Growing Your Professional Development Possibilities: Eight Tips for a Stronger Professional Development Grant Proposal

 July 25, 2023

Since 2015, The Graduate School has funded 70 awards to 42 departments and programs through the Professional Development Grant.  These awards fund discipline-specific professional development programming and activities at the department and program level—up to $2,000.

Writing a proposal for the Professional Development Grant will build your skills in persuasive writing and give you experience pulling together the pieces of a small-scale grant. You’ll likely get the chance to demonstrate collaboration skills by drawing on the expertise and ideas of colleagues and departmental administrators in crafting the proposal. And, if you’re awarded a grant, you’ll also gain experience in budget management, project management, and reporting—skills that are highly valued in many professional contexts. In other words, by crafting a proposal to enhance the professional development of your colleagues, you’ll also grow your own professional skills.

 If you’ve got an idea that would benefit you and your colleagues, here are some strategies to help you join the ranks of successfully funded proposers in time for the October 15 deadline:

1. Do your research. As an expert researcher, you’ve got this. Read the guidelines (PDF) carefully, then look at past awardees. You can even read about activities funded by past awards on the professional development blog.

2. Mind the gap. Since Duke offers so many resources, how does your proposal identify a gap that is currently not addressed for students in your department or program? Since The Graduate School funds these grants, it’s especially important to research the resources the school already provides.

3. Seek feedback. Share your proposal idea with your DGS and DGSA to seek their support and feedback. The evaluation committee will be looking closely to ensure that proposals include input and ideas from students as well as faculty and staff.

4. Nail down the numbers. You’ll also need to identify your department business manager and an appropriate fund code where the award could be transferred, if successful, in order to submit the proposal. Allow several days before the proposal deadline to locate this information.

5. Contact the program officer. If you were submitting a proposal to a funding agency, you’d make an appointment to share your idea with the program officer well before the submission deadline. You can follow that protocol for this grant, too. Attend a virtual office hours session during the fall or request an appointment.

6. Marshal your data. You’ll need to convince an evaluation committee that your proposal meets a demonstrated need. Since those committee members come from the Duke graduate community, they’ll want to see evidence of the need you’re claiming. You can draw on peer-reviewed research, surveys or focus groups, or internal institutional research. Consider, too, using career outcomes data for your program (The Graduate School publishes data for both master’s and Ph.D. alumni).

7. Show us (how you’ll spend) the money. Make sure you’ve included a detailed budget proposal, and identify any other sources of funding that might help you meet your goal—especially if you already have commitments lined up.

8. Consider your audience. The evaluation committee will include Graduate School deans, faculty, students and representatives from partnering units. Professional development activities might look very different for students in the Master of Arts in Teaching program than they do for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics Ph.D. students. Make sure that you explain how the activities or programs you propose connect to the needs that you and your colleagues share in a way that’s accessible to committee members from across the campus. You can also make it easy for your readers to find the information they're seeking by using headings for each section that reflect the proposal guidelines.


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 success in graduate school and for the full range of career opportunities open to master's- and Ph.D.-prepared professionals. She is Managing Editor of the blog and directs the Professional Development Grant.