Better Than an Info Session: Employers Helping Graduate Students to Build Skills

Author name
Dave McDonald, Ph.D., Associate Director Graduate Student Career Services, Duke Career Center

Employers regularly come to Duke to recruit graduate and undergraduate students. The Career Center helps these employers to host interviews, career fairs, and info sessions. But many employers rely on their usual marketing materials to promote their organizations as a great place to work. It can be difficult to make a connection with alums and other professionals who come to campus, and much of the company information shared can be found online. Plus, students may leave these sessions without much more knowledge about what careers in this field look like and what skills they need to get there.


Recently, the Duke Career Center, The Graduate School, and the Chemistry Department co-hosted a valuable workshop to bring employers and graduate students together to do more–build important research skills applied in industry. Duke alums, Geoffrey Hird, PhD ’01 (Chemistry) and Christina Hofmann, PhD ’15 (Biomedical Engineering) from Liquidia Technologies came to campus to present on experimental design in industry.

Whereas academic research can be relatively slow-paced, industry research runs on faster timelines and limited budgets. So when you design an experiment or manufacturing process, you cannot test every variable in every permutation. Scientists at Liquidia Technologies utilize experimental designs such as factorial design, response surface methods, and mixture design. Using software such as JMP from SAS, they can quickly identify the most important variables.

Drs. Hird and Hofmann first walked the graduate students and postdocs in attendance through these different design methodologies. Then participants had the opportunity to design their own experiments using paper helicopters. The helicopters had multiple variables to change (such as propeller length and using a paperclip) with the goal of maximizing flight time. Students, postdocs, and the Liquidia scientists worked together to collect and analyze data from their experiments.


After working alongside these alums, students and postdocs had small group lunch conversations about working at Liquidia and more general career advice. Topics included career satisfaction, different types of companies and company cultures, contract research organizations, salaries, and working for startups. Unlike what may happen at a typical info session, participants were highly engaged with the presenters, asked lots of questions, and said afterwards that the conversations were very helpful.

By bringing together employers, academic departments, students, and postdocs into a space where they could focus on building a particular skill, we created a strong opportunity for learning and connection. These experimental design techniques can be useful in students’ and postdocs’ current research projects as well as in their future careers.

If other Duke departments, programs or student groups are interested in collaborating on a skill-building and career development event like this one, please feel free to contact the Graduate Student Career Services team at the Duke Career Center.

Students can learn more about upcoming employer events and workshops by checking CareerConnections.

Also, be sure to personalize your Career News email to get the content most relevant to you. Keep an eye out for your next email from the Career Center, scroll to the bottom and select “Personalize this email! Schedule, stories, format” and follow the prompts –takes less than a minute!