Who leads a group of emerging leaders? Reflecting on the Emerging Leaders Institute group project

 March 31, 2014

One branch of the Think Beyond Internships tree, displaying testimonials from students who had experiences that helped them develop an “alternative” career.

Melissa Bostrom sold me on applying to the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) with one word: “deliverable.”  The program included many attractive characteristics: leadership training, self-assessments, and coaching.  However, from the beginning I was focused on the group project – not simply as an exercise in working with others but to develop a concrete product that I can reference in future interviews as a significant accomplishment from those six weeks.

In the end, I got both – a learning experience in working with a team and a product that exists in the real world.

The project prompt was to address an area of concern in the professional development of graduate students and postdocs at Duke.  Our group decided to expand students’ thinking regarding what kinds of professional development experiences they can have during graduate school.  We collected testimonials illustrating career-developing experiences from graduate students and postdocs and created Think Beyond Internships to display them.

During the course of the project, I truly came to believe in the message we were promoting.  Our target audience was students and postdocs who had convinced themselves that they could not complete an internship for one or more reasons.  Whatever those reasons were, we tried to find examples of experiences that could circumvent them – for example, local internships with a low time commitment or volunteer work.  I emerged from this project energized to find a part-time internship that I can complete before I graduate.

The experience of working with a group toward a concrete deliverable was very profitable because we had to work through three major challenges.

1) Our group was composed of diverse individuals, which at first caused some friction.  Ultimately, our project benefitted from each of the perspectives we brought, which was wonderful to see come to fruition in just six weeks.

2) We found a project of appropriate scope.  We devoted most of one meeting to finding that ‘just right’ balance of a concrete deliverable achievable within the time constraints of the program.  We launched our website a week before our final presentation for the program, which gave us time to gauge its reception, but we also left ourselves room to grow the project after the end of the program as we find new testimonials.

3) We navigated the group dynamics of work plan delegation without an explicit group leader.  At first, we all gave ourselves the same assignment – gathering information and testimonials.  As we got to know each other’s strengths and interests better, we were able to specialize to expedite completing different aspects of the project.

Just a couple weeks after completing ELI, I am satisfied with the deliverable my group created and confident that I have had an experience worth discussing in future job interviews.  I can even add ELI as a testimonial to help others think beyond internships!

Emily Roberts is a sixth-year PhD candidate in biomedical engineering and blogs about money at Evolving Personal Finance.

The other participants in this ELI group are:

  • Andrea Pappas, Neurobiology, PhD candidate
  • Giuseppe Prigiotti, Romance Studies, PhD candidate
  • Tina Wang, Neurobiology, postdoctoral associate