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 Greetings from Dean Barbour


Duke will be the third consecutive institution where you have served as graduate school dean. What keeps drawing you back to this work?

I continue to be drawn to this work for the same reasons that pulled me into graduate education during my first faculty position at Virginia Commonwealth University. Graduate students—Duke graduate students in particular—are the next generation of leaders, scholars, educators, and service providers who will sustain and change our world. While I loved working with graduate students in my laboratory, I was only able to support a few students at a time. As graduate school dean, I have the potential to have a positive impact on many students in multiple disciplines—and through their work to impact multiple generations of graduate students. That is an amazing legacy to leave and I am honored to have had so many opportunities to develop it.

Furthermore, as graduate school dean I get to witness graduate education, research and scholarship across the disciplines. This is a tremendous honor! I have learned so much about humanities, the arts, social sciences, and the other natural and clinical sciences during my years as a graduate school dean. I am very grateful for that privilege!

What have been some of your proudest accomplishments in your previous work as a graduate school dean?

Graduate education is undergoing significant changes as we strive to adapt to the new opportunities—and challenges facing graduate students. At both the University of Georgia and UNC-Chapel Hill, I hired the first directors for experiential professional development, individuals who were charged with developing strategies to prepare graduate students for careers outside academia.

At both institutions, I am proud to have been part of initiatives to build community for diverse graduate students as we strive to move beyond merely recruiting and focus our attention on retaining such individuals. At UGA, I collaborated with colleagues in financial aid and student affairs to develop an emergency fund to support graduate students with immediate needs. Importantly, that fund not only provided financial support but also connected graduate students to other resources, both on and off campus. At UNC, I worked with my team to provide additional support for graduate students who were impacted by the pandemic.

Graduate student mental health is an issue of concern for graduate schools across the country, as some studies suggest graduate students may be five times more likely than their peers to suffer from severe anxiety or depression. Many factors have been attributed to this, among them a lack of supportive mentoring. At UNC-Chapel Hill, I collaborated with the Center for Faculty Excellence to offer a series of trainings for faculty in best practices for graduate student mentoring. The ultimate goal of that initiative is to offer a certificate to graduate faculty who complete the trainings and to make graduate students aware of faculty who have made this commitment and completed the trainings.

Suzanne Barbour (left) talks with Paula D. McClain
Suzanne Barbour (left) talks with outgoing Graduate School dean Paula D. McClain during a staff outing in August.
What attracted you to Duke?

Duke’s graduate school is well-known in graduate education circles for its commitment to identifying and deploying the best practices in graduate education. Under Dean Paula McClain’s leadership, The Graduate School has made tremendous strides in expanding support for professional development, equity and inclusion, mentor training, and other critical issues in graduate education. I am excited about joining this innovative team and look forward to leveraging my expertise and experience to both sustain and expand these important initiatives.

What are some areas you plan to focus on at Duke?

The answer to this question is a work-in-progress as I learn more about Duke, its graduate students and their needs. Fellowship support will almost certainly be an important area of focus, and I look forward to doing this in collaboration with the school where students complete their training.

As you know, our country has suffered multiple pandemics over the past few years, some of which have uncovered lingering issues of social injustice. Sadly, higher education spaces are not immune to this disease, and I imagine there are learning spaces at Duke that are not positioned to support all graduate students, regardless of identity. I look forward to leveraging my experiences at UGA and UNC and lessons learned from my service on the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering to help departments to critically assess their microcultures and identify and enact strategies to address inequities.

Also, although The Graduate School has already developed a robust array of professional development opportunities for graduate students, I hope my expertise will be helpful as we assess their impact and consider possibilities for expansion. In particular, my work at UNC provided me with insights into training in innovation and entrepreneurship that may be helpful at Duke.

Dean Suzanne Barbour greets students at a welcome event in 2022.
Suzanne Barbour and her labradoodle Claudio dropped by The Graduate School's welcome event during orientation week.
What is on your to-do list for your first 90 days at Duke?

Although it is somewhat cliché to talk about the “listening tour, it will be an important part of my transition. I look forward to meeting with and learning from graduate students, directors of graduate studies and their assistants, my fellow deans, members of The Graduate School’s team, and other members of the Duke community. Armed with that information and my previous experiences, I hope to develop the key collaborations necessary to assess where we stand and chart a course for the future of The Graduate School.

Tell us something about you that’s not in your bio.

I have been a “crazy cat lady” for many years (at one time, I had seven kitties running my house!). During the pandemic, I adopted a mini labradoodle (Claudio), who has become the light of my life. So, now I am a crazy cat and dog lady.


Her Journey to Duke

Dean Barbour speaks with the Duke Office of Scientific Integrity about her career in research and administration, the importance of mentoring, ethical challenges in research, and her idea of science as a team sport.

Read the Interview