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.)
Since that time, the Graduate School has established professional development as one of its central priorities. Professional development involves the systematic learning and acquisition of skills and competencies that will widen the aperture of opportunity and prepare graduate students for professional success in diverse roles within the academic, public, and private sectors. 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 launched GradFUTURES® to equip graduate students with the professional competencies and connections they need to chart their future with clarity and confidence.
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.
GradFUTURES Core Competencies
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 six core competency categories: Research & Data Analysis; Leadership & Collaboration; Written & Verbal Communication Skills; Teaching & Mentoring; Career Management; and Personal Well-being & Effectiveness.
These competency categories were chosen based on labor market insights provided by Burning Glass Technologies, qualitative data from graduate alumni surveys, literature reviews, and benchmarking. Each competency category represents professional skills that augment students' academic and research training and prepare them with a foundation for success within academia, and the public and private sectors.
Our Professional Development Model
In collaboration with more than 40 campus offices, alumni, and industry partners, GradFUTURES offers a range of competency-based, community-building, and experiential programs. The overarching goals for all GradFUTURES programs are to 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 over 140 programs and events offered by the GradFUTURES team (not including dozens of campus partner programs). 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