Strategic Goal 1: Student Support

Provide robust support to compete for the best graduate students, help them thrive at Duke, and prepare them for success after Duke.


The Graduate School (TGS) is a school of students; for that reason, providing support for students is our top priority. Financial support, co-curricular programming, and student resources and support are key elements that contribute to graduate students’ success. TGS’s efforts in these areas will directly support one of the major goals in the university’s academic strategic plan—providing a transformative education experience for all students and ensuring that every student have at their disposal the best that Duke has to offer.


Generally speaking, The Graduate School provides tuition coverage and stipend support to Ph.D. students for five years and pays their health insurance premiums for six years. The university also provides sixth-year tuition scholarships for doctoral students who have made an effort to apply for external or departmental support for the sixth year. Duke is very competitive among its peers both in stipend level and the number of years of guaranteed support.

One focus of the school in recent years has been increasing summer funding for students, particularly those in the traditionally underfunded areas of humanities and social sciences. In 2014, the school began guaranteeing summer research fellowships to all first- and second-year Ph.D. students. That significantly reduced the number of students without summer funding and pushed Duke’s year-round stipend for arts and sciences students into the top five among peer institutions. The move also has helped students who are beyond their first two years by opening up more of the school’s competitive summer research fellowships to those students and spurring a number of departments to use their own endowment funds to provide summer support.

Despite this progress, the school must continue to enhance its financial support in order to keep competing for the best students as peer institutions raise their levels of support. This is also important given the rising cost of living in Durham, particularly in areas near campus. Looking beyond doctoral students, the school should also explore ways to provide some kind of aid to master’s students, who, unlike their undergraduate and Ph.D. counterparts, receive little institutional assistance from Duke. As noted in the university’s strategic plan, this lack of institutional assistance limits the diversity of the student body and constrains career choices after graduation.


A. Continue to work toward the long-term goal of providing year-round funding to all Ph.D. students for their first five years. Currently, 18 percent of arts and sciences doctoral students in years three through five do not have summer funding, down from 40 percent before 2014.

B. Increase the number of competitive awards for travel, language courses, project supplies, and other resources that enrich the education of both Ph.D. and master’s students.

C. Make students more aware of internal awards that are available.

D. Increase students’ awareness of and competitiveness for external funding opportunities. The school’s own resources are not enough to be a panacea for students’ financial needs, and students are expected to play a role in their financial support. The school must make students more aware of external funding opportunities and help them improve their chances of successfully applying for these opportunities, such as the grant-writing course that the school began offering in spring 2017.

Key Performance Indicators

A. Percentage of doctoral students with year-round funding in their first five years

B. Number of competitive awards for travel, language courses, project supplies, and other enrichment resources

C. Number of students applying for currently underutilized internal fellowships

D. Number of students applying for and winning internal and external fellowships


Aside from financial support, the school also must continue to emphasize providing professional and career development to prepare students for their future careers. Changes in the U.S. and global job market have made a graduate credential increasingly necessary for a growing number of professions. Duke has responded to these changes by offering an increasing number of master’s programs over the past ten years, recognizing that many of our master’s graduates seek the credential as an entry point to a career. Other master’s students seek the degree as preparation for doctoral programs, even as the job market is changing in many disciplines for Ph.D.-qualified professionals. The shrinking number of tenure-track faculty positions in many disciplines, an ongoing trend that has been magnified by the 2008 recession, has meant that our Ph.D. students increasingly pursue broad career options beyond the traditional tenure-track path.

Recognizing these changes, and in response to campus-wide task forces convened in 2007 and 2011 to examine the career and professional development needs of graduate students, TGS in 2013 hired a full-time assistant dean for graduate student professional development, complementing the school’s existing investments in programs to support students in teaching development and preparation for faculty positions. Since this time, TGS has instituted four new offerings to better support students in pursuing broad career options:  the Professional Development Series, the Emerging Leaders Institute, Professional Development Grants, and the Professional Development Blog.

As the research master’s population has grown over the past decade, TGS has responded with a greater variety of professional development offerings that are open to and appeal to master’s students, such as the Professional Development Series of one-time events and the Emerging Leaders Institute. In particular, the Core Competencies series within the Professional Development Series focuses on skills such as communication, leadership, and self-awareness that are transferable to a variety of contexts.

That said, TGS currently offers a number of professional development programs essentially restricted to doctoral students, including the Certificate in College Teaching, the Bass Instructional Fellowships, and the Preparing Future Faculty program. Until 2017, TGS offered no parallel professional development program specifically aimed at master’s students. TGS began to address this need in spring 2017, when it created a four-workshop Professional Development Series for master’s students.

