Professional development program for graduate students has ‘wonderful momentum’

Author: Kevin Zeise, Graduate School

Laura Carlson Carlson

When Greg Sterling was named the Dean of the Graduate School in June 2008, he set about creating a holistic approach to graduate education, with a key component being the creation of a professional development program.

Over the past three years, the Graduate School’s professional development program has made tremendous strides and is now viewed by other universities around the country as a model for how a broad-based program can become a key part of a student’s graduate experience, says Laura Carlson, professor of psychology and associate dean of professional development.

The program—developed by a cross-disciplinary team comprising members from the Graduate School, Hesburgh Libraries, the Career Center, the Kaneb Center, the Writing Center and the Graduate Student Union—emphasizes four “spires” of professional development: research, teaching, career and ethics.

The program has achieved wonderful momentum, says Carlson.

In the fall of 2011, more than 1,100 students attended 54 professional development workshops. Last year, graduate students brought in more than $1.5 million in grants and fellowships. In 2011-2012, students have submitted 268 grant and fellowship applications, a 33 percent increase in submissions over 2010-2011.

The number of graduate student consultations at the Career Center has more than doubled since December 2010, notes Carlson, with 138 students in fall 2011 alone. Seventeen companies held information and interview sessions for graduate students in fall 2011.

Recent professional development events include “Developing your Research Spiel,” which gives students training in formulating a two-minute, broadly accessible pitch about their research—with an opportunity to practice with faculty members and each other in a cocktail party environment.

A “Dissertation Boot Camp” was offered during spring break, and an “etiquette dinner” helped prepare
students for onsite interviews. A complete calendar of events appears on the professional development website,

In addition, a number of supplemental materials have been created to aid students in tracking their own development progress.

An activities checklist illustrates the recommended types of workshops for students, based upon the four spires and the phase of their academic career. A roadmap of transferrable skills highlights how skills acquired during the professional development process will translate to future careers, whether that path takes students toward government, academia, not-for-profit enterprises or private industry.

“This tremendous success is attributable to the collaborations we have fostered across campus, as reflected in our professional development team and our contacts with the directors of graduate studies at the department level and associate deans at the college level,” says Carlson. “Our key strength is our unified and cohesive approach, and this distinguishes us from other professional development programs.”

Additional information: A checklist of activities; a roadmap of transferrable skills