Duke Anti-Resume Project

Sarah Xu and Kami Pullakhandam are two rising seniors at Duke. They met freshman year in Alspaugh and have been friends ever since. They created the Duke Anti-Resume Project in Spring 2021.

3 years ago, back when we first met!

By the end of our first semester at Duke, we knew that there were flaws in Duke’s culture of effortless perfection. But we never thought we could do anything about it. If anything, we were both part of the system and perpetuating it: sacrificing our well-being for grades, feeling like our worth was dependent on whether or not we got an internship, letting go of valuable social time in exchange for grueling hours spent studying.

Inspired by the Anti-Resume Project at the University of Pennsylvania, we realized that there were ways to help people think differently about how they define success and value themselves. Through the Duke Anti-Resume Project, we aim to celebrate the successes that don’t end up on resumes and help people know they’re not alone when things don’t work out as planned. This past semester, we asked Duke students, faculty, and alumni to submit “Anti-Resumes” where they answered prompts about who they are outside of their resumes. Prompts included “Memories I made when I wasn’t studying or working”, “Everyday L’s”, and “Things I learned that will still matter in 10 years.”

A little snippet of Sarah’s Anti-Resume! Be sure to see the full version here.


We created a website to showcase the Anti-Resumes and spread the word about the project through our project Instagram and speaking to student groups. We published the Anti-Resumes on April 22nd and have had over 1,000 unique visitors to our website. It was especially rewarding to see messages thanking us for doing the project and to hear about students who reached out to those who submitted Anti-Resumes to thank them for sharing their  experiences.

The Anti-Resume Project is not only an initiative to change the conversation about struggles at Duke, but is also our personal commitment to valuing ourselves beyond our resumes. By creating this project, we are able to dedicate time in our days to the lesson of “you are more than just what you do.” The project helped us realize that sometimes going out with friends is more important than studying an extra few hours, that experiences are just as valuable as achievements.

A section of the gallery of Anti-Resumes on our website.

In the future, we hope to expand the initiative through countless other projects and publishing more Anti-Resumes from the Duke community. We want to thank the Academic Guides program and Professor George Grody for their support of the Anti-Resume Project, as well as all the people who submitted Anti-Resumes and contributed to our message. 

If you would like to submit an Anti-Resume, you can do so here.  If you’re interested in joining us, email us: dukeantiresume@gmail.com

Let’s Talk Failure

Lucy Zheng is a senior at Duke University, studying biology. She currently assists the Academic Guides Program with graphic design and marketing, and is loving the opportunity to stretch her design skills! Lucy loves singing, making art, and baking. After graduation she plans to go to medical school, and hopes to pursue a career in sexual and reproductive health.

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One of the most basic lessons a student can learn from research is simply Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong will go wrong. 

As soon as I began working in a lab during my sophomore year, the fact that things would often go wrong became quickly apparent. So many factors could ruin what I thought would go smoothly, and when there was something I missed as I fumbled in the process of learning, I felt deeply disappointed in myself. I hauled this heavy sense of disappointment to and from the long walk to Research Drive every week.

As I worked in my lab, and also faced the obstacles of college—mixing up procedures, failing exams, and more—I realized how my gut reaction to mistakes was often bitter disappointment. I had linked achievement and perfection to my own identity, and when those characteristics were put into question, I doubted myself, and that doubt hindered me from taking action and improving. 

The failures and the sense of shame I felt about myself could often feel deeply isolating. Especially in a space like Duke, where effortless perfection feels so written into the atmosphere of the student body, it’s easy to forget how prevalent failure is. When I failed, sometimes I felt like I failed alone. 

It was talking to the people around me, opening up about the failures and anxiety and uncertainty I experienced in my research, that reminded me of how much I wasn’t alone. After sharing my stories of experiments gone wrong, of making so many mistakes and being so ashamed of myself, of wanting to leave my lab but feeling tied down, my friends, my peers, and students I looked up to began to share their stories of failure, of failing exams, of research protocols gone horribly, horribly wrong, of feeling beaten down and weary by the constant motion of being a student trying so hard to succeed. But their stories rarely ended purely with a dejected sigh. There was often an upturn, a conclusion about how failure steered them to the path they were meant to be on, how it taught them about their own strength and persistence. Those stories got me through my research experiences, inspiring me to find new ones that lit a spark in me that I hadn’t felt before.


