Life Design

Designing #JHUGradCamp2021

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On May 20th-21st, Johns Hopkins University’s Life Design Lab hosted the first-ever virtual #JHUGradCamp2021. This event was co-created by Karen Mardock, Nadine Goldberg, and me. This post recaps how we went about designing #JHUGradCamp2021.

What is #JHUGradCamp2021?

#JHUGradCamp2021 was a virtual graduate school boot camp aimed at helping students gain insights and skills needed to launch their graduate school career with expert advice from faculty, professionals, and current graduate students.

For this iteration, the event was open to all those who were connected to Johns Hopkins University in some way. We specifically designed the event with undergraduates of all years, recent alumni, and incoming graduate students in mind.

Designing #JHUGradCamp2021

Karen Mardock, Nadine Goldberg, and I employed a design thinking approach to designing #JHUGradCamp2021. Like many design projects, ours did not always follow the linear (A)EDIPT approach. The following sections outline our design process:

Life Design/Design Thinking Framework
Photo Credit: Distributed by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans under the Creative Commons License

Accept: Undergraduate Students Needed More Resources on Graduate School

During my first year as a Life Design Educator, many students wanted to chat about applying to graduate school. I even wrote two blog posts to help students navigate different aspects of the process:

  1. Considering Graduate School? 6 Life Design Activities to Help You Decide
  2. Getting Started With Graduate and Professional School Applications

Still, it was important to accept that our undergraduate students needed and wanted more support regarding various aspects of the graduate school application process.

Prototype + Test: Weighing Graduate School Series

Prior to co-creating #JHUGradCamp2021, I prototyped several workshops in a series called ‘Weighing Graduate School’. Insights from these workshops heavily influence the design of #JHUGradCamp2021.

Empathize: Data Analysis of Student Surveys

In order to better understand our students needs and desires, we analyzed previous data from a general survey distributed the Life Design Lab. We then followed up with a segment of students with a more targeted survey. Analyzing these data sets helped us figure out the topics that we students were truly interested in.

Preview of the targeted survey sent to students

Define: Figuring Out Format

We wanted our program to be a large-scale event. It also had to be virtual. After considering a few options, we decided on a 2-day boot-camp style event with live session panels and workshops. This format best conveyed that students would be getting key information, while being able to get their questions answered.

Ideate: Brainstorming Branding

Thanks to the brilliance of Maren Gonzales, we went with a camp theme to take the pressure off of students for the event. In addition, she helped us come up with the event name: #JHUGradCamp2021. Furthermore, we’re grateful that Matthew Golden transformed and created key images for us.

Define: Identifying Content

We were very thoughtful in defining the content of #JHUGradCamp2021. All sessions were posed as questions that students might have about certain topics surrounding graduate school. In addition, the first day had two tracks:

  1. Track 1: For students applying to graduate school
  2. Track 2: For students who were admitted to graduate school and would start in the fall
#JHUGradCamp2021 Timetable

Ideate: Recruiting Collaborators

Our collaborators were key to the success of this event. We kept all sessions (except for one) with collaborators in the JHU universe (e.g., staff, faculty, grad students, alumni, etc.). We did this so students felt they had a connection to the people and could follow up for more information and resources.

Furthermore, Roshni Rao and the PHutures Office were key partners. They helped us identify key graduate student and postdoctoral researcher collaborators.

We’re grateful to all the JHU offices and people who collaborated with us, as well as fellow Life Design Educators in the JHU Life Design Lab.

Prototype + Test: Executing the Event on a Virtual Platform

We considered various virtual formats for this event. Since we had been operating virtually for over a year, we had prototyped various options for virtual events (e.g., MS Teams, Zoom, Brazen, etc.). In the end, we decided on using Brazen for our event because:

  1. The entire event would be in one platform (i.e., no need for multiple links to each session)
  2. We could track usage for each session and the entire event (i.e., data collated easily)
  3. Increased security and privacy (i.e., no parties crashing sessions)

Like with any virtual platform, there were trade-offs. Ours included:

  1. Less engagement between panelists and participants (i.e., only interaction in the chat)
  2. No automatic video recording of sessions (i.e., moderators had to remember to press record)
  3. Unfamiliar medium (i.e., Brazen is not as commonly used as Zoom or Teams)

Nonetheless, Brazen turned out well for this prototype and test iteration of this event.

Highlights from #JHUGradCamp2021

Here are a few highlights from #JHUGradCamp2021. For more, search the #JHUGradCamp2021 on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram OR check out this summary thread on Twitter.

Closing Thoughts

Designing #JHUGradCamp2021 with Karen Mardock and Nadine Goldberg was one of my favorite projects as a Life Design Educator. Their work ethic, organization skills, and creativity are top-notch. In addition, they are a lot of fun to work with.

This event and program would not have been possible without our amazing collaborators and I will end this post on a thread of thank-yous that outlines the many people that helped make #JHUGradCamp2021 happen.

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