What is Professional Development?
Professional development, as defined by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, is “the process that individuals follow to keep themselves informed about issues, ideas, topics and trends related to their fields of work”. It’s pretty simple. You are constantly looking for ways to enhance your professional knowledge. Particular academic disciplines have different forms of professional development. For example, math professors may attend conferences with other mathematicians in order to share research results or collaborate on new projects. Perhaps they will present a paper on a topic they have been studying for years or they will present their work up for approval via peer review at the conference. In any case, the purpose of this type of professional development is presenting and discussing mathematical research with other mathematicians; therefore it would be considered “professional development”.
Other types of professionals may be involved in more experiential forms of professional development such as attending workshops that teach them how to do something differently (i.e., learn new technologies) or networking with people who can help them achieve their goals (i.e., mentors). While these types aren’t necessarily academic pursuits and may not involve much formal learning (though there might be some), they still go hand-in-hand with one’s career aspirations because it allows one’s career goals to move forward faster than if he/she were not involved in those activities at all. In order to keep up your skills and stay current with what’s going on in your field, you need to participate in some sort of professional development.
Why Professional Development?
You might be wondering why we should even bother with this stuff. What’s the point? While it can be good for us personally and intellectually, professional development is also important because it keeps us competitive. There are a lot of people out there who want what you have and they’re willing to do anything to get it. This means that if you don’t keep yourself up-to-date, someone else will take your spot before you know it! If we all sit back and wait for opportunities to fall into our laps, they won’t just appear out of nowhere; we need to go out and actively seek them.
A lot of people don’t like to hear this, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that if you’re not getting what you want, there’s probably someone else who’s willing to do whatever it takes to get what you have. It may be someone else in your field or maybe even outside of your field. Maybe they are willing to work harder or maybe they are willing to learn something new regardless of the time it will take them. That doesn’t mean we should all quit our jobs and go work at McDonalds! But what I’m really trying to say is that if you feel stuck in your current job then perhaps professional development can help.
I’ve seen this happen personally with two different friends/colleagues who were working as accountants for several years before deciding that they wanted something different out of life than sitting behind a desk crunching numbers all day long (for 8-10 hours). They both enrolled in graduate school and went back for their masters degrees in order to make their careers more interesting because school was much easier than doing actual accounting! After getting their masters degrees, one friend eventually joined the Peace Corps which allowed him travel around the world while working on community projects related to education reform; now he is helping lead humanitarian efforts around the world. The other friend quit his job, went back to school again, and now works as a building contractor.
These are just two scenarios I have seen first-hand. There are probably thousands of others out there whose careers took off after deciding to take their professional development seriously. The key is not to wait until something happens that forces you into the situation but to proactively seek opportunities for professional development because it will help your career down the road.
How Do We Go About Finding Opportunities For Professional Development?
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with this sometimes! One thing that seems to work for me is finding someone else who’s already doing what I want and seeing if they’ll take me under their wing (i.e., mentor). It’s easier said than done though! How do you bring yourself out there when everyone else is trying so hard not to be seen? This can be quite difficult especially when we’re talking about networking with people far above our pay grade or even in the same field as us who have much more experience than we do; it seems like a daunting task at times! However, remember that someone once did this for you too; if they hadn’t then perhaps today wouldn’t be where it currently is at right now.
I hope you’ve learned something useful from this post and I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
Thank you for reading!