in the arts and creative fields, and I tried to take advantage of as many of these resources as possible.  I participated in the Duke in LA program, took various arts and media courses, and was highly involved with DEMAN networking events, such as DEMAN Weekend, Media-ville, Guac & Talks, and DEMAN & Donuts.  When I heard about StudioDuke, it sounded like the perfect way to round out my Duke arts experience.

StudioDuke, the two-semester creative lab and mentorship program created by Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Duke Arts, and DEMAN (Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network), launched for the first time in Fall 2017. And when it did, it felt like fate. Just months earlier, I began writing a novel, a novel that I desperately wanted to finish soon and possibly publish one day. And who do I find listed as one of the StudioDuke mentors? New York Times-bestselling author, Christina Baker Kline. I applied to the program and was lucky enough to be accepted and matched with Kline as my mentor. She began working with me that spring and helped me whip my book into shape, while also providing me with valuable advice on becoming a professional writer. The timing was especially excellent because as I was doing StudioDuke, I was also completing an independent study with Duke professor and USA Today-bestselling author, Dr. Katharine Dubois (also known by her pen name, Katharine Ashe). An awesome duo, I know.

Doing both an independent study and StudioDuke ended up being a perfect recipe for meeting the many goals I had for my novel. The two sides complemented one another nicely. With my independent study, I received weekly feedback and got to dive into the nitty-gritty details of my book—plot points, deadlines, prose, etc. With StudioDuke, I was able to zoom out and approach my project from a different angle. I updated my mentor regularly via email and phone calls, and in return received feedback that made my story better in every way. By the end of the school year, I had two drafts of the book completed, a plan for next steps, and newfound confidence in pursuing a career as a writer, not to mention a community of passionate StudioDuke students and mentors who I can turn to for support and advice.

Everyone’s StudioDuke experience is different. Just like everything else, it will be what you make of it. But for me, this program provided a space of encouragement, inspiration and guidance. It matched me with a mentor that not only could answer my many questions but who also gave me a real example of what my career could look like. Because of StudioDuke, I have answers to my questions. Because of StudioDuke, the next step doesn’t seem so scary. And now, when I conjure up my idea of “future Cara” in her dream job, I can see her a little more clearly.

Cara O’Malley, T' 18, hopes you'll join her at DEMAN Weekend Nov. 2-3, 2018.