Connecting Trainees from Diverse Programs at Duke
The chosen challenge
Through Duke University’s Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI), interdisciplinary teams of participants were tasked with developing a project aimed at improving the campus environment for graduate students and postdocs. After surveying individuals across numerous departments, we determined that there is a need for more opportunities to network among trainees (graduate students and postdocs). While Duke hosts plenty of events where trainees can meet one another, the sheer number of events can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. In order to address this issue, our team decided to create a platform through which trainees can make connections with others interested in the same events.
The journey toward a solution
Our primary goal was the creation of a simple, low-maintenance channel to promote interdepartmental interaction at university events. We asked the survey participants about their preferred methods of connection, with options for a private Facebook group, Twitter, LinkedIn or a website with the option to RSVP to events so that they can view the attendance list. Almost half of the respondents preferred a website, and there was no significant preference among the other three options. To best address the interests of trainees, we chose to create the Twitter hashtag #dukeeventbuddy to facilitate the forming of connections. The Twitter hashtag can easily be adopted not only by attendees, but also by the event organizers, and it seemed like a natural choice given that many departments, programs and centers already regularly feature their events on Twitter. The survey also revealed that trainees are particularly interested in meeting one another at social events, so we have also designed a website to help identify connection opportunities. The website contains a comprehensive list of calendars and listservs at Duke and allows trainees to select (and potentially subscribe to) the ones they are most interested in.
Since we decided that a website would be most helpful for trainees to start getting connected, we designed a tool that introduces our Twitter hashtag and provides resources for trainees to find events on campus.
The main section of the website demonstrates how to use the Twitter hashtag:
- Log in to your Twitter account.
- Use the hashtag #dukeeventbuddy to share the event you’d like to attend.
- Follow #dukeeventbuddy and check who else wants to go to the same event you posted, as well as others who are looking for a buddy.
- Connect with your Duke event buddy by sending a message to their Duke email. For security reasons, you’d want to make sure the buddy is actually from Duke.
- Attend the event together. Yay - you made a new connection!
Following these easy-to-use instructions, Duke trainees can post the events they would like to go to, find people to attend events together with them, and form a connection.
On the “Find events” page, trainees can find the departmental events categorized by schools and departments. For example, if they are interested in events at Fuqua School of Business, they can click on that sub-link and explore the events there. This page in particular offers trainees a one-stop location to find a rather comprehensive list of events on campus.
What comes next?
The website has been live since May, and we have presented our ideas to representatives of the Duke Graduate School and the Office of Information Technology, as well as other campus offices. Their valuable feedback encouraged us to consider some additional adjustments we were planning on making to the website and #dukeeventbuddy. To keep the Duke community safe, we included a tip-sheet with advice how to best engage with other people indicating interest in attending an event using #dukeeventbuddy. We encourage trainees to contact those individuals by sending an email to their Duke address, instead of sending a direct Twitter message. That way, you can confirm that these individuals are part of the Duke network, and the people should be easy to find based on their full name provided in their Twitter profile.
We hope that the idea will be picked up by student government at Duke University such as the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) and they can incorporate RSVP options under the Duke Event calendars. That would facilitate safe and Duke-specific communications between trainees.
Moving forward, we will share our products with various interdepartmental groups at Duke University to encourage the use and promotion of #dukeeventbuddy when promoting their events online.
A learning experience
We joined efforts in tackling this challenge despite our differing backgrounds and experiences at Duke. By synthesizing the theories and tools from the ELI training sessions we were able to form an effective team. Below are the reflections of the team members on the project.
"The biggest learning experience during the ELI team project was how to adapt and communicate effectively with team members you have never met before, identifying the need for a product you have never thought about before, and lastly creating a product with technology you have possibly never used before—all while staying open towards your peers, different leadership styles, group dynamics and conflicting schedules."
– Anna Tupetz
"I have learned the importance of narrowing down ideas to account for time and other constraints. It was also evident that flexibility is necessary, as the project frequently needs to be adapted to changing circumstances."
– Hanna Varga
"The ELI team project is very coherent with what we learned in the workshop sessions, since each of us identified our strengths through assessments and discussions and we were able to apply our strengths to the teamwork context to make our work as efficient as possible. I also really appreciate the fact that we are all deeply motivated to participate in the project. A shared mission and motivation are key elements of teamwork."
– Miko Liu
"Through working on the ELI project, I gained better awareness of interdisciplinary teamwork. I learned that good organization and management are critical to completing tasks when working in teams; everyone must contribute their part in order to deliver results. Careful planning and regular meetings enabled the success of our project, and our group had excellent teamwork."
– Joseph Frank
Ph.D. student, Developmental and Stem Cell Biology
Joseph Frank obtained a B.S. from Creighton University in 2021, where he developed a passion for regenerative biology. His research focused on identifying small molecules that can convert non-sensory cells to cochlear hair cells in an effort to restore hearing in adult mammals. Joseph arrived in Durham in the fall of 2021 and is currently a 2nd-year Ph.D. student in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology program, aiming to explore regeneration in various tissues. Outside of science, Joseph is a percussionist in Duke University Wind Symphony, enjoys outdoor activities, and takes care of his pet parrots.
Miko (Mengyi) Liu
Ph.D. student, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
Miko Liu is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (CBB) program under the School of Medicine. She works in Dr. Simon Gregory’s lab, where her research focus is to develop computational tools to analyze gene expression data to understand the microenvironments of brain tumor and other diseases. She received her B.S. in Bioinformatics from UC San Diego in 2019. In her free time, she enjoys dancing and playing musical instruments. After graduating from Duke, she aspires to apply her science background and leadership skills to work in a biotech consulting firm.
Anna Tupetz, P.T., D.P.T., M.Sc.
Postdoctoral associate, Emergency Medicine and the Duke Global Emergency Medicine Innovation and Implementation (GEMINI) Research Center
Dr. Anna Tupetz is a postdoctoral associate within the Division of Emergency Medicine and the Duke Global Emergency Medicine Innovation and Implementation (GEMINI) Research Center. Anna completed her Physical Therapy degree in the Netherlands and obtained her M.Sc. in Global Health at Duke Global Health Institute. Her research focuses on the challenges and factors impacting access to quality care from the patient as well as provider side, with special attention on mixed methods and implementation science designs. She also works clinically as an acute care Physical Therapist. During her free time, she enjoys the outdoors, hiking, cycling, and camping.
Ph.D. candidate, Environmental Engineering
Hanna Varga is a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Mark Wiesner’s lab. She studies the impact of dust on solar panel soiling and works toward building a model to predict soiling losses from environmental parameters. In her free time, she enjoys drawing, learning languages, climbing, and getting lost in the wilderness. Check out her artworks on Instagram @trail.of.breadcrumbs.