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Student Engagement

Re-Envisioning Professional Development and Scaffolding Student Success PhD Plus Program


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The Pratt PhD Engineering School at Duke ranked among the top 4, motivates and captivates a student body exceeding 600 individuals spanning four distinct engineering disciplines. They found that over 70% of their students do not know what they would like to do post-graduation and wanted to implement a program to help. Pratt PhD Engineering partnered with Suitable to create a platform that helps guide students on their career journey after graduation. Suitable’s interactive platform allowed students to delve into 3 different themes across their PhD to help them decipher and hone in on their engineering career focus like never before.

About the School

Duke’s Pratt Engineering School educates students through the aid of over 100 tenured faculty members. Unlike other engineering schools, Pratt’s focus is on four major disciplines: Biomedical engineering (BME), Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE), Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), and Materials Science & Engineering Interdisciplinary Program. Before Suitable, Duke PhD Student Leadership and faculty designed a program called PhD Plus that focused on engaging students and preparing them for life post- graduation.

Challenges before Suitable

When Dr. Aaron Franklin began his position as assistant dean, he identified a significant gap between PhD students and knowing what path they wanted to take with their PhD degree. Over years of collecting information, he found that over 70% of students were unsure of their post-graduation plans, and the remaining 30% were prone to changing their career preferences during their program. Before collaborating with Suitable, Pratt Engineering had implemented a program called PhD Plus, to enhance student engagement and equip students for their future careers. However, this initiative struggled with low student engagement due to its manual management through spreadsheets. Pratt Engineering aimed to address this issue by partnering with Suitable to improve and streamline their program.

Life with Suitable

After partnering with Suitable, Pratt Engineering developed the PhD Plus Professional Development Program, Duke Deep Blue. The goal of this program is to enable Pratt PhD students to prepare for, select, and succeed in their career path through exploring opportunities, honing skills, and mastering core competencies. The program incorporates 3 themes, academic careers, research-active careers in the industry and government, and entrepreneurship, covered over three years.

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Students delve into these themes through workshops, career conversations, skill-based learning sessions, and career-themed courses. Throughout these activities, students can focus on any of the seven core competencies of the program including collaboration, communication, DEI, individual development, leadership, management, and mentorship.

One special inclusion within Deep Blue is the "Ph.D. Plus" certificate. To complete the Ph.D. Plus certificate, students must earn a certain number of points each academic year. These points can be earned through workshops and skill-based learning sessions, as well as, career-themed courses. Enrollment into the certificate operates on a cohort basis and runs in three-year cycles. Each year focuses on a different career path — Academia, Industry and Government or Entrepreneurship, Business, Law & Consulting.


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Outcomes Achieved

Duke Deep Blue has achieved significant success and has witnessed remarkable improvements in student engagement since the launch of its program. In the first year of implementation, the program saw a substantial increase, with over 30% of students actively participating in a wide array of activities, including workshops and panels–totaling more than 20 diverse engagements. Notably, there has been a surge in student interest in earning the PhD Plus Professional Development Certificate, reflecting a strong commitment to their graduation aspirations. 

The certificate, attainable upon completion of program requirements over three academic years, serves as a testament to students’ dedication to holistic development. The structured curriculum includes two workshops, two skill-based learning sessions, and one career conversation per academic year. To earn the certificate, students must accumulate 300 points through various activities, complete all three theme courses, and actively engage with the Deep Blue program.

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The innovative approach to tracking and logging activities sets Duke Deep Blue apart. Students can conveniently register for events and log their participation by scanning QR codes at the activities. Furthermore, the program enables students to monitor and record their progress, earning badges as they achieve milestones. The success of Duke Deep Blue is underscored by the active involvement of more than 30% of Pratt PhD students and the hosting of over 20 activities, ranging from workshops to panels, contributing to a thriving and enriching academic community.

Plans for the Future

In an ambitious initiative, Pratt’s School of Engineering at Duke aims to enhance student involvement in Duke Deep Blue, targeting an engagement rate surpassing 40% for Pratt PhD students in the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year. The primary objective is to implement a sustainable model for the three-year rotation of career themes within the program. By doing so, the school aspires to create a framework that fosters meaningful engagement among students as they progress through their academic journey.

Furthermore, the institution recognizes the importance of evaluating the long-term impact of the program. Plans are underway to meticulously monitor and assess the effects of Duke Deep Blue on aspects such as job search, placement, and overall success over an extensive period of 5-10 years. This strategic approach reflects a commitment not only to immediate goals but also to the sustained development and prosperity of the students participating in the program. Through these concerted efforts, Pratt’s School of Engineering continually seeks to establish a holistic and enduring foundation for career exploration and success in its student environment.