Graduate students and nonprofits learn from each other in partnership for the public good


Pallavi Podapati decided to pursue a doctorate. in the history of science with the idea that having a deep store of historical knowledge might make her a better policy advocate. She has since discovered that the reverse is also true: that working in politics has helped her refine and apply her academic training.

Through Princeton’s GradFUTURES Social Impact Scholars Program, Podapati completed an internship at the American Society on Aging. At first, she tracked social issues affecting older people during the pandemic, including food insecurity. Later, she looked at how to make technology accessible to seniors, especially those with low incomes.

“I started my graduate studies with the idea that it would help to have a deep understanding of the social conditions that created the issues that interest me like work, public health, disability and aging,” Podapati said. . “Now as a Ph.D. student, I have the research capacity to understand quickly and in a nuanced way a very complex social problem. But how do you then dialogue with political decision-makers, people who run non-profit organisations, people who manage foundations? »

Helping graduate students develop these types of highly marketable, transferable, and actionable professional skills is a central goal of the Social Impact Scholarship. At the same time, students learn to apply their academic training to high-level projects and develop professional skills, they also contribute to the social impact mission of their host organization.

Meaningful professional development with strong mentorship

With the approval of their academic advisor, graduate students participate in the program during the academic year for 10 hours per week or during the summer for up to 40 hours per week. Scholars receive a stipend funded by the Graduate School.

“We have tailored these opportunities to give graduate students the flexibility they need to pursue their academic research while engaging in meaningful professional development and exploration,” said Eva Kubu, Associate Dean for Professional Development and Director of GradFUTURES. “When it comes to professional development, there’s no substitute for immersive experiences and great mentorship.”

Mentoring is a key component of each of the experiential scholarship programs offered by the Graduate School, including the University Administration Scholarship and the Community College Teaching Fellowship, in which graduate students can participate in professional development opportunities. in the real world.

“Forging relationships with mentors in addition to their academic advisors helps graduate students build a supportive professional network and gain social capital,” Kubu said. “This is especially important for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented graduate students.”

Since the program’s inception in 2021, 16 students have completed social impact scholarships. This semester, Princeton has 16 Social Impact Scholars, more than double the number of scholarships last spring. The GradFUTURES two-year impact report includes additional information on the range of experiential programs and partners.

Host organizations work closely with the Doctoral School to determine the learning outcomes and professional development goals for these immersive experiences. Together, the graduate student and mentor develop a plan that focuses on the individual needs and unique interests of the student.

Expertise and ingenuity at the service of global challenges

The scholarship is expected to be mutually beneficial, and the host organizations will benefit from the diverse ideas and expertise of the graduate students as they carry out projects to address local, regional, national, and global challenges.

“In line with the University’s mission of service to humanity, the program demonstrates the ability of PhDs from all disciplines to contribute their research and analytical skills in ways that help a nonprofit or public sector organization to advance its mission, develop solutions and achieve greater impact,” said Kubu.

Some students choose a scholarship that closely matches their research, but they may also take the opportunity to develop a parallel strength or new talents.

Pierre Azou, a Ph.D. student in the Department of French and Italian, completed his Social Impact Fellowship at the French Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, a division that promotes the arts, literature, French cinema, language and higher education throughout the United States. The Cultural Services also forge partnerships between French and American artists, institutions and universities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Azou said his career goal is to work somewhere where he can bridge the academic and cultural worlds of France — an arts institution, for example. Her Social Impact Scholarship allowed her to experience the day-to-day operations of French Cultural Services and contribute to program development.

Azou worked on vital aspects of the Villa Albertine, a new program offering residencies to creators, thinkers and cultural professionals from around the world. Working closely with her mentor, Emma Buttin, General Coordinator of Residences at Villa Albertine, Azou tested and helped manage the platform to select and onboard fellows, liaising with the Embassy’s network across the United States. United. It also organized data to measure the impact of the program. and researched topics for a special residency program that would run alongside the main residency program.

While at the embassy, ​​Azou met with the head of the Department of Books and Ideas about the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award. This year, for the first time, a doctorate. students from six US universities will award their own Goncourt Prize, choosing from the same shortlist as the current Goncourt Prize. Azou also contributed ideas on how to increase the visibility of the award in the United States, including at Princeton.

A practical sense of how things are done

“I like that it’s such a small team,” he said. “They have several departments: Books and Ideas, Film, Visual Arts and Performing Arts. And because it’s such a small team — only one or two people for each department — you can certainly get an idea of ​​what everyone does, and talk to all those people, and ask them how they do things. You get that sense of how things are done on a very practical level.

Podapati had an equally rich experience at the American Society on Aging, where she was able to make important contributions as a fellow.

“We were really able to use Pallavi’s skills to our advantage,” said Leanne Clark-Shirley, the organization’s vice president of programs and thought leadership. “She did extensive research on issues we wanted to talk about, like building pathways for color providers in medicine and aging. And we worked together to translate its academic reports into different styles for different uses by non-academic entities.

Translation and exchange are central tenets of the Social Impact Fellowship program, said Assistant Dean for Professional Development James M. Van Wyck.

“The experiential opportunities allow PhDs to learn best practices for sharing their research with a wide range of audiences – and to incorporate what they learn from these new audiences into their research,” a- he declared. “The Social Impact Scholarship program prepares graduate students to try new ways of pursuing the life of the spirit and helps them see what a publicly engaged doctorate can do – that they assume a professorial role or hold positions beyond the academy.

As a former Ph.D. student herself, Clark-Shirley understood some of the challenges of translating doctoral-level research, writing, and presentation for a variety of audiences. Making this transition is vital as PhD graduates apply their skills in different types of career contexts.

“A lot of my colleagues leave academia for better or for worse, and they struggle because not all of the programs help you think about what it’s like to work in a non-academic setting and what what it’s like to reframe the skills that you bring and apply them to a non-academic setting,” Clark-Shirley said. more marketable in the academic or non-academic environment.

Kubu added, “Participating in this type of scholarship can differentiate Princeton graduate students and create an option in an ever-changing job market, but we hope this experience will also inspire them to apply their doctoral training in multiple ways that serve the public good. ”

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