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What We Got Out of the Duke Graduate Academy

Free short-courses help graduate students and postdocs expand their skill sets and prepare for a wide range of careers

When Elizabeth Schrader signed up for a free short-course in the summer of 2019, the doctoral candidate in religion had no idea it would have an immediate impact on her scholarship.

Two years earlier, Schrader published an article arguing that early Christian copyists may have altered the Gospel of John to minimize the role of Mary Magdalene. This was an important finding, but it wasn’t getting the attention in scholarly circles that she’d hoped for.

“Although my work had appeared in a prestigious journal (the Harvard Theological Review), the article was hidden behind a paywall,” she explained. “This meant that few people could actually read it, so it was difficult to spread the news about my work.”

Schrader enrolled in a week-long course on digital publishing, led by librarians Liz Milewicz and Dave Hansen as part of the Duke Graduate Academy.

“Thanks to the course, I learned about the importance of open access,” Schrader said. “With Liz and Dave’s guidance, I looked at my publisher agreement and discovered there was a legal way to make my work available to the general public. Liz then introduced me to a writer at University Communications, Eric Ferreri, who wrote about my work in Duke Today and pitched the story to national news outlets. The story was picked up by Religion News Service; that’s when my research really started to gain traction.”

A manuscript is opened
Schrader found subtle inconsistencies in the 12th-century manuscript in Duke’s Rubenstein Library. (Photo: Julie Schoonmaker)

Beyond the media attention and increased readership, Schrader was able to bring her work into the public conversation through discussion forums and speaking engagements. (See the open access article.) “I owe so much to Liz and Dave!” she enthused.

A Duke Graduate Academy logo

Created as an element of the Together Duke academic strategic plan with the goal of enhancing students’ preparation for careers in academia or outside of it, the Duke Graduate Academy launched in 2018 as a free summer program. In the summer of 2020, all eight courses (virtual due to the pandemic) were filled within minutes. Responding to the demand, the university opened up a second session of ten courses. In total, 483 graduate students and postdocs were able to enroll, with 335 remaining on waitlists.

In December and January, the academy expanded to include a winter session for the first time. Taking advantage of nine courses, 182 graduate students and postdocs enrolled.

Read selected reflections from participants and instructors:

Entrepreneurial Strategy

A woman smiles
Kelly Tang, Ph.D. in Art History

“The week has been really amazing. I think the best resource has been getting to know Howie [Rhee, Managing Director of Student Programs, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship] and seeing how he thinks about problems. It’s very eye-opening to see the way that he approaches different student ideas and projects. I feel strongly that this class has really opened my mind to different career paths and actually given me more hopefulness […] about job hunting in the future. I feel like I’ve been invigorated during a challenging time.”

A man smiles
Sachal Dhillon, M.S.E. in Electrical and Computer Engineering

“This has been an incredibly profound experience, not only learning about entrepreneurship but more importantly being able to see how others think about it and how they approached the subject. It’s very easy to think about something in a bubble, but to really sell a product or an idea you need to understand how others are lensing it through their own experience.”

Teaching with Archives

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Bill Sharman, Ph.D. in History

“This short course introduced us to ways of ‘teaching with archives’ in undergraduate courses that we may teach in the future, and specifically to some of the amazing resources right here on campus in Duke’s library and special collections.

“One of the big takeaways was that when students have an opportunity to encounter historical documents—rare manuscripts, letters that soldiers wrote home, old advertising posters and maps, anything really—history comes alive in new and exciting ways that differ from the history encountered in scholarly publications.

“In other words, there’s a world of difference between giving students a medieval manuscript to contemplate and asking them to read a scholarly book about medieval science, literature or history. Both are important, but letting students do the ‘real work’ of researching and interpreting historical documents allows them to do creative projects and ask questions that interest them.”

A man smiles
Joseph Mulligan, Ph.D. in Romance Studies

“The academy was an attractive option for me to build on the departmental pedagogy course required by Romance Studies, since I wanted to see how instruction was being envisioned by our colleagues in other disciplines. Teaching with Archives showed me that putting students in contact with archival materials can create conditions favorable to shared inquiry and the exploration of research methods.”

Following the academy, Mulligan received a grant from Duke Libraries in which he applied his growing knowledge. “My Archival Expeditions project was focused on a service learning program in 1930s Spain. I was able to acquire archival materials (regional transcriptions of frontier ballads) used in these “Pedagogical Missions,” which would invite students to engage those poems as aesthetic objects and at the same time to ask why such materials and not others were chosen for the education reform program.”

Leading Teams

A man smiles
Jean-François Paquet, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Physics

“I have to lead teams a fair amount now, as a senior postdoc, when supervising student projects or leading a working group in a multi-institution collaboration. It is not something I was trained for in any way, and it can be very challenging! So I thought I’d take advantage of this course, because it became clear to me that limited leadership skills can have negative effects on the team. On the flip side, the benefits of better leadership skills can be far-reaching and everybody in the team gains from it.”

A woman smiles
Katharine Thomas, M.S. in Global Health

“The winter break is really long, and I was thinking that this is a great opportunity to use Duke’s resources to improve myself. This will come on my transcript when I graduate, so I’ll be able to say I did a leadership course and that will help me with my future career goals.”

Planning and Publishing Digital Projects

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Grace Beggs, Ph.D. in Biochemistry

“I am currently working on another writing project based on my dissertation research and have developed a plan for publishing and communicating this work based on what I learned in the course. Specifically, I intend to strategically select keywords to make my work more discoverable via search engines, promote my work through virtual conference meetings and track how accessible my work is to my target audience via online analytics. These are just a few of the topics covered in the class, which I recommend to anyone who is interested in learning how to effectively and efficiently communicate their work online.”

Science Policy

A man smiles
Buz Waitzkin, Deputy Director, Duke Initiative for Science & Society; Duke Graduate Academy Course Instructor

“This year we experienced a dramatic increase in the number of Ph.D. students interested in exploring how science policy is developed and regulated. There has probably never been a time when we have watched science policy formulated on prime time television and it was clear that students want to better understand how the system does and should work.”

Front End Web Development

A woman smiles
Sandra Bermond, Program Manager, Innovation Co-Lab; Duke Graduate Academy Course Instructor

“Several students showed me their work as we went. They created a variety of pages, from portfolios to destination keepsakes, all very different in their styling and content, but all very well thought-out and pleasing to look at. I am very confident that most of the students who attended this course will continue to create websites for themselves, their friends and potentially their schools, and continue to learn web development as they do so. It was a pleasure to teach motivated individuals who had excellent questions throughout the week, and I look forward to doing it again!”

Summer 2021

We will announce the Duke Graduate Academy Summer Session 2021 in March. Here’s a preview of the short-courses that will be offered:

  • Interdisciplinary Project Management
    A graphic that reads Together Duke
  • Online Teaching
  • Science Policy
  • Science/Research Communication
  • Intro to Qualitative Research Methods
  • Community-Engaged Research
  • Leading Teams
  • Best Practices in Mentoring
  • Teaching with Digital Archives
  • Public Speaking Skills for a Virtual World
  • Landscape of Higher Education
  • Business & Organization Fundamentals
  • Narrative Design
  • Digital Humanities Research

Caption for main image: Duke University Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Schrader (Photo: Megan Mendenhall)