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Duke OPTIONS is an online professional development planning tool designed to help Ph.D. students increase their competencies in six important areas, as they develop through three stages of their graduate programs. You can find the tool at


What are the Stages?

Ph.D. students progress through three major stages as they complete their programs: (1) Transitioning to graduate school, (2) Developing teaching, research, and scholarship, and (3) Entering the professional community.[i] We've built the Duke OPTIONS suggestions for developing these competencies around the unique needs of students at these three stages:

Stage 1: Building Awareness (Year 1)

Students who are entering their first year of a Ph.D. program or who are just beginning to explore the resources that can help them develop these six key competencies may find their best fit with Stage 1.

Stage 2: Developing Skills (Years 2-4)

Students who are ready to undertake skill-building experiences through professional development programs, events, and other activities may find their best fit in Stage 2.

Stage 3: Documenting Experiences (Years 5+)

Students in their final stage are heading into their final 12-18 months before graduation. As they begin to consider how they will communicate their skills and experiences to potential employers, their focus shifts to Stage 3.

Duke OPTIONS suggestions are presented in stages to support students in planning their professional development experiences. You may advance through some competencies faster than others and find yourself switching between stages as you explore different competencies. That is fine!

We expect that some graduate students' career goals may change over the course of their Ph.D. program (with some research suggesting a significant change in career goals between the second and third years).[ii]  For this reason, you may see some suggestions appear across multiple stages: we want to ensure that, even as your career goals evolve, you will still find the resources you need.

How are the Competencies Defined?

The six competencies are adapted from research [iii] and expanded to include Professionalism and Scholarly Integrity, to fit Duke's model of graduate education.

  • Teaching & Mentoring: the ability to facilitate the learning of others in a variety of settings
  • Communication:  the ability to use written and oral communication effectively in academic and professional settings
  • Professional Adaptability: the capability to use theory and technical skills in actual practice; the ability to anticipate and accommodate changes important to one’s profession
  • Leadership: the ability to direct and manage human and other resources
  • Self-Awareness: the ability to honestly assess one's interests, abilities, and values and, based on this assessment, to make wise professional and personal decisions
  • Professionalism & Scholarly Integrity: familiarity with the norms and standards of a specific discipline; the ability to behave in a way that upholds those norms and standards

Who Funded this Tool?

Duke OPTIONS was built with funding from the Council of Graduate Schools ETS/CGS Award for Innovation in Promoting Success in Graduate Education and the Duke University Graduate School.

Who Developed Duke OPTIONS?

(PI) Paula D. McClain, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education
(Co-PI) Melissa Bostrom, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Professional Development
Hugh Crumley, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs
John Zhu, Senior Public Affairs Officer
Jacqueline Looney, Senior Associate Dean and Associate Vice Provost for Academic Diversity
J. Alan Kendrick, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Development
Brad L. Teague,  Ph.D., Assistant Dean and Director, English for International Students
Francisco Ramos, Ph.D., Manager of Program Evaluation and Assessment
Pakis Bessias, IT Manager
Iryna Merenbloom, Assistant Dean for Finance

[i] These stages were developed based on the work of the 2011  Duke University Graduate Career and Professional Development Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Jacqueline Looney, Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Associate Vice Provost for Academic Diversity, and William Wright-Swadel, Fannie Mitchell Executive Director of the Duke Career Center.

[ii] Fuhrmann, C.N., Halme, D.G., O'Sullivan, P.S., & Lindstaedt, B. (2011). Improving graduate education to support a branching career pipeline: Recommendations based on a survey of doctoral students in the basic biomedical sciences. CBE Life Sciences Education, 10, 239-249.

[iii] Poock, M. C. (2001). A model for integrating professional development in graduate education. College Student Journal, 35(3), 345-352

Still have questions? Reach out to The Graduate School's professional development team at