Me on a hiking trip, a few seconds before I failed to keep my balance and nearly fell into the water!



Lack of conversation about failure can make it feel rare and deeply isolating when you are experiencing it. By sharing in the experience with those around me, creating a space with those I cared about to talk openly— that made all the difference.

Attending the Duke Real Talk on failure a few weeks ago reminded me of the importance of establishing that space. I’m rarely in spaces where I can speak to students I haven’t met before—much less faculty—about our experiences of failure, how they’ve allowed us to grow, how they’ve made us better. As I sat in the breakout room, listening to stories of my peers struggling with classes, with applications to jobs and programs, struggling to teach complicated concepts of physics to younger students, as I listened to a statistics professor speak about how astonishingly terrible his exam scores were in graduate school, I was reminded once again of how prevalent failure is, and how much it can teach us, lead us. Especially with faculty, whom I’ve looked up to as the leaders and scholars in their field, it’s so easy to imagine them as paragons of perfection who have never failed. But they have, of course—we all have. Failure is human, helping us understand ourselves better, guiding us in new directions that will help us grow.

So, let’s talk about it. When have you experienced failure? When have your friends, your mentors, and the people you look up to the most messed up, made mistakes, crashed and burned in remarkable, surprising, and even impressive ways that make them laugh now to recall? And what did you learn; what did they learn? By talking about it, we stand to learn so much more— about each other, about ourselves and our journeys, and about the experiences that unite us.


Space Matters

College was my first time being around white people en masse. I attended a predominantly Black high school and a predominantly Black church, so all my pre-college spaces were filled with the familiarity and safety of Black culture. Space matters. In his book The Great Good Place, sociologist Ray Oldenburg refers to a “third space” as a place where people come together and interact outside of home or work/school (their first and second spaces). Cafés, coffeeshops, hair salons, and barbershops are examples of third spaces. People who occupy these spaces often feel that a part of their identity is valued and supported there.

For those who identify as members of underrepresented or marginalized groups, these spaces are extremely important. Counterspaces, a term often used in higher education, are “sites where deficit notions of people of color [or other marginalized groups] can be challenged and where a positive climate can be established and maintained” (Solorzano, 2000, p. 70). These spaces also facilitate adaptive responding, which has the overall goal of “protecting and enhancing the self-concept and, in doing so, promoting psychological well-being in marginalized individuals” (Case & Hunter, 2012, p. 260).

During my first year as a college student, I quickly got involved in three different campus organizations that served as counterspaces for me. As a Black student attending a predominantly white institution (PWI), I borrow the words of KerryAnn O’Meara to describe what these types of spaces meant to me: “I felt welcome, at home, and free of the constraints I’d encountered in both my primary [home] and secondary [school/classroom] spaces.” These feelings are a big part of why I stayed involved in these organizations throughout my four years in college.

So, in keeping with the consistency of threes, here are three ways that my three counterspaces/third spaces helped me find my way through college:

Finding My People

I thought I knew what I was getting into attending a PWI; I wanted a different experience in college than I had in high school. But I wasn’t prepared for the alienation I’d feel when my white peers would purposely avoid making eye contact or crossing paths with me. I wasn’t prepared for the moments of “did they really just say that?” Like the time the girls on my freshman hall chose “ghetto fabulous” as the hall’s theme for our welcome week activities and proceeded to ask me how to be ghetto. *stares into the camera Jim Halpertly*

The classic Jim stare into the camera

I grew up in the suburbs of Charlotte.

For those reasons and more, I was so thankful for the Black Student Coalition (BSC). The BSC was a space and place (there was also a physical house where students gathered) that felt like home on campus. I was able to meet and build relationships with other Black students, Black faculty and staff, and Black alumni. I spent so many days and nights at the BSC house having late night laughs with friends, learning about issues important to the Black community, attending homecoming cookouts, and planning the best parties. This space grounded me and provided stability in the face of the chaos of microaggressions and feelings of invisibility.

