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The Graduate School Relaunches Duke OPTIONS, a Professional Development Tool for Ph.D. Students

The Duke Graduate School is excited to announce the relaunch of a new and updated version of Duke OPTIONS, a professional development planning tool specifically designed for Ph.D. students at Duke.

The Genesis of Duke OPTIONS

The idea for Duke OPTIONS began in 2013, with assistant deans at The Graduate School seeking to address an issue faced by many graduate students: the pressure to put their professional development “on hold” until after preliminary exams or other significant benchmarks. With Melissa Bostrom filling a new position (at the time) as Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Professional Development, The Graduate School gained new resources and a greater capacity to help students prioritize their professional development.

After several years of research and development, The Graduate School launched Duke OPTIONS in 2018.

“We wanted to have an intervention that would allow students to take agency in their own professional development plans and also help them navigate through an increasingly complex set of resources and programs that were now available to them,” says Melissa Bostrom.

Duke OPTIONS Relaunched

Six years later, The Graduate School is relaunching the tool on an updated platform and with revised content and design features. The new and improved version incorporates feedback received from graduate student focus groups, along with the help of the Duke Advanced-Degree Consulting Club and various other Duke entities.

“We engaged the Libraries, the Office of Postdoctoral Services, the Career Center, and eventually also CAPS—a resource that students recommended we highlight more often, because they said that so many career and professional development challenges also have to do with psychological and emotional well-being,” says Bostrom.

What Students Are Saying

Having participated in one or more student focus groups, Ph.D. students Lan Luo and Christopher Kaminski were asked about their experiences using Duke OPTIONS as a tool to map out their professional goals.

“The whole platform is pretty much a treasure that could be very useful for students,” says Lan Luo, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in neurobiology. “The most beneficial part is finding out what I don't know that I don't know. It's really hard to figure out the unknown unknowns by yourself.”

Luo has found Duke OPTIONS especially helpful in pivoting from their studies in computational neuroscience to a “more industry-aligned career path” involving data science and machine learning.

Meanwhile, Christopher Kaminski, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, is utilizing Duke OPTIONS to prepare for the academic job market.

“I use it as a guidepost mechanism to plan out each year, like what I'm doing now with the Emerging Leaders Institute,” Kaminski says. “And then I hope to do the Preparing Future Faculty program in my third year.”

He especially appreciates Duke OPTIONS’ “simplicity and straightforwardness” and its helpful links to resources that live within many different units or departments.

Try It Yourself

Melissa Bostrom, Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Professional Development, offers step-by-step instructions on how to use the relaunched tool. 

“What is exciting about Duke OPTIONS is that it's very flexible. We really embrace the idea that students’ goals change over the course of their Ph.D. program,” says Bostrom. “This tool allows you to go back and think again about how you want to plot your path and what programs and resources are going to be most helpful.”

So, however your goals might shift, and wherever your paths might take you, remember to use Duke OPTIONS as a handy navigation tool. Happy mapping!