TGS’s investment in professional development addresses a key area of emphasis in the university’s new academic strategic plan—increasing opportunities for graduate students to apply their education to a growing array of career options. With TGS’s full slate of professional development offerings moving beyond the startup phase, the school recognizes that continued support for professional development requires both more systematic resources—such as a registration and tracking system for students’ participation in professional development events—as well as an assessment of co-curricular programmatic offerings to ensure that they are meeting the needs of TGS’s students and to identify future directions for development. TGS also should explore ways to document student participation in professional development, as currently the only such documentation is a transcript notation for the Certificate in College Teaching, the Preparing Future Faculty program, Graduate School courses in college teaching, and Responsible Conduct of Research training.


A. Implement a professional development registration and tracking system. With the increased number of professional development offerings and student participation, TGS lacks a systematic way to handle student registration and participation tracking, beyond the programs that result in a transcript notation (such as the Certificate in College Teaching, the Preparing Future Faculty, or the Responsible Conduct of Research degree requirement). Such a system could allow TGS to better assess student interest and participation in professional development topics and identify potential gaps in serving students (e.g., by year, by discipline)

B. Develop a list of competencies that graduate students must meet before taking on an instructional role. Work with departments to identify how to meet those competencies so that TGS programming is complementary to departmental effort.

C. Develop student learning outcomes and assessment tools for TGS co-curricular programming. Beginning with programs in Responsible Conduct of Research, Certificate in College Teaching, Preparing Future Faculty, and the Emerging Leaders Institute, lay the foundation for regular assessment of professional development offerings.

D. Evaluate the need for a professional development program specifically aimed at master’s students.

E. Explore processes for documenting student participation in professional development. Once TGS implements a registration and attendance tracking system for other professional development offerings (Objective 1.2, Strategy A), other documentation options may become available. The launch of Duke OPTIONS, an online professional development planning tool for doctoral students, scheduled to pilot in fall 2017, should align with any new documentation efforts for professional development.

F. Expand professional development offerings to cover more core skills.

G. Continue to collaborate with other Duke schools to determine their graduate students’ specific professional development needs.

Key Performance Indicators

A. Implementation of a registration and attendance tracking system for professional development participation

B. List of competencies for graduate students related to teaching and teaching-assistant roles

C. Development of student learning outcomes and assessment plan for CCT, PFF, RCR, and ELI

D. Assessment of master’s program students, DGSs, and DGSAs to better understand professional development needs, preferred sources of professional development offerings, career goals, and time constraints

E. Benchmarking survey of peer institutions’ practices for documenting professional development participation


The growth in the master’s population and the changing landscape of employment options for master’s- and Ph.D.-qualified professionals have also driven the need for changes to support students’ academic success. Students may need support in multiple facets of academic writing, such as overcoming writing roadblocks, forming dissertation support groups, and practicing scholarly integrity.

TGS has already begun to address this issue by developing an elective course that debuted in fall 2016 to help students in the natural sciences with dissertation writing, as well as a spring 2017 course to help students in the humanities and social sciences develop their grant-writing skills. It will be important to build upon such resources, as well as efforts by other Duke schools, as TGS works to be a leader on campus and among its peers in providing the support to enable all graduate students to succeed in their academic goals.


A. Provide anti-plagiarism software and the necessary training for faculty advisers. In 2015–2016, TGS researched, recommended, and received approval for anti-plagiarism software for all faculty at Duke. This resource is intended to help faculty advisers and their students identify potential plagiarism problems before a dissertation/thesis is submitted to TGS. This is not intended to be punitive, but rather as a resource to help faculty and students avoid punitive measures that would be necessary if plagiarism is found after submission. The system is being rolled out in 2017-2018.

B. Explore and identify feasible mechanisms to support students in all stages of graduate research and writing (e.g., partnership with the Thompson Writing Program and other Duke entities, dissertation writing workshops, writing advisers, ultimately a graduate writing center). Currently there are no resources at Duke to help graduate students with dissertation/thesis writing.

C. Explore opportunities to collaborate with and contribute to campus services and resources that serve students of The Graduate School, such as DukeReach and the Thompson Writing Program.

D. Partner with campus units that serve graduate students to track usage of their services by TGS students.

Key Performance Indicators

A. Implementation of anti-plagiarism software and development of training for faculty

B. Extension of partnership with the Thompson Writing Studio to provide support for domestic as well as international graduate students in writing projects

C. Exploration of additional forms of research and writing support through partnerships with campus units such as the Libraries, the Thompson Writing Program, and The Center for Philosophy, Arts and Literature

D. TGS collaborations with and contributions to campus services and resources that support TGS students

E. Data on TGS student usage of campus services and resources


Research and the Graduate School staff’s experiences have shown that students’ success in meeting their academic goals is often directly affected by the quality of their overall experience at the university. The students’ quality of life while at Duke can also affect their success after they graduate and move into careers and leadership roles in academia, industry, and public service. The quality of students’ experiences also greatly influence their attitudes and loyalties toward Duke, as well as the university’s ability to attract future students of the same high quality.