Finding My Voice

I’m an introvert…always have been, probably always will be. But growing up, my introversion was also equivalent to silence. Being a part of STRIDE was the beginning of changing that. STRIDE was a pre-orientation and peer mentoring program for incoming students of color. I always credit it as being the reason why I stayed at my alma mater. STRIDE gave me the opportunity to be formally and informally mentored by and to mentor other students of color.


Members of the STRIDE program at the Aggie Eagle Classic during my first year

My introversion caused me to be silent, to play small, and to shrink myself around others. My involvement in STRIDE put me in proximity to so many of my peers who let their light shine in various and unique ways, from representing the interests of students of color in student government to creating a slam poetry group and from speaking out against administrators who were treating students unfairly to advocating for new academic programs that would reflect the cultural diversity of the student body. Watching them and learning from them allowed me to become confident in my own voice and in my own light. It’s like Marianne Williamson said: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Finding My Joy

Many PWIs create and perpetuate spirit-murdering experiences for Black students. “Spirit murder” is a term coined by legal scholar Patricia Williams (1987) to address how “racism is as devastating, as costly, and as psychically obliterating as robbery or assault” (p. 129). Education scholar Bettina Love applies spirit murdering to the educational experiences of Black and Brown students and, in a 2019 article, refers to spirit murder as “a slow death, a death of the spirit, a death that is built on racism and intended to reduce, humiliate, and destroy people of color.” As such, joy is a necessary tool for surviving and thriving. Joy is both resistance and resilience.

Me (far right) during my senior year with the other members of Shades of Brown

The Shades of Brown step team was my space of joy. It was my space to create, to collaborate, and to laugh…even through two-a-day or 7 am practices. No matter what type of foolery or shenanigans I had been dealing with earlier that day, stepping brought me back to myself. I was able to take off the mask that I felt I needed to wear to protect myself from the many methods of spirit murder—imposter syndrome, stereotype threat, and racial battle fatigue. And I was able to share the joy that I experienced in community with my teammates and with the larger campus. To quote Audre Lorde: “The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” It is a lot like the steps we would create: different beats made of many voices, stomps, and claps that come together to create a unified sound.

Space matters in higher ed: “places of engagement where…perceptions of learning, teaching, knowledge, and identity are being challenged” (Savin-Baden, 2008, p. 7). And typically, the focus is on classroom spaces, but those are not the only spaces where learning happens.

The BSC, STRIDE, and Shades of Brown not only helped me find my way through college but also helped me find my way to my purpose as an educator. They were learning spaces as much as (if not more than) any classroom was. These experiences are the foundation of why I’m excited to do that work that I do: to create and maintain spaces that build community, encourage students to find and amplify their unique voices, and promote joy in the face of adversity.

It’s the People that Matter Most

“I think I want to look into transferring somewhere else.Half-way through my first semester of college, this is what I told my parents because I felt unfulfilled by how my semester was going. While I had made friends with people in my dorm and was on the competitive bass fishing team (yes, this is a real thing), I was still feeling disconnected. My classes were going okay (although my first midterm taught me it might be helpful to fully do the readings), but I was not feeling fulfilled academically. Additionally, it felt like people either went home on the weekends or partied, both of which were not what I had expected or wanted out of my “college experience.”  

