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Students Explore Faculty Life at Different Institutions through PFF

September 21, 2018

By Hanna Grimm
Communications Intern

 "We got to see what the faculty actually do, and they don’t just teach in a classroom.”

Duke Ph.D. students get a daily up-close look at faculty life at a place like Duke. Many of those students, however, will not begin their careers at a place like Duke. In fact, many might prefer to pursue faculty careers at other types of institutions that are more suited to their interests.

That’s where The Graduate School’s Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program comes in. 

“With PFF, the big goal is to help Ph.D. students who are thinking about becoming faculty explore the range of different institution types and see the culture of those other places and if it’s a fit for them,” said Hugh Crumley, assistant dean for academic affairs at The Graduate School and director of the PFF program.

The program, created in 1993, connects Duke Ph.D. students to faculty mentors at six campuses and introduces them to the broad range of faculty responsibilities and challenges that may arise. 

The campuses include an undergraduate, teaching-focused institution (Elon University); a Quaker, liberal arts school (Guilford College), a community college known for its University Transfer Program (Durham Tech); one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges and universities (North Carolina Central University), a women’s college in Raleigh (Meredith College), and an engineering-heavy, land-grant school (North Carolina State University). 

“We got to see what the faculty actually do, and they don’t just teach in a classroom,” fifth-year Chemistry Ph.D. student Bob Carden said. “They have all kinds of other responsibilities between administration and managing research groups, but [seeing] what that looks like at different places helps me to get an idea of what I’ll be looking for.

“I think it is a program that you can really make your own. You choose the amount of time you meet with your mentor. It is really malleable and you are able to get a lot of things out of your experience depending on what your goals are.”

Students earning their Ph.D. at a research-intensive university like Duke might not be aware of other types of institutions, Crumley said, and those institutions have cultures that can be very different from Duke’s. PFF provides students with the credentials to show the job market that not only are they world-class researchers, but also that they are well-trained and understand the missions of different types of schools. 

PFF fellows receive a note on their official transcripts signifying their completion of the program. They also get access to potential academic jobs through the National Preparing Future Faculty Office.

The program also lets students ask questions and have conversations that may be more difficult to have at Duke, Crumley added.

“The fellows benefit because they can have candid conversations with people,” he said. “They can ask questions about the real pluses and minuses about being at these other kinds of institutions and be treated not as a subordinate, but as a junior colleague.”

In addition to having a mentor, all of the fellows go on site visits at each of the six campuses, where they attend panels comprised of faculty and students and have dinner with the faculty. 

“I found the site visits very informative,” said Karen Messina, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in music. “especially when you are talking about research institutes vs. teaching-focused, and even among teaching-oriented schools there is a lot of variations.”

Experiencing different types of institutions reminds the fellows of the world outside of Duke that can be forgotten by students immersed in their research and departmental work, said Hannah Rogers, a sixth-year Ph.D. student in English.

Fellows also said the program made them feel more informed about what to expect for a career in academia, as well as their choices within the field. 

“I have found quite a bit of diversity in terms of what I want to do at an institute of higher education,” Messina said. “Originally, I thought that my focus was just on teaching and I found out that I might actually be interested in some administration work which was not something that I had considered before PFF.”

Sara Maurer, a Ph.D. student in psychology and neuroscience, said the program allowed her to “try out every different situation.” 

“When it is time to apply for jobs, my application materials will be stronger because I feel more qualified to know what future employers will be looking for and what I can supply them,” she said.

Rogers said that another benefit of the program was the relationships she formed with the other PFF fellows. 

“When you’re in a Ph.D program you are kind of isolated in a lot of ways from everyone else who is not involved in your work, so it was really great to see perspectives from other graduate students at Duke,” she said.