Therefore, TGS has been strongly committed to enhancing support for the wellbeing of the whole student—social, emotional, mental, physical—so as to remove barriers to success. The university has a number of services and resources that address student wellbeing, such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), DukeReach, the Women’s Center, and the Student Wellness Center. The Graduate School’s role is primarily one of coordination. TGS staff work independently with students and, depending on each student’s situation and needs, coordinate the appropriate support from university services, off-campus resources, and various TGS departments.

TGS and other support services on campus have witnessed a steady increase in demand for wellness support. In 2016, TGS’s Office of Graduate Student Affairs handled 39 student cases, most of which were related to some aspect of student wellbeing. While this constitutes only about 1 percent of the TGS student body, it is part of a trend that has seen GSA’s caseload increase by approximately 50 percent over the past decade. Over roughly the same time period, CAPS also reported a steady increase in graduate/professional students using its services, rising by an average of 5 percent per year. CAPS has also reported a significant increase in the number of clients who are international students, a rapidly growing part of TGS’s student body.


A. Work with university support services to assess the campus’s climate of wellbeing for graduate students and students’ awareness and usage of resources that support their wellbeing

B. Increase graduate students’ awareness and usage of on-campus resources as needed

C. Continue to develop partnerships and programming that address student-wellbeing challenges, such as a Responsible Conduct of  Research seminar, in collaboration with university services such as DukeReach, Counseling and Psychological Services, The Student Wellness Center, Student Health Services, the Women’s Center, and the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity

D. Continue to track and analyze student cases that involve some aspect of students’ wellbeing

Key Performance Indicators

A. Implementation of assessments such as surveys and small focus groups to measure students’ wellbeing and their awareness and usage of on-campus resources

B. Communication and outreach efforts to increase student awareness and usage of campus resources, guided by results from the assessments

C. Number and effectiveness of partnerships and programming developed in collaboration with campus services, such as the creation of a Responsible Conduct of Research seminar addressing wellbeing challenges

D. Analyses of tracked student cases and prescribed actions based on those analyses (e.g., identifying a common issue and developing support to address that issue)


The English for International Students (EIS) program provides English-language instruction and support to international graduate students at Duke. In response to an external review, which identified both strengths and areas in need of improvement, EIS initiated a comprehensive restructuring process that focused on four main areas: curriculum, staffing, outreach, and enrollment management. Following the hire of a new assistant dean/director and program coordinator in 2015, efforts are underway to improve practices and procedures, with the overarching goals being to increase the quality and visibility of the program. As part of this process, EIS has conducted needs assessments with Duke faculty, administrators, and students and has begun the transition to a discipline-specific curriculum.


A. Identify the linguistic needs of international graduate students on campus and subsequently refine/expand the program’s course offerings and services to meet these needs.

B. Increase the number of full-time faculty and staff with advanced degrees in TESOL and/or applied linguistics.

C. Strengthen the visibility of the program through participation in meetings, collaborations with campus partners, and a heightened web/social media presence in order to educate students, faculty, and staff about the value of EIS programs.

D. Develop a more efficient student database and ensure that students placing into EIS courses take them within the required timeline.

Key Performance Indicators

A. Data from conversations with DGSs/DGSAs and a survey-based needs analysis, make specific changes to current courses, and create new courses and services

B. Hiring of new full-time faculty and staff with appropriate degrees

C. Participation in meetings on campus, develop and implement new initiatives in collaboration with campus partners, make updates to the EIS website, and create an EIS Facebook page and listserv

D. Development of a new database and collection of statistics on students completing courses within specific time periods


In its news academic strategic plan, the university noted that Duke must enhance advising and career services to help students make more informed employment decisions. It also emphasized the need to make sure graduate students benefit from such enhanced services, and TGS will need to play an active role in helping Duke accomplish these goals.


A. Assess students’ career-search needs and how well they are being met by current resources, such as the Duke Career Center, The Graduate School, and individual departments.

B. Ensure that prospective students receive information on the career outcomes of their programs’ graduates so that their career expectations are aligned with the training they will receive.

Key Performance Indicators

A. Data on student satisfaction with the career advising they receive at Duke

B. Inclusion of career outcomes information in recruitment materials, such as on departmental websites


Introduction      Strategic Goal 2 →