GradFUTURES: The Professional Development Hub for Graduate Students

“While many of our graduate alumni go on to have careers in academia, an almost equal number go on to make spectacular contributions across the entire spectrum of career possibilities. We need to ensure that our graduate students feel fully prepared and supported as they explore the complete array of options before them.”

--Sarah-Jane Leslie, former dean of the Graduate School and Class of 1943 Professor of Philosophy

Professional development is an integral part of  graduate education at Princeton. The Office of the Dean of the Graduate School  developed GradFUTURES®, a campus-wide professional development initiative, to empower graduate students with the professional competencies and connections they need to chart their future with clarity and confidence. GradFUTURES serves as a hub solely dedicated to connecting all graduate students to programs, resources, opportunities, graduate alumni, and other leaders who can help them explore and pursue their unique interests. We define professional development as the systematic learning and acquisition of skills and competencies that will support scholarly and research goals while preparing graduate students for professional success in diverse roles within the academic, public, and private sectors. We believe comprehensive professional development mutually reinforces doctoral training, creates equitable access to pathways within and beyond the academy -- and widens the aperture of opportunity for Ph.D. students. 

Our Focus

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GradFUTURES provides a learning framework for acquiring skills and competencies that support graduate students’ scholarly and research goals while preparing them for professional success within their chosen field of endeavor. This framework integrates all programs offered on or off-campus and organizes them according to eight core competency categories: Research & Data Analysis; Leadership & Collaboration; Writing & Public Speaking; Teaching & Mentoring; Career Management; Personal Well-being & Effectiveness; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; and Innovation & Entrepreneurship. 

Our wide array of resources and programs: support progressive learning and acquisition of professional skills and interdisciplinary competencies; provide exposure to diverse Ph.D. pathways, emerging fields, and trends within and beyond academia; ensure access to bespoke immersive experiences and experiential opportunities; foster connections among and between graduate students, graduate alumni mentors, and industry leaders.

In the Academic Year 2020-2021, there were 141 programs and events offered by the GradFUTURES team (not including dozens of campus partner programs), with 2,401 unique participants. Programs included competency-building workshops, individual professional development planning sessions (IDPs), alumni panels and speaker series’, meetups, networking events, interdisciplinary learning cohorts, experiential opportunities, a mentorship program, and the annual GradFUTURES Forum professional development conference. We also work closely with the academic departments to develop and support customized programs and resources for graduate students by discipline.

Based on post-program surveys collected in 2020-21, more than 97 percent of graduate students participating in GradFUTURES events and programs would recommend those programs to a friend. Dozens of testimonials, profiles, and stories featuring graduate student participants, graduate alumni speakers/mentors, and faculty are available on the Grad Stories section of our website.

Professional Development Ecosystem

GradFUTURES' multifaceted strategy relies on cross-campus collaboration enabled by facilitating an ecosystem of support for graduate students. This campus-wide ecosystem involves stakeholders from the Graduate School and all 42 academic departments, dozens of campus partner offices, graduate student organizations, graduate alumni, and industry partners. The Professional Development Working Group (PDWG) was founded in 2019 and includes representatives from each of the stakeholder groups above who meet regularly with the goal of fostering collaboration and ensuring that graduate students have access to a comprehensive suite of meaningful programs, resources, and experiential opportunities.  

Informed By the Past, Looking to the Future

For decades, academia was considered the primary or preferred career path for Ph.D. students. Given the dramatic decline in the academic job market in recent years, nearly all scholarly and professional associations including the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Modern Languages Association (MLA), the American Historical Association (AHA), the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), among others, have called for significant changes in the approach to graduate student professional development to support career diversity. Nationally, these organizations have independently and collectively advocated for:

  • Shifting institutional culture to expose graduate students to the diverse array of career pathways within and beyond the academy;
  • Increasing the transparency of career outcomes data and relabeling categories in ways that equitably recognize the range of Ph.D. career outcomes across all industries;
  • Improving curricular and co-curricular efforts aimed at the acquisition of professional competencies that will support successful career progression in all fields of endeavor.

Princeton's efforts to support graduate student professional development have been informed by national trends as well as a comprehensive self-study. As part of the University’s 2015 Strategic Planning efforts, the Task Force on the Future of the Graduate School was charged with conducting a self-study to identify strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities, and developing a suite of recommendations to sustain the excellence and further enhance the University's graduate programs. While the self-study was quite extensive, one of the areas of focus was graduate alumni career outcomes. Recognizing that nearly half of Princeton’s doctoral students pursue opportunities in a diverse array of fields beyond academia, among the primary recommendations of the task force was to: "create a supportive climate and provide resources and professional development opportunities to enhance...outcomes, both within and outside of the academy, for all graduate students." (Task Force on the Future of the Graduate School Report, 2015.) Based on this recommendation, an assistant dean for professional development role was created in 2016 to begin developing professional development programs and partnerships at the Graduate School.

Since that time, the Graduate School has established professional development as one of its central priorities. With generous support from an anonymous donor, the Graduate School hired Eva Kubu – formerly Director of Career Services – into a newly created senior role: Associate Dean and Director of Professional Development. In 2019, Kubu and her team – Assistant Deans Amy Pszczolkowski and James M. Van Wyck – launched GradFUTURES®. In the months that followed, the global pandemic accelerated already-existing trends such as the decline of the U.S. academic job market, and further heightened the urgency of preparing graduate students with comprehensive professional development. Expanding these efforts is also integrally linked to the Graduate School’s priorities for access, diversity, and inclusion, as professional development initiatives will help ensure equitable access to opportunities and pathways within and beyond the academy.

“In light of the global pandemic, the graduate education landscape continues to face unprecedented uncertainty, particularly with regard to the declining academic job market and the level of Ph.D. students’ preparation for diverse careers. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we redouble our efforts to shift the institutional culture and to provide comprehensive professional development programs, experiential opportunities, alumni mentorship, and tailored support for all graduate students.”

-- Eva Kubu, Associate Dean for Professional Development & Director of GradFUTURES