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Graduate School Wins Grant to Build Ph.D. Career Roadmap Tool

The Duke University Graduate School has received a $20,000 grant from Educational Testing Service and the Council of Graduate Schools to develop an online tool to help current and prospective Ph.D. students explore their career options, identify career goals, and make a plan to reach them.

The tool—Duke OPTIONS (Online Professional development Tool for Individual OpportuNitieS)—will help doctoral students explore a wide range of careers and create a plan to acquire the skills, experience, credentials, and connections they need while they are in graduate school.

“We track and publish data about what careers our Ph.D. graduates end up in, but for people who are just starting or considering graduate school, that just tells them what the destinations are, not how to get there,” says Paula D. McClain, dean of The Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education.

“Duke OPTIONS will help students create a roadmap to their desired careers and stay on track throughout their time in graduate school.”

Duke OPTIONS is slated to roll out in late 2016 and will be available to all current Duke Ph.D. students and prospective students. It will profile select alumni’s paths to their careers, outline the core competencies that students need, and offer relevant suggestions and resources for developing those competencies. Users will be able to create a five-year professional development plan, and Duke OPTIONS will make recommendations based on timeframe and academic discipline.

“Our faculty do a terrific job helping students navigate careers within academia,” says Melissa Bostrom, assistant dean for professional development at The Graduate School. “Students who want to explore the full spectrum of career choices need additional resources, and Duke OPTIONS will help address that need.

“In addition, it’s important for students to start exploring all the available paths at the outset of graduate school, rather than midway through, so that they won’t suddenly need to change direction as they approach graduation.”

The project could also contribute to the school’s efforts to build a more diverse student body and make sure students have equal access to all career options upon graduation, McClain says.

Recent studies suggest that students from underrepresented groups have fewer points of access to information about doctoral study and the careers that a Ph.D. can lead to,” she says. “By making that information available to all current and prospective Ph.D. students through Duke OPTIONS, we hope to reduce that disparity.”

The grant for the project comes from the ETS/CGS Award for Innovation in Promoting Success in Graduate Education: From Admissions through Completion. It recognizes promising, innovative proposals to enhance student success and degree completion at the master’s or doctoral level while promoting inclusiveness. One winner is selected each year.

“Doctoral degrees are taking graduates to all corners of the workforce today,” says David G. Payne, vice president and chief operating officer of ETS’s Higher Education Division. “As graduate schools redefine professional development to better reflect the broad range of careers PhDs are choosing, Duke’s project is well-poised to become a model for other institutions.

“We are especially excited to see the project’s focus on the full life cycle of doctoral study, the transparency it adds for prospective applicants, and its potential to improve degree completion—especially among underrepresented minority students.”


ETS/CGS award reception

Dean Paula McClain (center) and Assistant Dean Melissa Bostrom (second from left) receive the ETS/CGS award from David G. Payne (far left), the vice president and chief operating officer of ETS's Higher Education Division; Suzanne T. Ortega (second from right), CGS president; and Nasser Zawia, chair of the award selection committee and dean of the graduate school at the University of Rhode Island.