Business Skills Program for PhDs Develops Acumen Vital to Academic and Non-Academic Careers

Written by
Oct. 19, 2023

Building on its 2022 launch, Business Skills for PhDs in Academia and Beyond returned for a second year in September, with additional instructors and topics reflecting the changing interests of businesses and organizations. This professional development program of the Princeton Graduate School, part of the School’s GradFUTURES initiative, focuses on building skills and insight essential to careers in many sectors. The 8-session series plus a required capstone project enlists faculty, trainers, and mentors from industry, campus partners, the Princeton graduate alumni community, and the nationally-ranked University of Virginia Darden School of Business

“This program is designed to complement the strong foundational and discipline-specific knowledge and know-how that graduate students learn in their academic endeavors,” explains Eva Kubu, Associate Dean and Director of Professional Development at the Princeton Graduate School. “We emphasize skills, such as collaboration, decision-making, and communication, that translate across many job environments. This training and exposure distinguishes our Ph.D.s on the employment market and prepares them for success in numerous  fields.”

Kubu reports that more Darden faculty are involved in the program this year. “We have been very pleased with how Darden’s innovative approach to developing business insight resonates with the interests of graduate students and the methods of other prominent professional development programs,” says Kubu. 

To accelerate learning and foster engagement, Darden faculty employ a flipped classroom. Common in business schools, this technique requires participants to play an active role in their learning: Students arrive at each session primed to delve into a topic through pre-reads, video lessons, and other assignments. 

“We are thrilled to continue building strong crossroads between the Darden School of Business and the Graduate School at Princeton University,” says Maureen Wellen, Executive Director of Faculty Advancement at UVA Darden. “Our faculty are committed to fostering vibrant interdisciplinary dialogue on the role of business in society and how Ph.D.s can make impactful contributions.” 

Meeting the Changing Demand for Skills

Ushma Neill Instructs a room of Graduate Students

Ushma Neill, Vice President, Scientific Education and Training, Memorial Sloan Kettering, speaks during an October session focused on mentoring & leadership. Photo: Sameer A. Khan / Fotobuddy

This year’s iteration of the program introduces new topics that are top-of-mind across industries and fields. The first session examines stakeholder theory, which looks beyond the profit motive to reframe business as a societal force that embeds ethics and social responsibility as core values. A subsequent session on digital transformation and data science considers how consolidated data may improve customer engagement and how AI might be used for predictive analytics. 

"Today’s doctoral students will be offering solutions to tomorrow’s business and societal problems,” says UVA Darden Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne, who led the session on Digital Transformation. “This GradFUTURES series provides a platform for doctoral students to engage firsthand with current-day business problems, inspiring them to consider the broad impact their work can have."

By design, the program scope is broad, covering everything from business strategy and leadership to negotiation and corporate finance and emphasizing the relevance of these topics  within and beyond the private sector.

Recognizing the importance of business acumen in higher education administration, a session led by Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson, authors of “Campus Economics” (Princeton University Press, 2023), will examine the role economic reasoning plays in campus debate and decision-making.

“Whether a Ph.D. student is looking to thrive while working in a business or is looking to understand the broader impact of one’s work on business and society, the GradFUTURES Business Skills program helps students understand and best navigate the issues facing business today,” says UVA Darden Professor Michael Lenox.

Learning from Graduate Alums

Graduate alums and members of the GradFUTURES partner network continue to play an active role in the program's second year. Matt Johnson *13 (PSY), founder of neuromarketing firm Pop Neuro and author of "Branding that Means Business: How to Build Enduring Bonds between Brands, Consumers and Markets" (Public Affairs, 2022), will return to deliver the latest insights on business communications. 

“Whether it's pitching an idea, managing a project, or engaging in design thinking, business skills are extremely broad in their application and will set up graduate students for success in a wide range of future endeavors,” Johnson says. “The GradFUTURES Business Skills program at Princeton is special in its ‘MBA style’ design, enabling Ph.D. students to learn from an impressive roster of external business leaders and practitioners."

Graduate alums will also be paired with graduate student participants to serve as advisers as students complete capstone projects that showcase mastery of the core content. The idea is to enhance the program experience while fostering professional connections that can extend into the future.

Adding a Visible Credential

In addition to the learning and experience participants gain through successful program completion, students add a credential to their portfolios. Participants who attend most sessions and complete their capstone will receive a co-curricular certificate and a digital badge to add to their professional websites, digital profiles, CVs, and social media, including LinkedIn. 

In partnership with the McGraw Center for Teaching & Learning, students can access these verifiable credentials in Canvas, the University’s Learning Management system, upon completing all requirements.

“Through engaging with the diverse topics, case studies and the capstone project, Princeton graduate students acquire business intelligence as well as exposure to interdisciplinary perspectives that are highly applicable to their current research and future careers,” says Sonali Majumdar, Assistant Dean for Professional Development. “We hope the Business Skills program helps students identify the broader relevance of PhD training, and see the dynamic roles scholars play in shaping solutions to complex societal problems across a variety of career settings.”