For the next two weeks the QUT Information Studies group has taken over the ILN Blog to discuss professional development.
I don’t want to just talk about the skills you need as an academic and what key competencies need to be in your professional development portfolio. If I were doing that I’d just be talking about the same essential skills that belong in many industries – things like reflective practice, communication, interpersonal skills and the like. What I would prefer to do is briefly mention the professional development I’m currently involved in, how it is relevant to me personally and professionally then wind up saying what I actually think PD needs to be (at least, what I think your attitude to it should be).
To begin, I’m an academic. I teach and research at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). In terms of professional development, I’ve been fortunate that through QUT I’ve been able to enrol in a Graduate Certificate of Academic Practice (GCAP). That qualification is significant, not just in terms of my employability or the university’s international standing (both of which it does help) but also for the students I’ll come into contact with as a teacher. I am an academic but to me that means more than just research. I’m someone who wants to position himself as both an educator and a researcher. That’s the type of academic I want to be. The GCAP provides me with the tools I need in order to achieve that aim and to develop the professional identity I want for myself. In short, it gives me an understanding of curriculum development, teaching strategy, academic protocols and developing a profile as an educator as well as a researcher. Those are all the things that I see as being integral to my position as an academic but have also been identified by my university and the academic education community as key competencies that academic staff need to possess.
That really is one of the key things you need to consider when approaching professional development. What is it that you want to achieve, how does it mesh with the vision you have of yourself as a professional (within whatever environment you happen to be working in) and how does it match up with the vision of the organisation or industry you work within?
There’s a need for balance. On the one hand you want to be driving your career but on the other hand you need to ensure that the direction you’re heading isn’t at odds with your industry. Professional development should have not only a point and a purpose but also a direction.
The second point I’d like to make is that professional development doesn’t have to focus solely on what you as an individual can get out of it. Or, to put it another way, you don’t have to be the principal beneficiary of the developmental scheme you undertake. It can be about improving the way you use the knowledge and skills you currently have in order to make them more accessible and beneficial to others.
As an example, I have good communication skills. I could easily say that they don’t need to be developed further. I could suggest that those who struggle to unpack the messages I deliver need to develop their listening and comprehension skills. The problem is theirs, not mine. However, to me that isn’t a professional attitude. I recognize that I deal with a broad audience with varying needs. To meet those needs I may not need to add something new to my professional repertoire but instead adapt what I already possess. I consider that willingness, to find a way of accommodating the needs of others, as much a part of professional development as participating in a workshop to develop a new suite of skills. In that regard, professional development is attitudinal.
If our professional development is guided by what will help us best serve the needs of others, there will still be a massive upside for us. It will show our commitment to lifelong learning, display our ability to be forward thinking (by identifying the needs of our publics or our industry) and put us in a position wherein we begin to raise standards rather than be continually having to chase the benchmarks others set.
Perhaps the idea I’m trying to get across is that professional development requires you being professional about development. It means looking closely at your own vision, aims and goals while also looking outside of the box you reside in to see what the needs are of the people and groups you will directly influence. That’s not to say that professional development should be purely altruistic but neither should it be purely self-serving.
– Dr Andrew Demasson