Practical Tips for Building Diversity into Professional Development

 July 1, 2020

French Family Sciences Atrium

While serving on the Biology Graduate Student IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism) committee, we and our colleagues have been working for several years to develop and implement training workshops for our community that build DEI literacy and foster practical skills in reducing bias and increasing cultural competency. Because most key aspects of professional development for grad students and faculty hinge upon interpersonal interactions, we see professional development and DEI issues as inextricably intertwined.

We encourage other academic programs and departments, both within and beyond Duke, to adopt a similar perspective. If you’re looking to bring a DEI focus to professional development trainings in your own field, here are a few suggestions from our own experiences.

Incentivize participation in DEI trainings. When relevant, we register our events with The Graduate School’s Responsible Conduct of Research program. We also always set aside a small portion of our budget for snacks; a few cookies or doughnuts and some coffee go a long way! (Editor's note: all Biology DEI events discussed were offered pre-pandemic.)

Identify and leverage existing resources. We have made an effort to learn about the resources that already exist on Duke’s campus as well as contacting experts, leveraging those relationships to develop relevant programming for our departmental community. Some campus partners we have worked with already include the IDEALS office, the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and International House.

Emphasize tangible tools and strategies. A major component of training people to be more sensitive to, supportive of, and inclusive of diversity is cultivating awareness of the many axes of diversity, of barriers to inclusion, and of bottlenecks where biases yield the greatest negative effects, etc. However, the most common feedback we receive is to provide more tangible tools and strategies that people can operationalize in their professional and personal endeavors. This can be challenging, as it involves adapting more general lessons and approaches to your specific discipline, but will help trainees get the most impact out of your programming.

Make DEI-focused approaches mainstream. Having special, DEI-focused trainings is great, but finding ways to make equity and inclusion a baseline part of all academic and professional endeavors is even better.

Remember that this is an ongoing, iterative process. There are no quick fixes, and not every workshop or training you plan will have a huge impact, or be received in the way you hoped. However, by providing recurring programs with this in mind, you’ll help to destigmatize discussions about DEI, encourage feedback from participants, and continue to tailor your programming to your community’s unique needs.

With these tips in mind, we’re sure that many departments across Duke can bring a DEI focus to professional development trainings and help make DEI-focused approaches mainstream throughout Duke. You can check out our website for more specific information about workshops and trainings we’ve facilitated in the biology department, and explore general resources we’ve compiled. We wish you luck and many productive conversations!

Interested in learning more about the programming that Biology has sponsored? Read about their 2019 DEI programming.


Image of Lauren Carley
Lauren Carley

Ph.D. candidate, Ecology

Lauren Carley is a Ph.D. candidate in the Duke University Program in Ecology. She studies how ecological interactions influence the evolution of biodiversity: specifically, diverse plant traits and the genes that underlie them. In addition, she also spends a fair amount of time thinking about human diversity within science (and beyond), and how we can work to promote, maintain, and increase it.


Karla Sosa (photo credit: Mark Thiessen, National Geographic)
Karla Sosa

Ph.D. candidate, Biology

Karla Sosa is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biology Department. She is interested in how plants spread across large areas on the scale of continents: are there certain characteristics that make it easier for them to move into new places? She also likes to classify things, so much of her work is centered on organismal taxonomy. As a third-culture kid, she thinks a lot about how culture influences our values and how we can take advantage of them to create equitable and inclusive communities.


Brandie Quarles
Brandie Quarles

Ph.D. candidate, Biology

Brandie Quarles is a Ph.D candidate in the Biology Department. She is broadly interested in how stressful and/or variable environments influence plant physiology, phenology, survival, and reproduction. At Duke she is investigating how plants can respond to climate change and habitat fragmentation by dispersing spatially and/or by controlling the timing of developmental events. As a woman of color, she also engages with the community often to increase STEM exposure, recruitment, and retention among underrepresented groups.