Fast forward three and a half years later and I was in the final months of undergrad, not wanting it to end. Additionally, I had recently accepted a job offer to stay at my alma mater and work in our Center for Academic Success.  How did I go from being so convinced that I wanted to leave the university to not being able to imagine a better place to spend four years of my life, even choosing to stay one more? The answer, in many ways, is a simple one: other people. But unpacking what other people means leads to a story of finding a community, engaging with professors who eventually became friends, and making connections with others and resources on campus 

So, let’s return to the end of my first semester of college when I began to find my community. It started with early morning talks with this woman that sat behind the front desk of my residence hall. We chatted about classes, what she wanted to do in life, and her experience in Greek life at the university. As our friendship developed, I began to meet other people in Greek life who I really connected with over interests in history, politics, and education. Through these connections, I became interested in exploring Greek life, and when I returned from winter break, I decided to rush a fraternity. In the fraternity that I joined, I found a diverse group of individuals who shared a common interest in being excellent students, improving themselves, and investing in others. Ultimately, my fraternity provided me community that was not always perfect, but it was one that gave me many of my best friends in college, including the officiant and four groomsmen for my wedding to that woman I met at the front desk of my residence hall. This community started making the university I was at feel like home. 

I also began to cultivate meaningful relationships with my professors which led to some of the most impactful opportunities and experiences I had during college. By visiting professors’ office hours to talk to them about topics from class as well as their interests outside of academics like sports and comics, I began to get to know professors on a deeper level. Three professors in particularDrs. Brian and Laura Puaca and Dr. Andrew Falk—were extremely instrumental in my academic career. With their help, I was able to get involved in independent undergraduate research focusing on a World War IIera black community in Newport News, VA, as well as win research grants to complete archival research and oral history projects. As I started to think about wanting to possibly go to grad school to study history, I had countless conversations with them about what grad school was like, ways to strengthen my application, and how to evaluate different programs. During my senior year, when I felt completely overwhelmed with completing an independent research project, writing a senior thesis, working a part-time job, studying for the GRE, applying to grad schools, and trying to enjoy my final year, as I sat crying in their offices, they let me know that I could take a year off and would be an even stronger applicant for grad school. Additionally, they encouraged me to apply for a year-long fellowship to work at my alma mater which ultimately was the experience that led me into the world of student success. Beyond being important mentors, Brian, Laura, and Andrew became friends who invited me over for dinners, celebrated my acceptance to my top choice grad school on Taco Tuesday at our favorite brewery, attended my wedding, and whom I look forward to catching up with when our schedules allow. Cultivating these relationships with faculty not only opened doors to academic experiences I never thought were possible, but also allowed me to feel a deeper connection to the work I was doing in the classroom, helping me feel fulfilled academically and personally.  

Finally, my alma mater became the home I love and cherish today through the friendships and connections with other people at the university. For example, during college I worked the front desk of one of the freshman residence halls and became friends with Randy, the lead from facilities. Connecting over fishing, football, and stories of knucklehead students, Randy’s visits by the front desk made my day. Ms. Virginia, campus legend and cook at the dining hall, made my day as well whenever I went to get an omelet for breakfast; she would have my order ready before I even got to tell her what I wanted. And when I started to experience anxiety for the first time, my counselor from the University Counseling Center gave me strategies to cope and introduced me to mindfulness, which is something I value and work to implement in my life to this day. These relationships with staff at the university made me feel truly cared for and that if I ever needed anything, someone would be there to help. Really, the people I met turned my University into my “home.”  

So sure, I worked hard, put my nose to the grindstone, and studied countless hours in the library to get through college, but really, I would not have made it through as successfully or with as much joy as I did without the countless number of people who were a part of my journey.

Looking Back, Looking forward  

A Conversation with Academic Guides Thomas Phillips and Katherine Jo

Thomas: Fall 2020 was certainly an interesting time to launch the Academic Guides program. Due to the pandemic, we had to be nimble because we couldn’t work in the residence halls as we had planned. As our goal was to meet students where they are, we thought that it really made sense to connect with students and hear from them instead of making assumptions about their needs. We conducted focus groups, sent out a survey, and just listened to them about their experiences at Duke in general and during COVID. Basically, this semester started as a listening tour.  

So, Katherine, what struck you about these conversations? 

Katherine: I was pleasantly surprised and appreciative of how open students were to talking about their experiences and the challenges they were facing, given that they’d never met us. I loved their candor and thoughtfulness about what was great about being a Duke student and what was tough about this place. 

