Ph.D. Visit Day Moves Online

Monday, March 30, 2020
A man sitting at a computer with headphones on, a window is in front of him

When word came down from Duke that all in-person events were to be canceled, rescheduled, or made virtual, program coordinator Christyn Klinck and staff assistant Chelsea Fillippa had a dilemma: what were they going to do about the Ph.D. prospective student day that they had been organizing for months?

“Christyn and I ‘met’ quite a few times to figure out how to make the event a success,” said Fillippa. “We wanted to keep it to as close to our normal visit day as possible.”

The event took place on Monday, March 23. The day started with a welcome from Director of EcoTeach Connel Fullenkamp, followed by faculty who talked about their various areas of research. Director of Graduate Studies Federico Bugni gave a year-by-year overview of the program, and participants attended panels of current students. Then current graduate students talked about their experiences at Duke, life in Durham, and their research. Finally, prospective students were able to break off to talk with specific faculty, either in small groups or one-on-one. 

“The prospective students really seemed to like talking to current students,” said Fillippa. “I noticed that in the field day panels with faculty, all the prospective students had their cameras off, but soon as we switch to the current students, they all turned on their camera.” 

Dan Garrett signed up because he knew how crucial the visit day had been in his decision to attend Duke. “A big part of the reason I chose to come to Duke in 2014 was because I got a good ‘feel’ from the current students at the time,” Garrett said. “Being online made everything a little bit more challenging, but we did the best with what we had.”

Garrett also noted that “I've had more students reach out via email after the session than in previous years with additional questions building on the discussions from the visit day.” This made him feel hopeful that the department was still able to impart some value to the visitors, even if they couldn't share the same physical space. Federico Bennett was optimistic about the day in general, saying “Given the current situation and constraints, I think that from a technical standpoint as well as all participants’ general attitude it was a great success!”

Klinck hoped that providing visitors with as much information as possible from a variety of sources—faculty-led field panels, individual and small-group meetings with faculty, conversations with current Ph.D. students from different years and fields, and program information – would give prospective students a good view of what life was like in the department, even if they weren’t able to stroll through Duke Gardens or go out to eat in downtown Durham as is customary during in-person visits. 

Fillippa said the biggest challenge was setting up all of the individual Zoom meetings with faculty and prospective students. Since the timing changed because of the event going virtual, Fillippa had to re-survey all faculty involved as well as the prospective students. “I tried to set up Zoom meetings with myself as the host to make it easier for faculty, but I learned you can’t be the host of concurrent meetings so that all crashed and burned at 10:15 in the morning,” she said, and laughed. “I had to figure out how to set them all up again on the fly.”

Klinck and Fillippa agreed that the current students’ help was invaluable in making the event a success. Overall, 30 prospective students participated in the day, which is on par with numbers from past years.  “Our students were really good at volunteering to participate however they could,” said Klinck, “They really want to help out, especially since they know we’re working hard to make things work right now.”