Teaming Up Toward a Common Goal

 August 10, 2016

When I learned I was selected for the 2016 Emerging Leaders Institute, I was excited at the prospect of participating in a formalized leadership and professional development program that would allow me to develop rich relationships with graduate and postdoctoral scholars across Duke.

Tasked with identifying and proposing a solution to better the Duke experience for the graduate and postdoctoral community, I teamed with a postdoctoral scholar from electrical and computer engineering, a doctoral student from statistical science, and a master’s student from global health. After interviewing stakeholders across the Duke community and comparing our own experiences, we realized that many students were not hearing about campus events that may be of interest to them, specifically those outside their department. We quickly focused on identifying how the student/scholar community learned about events both within and outside their respective departments. Given Duke’s emphasis on interdisciplinarity, we thought access to events beyond home departments would enhance the spirit of cooperation and broaden educational opportunity for this community.

We first administered a survey to determine the ways graduate, professional, and postdoctoral scholars became aware of events across campus. Surveys were created with Google Forms and we asked several questions including the frequency with which respondents attended events in their home departments versus outside their home departments, their preference for receiving event information, and how they found on-campus events. Survey data from 69 respondents (35 PhD students, 24 MS students, and 10 postdoctoral scholars) revealed that approximately 70% of respondents preferred receiving event information via email. They use multiple resources to receive event information including their home department, the graduate and professional student council (GPSC), Duke Events, and professional development mailing lists.


GradPostings mockup screenshot

Given that the data suggested a fractionation in how graduate, professional, and postdoctoral scholars receive event information, we came up with an idea of creating a one-stop aggregated web portal linking group/club email lists as well as associated social-media accounts. In our vision, the platform would be easily shareable with friends and colleagues and would allow the addition of events. We called this platform GradPostings, and while we did not officially create the platform, we created a mockup, pictured here. In our plan, GradPostings would incorporate the streams by which the community learns about events and allow for one place where individuals can learn about, share, and discover events that suit their interests.

This was an invaluable experience for me in terms of working on a team to achieve a common objective. Additionally, it provided me opportunities to practice working with team members from a diverse set of experiences and goals. This was not without challenges, however, as there were constantly differences in opinions with respect to the proposed solution, the plan to help answer our identified problem, and at times extended to more administrative matters including meeting times and directions for the meeting. And although there were differences in opinion, each point of disagreement was welcomed and ironed out amicably with each member expressing his/her reasons for disagreement. For example, when a disagreement over what kind of platform should be created to display events, each party presented their point of view to the group; it became apparent that the proposed platforms would take different amounts of time to complete, so after a discussion on feasible timeline goals, a website was chosen as the most efficient solution. By working through our differences in a constructive and respectful manner, we were able to improve our communication skills and reach our project goal.

ELI provided multiple strength and personality assessments as well as individual coaching sessions that improved my understanding of my own work style and my ability to interact more effectively with colleagues. I was able to apply this knowledge throughout the group project and continue to use these skills in professional environments. Ultimately, this experience has deepened my understanding of where I need to improve in terms of my interpersonal and management practices and what strengths I can draw from when working in future team-oriented environments.

The other members of this ELI team:

Christine Chai, Ph.D. student, Statistical Science
Brittney Wittenbrink, recent M.Sc., Global Health

Tomas Zvolensky, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Associate, Electrical and Computer Engineering


Vijeth Iyengar
Vijeth Iyengar, Ph.D.

Recent graduate

Vijeth Iyengar is an incoming Presidential Management Fellow (PMF-STEM) in the Administration for Community Living in the Department of Health & Human Services. He received his BS from Tulane University in 2009 and his MA and PhD in Psychology and Neuroscience from Duke University in 2013 and 2016 respectively.