Reflect, Plan, Ask, Watch, and Create: Five Ways to Integrate Professional Development into Your Winter Break

 December 6, 2023

After another semester of rigorous classes and research, you deserve the chance to recharge over the winter break! Enjoy homecooked food, binge your favorite shows, and spend time with family and friends to bring your wellness back into balance.

You can also use the downtime strategically by investing in small steps that will advance your professional development over the coming spring semester. Many students experience anxiety and stress over the career exploration and job search processes, but taking even small steps toward your goals during this break period can help you regain a sense of agency and control. These small steps can help you start 2024 on an excellent footing to achieve your long-term goals—and build the year ahead on a foundation of wellness.

Reflect on what’s most important to you.

This time can be a natural moment to reflect on the year behind you and consider how you want to shape the year ahead. The process of defining what’s most important to you is part of articulating your values, and it’s actually a critical part of your career exploration process—your values help you identify what will make a job satisfying. My favorite values assessment is part of ImaginePhD, a free online tool for graduate students, because it’s relevant to students at any stage or discipline. (Other assessments and information are tailored to Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences, though STEM and master’s students are welcome to explore those resources.) If you’re looking for even more in-depth options, you can also use the free online Life Values Inventory or find resources from Duke Career Center.

Bingewatch career stories.

If you’re in the mood to drink hot chocolate from a comfy spot, why not cozy up with some videos from professionals working in careers of interest? Master’s students, you can find examples in the career video library for Beyond Graduate School, while Ph.D. students will find information tailored for them in Beyond the Professoriate. Or, if you prefer reading narratives instead, catch up on the success stories in Duke’s own Alumni Profiles Series and check out the real-life examples in VersatilePhD’s Career Finder tool.

Ask a question to grow your Blue Devil connections.

West campus in snow seen from beneath an arch

Did you know that you can start a conversation with a Duke alum just by asking a question? That’s the power of Ask a Blue Devil! You pose a question about your career and professional development, and the tool uses AI to match you with an alum who can help answer it. Some alums will even offer to follow up with a conversation. You’ve heard the advice to start building your network—this is a fantastically simple way to start. When you’re ready, read up on more ways to connect with Duke alumni.

Plan for teaching in the spring, and beyond.

Duke’s migration from Sakai to Canvas is upon us, so you can use part of the break to play around in the new campus learning management system. If you’re an instructor of record who’s planning your syllabus, my colleague Assistant Dean Hugh Crumley recommends asking ChatGPT to help you start the brainstorming process; with that structure in place, you can make edits and corrections that make the course your own. If you’re preparing for faculty position interviews, this strategy can help you begin generating syllabi that could be relevant (and enticing) for other institutions.

Get creative.

Artistic activities can help you use different parts of your brain from your academic work, allow you a meditative practice, and even process your emotions. During the academic year, you can find resources to express your artistic sensibility through campus workshops. Whether you’re shooting photographs of wintry scenes, practicing a new language during travel, or learning the guitar from YouTube instructional videos, you’re building your creativity—which, it turns out, was identified as the most important leadership quality for CEOs in a recent survey. So, even though you may think about these creative activities as ways to unwind and relax, you’re also building important and marketable professional skills.

No matter how you choose to invest your time this break, I wish you all health and happiness for the holiday season, and a wonderful year to come.


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.