Take Their Word for It: Writing for the Alumni Profiles Series

 February 15, 2017



Ever wish that you could discuss your career options with someone who has been in your shoes—someone who has experienced the joys and challenges of graduate school at Duke? Perhaps you wish you could talk with someone who has pursued a career path outside academia. Or, maybe you’re interested in boosting your online visibility and gaining experience writing for a broad audience. In each case, writing a post for the Alumni Profiles series on the Professional Development Blog can help you accomplish your goal!

Since 2014, Duke graduate students have benefitted from meeting, interviewing, and writing about alumni for the series, which is featured on The Graduate School’s website. Every post is created by a student who has interviewed an alum in real time (i.e. in person, on the phone, or online). So far, twenty-five interviews have been published. Last year alone, the series featured nine gradate alumni who are excelling in careers ranging from finance and consulting to science writing and public policy. These alumni come from fields in humanities, social sciences, and STEM, and they represent only a small fraction of Duke graduate alumni success stories. Since hundreds of Ph.D. and master’s students graduate per year (529 graduated during 2015-2016!), there are literally thousands of people who make up The Graduate School’s alumni network. When it comes to career options and professional advice, it’s very likely that you can find at least one Duke alum who can answer your questions.

But don’t take my word for it. Recent blog authors have also noted the benefits of gaining career advice from alumni. Kathleen Hershberger, Ph.D. candidate in Pharmacology, wrote a profile of Duke alumna Erin Hopper in 2015. When asked about her experience, Kathleen said:



“Writing a post for the Alumni Profiles series was a great experience for me. It was a structured opportunity to conduct an informational interview…the person I talked to took a non-traditional career path in science that I was interested in learning more about. I now feel more comfortable networking with professionals since I had the opportunity to practice my informational interview skills.”

Two former Graduate School administrative interns, Steffen Kaupp and Mark Dudley, also recognized value in making connections with alumni through informational interviewing. Both 2016 graduates, Dr. Kaupp and Dr. Dudley’s professional lives include a number of administrative responsibilities within academia. Dr. Kaupp now works in the Department of German at Notre Dame as Visiting Assistant Professional Specialist and the Resident Director of the Berlin Program. Dr. Dudley is an admissions officer at Duke. Here’s what they had to say:



“Writing the profile introduced me to a very concrete career trajectory of someone with a humanities PhD. As someone who has always been open to both faculty careers and careers in higher education administration, I often found myself frustrated that I had many examples and role models for the faculty career path (namely my professors). Finding such role models for administrative careers was harder—I just was not sure what such a career could look like. Talking to an alumna [Abbie Langston] who herself chose a non-faculty career was very helpful in getting a more concrete sense of a possible career trajectory. That is, only by talking to and interacting with people who chose different careers is it possible to make more informed decisions about one’s own professional future.” – Steffen Kaupp, Ph.D.



“Contributing to The Graduate School's alumni blog provided the opportunity to engage with people who have walked in our shoes: those who have experienced the same struggles and uncertainties, the same accomplishments and triumphs. When we began our graduate school careers, there was no way of knowing where this road would take us. Seeing the versatility of our courses of study in action - both within and beyond the academy - gave an invaluable and tangible perspective that helped shape our own journeys.”—Mark Dudley, Ph.D.

While meeting and networking with alumni is perhaps the most obvious perk of writing an alumni profile, both Kathleen and Steffen also noted the benefits of practicing a different genre of writing.

“I enjoyed writing in a "blog" format as I learned to take advantage of an interactive post (i.e. clicking on links) and writing for a broad audience.”—Kathleen Hershberger

“For the most part, my writing has been academic, aimed at a specialist German Studies audience. Writing an alumni series profile for the Professional Development blog required me to venture into a style of writing that speaks more to a general audience. This exercise was not easy, and I found myself reverting to academic jargon all too easily. But in the end, writing this profile made me a better writer who is more aware of his target audience.” —Steffen Kaupp, Ph.D.

So, take their word for it. As Dr. Kaupp advises, “Start talking to alumni now, and talk to them often.”


The Graduate School's Professional Development Blog features profiles of Duke graduate alumni who have followed interesting paths with their graduate degrees. We're looking for students interested in contributing alumni profiles to our blog. Deadlines are flexible and can be tailored to fit your schedule, and we can help you identify alumni of interest using the Duke Alumni Network. We provide a list of questions to start the conversation and editing support to ensure that the resulting post represents you well. Contact the blog editors at to learn more, or to pitch another idea for a post about professional development.


Christina C. Davidson

Ph.D. candidate, History

Christina C. Davidson is a Ph.D. candidate in history and the 2016-2017 administrative intern for Graduate Student Affairs. Her research focuses on Protestantism in the Spanish Caribbean.