Thomas: Absolutely. One of the first questions we asked was what they loved most about Duke; I expected many students to praise clichés like basketball or gothic architecture, but they all kept coming back to the people: the relationships with fellow students, staff, faculty… sadly, but not surprisingly, it was also the thing they were missing the most at Duke due to COVID. 

Katherine: Along those lines, one comment made by a student about Zoom has remained with me. He named something thats easily overlooked when thinking about what’s lost on Zoom. He said there’s no more of the chitchat with classmates that happens before and after class and that those informal interactions are essential for meeting and connecting with others. For me, this was helpful for planning our programs and events. It was important to create the space and opportunity for these informal interactions rather than creating a more formal and highly structured program. 

Thomas: That student was correct. I heard time and again about Zoom fatigue being real, which shattered some of my misconceptions that we’d easily realize our ideas virtually this semester.  We decided to redirect our efforts in order to offer opportunities for students to connect in real life, off their screens, but that maintained health and safety. We ended up doing a lot of events outdoors, for instance, wellness walks at Duke Gardens and This Semester’s Trash. There were study breaks and Meet & Greets. Students really responded; turnout was great (and so was the weather—we were really lucky!). It became clear that meeting students where they are physically is important to our role. 

Katherine: Talking to students directly turned out to be really fruitful because we wouldn’t have gained as concrete an understanding of what they experience and value in their daily lives. And understanding the various stressors at Duke and what students need is crucial to our work as Academic Guides.  

Thomas: When we asked them what they find most stressful about being a Duke student, the most frequent answers were the workload, pressure to do everything, and the competitive environment. All of these seemed to congeal in the frequent refrain of “effortless perfection.”   

Katherine: To me, the fact that effortless perfection was named as one of the main stressors by almost all the students we talked to confirmed and clarified the purpose of the Academic Guides in providing holistic academic support. We want students to be successful, academically and otherwise, but we are here to support them in developing and pursuing goals that are based on a healthy—and realistic—view of success and their own sense of meaning and purpose rather than on a fictitious and impossible ideal. 

Thomas: At the same time, one highlight for me was hearing some students talk about “effortless perfection” as something in the past, that some juniors and seniors recognize it as a myth and have been able to move forward on their own path. I think this underscores the need for individualization in advising as students aren’t all in the same place. 

Katherine: Right. Individualized and personalized. One comment I heard multiple times, including from staff, is that there’s an abundance of advising and support for students, but that this very abundance can be overwhelming. Students aren’t sure where to start or go. But with our location in the residence halls, they don’t have to go far to find us, and while we don’t do everything the other advisors do, students can start with us to figure out what steps to take next.   

Thomas: And on our survey, when we asked what would make them more likely to seek support services, the response that was selected the most was “if someone who offers those services personally reached out to me to meet or talk with them.” Not only is it nice to have someone personally reach out to you, but it simplifies the process. Again, being in the residence halls will make it easier to build those personal relationships with students. 

Katherine: So, Thomas, as you look ahead to the spring semester, what are you excited about?  

Thomas: Renewed promise! I don’t mean that as the cliché of winter’s end and the arrival of spring, but I really do believe that we can maintain the safe environment Duke managed during the fall semester so that this coming semester doesn’t end abruptly.  

Katherine: Yes, I agree. But even if we can’t return to campus soon, I’m excited about supporting students in new ways that create meaningful opportunities to connect with others and grow. We learned the impact of simple yet powerful “non-programs” that speak to our humanity on a basic level—breathing fresh air and being in nature, laughing together, playful interactions. 

Thomas: We were forced to be creative and resourceful, so maybe it’s not as hard as we thought. 2021, here we come! 

The pandemic ponderings of an Academic Guide

To say that this 2020 was wild is…. barely scratching the surface. 

We had to navigate a global health crisis while simultaneously reckoning with racism and discrimination in our past and present and coping with an endless and chaotic election cycle. 

I am missing family that I haven’t been able to see in a year or more, including those that I will never see again as they died during the pandemic and, in some cases, from COVID-19. 

Many of us worry—for the first time or more than ever—about how we will pay for the things we need. And many of us are navigating countless other concerns, questions, and demands.   

