PhD Plus Program Philosophy


phd plus program philosophy graphic




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We encourage PhD students and Postdocs (collectively called ‘trainees’) to be thoughtful and intentional in their professional development. The PhD Plus program is structured to focus on centering professional development needs at various stages of doctoral and postdoctoral training. We recommend that trainees regularly reflect on their values, interests and learning goals, and engage with the most relevant training opportunities that we offer.

In the early years, we recommend that trainees participate in the Foundations series to expand self-knowledge, and to learn how to develop fundamental skills that will help them meet their training goals at UVA. For the middle years of training, we outline a strategic framework for goal-setting toward professional development.

This framework, which can be applied to diverse career aspirations (details in program mechanics), outlines a progressive, tiered approach towards professional development:

 Level 1. Research- Trainees apply their research skills to continue learning about themselves, and their (current and future) professional environments.

 Level 2. Community – Trainees cultivate communities of peers, alums and mentors to learn about careers and inform their professional path.

Levels 3 and 4: Development- Researching careers and professional environments through insights from communities will inform knowledge of valued skills and experiences for success in diverse sectors. Trainees will leverage this knowledge for strategic planning of professional development toward careers of choice. 

Level 3. Skills- Trainees participate in PhD Plus offerings to develop skills based on their professional development goals. For example, in early years PhD students can participate in fellowship training if that’s a valuable skill for thriving in graduate school.

Level 4. Experience: To develop specific experiences for career success, trainees can participate in the experiential learning opportunities.

In advanced years, trainees will learn about job search strategies and learn about best practices.

Key terms 

For better understanding of how the PhD Plus program philosophy is applied towards program mechanics, we want to define key terms we consistently use.

Core Modules and Categories

A “core module” affords distinct professional development for success in PhD and Postdoc training (e.g. Foundations series, Career Design), and a wide variety of careers after PhD (e.g. Consulting, Future Faculty). Each core module includes four “categories” based on the progressive and tiered strategic framework outlined in program philosophy: Research, Community, Skills and Experience.

  1. Research: Events under this category will broaden awareness of the types of careers and work, organizational cultures and people in the field.
  2. Community: Events and stories under this category will help trainees cultivate professional community of peers, alumni, mentors and employers
  3. Skills series: Skills series are theoretical modules that facilitate development of distinct skills valued in different careers and professional environments. Skills series are similar to courses, they have progression, can span multiple weeks in a semester, and sometimes over multiple semesters, and should be completed for optimal knowledge. Skills series are developed by a lead instructor and can be facilitated by groups of instructors (e.g. Data Literacy in R). Instructors define criteria for successful completion. Upon successful completion of skills series, PhD students are eligible for non-credit career notification on their academic transcript (e.g. PhDP 9100 for Career Design skills series) . Transcript notations will be reflected in the semester of completion.
  4. Experience: Experiential learning opportunities, such as project-based learning, internships, competitions comprise  “experience” category of core module.


Competencies are a collection of skills. Based on Career Readiness Competencies by National Association of College and Employers (NACE) and National Postdoc Association (NPA), PhD Plus has created a taxonomy of 6 broad competencies: Analytical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Cultural Competence, Leadership & Management, Personal Development. Each core module and its categories are labeled with appropriate competencies. This essentially reflects that participating in a specific core module category will enable development of one or more competency. More on competencies here.