Among my circle of friends I count two doctors, three nurses, one psychologist, two social workers and five teachers. Over the years I’ve watched with interest as they attend professional development activities that are a requirement for maintaining their professional registration. Workshops, training courses and master classes are just a few of the things they attend each year to make up the mandated professional development hours.
For academics, however, there is no such mandate. Once you’ve finished your PhD, few and far between are the formal opportunities for learning new skills or acquiring new knowledge. Of course academics learn on the job, but this kind of ‘workplace learning’ is usually ad hoc, often patchy, and frequently takes the form of ‘trial and error’. In short, it leaves a lot to be desired.
In the absence of mandatory requirements, we academics need to take responsibility for our own professional development and create a DIY programme that will ensure we have opportunities to develop new skills, extend our knowledge, and advance our career.
Here are my Seven Steps for creating your own DIY Professional Development Programme.
- Ask a librarian – University Librarians are the most underestimated weapon in the academic’s arsenal. They regularly develop and deliver workshops on everything from database searching to formatting long documents, and these are usually free to academic staff and postgraduate students.
- Be strategic – Think about what you’ll need and work with your boss or supervisor to schedule these activities ahead of time. Also, most Departments or Schools have small pots of money that can be used to support course or conference attendance. Apply for these funds or write the cost of this attendance into your research grant applications. If you’re in Australia, ACSPRI offers excellent short courses on a range of research method & data analysis techniques, for both quantitative and qualitative researchers.
- Enrol in a Graduate Certificate – If you want to develop your teaching skills, a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education will do the trick. Most universities offer these courses (or something similar) and are willing to subsidise costs for academic staff. If you’re a postgraduate student, talk to your university about the possibility of exchanging tuition for free teaching.
- Don’t feel guilty about coffee – Talking with other academics, particularly those outside your field, is a powerful form of DIY Professional Development. My academic friends include historians, anthropologists, pedagogues, engineers, criminologists, and journalists. Every time I chat with them I come away with a new perspective on my work and new items for my reading list.
- Get creative – Professional Development doesn’t have to be limited to workshops and textbooks. Novels, poetry, movies, theatre, and art exhibitions can all be powerful ways to deepen your understanding and broaden your perspective.
- Teach yourself – Your undergraduate and postgraduate training should have equipped you with the foundational knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to read, interpret, critique, and apply new knowledge and skills. So why not put this into practice? I recently taught myself how to use Conditional Process Analysis, using only a textbook, my brain, my undergraduate stats training and a few well-timed emails to the textbook’s author.
- Broaden your networks – Expanding your networks will expand your opportunities for professional development. Joining Piirus is a fast and effective way to connect with academics who have the skills and expertise you need for your next project.
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