Putting Graduate Students at the Center: The Professional Development Working Group Expands in Year Two

Written by
Shelby Lohr, GS (HIS)
Oct. 23, 2020


students working at whiteboard and at table

Facing an uncertain job market, graduate students—including myself—desire tangible skill development and professional planning to best angle ourselves for post-graduation success. As a doctoral candidate in history with an interest in broadcasting, I look to campus professional development to advocate for student training in storytelling and podcasting.

Answering the call to attend more closely to student needs, students collaborate with campus administration to mutually create engaging programming that suits students’ long-term professional goals, both within and outside of academia. GradFUTURES and the Professional Development Working Group (PDWG) service these distinct student needs.

In 2019, the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School launched GradFUTURES™, which, as the GradFUTURES website notes, is "a campus-wide professional development initiative designed to empower graduate students with professional competencies and help them envision their future with clarity and confidence. This collaborative effort deepens existing partnerships between the Graduate School, academic departments, centers, student organizations, alumni and industry — and furthers our shared mission to support graduate student professional development."

This mission is ambitious, and its execution relies on a broad coalition of campus partners — all of whom engage with graduate students on a variety of levels and in different capacities. In order to realize the goal of a unified hub of opportunities for graduate students, the Professional Development Working Group (PDWG) was formed shortly after the GradFUTURES initiative was launched.  

According to Associate Dean Eva Kubu, "by leveraging the collective expertise and commitment of the academic departments, offices and centers—as well as graduate alumni—the PDWG represents a campus-wide ecosystem of support for graduate students” and amplifies the work of campus partners, all of whom are in or have representation in the PDWG.

Another key goal of the working group, according to Dean Kubu, is to create programs that help graduate students build critical professional skills and social capital. This is achieved via a variety of discipline-specific and interdisciplinary workshops, seminars, and alumni engagement programs, which expose graduate students to a diverse range of industries and immersive experiences.

Now in its second year of operation, the PDWG prioritizes collaboration. The PDWG’s 45+ member group includes graduate students, graduate alumni and representatives from a range of campus offices who work together to develop professional advancement opportunities and measure student outcomes. 

A key commitment of the PDWG is to co-create with graduate students: the PDWG’s twelve graduate student members weigh in on professional development programming. 

Graduate student PDWG member Jonathan Aguirre lauds the PDWG’s “mission to place student voices at the heart of new initiatives.” Graduate student members help spread the word (promoting initiatives to faculty, for example) while ensuring that graduate students’ unique and often department-specific needs are central to the plans of the PDWG.

“What I appreciate most about the [Professional Development Working Group] is the time and commitment members invest to better understand and enhance the graduate student experience at Princeton. Many Offices and Programs around campus come together to brainstorm and strategize a myriad of ambitious ideas based on student feedback,” - Jonathan Aguirre a graduate student and member of the PDWG.

PDWG members include representatives from the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, Princeton Writes, and the Pace Center for Student Engagement (a complete list can be found here), and this wide network serves as a organizing catalyst, offering a space for Princeton organizations to maximize graduate student engagement.

To deepen collaboration with Princeton’s 42 academic departments on professional development, four Graduate Program Administrators (GPAs) have joined the PDWG this year as liaisons to the departments within each of the divisions: Jill Ray (Psychology), Jill Arbeiter (Classics), Leanne Horinko (History/History of Science), and Karen Oliver (Chemical and Biological Engineering). Readied to aid students in their journey, GPA Jill Ray is “excited to bring our incredible graduate students the programming that will be the most helpful to them.”

Beyond collaborative programming, the PDWG also engages in research to evaluate the efficacy of outreach programming with an eye toward impact and scalability. Dr. Kelly Godfrey, the Assistant Director for Educational and Program Assessment at the McGraw Center and leader of the PDWG's Assessment Project team, echoes this need for tracking outcomes and collecting labor market insights, noting that “assessment is so powerful in helping develop, improve, and expand programming that meets our students’ needs.”

By evaluating how students engage with opportunities on campus, collecting data on where students land after graduating, and locating sites for improvement, students can more confidently approach professional preparation while in pursuit of their graduate degree.

Dr. Godfrey believes that the work of assessment is itself "a wonderful opportunity to spotlight and amplify the great work being done by all our campus partners.”  

The data the PDWG collates and aims to more systematically collect also aids the working group’s External Relations team, which employs data-driven techniques to determine outside organizations best positioned to collaborate in Princeton’s professional development initiatives. 

Spencer Reynolds, the Senior Associate Director in Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations, spearheads the External Relations team as it establishes partnerships, and notes that the PDWG's work is rooted in forging closer ties between the academic worlds in which graduate students live and the non-profit and for-profit sectors which lie beyond academia. Reynolds says that the primary aim of the External Relations team is to secure "relationships with industry, not-for-profit, or government organizations that offer graduate students the chance to experience a professional environment first-hand, as with internships or fellowships.” 

The External Relations team of the PDWG has also secured speakers for events including the GradFUTURES Forum, which connected graduate students with “industry professionals who shared their insights with the students in various interest areas.” Ultimately, the work of the External Relations Team mirrors that of the PDWG, which creates experiences and opportunities designed to be as flexible and capacious as possible, in order to account for shifts in the job market and the unique interests and goals of Princeton's graduate students.

Clarissa Ding, a PhD candidate in Chemistry and member of the PDWG’s External Relations team, reflects that “It's been wonderful meeting so many people interested in the professional development and holistic success of graduate students.”no doubt that the GradFUTURES initiatives will help more students envision their future with their boldest imagination, and help them to achieve it.” 

Shelby Lohr is a doctoral candidate in the history department and member of the PDWG communications committee.