8 Ways to Grow Your Community of Mentors with Alumni

 March 30, 2022

When you think about mentoring relationships, you might first think of faculty who serve as advisors and supervisors of research and scholarship, but you can grow your community of mentors much more broadly. Perhaps as you expand your definition of mentoring you include postdocs and more senior graduate students in your program, and as you envision the concentric circles of support that can surround you as a student, you can begin to envision alumni in the constellation. Alumni have often walked the path you’re on now, and they may have perspectives that can smooth your own journey. They have faced similar questions—questions such as “Should I try to publish another paper or seek an internship instead? How can a humanist convey their value beyond the ivory tower? Do I really need a postdoc to find a job in industry?”

While graduate school can make you think of faculty and journal articles as primary sources for your scholarship, when it comes to career exploration, conversations with professionals in a field of interest are much better sources of information. Duke alumni are often an untapped resource for graduate students—yet many of them are eager to reconnect with the Duke community and support you. Here are eight ways you can begin connecting with alumni.

Students and alumni in conversation

1. Take advantage of the Duke Alumni Network.

Did you know you can use the Duke Alumni Network while you’re still a student? You can view individual profiles and message alumni. (Pro tip: An alum's last login date can indicate that their profile and contact information are up to date.) Even better, you can connect with alumni groups and take advantage of events. You can connect with alums in a particular industry, prepare for a move to a specific region after graduation, or find community with an affinity group like the Duke Women’s Forum, Duke Black Alumni, or the Duke LGBTQ+ Network. Set up your student profile now to harness the possibilities.

2. Get your questions answered with Ask a Blue Devil.

Maybe you are ready to start connecting with just one alum. Ask A Blue Devil is a perfect way to begin a conversation by posing a question about your academic or professional development. Graduate School alumna Sarah Curzi, A.M.’17, Ph.D.’20 (Music), recently used the tool and shared this feedback: "What an amazing experience. The alumnus I spoke with was gracious, generous, and connected me with other successful people in his network. He also gave me specific tips for networking. Ask a Blue Devil is a particularly valuable resource for Duke alumni." She rated it 10 out of 10. You can get started today, and it’s as easy as asking a question.

3. Use LinkedIn’s alumni feature.

You probably know that LinkedIn is the world’s largest online professional network, but did you know that LinkedIn makes it easy to connect with alumni? You can visit LinkedIn's Duke alumni page, where you can filter alumni by their employers, geographic region, and current professional role. Best of all, you can see full profile information for these alums without hitting a paywall or a request that you buy a premium subscription. Bonus: if you join the Duke University Alumni Network group, you can message Duke alums also in that group without using InMail. Learn more about using LinkedIn alongside the Alumni Network from this Duke Career Center video.

4. Get connected with campus-wide alumni events.

Have you been so busy this spring that you’ve missed the chance to meet alumni in a small-group dinner format through Karsh Conversations? Fear not! They will return in fall semester for even more chances to connect with amazing Duke alumni. Until then, you can find upcoming events—both virtual and in-person—through Duke Alumni Engagement and Development, and even join regional alumni group events when they are open to students.

5. Interview a Graduate School alum for the Alumni Profiles series.

Every one of the 150+ interviews published in the Alumni Profiles series was conducted by a graduate student. Have you found value in reading these profiles to see what you can be with a Duke graduate degree? Imagine how much more you could gain from holding one of these conversations yourself! Learn how to get started on a timeline that works for your busy schedule.

students and alumni in conversation

6. Bring alumni to campus for your student group’s events.

GPSG recognizes the value of connecting with alumni—that’s why they offer special funding for GPSG-affiliated student groups to bring alumni back to Durham. The Alumni Engagement Fund offers some assistance to defray travel costs (up to $300 per alum, $600 total) and food expenses (up to $100). Applications for funding now open! Be sure to apply at least three weeks in advance of your event.

7. Apply for a Professional Development Grant.

Would an event or series featuring your department’s alums benefit you and your colleagues? Consider working with your faculty and administrators to apply for a Professional Development Grant from The Graduate School, which provides up to $2,000 for discipline-specific programming. Proposals are due October 15 each year. You can find inspiration from past awardees.

8. Find even more ways to engage with alumni.

Keep reading The Graduate School’s weekly professional development newsletter to find even more opportunities to engage with alums, including series such as Senior Leadership Insights, recurring events such as the Journey After Duke panel discussion and networking session that occur each semester, as well as offerings from campus partners. The newsletter arrives in your inbox Thursday mornings.


Melissa Bostrom, Ph.D.
Melissa Bostrom, Ph.D.

Assistant Dean, Graduate Student Professional Development

Melissa ensures that all Graduate School students can identify and develop transferable skills to prepare them for the full range of career opportunities open to master's- and Ph.D.-prepared professionals. She is Managing Editor of the blog.