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Introducing Melissa Bostrom

I’ve enjoyed the warmest of welcomes in my first weeks here at Duke. As the new Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Professional Development, I’ve joined the Graduate Student Affairs team in the Graduate School. I’ve traveled around campus meeting faculty, staff, and students who are passionate about and deeply committed to graduate student professional development. Their efforts have begun to shape world-class professional development opportunities that will allow our students to compete globally.

Most recently, I worked in the Graduate School at NC State, where I led professional development initiatives in career skills for the population of about 8,000 graduate students. I worked with students from among NC State’s 10 colleges to provide offerings that could help them accomplish their career goals, whether those goals included work in industry, government, nonprofit, entrepreneurship, or faculty positions. In 2010, I piloted an emerging leaders program for graduate students designed to develop participants’ communication, self-awareness, professional adaptability, interdisciplinary teamwork, and leadership skills. Program assessment showed measurable improvement in each one of these competencies, and students regularly described the intensive 6-week program’s impact as “life-changing.” Spring 2013 witnessed the program’s fourth year at NC State, and I hope that it can be adapted to the unique goals and talents of Duke’s graduate students over the next year.

In my new position, I’m charged with establishing and maintaining a coordinated set of effective professional development services for Duke University graduate students. My role involves providing strategic direction and leadership for graduate student professional development, and I will be responsible for the organization, development, implementation, and evaluation of professional development services. Over the next several years, I will assemble a comprehensive program that addresses broad and discipline-specific professional development opportunities designed to help graduate students in diverse fields prepare for professional life beyond the graduate degree.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve witnessed several powerful examples of professional development across campus. The Office of News and Communications, with the Graduate School, piloted two workshops for graduate students on talking to the media and writing op-ed articles. The workshops resulted in graduate students’ writing featured in local op-ed pages as well as an interview with a New York reporter on one student’s research. So successful were these workshops that plans are already underway to expand them to a three-part series for fall 2013.

Another of these powerful examples was the event Writing Is Thinking II: Taking It to the Next Level, organized by the Center for Philosophy, Arts and Literature and the Thompson Writing Program. The workshop featured Duke faculty Toril Moi and Kristen Neuschel as well as Nancy Bauer from Tufts University, Bernie Rhie from Dartmouth College, and Aaron Sachs from Cornell University. The situation of five eminent humanities scholars sharing their challenges and vulnerabilities as writers with young scholars was one I certainly never encountered in my own doctoral work in English. I can only imagine the impact these scholars’ candor and openness had for students who face the daily challenge of writing their thinking. The dedication of faculty like Professor Toril Moi, the force behind this biannual workshop, to encourage and inspire graduate students’ writing demonstrates the investment Duke makes in the success of every one of our students.

In the past few days, I’ve seen the third of these powerful examples bear fruit. The Society of Duke Fellows piloted the Duke GradX Research Presentations as part of Graduate Student Appreciation Week. The SDF organizing team selected 26 talks from 60 submissions by their fellow graduate students to feature in an interdisciplinary event inspired by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks. Each presenter, rather than sharing a finished project, spoke about a research question that drives them. The five-minute, five-slide limit challenged the speakers to address an audience outside their disciplines and, perhaps, outside their comfort zone. I was delighted to see many students, faculty, and staff join in the audience for this student-led event.

These three initiatives exemplify the passions of faculty, staff, and students to design and lead professional development opportunities across the disciplines and across the campus. I’m in the lucky position to build on a foundation of success as I seek ways to connect all Graduate School students with the professional development opportunities that can help them meet their goals for successful careers.