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Graduate student workshop marks 25th anniversary

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Graduate Student Professional Development workshop participantsPhoto courtesy of CALS Career ServicesNominated by their department heads to attend, students in the Graduate Student Professional Development Workshop lived together for three days of intensive professional development training.

Inspiring. Awesome. Enriching. Eye-opening.

These are just a few of the words used by alumni to describe the College’s Graduate Student Professional Development Workshop.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2011, the workshop is designed to help graduate students transition into the professional world by providing unique instruction and experiences beyond that of their formal academic training.

Marcy Bullock, career services director and event organizer, says, “It’s all about the relationships. Students become very isolated in labs and field work, so this program removes them from campus and forces them to unplug and engage.”

Nominated by their department heads to attend, students in the Graduate Student Professional Development Workshop live together at the Aqueduct Conference Center in Chapel Hill during fall break for three days of intensive professional development training. Subjects include personnel management, the role of personality types, interviewing skills, stress management and ethics.

“Students tell us all the time that this is the most valuable thing they’ve done in grad school,” Bullock says. “They appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with folks across disciplines. The intermingling is most valuable.”

Jennifer Ingram, a research assistant professor in the Duke University Department of Medicine, participated in the program in 1997. She says that lessons learned at the workshop helped shape her postdoctoral experience, and ultimately, her career.

“We talked about the characteristics of good mentors and how valuable it is for good postdoctoral advisors to help foster the careers of young investigators,” says Ingram, who earned a doctoral degree in genetics in 2000 and a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1993, both from N.C. State. “I took all of that advice with me when I went on to my postdoctoral fellowship, and I benefitted greatly from an excellent mentor who helped me start my career in pulmonary research.”

Paul Zorner, adjunct professor of horticultural science and a founding father of the Graduate Student Professional Development Workshop, was one of the first invited speakers at the event 25 years ago. He has returned almost every year since then to deliver a talk on respect in the workplace.

“I can honestly say that I am a better person today than I would have been had I not been associated with the Graduate Student Professional Development Workshop for the last 25 years,” Zorner says.

“Preparing for this talk every year has been a gift as it provides a structured way for me to evaluate not only what I have done that year but also how I have treated other people,” he said. “And then to stand up and tell other people about it has been a very real tool for me to continue to be the person I want to be. On top of that, I get the perspectives of some of the most talented people from one of the best agricultural schools in the world.”

Other speakers have included former UNC System president Bill Friday, Shae Crisson of ABC-11 Eyewitness News and former N.C. State chancellor John T. Caldwell, as well as a number of leaders of government, industry, journalism and academics.

“The program provides a vision, but also the tools to allow its participants to better understand the uniquely human aspects of any work environment,” Zorner says. “This is central to a productive and fulfilling career.”

Suzanne Stanard

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