Working as a Team to Increase Awareness about Duke’s Emergency Resources
The life of an academic, be it a postdoc or a graduate student, is filled with both exciting and unexpected experiences. When it comes to research, we thrive in these unexpected circumstances as they give rise to our “aha” moments. However, unexpected moments in our personal lives can often be emergency situations which require us to set everything else aside and figure out a way for immediate intervention. Would you be prepared if you had to purchase a ticket home immediately to visit an ailing family member, or if you were to suffer an accident and need legal or financial assistance to take care of a medical bill? These are just some examples of emergency scenarios that we anticipate graduate students and postdocs may face during their time at Duke.
As one of the interdisciplinary project teams charged with improving the Duke campus for graduate students and postdocs as part of the Emerging Leaders Institute, the main goal of our project was to become informed about university resources available to graduate students and postdocs that would help them deal with emergency situations, as well as to identify and suggest any missing resources to the administration.
Turning point in the project
An interesting realization that we came to during our initial research was that the Duke Office of Postdoctoral Services website has a done a really good job of compiling the resources available to postdocs. We also learned that postdocs are considered employees of the university, so their benefits and resources are handled differently than students. This was a major turning point for the team as we had to change our project to focus primarily on graduate students. We joined our forces together to identify and categorize all the emergency resources available to Graduate School students and created a survey to identify missing resources. Through our survey we wanted to understand, in particular, what resources students need right now, have needed in the past, and foresee needing before graduation. We also listed the resources already available on campus to assess awareness levels among students. Getting responses from students was the most challenging part of the project. We ended up with 57 respondents to our survey; though a low turnout, we believe we can make some inferences based on these cursory results. Of course, a follow-on study with more data would be ideal, but our results could narrow the focus of a future survey.
Awareness is missing
While some resources such as the GPSC Emergency Travel Fund were well known among graduate students, other emergency financial aid sources had very low awareness. Moreover, when asked what resources were missing at Duke, most students responded with “none,”; we started to recognize that the campus didn’t need more or different resources; in fact, our focus needed to be on raising awareness.
Fridge magnets are awesome and effective!
After analyzing the survey results, our team met to discuss the future steps of the project. Clearly, we had to shift our goals from identifying missing resources to creating awareness about existing resources. While we originally intended to create an independent and searchable website of available resources, we realized (1) that creating a website was beyond our expertise and (2) another website may not be the best tool to create more awareness of available resources. Similarly, we determined that creating a pamphlet or handout would just add to the clutter of papers already lying on most of our desks. After some brainstorming, we decided that the best approach would be to create a refrigerator magnet. About 10-15 times a day: that is how many times we open our refrigerator on an average day. This statistic and information that we gathered from our own experiences explain why a refrigerator magnet would be an effective tool for raising awareness!
We walked away from our ELI project knowing a lot more about the resources available to us.
For our final project deliverable, we designed a mock-up of a magnet including all of the resources we identified through our project. We envision that our magnet could be updated as needed and handed out to graduate students at the beginning of each year or semester. Unlike an overlooked email or pamphlet, our magnet can sit on your fridge or filing cabinet and serve as a gentle yet constant reminder of the resources available. We walked away from our ELI project knowing more a lot more about the resources available to us.
Acknowledgments: We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all of the facilitators of the ELI program - Melissa Bostrom, Anthony Laffoley, Rhonda Sutton, and Kristin Murphy — as well as all our fellow participants in the 2018 ELI cohort, who provided valuable feedback as we executed the project.
Fawaz Alenezi, MD, MSc
Postdoctoral Fellow, Cardiology
Fawaz Alenezi is a cardiologist and a clinical imaging fellow working at Duke Heart Center. He conducts medical research on the derivation and validation of novel echocardiographic approaches to myocardial deformation and cardiac function. His research has focused on using echocardiographic methods to understand cardiac diseases through in depth phenotyping, and heart failure morphology.
Ph.D. candidate, Biomedical Engineering
Samagya Banskota is a sixth-year PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering. Her graduate research focuses on engineering novel polypeptide-based biomaterials that can be used to deliver chemotherapeutics with higher efficacy and lower toxicity.
Ph.D. student, Public Policy
Travis Dauwalter is a second-year PhD Student in Public Policy. His research will focus on how electricity markets can be designed to reduce inequities. He also has an interest in the welfare impacts of electrifying communities in developing nations.
Shannon Esher, Ph.D.
Recent Ph.D. graduate, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology
Shannon Esher received her PhD in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology from Duke University in May 2018. Her dissertation focused on how the human fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans, remodels its cell surface to facilitate its survival within the host. She is pursuing a career on the academic track and will begin a postdoctoral position in microbial pathogenesis and immunology this summer.