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As The Graduate School celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2016, we are taking a look at various aspects of the school’s history. Visit for more information about the 90th anniversary celebration, as well as other Graduate School history spotlights as they are published.


Duke’s first president, William Preston Few, saw The Graduate School as essential to Duke’s reputation as a research university. From the school’s inception, however, he emphasized that the school should prepare its students to not only discover new knowledge, but also to pass it on as well.

A clip of a quote from President Few on how Duke should approach teaching graduate students to teach.
President Few on how Duke should approach teaching graduate students to teach.

In The Launching of Duke University, 1924–1949, Robert F. Durden noted that Few recognized that while teaching was an important part of life in academia, most graduate schools seemed to assume that their Ph.D. graduates could easily pick up the craft of teaching. Few didn’t want that to happen at Duke.

Writing in the January 1929 issue of The Alumni Register of Duke University, Few said, “Duke University will not recommend for positions in college teaching even the men who hold the Ph.D. degree unless they have also availed themselves, of opportunities provided here or elsewhere to test and develop their teaching ability, and have shown that they have some fitness for college teaching.”

In its early years, Duke tackled this by asking the larger graduate programs—such as history, English, and chemistry—to appoint faculty members or committees to provide practical, supervised teaching experiences for their Ph.D. students. Those departments also held required teaching seminars.

Fast forward nine decades, and the emphasis on teaching Ph.D. students how to teach is alive and well at The Graduate School. In fact, the school’s investment in this area sets it apart from many peer institutions, said Hugh Crumley, assistant dean for academic affairs.

Hugh Crumley overseeing The Graduate School's Certificate in College Teaching program.
Hugh Crumley (left) oversees The Graduate School's Certificate in College Teaching program.

“We have eight credit-bearing classes in college teaching; I don’t know any other university that has that many,” he said. “Typically, there’s one class or no classes. So The Graduate School has really put its resources into walking the walk on supporting students on teaching.

“I hear that from graduate students in class sometimes. They say, ‘I’ve got friends at another school and we compare notes on how our graduate programs are going. They’re shocked when they hear how many classes on teaching I have access to.’ ”

Back in the mid-2000s, The Graduate School was offering two standalone courses on college teaching. Crumley said those attracted high demand from three major groups of Ph.D. students: new students who want some training before serving as teaching assistants for the first time, students nearing graduation who want some practical teaching experience before starting their first academic job, and students who are interested in learning how to design a course.

Around 2010, The Graduate School created a number of new courses to better serve the different needs of those student populations. At the same time, the school decided to start the Certificate in College Teaching (CCT) program. Launched in 2011, the CCT now has more than 400 students, making it by far the largest certificate program at Duke.

CCT participants creating their online teaching portfolios.
CCT participants creating their online teaching portfolios.

Students in the CCT, which takes about a year to complete, take accredited courses, participate in teaching experience and observation, and create an online teaching portfolio. In addition to the classes offered by The Graduate School, the CCT also incorporates existing teaching workshops and resources within individual departments.

“The courses I’ve been able to apply toward the CCT and the workshops I often go to for pedagogy have been invaluable,” said Julia Kelto Lillis, a doctoral student in religious studies and a 2015 winner of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, which The Graduate School started in 1998 to recognize Ph.D. students who were outstanding teachers.

“I’ve been in sessions on everything from power dynamics in the classroom to thinking about how to build up questions in the classroom in a way that lets students ease in and get on board with you before you try to build up to the really hard, conceptually difficult things that you’re going to deal with that day.”

Even if students don’t plan to pursue academic careers, the CCT helps them prepare to serve as teaching assistants while at Duke and gives them transferable skills, Crumley said. For students who do plan on pursuing academic positions, the program provides a competitive edge.

“If a student with a Duke Ph.D. applies for a job at an institution that is smaller and more teaching-focused than Duke, there might be a perception that ‘You’re a hotshot researcher at Duke, and you’ve got this really wonderful training in research. Are you really invested in our institutional mission that’s focused on undergraduate education, mentoring, and advising?’ ” Crumley said.

“Students who have completed the CCT can answer that with, ‘Yes I am. I’ve been trained in it, I have this experience, I’ve taken these classes, and it’s on my transcript.’ ”