DEFINE Academy Seeks to Expand the Future Faculty Pipeline

8/3 Pratt School of Engineering

New program seeks to build confidence in future faculty applicants by looking beyond traditional application materials

A smiling blond woman in a Duke blue t-shirt works at a table with a younger man
DEFINE Academy Seeks to Expand the Future Faculty Pipeline

There’s a growing trend among university admissions offices to make SAT scores an optional part of a student’s application package, or to forego them altogether. It is, in part, a move intended to help level the academic playing field. Not every high schooler is a great test taker. Not every high schooler has access to expensive test prep courses. Not every high schooler attends one of the top-tier schools across the nation.

But why stop at undergraduate admissions? Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering has decided to begin applying some of the same principles to its faculty search process through a program called Duke Engineering Future Faculty of Innovation and Excellence, or DEFINE for short.

The program is a sort of test prep course itself. Except instead of preparing students for the SAT, it’s preparing doctoral students and postdocs for the faculty application process.

“We are trying to de-mystify the process of not only applying to faculty positions, but also to ensure those who do apply are confident in their abilities to create a strong application package,” said Karis Boyd-Sinkler, director of diversity, equity and inclusion in Duke Engineering. “We understand there are numerous hidden curriculums that exist across academia, so why not establish a program that creates an anti-deficit environment where scholars can see themselves as future faculty members?”

“We are trying to de-mystify the process of not only applying to faculty positions, but also to ensure those who do apply are confident in their abilities to create a strong application package.”

karis boyd-sinkler

DEFINE selects 10 outstanding young researchers who are within a year of applying for faculty positions to experience a different view of what it means to be a faculty member—one that is focused on being a socially engaged academic leader.

Over the course of two days, participants will be flown to Duke’s campus to participate in a series of workshops and presentations that cover topics ranging from building equity in a classroom or research group to learning about the tech transfer process and support in academia. It will also help prepare them to apply for faculty positions by having them practice lightning-style research talks and providing feedback and advice on their traditional written application materials.

The program takes place October 18–21. Applications are open until August 31, and program decisions will be released in September. Required application materials include a curriculum vitae, a cover letter, two letters of recommendation and four short essay responses.

These materials are purposefully somewhat different from the usual requests.

“We’re looking to get more personal and interpersonal details that you can’t get from a traditional application,” said Boyd-Sinkler. “The goal is to build a stronger cohort of faculty members—not just at Duke, but everywhere—through engaging a more diverse field of potential applicants and their respective identities.”

Learn more about the DEFINE Academy