Against this backdrop, many of us also started something new. Like so many of you beginning your first year of college, the Academic Guides also started a new journey at Duke in August. We are a team of seven who are each assigned to a residence hall(s), where we facilitate collaborative and innovative student-centered activities, provide individualized and personal support, and connect students with a continuum of resources to enrich their experience. We are so excited to be here! 

And also, adjusting to a new environment is difficult. Doing so during a pandemic means that it is all totally different from anything any of us have experienced before and anything we might have anticipated. We have all been forced to embrace the reality created for us. Meeting and working with new people is…not new to me. Nearly every job I’ve had—from restaurant hostess to teacher to therapist– has been social and dynamic. So the idea of meeting my colleagues, campus partners and students was exciting and familiar…. except that it wasn’t. Because we spent our entire first month working together staring at and interrupting one another on Zoom. And then when I did finally meet my Academic Guides colleagues in person, I didn’t recognize anyone because we were all masked. The process of getting to know one another, establishing trust and figuring out how to work together has taken a long time. Longer than with any other team of which I have been a part. But, of course that’s the case. None of us have ever started a new job as a brand-new team during a pandemic. 

In 2020, we have all been forced to, in some way, slow down, and let go of our expectations. For the Academic Guides, our new reality meant that we had to say goodbye to our plans to facilitate a robust and dynamic schedule of activities in the fall semester.

Instead, we took what we called a “listening semester.” We had a million introductory calls with campus partners (okay maybe more like 30 but zoom fatigue is real) to learn about their work. We held focus groups with students and sent out student surveys to hear for ourselves how students experience Duke. We tabled and crashed RA staff meetings and programs. And we listened. 

We heard that the thing that students most enjoy about Duke is the people. And that the workload and the competitive environment are really quite stressful for most students. That although students know that there are a lot of resources available to them, they don’t always know where to go or what is available related to a specific need or want. We heard that one of the main sources of stress for students is this belief that students must “have it all,” and “do it all,” effortlessly

Folks at Duke—ourselves included—do not seem to have a lot of practice when it comes to slowing down and letting go of expectations. As someone whose primary “hobby” for the last 10 years has involved taking on another job or pursuing formal education—or both, simultaneously—I get it. But in 2020, the decision to slow down was made for us. When we as Academic Guides slowed down, let go, and listened, we were able to think about who we are, and not just what we do. And yes, ultimately, we were able to do. We organized and implemented activities that did the things that students told us they wanted, including: 

  • getting peer support and guidance on class selection, 
  • knowing where to go for questions about internships or clubs to join, 
  • learning strategies for improving study routines and time management,
  • thoughtfully and intentionally planning their time at Duke, 
  • spending mindful time in nature, and
  • relieving stress.

In other words, we were able to really do student-centered, community-based work, which is our entire goal and mission as Academic Guides. I don’t know that we would have been as successful if things had gone as we had expected, and had we not taken the time to listen and reflect.

Obviously, slowing down and letting go of our expectations is still hard. It’s still a huge challenge for me—I literally must schedule leisure time. Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible. But then again, neither did starting something brand new in a pandemic, nor did living under pandemic conditions for nine months, and we did it. I did it. You did it. And we’d love to talk with you about it. 

Find Your Way

Welcome to “Find Your Way,” the newly created blog curated by the Academic Guides. This space will feature bi-weekly posts about the many ways to find your way to, through, and after Duke. The posts will cover a variety of topics including learning strategies, the myth (or cultural norm) of “effortless perfection,” the intersections of academics and well-being, finding meaning and purpose, and so much more. We (the Academic Guides) will be sharing our own thoughts, experiences, and interesting findings and enlisting the various members of the Duke community – undergrads, grad students, faculty, staff, and alumni – to do the same.

Interesting in writing for the blog? We’d love for you to submit a piece. Check out our Blog Submission Guidelines for information about what type of posts we accept, formatting guidelines, and our publishing process. If you have any questions along the way, you can email us at academicguides@duke.edu.

Thanks for stopping by and happy reading!

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