Thriving in Academia: For Those Who Want to Get Ahead, There’s NCFDD

 April 19, 2017



Many Duke Ph.D. students aspire to a faculty position, and their focus during their graduate programs is often, understandably, on successfully competing for faculty jobs. As we know, though, simply securing a position is not the final career goal of a faculty member. What resources are available at Duke to support PhD students who want to thrive in academia?

Beyond the in-person panel discussions and workshops available through the biannual Academic Job Search Series (which will next be featured during 2017-18), Duke has recently become an institutional member of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD), enabling Duke graduate students to access hundreds of online webinars, multi-week courses, blogs, and other material.

If you don’t know what the NCFDD is, you should check it out—yesterday! According to the NCFDD’s “about” page, the organization is an “independent professional development, training, and mentoring community for graduate students, post-docs, and faculty members… 100% dedicated to supporting academics in making successful transitions throughout their careers.” I would describe the NCFDD this way: it is all the professional academic advice you ever wished you had at the click of a button. I do not give such glowing reviews often, and I’ll temper my otherwise enthusiastic endorsement with some critique at the end of this post, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages in my estimate.

I activated my Duke NCFDD subscription about a month ago and have since attended two live webinars. I have also watched one archived video webinar and have read the Weekly Motivator email avidly. The advice I have received has not only been practical, but it has also called me to action. Here are the top three ways that I have benefitted from NCFDD over the last month.

My perspective on academic writing has changed.

In the recent NCFDD webinar “How to Develop a Daily Writing Practice,” I learned that the most productive professors write for at least 30 minutes daily. They track their writing and find ways to hold themselves accountable. NCFDD provides advice on how to develop and/or strengthen these healthy professional habits. For me, understanding this fact has caused me to adjust my schedule gradually over the last two weeks (since filing my dissertation—yay!) so that I have time to write daily—even if that means waking up at 5:00 AM! I’ve signed up for the latest “14 Day Writing Challenge” so that I can continue to build this habit.

Forming a daily writing practice is not just for those of us who have completed the dissertation. The NCFDD offers other dissertation success resources for graduate students—but the method for increasing writing productivity is the same!

I have developed a new way of tracking my professional goals and writing projects.

About a week ago, I watched the NCFDD webinar “Building a Publication Pipeline.” The webinar was taught by Dr. Erin Marie Furtak, who has written about her publication pipeline in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I loved everything about the pipeline method, which helps you keep track of multiple project as they move through various phases of your workflow. After the webinar, I took time to adapted Dr. Furtak’s method to work for me. For example, I developed my own list of phases based on my workflow. Also, Dr. Furtak’s version of a publication pipeline is handwritten, and I wanted a digital option. After speaking with a friend, I settled on the project management platform Asana, which fully satisfies my type-A personality. I now feel more empowered to move my publication projects along from point A (newly conceived idea) to point Z (publication).

Like daily writing, the pipeline method is useful for people at all stages of the academic career. Although I didn’t make use of this method for my dissertation writing, it is an excellent way to track various chapters at different stages of analysis or drafting. Furthermore, graduate students are often working on multiple distinct projects during their final years of graduate school. The pipeline process could help you track and balance your time spent on the dissertation and other publications.

I have a better sense of the habits that I need to continue to develop to thrive in academia.

Transitioning from graduate school to your first tenure-track position can be stressful. The increased responsibility placed on you with teaching and service, coupled with the stress of moving and adjusting to a new campus and/or city, can be overwhelming. And, on top of everything, you still have to produce your own research and publish! Yet I imagine that the transition is slightly less stressful for people who already have a strategic plan for tenure and have practiced methods for increasing their writing productivity. Since NCFDD teaches these methods, I’ve made sure to watch at least one webinar a week, trying something new each week in order to tweak my methods to personalize the advice for myself. I will continue this practice into the summer. In the future, I hope to participate in the NCFDD Faculty Success Program (FSP), which provides built-in support for new faculty.


NCFDD homepage

As promised, I do have some critiques. First, the NCFDD is a subscription service. This means that you need to be affiliated with Duke and/or another institutional member if you don’t want to pay for an individual membership out-of-pocket. The pricing is not cheap ($240 for postdocs and $480 for faculty members). If you’re graduating Duke, check to see whether your next institution is a member of NCFDD. If not, check to see if your department might help you with the costs. Second, one of the greatest assets of the organization—its ability to appeal to scholars across fields—is also a characteristic that requires that you take the advice and tailor it to your specific field and circumstance. For all the advice that is readily available through the NCFDD platform, we all still need academic advisers who know us personally and know our work and our fields. Third, for a time the NCFDD offered the Dissertation Success Program (DSP), which operated like their Faculty Success Program (FSP) but on a smaller scale. Due to the high cost of the program, it was discontinued. The NCFDD has archived the Dissertation Success Program resources, but those of us who were hoping for built-in accountability beyond the online forum will have to wait until we’re faculty members to participate in the FSP.

In all, these disadvantages are small when compared to the overall benefit of the resources available at NCFDD. Even the individual membership, I’d wager, is worth it. In only a matter of a few weeks, I have benefitted from NCFDD in three major ways. If I weren’t constrained by the blog word count limits, I could list a few more! I have enjoyed learning new strategies to get ahead in my work. More importantly, I have enjoyed the process of implementing these methods and figuring out ways to make them work for me. I look forward to seeing the results.


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.