Charlotte Ashley-Roberts, RSC Careers Specialist, explores why professional development is so important, and how contrary to popular belief, it is accessible to all
Professional Development strikes fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned professional but it is something that I am sure you will already be doing in your current role, probably without even thinking about it. Ultimately it means ‘learning to help you perform your present or future roles and maintain your professional competence’.
Most people associate their professional development with the more formal activities for example:
• Attending courses and seminars;
• On the job training;
• Attending conferences;
• Writing papers and giving presentations.
In recent years this has been fairly difficult for some individuals as their company hasn’t been able to pay for conferences or external courses, or provide training internally due to lack of resources, but it’s a common myth that these are the only ways to develop professionally. In fact there are a number of informal ways of developing your profession including:
• Reading journals and publications;
• Networking with other professionals, in person or online;
• Mentoring, coaching or tutoring others formally or informally;
• Community activities such as volunteering.
These are activities which may be encouraged or supported by your employer, activities which don’t take too much time and don’t cost too much money. The additional bonus for you is that by keeping your professional development up-to-date you can identify any skills gaps, which in turn may help you plan any future career changes.
If you are thinking of becoming a Chartered Scientist then professional development is an important part as it ensures that you meet and maintain the professional standards asked of you by your professional body (the Royal Society of Chemistry in our case) and also the Science Council and any other professional body you may be part of. It also allows you to demonstrate to your colleagues, managers and company that you are taking appropriate actions to maintain your level of competence.
Whilst it is useful to have support for professional development within an organisation ultimately you are the only one who has the responsibility for your lifelong learning; the development and maintenance of your knowledge and skills, both technical and business-orientated, so now is the time to take control of your career development.
I understand that trying to maintain records of your development whilst completing the demands of your job may seem a little daunting but I would certainly say that it is quality rather than quantity and that it needn’t be too time consuming.
I would recommend that you start by looking at what you do now, for example do you read any relevant magazines or attend any local events such as mixer meetings? Have you written any papers or given any presentations, internally or externally recently? You may have developed an online profile through LinkedIn or written a blog where you can connect to other like minded people.
Once you have a clear idea on where you are already carrying out development activities then it may be worth recording these. Many professional bodies have a template or online system which you can use or you may find your organisation already has one internally. This should take no more than 15 minutes at a time to complete an objective or activity.
It will take a little time to get used to recording it; perhaps it is something you could put down as an objective as part of your appraisal process? You could get your manager’s support, explaining not only the benefit to you as an individual, but also to your organisation.
You may also find you benefit from the actual process of planning your professional development, as it provides you with an opportunity to take stock of your present career situation and assess your current skills and those which you may require to fulfil your career potential.
Many people find themselves in a career rut, not really knowing how they got there. Sometimes it could be that they have taken the first job they were offered and stayed in the sector; sometimes they are unable to progress within the role or they may have been made redundant. Although these are usually times when people re-evaluate their position, anytime is a good time to review your career aspirations and your development goals.
Think about the activities or tasks which you like to do, these tend to be the activities you are good at. From here you can start thinking about jobs which may involve these types of activities. For example, if you like problem solving, looking at the strategic aspects and liaising with people and projects then perhaps project management might be an option. Of course there are a number of sectors and roles which involve project management from stepping up into a managerial or technical role to working in an events team in a completely different field.
Once you have decided which skills you like using, then it’s time to ‘interview’ other people for ideas or information about what they have done in their career. It is called informational interviewing. Many professional bodies offer networking opportunities as well as training and events including online webinars and live chats online with professional development specialists. This can help you make an informed decision as to which is the correct path for you.
Be sure to get as much information as you can, from as many sources as possible. For general information about roles have a look at www.prospects.ac.uk, although aimed at graduates it has lots of occupational profiles which can provide interesting insights into the skills and entry requirements for a particular job. I would also encourage looking up occupational videos on YouTube or on www.icould.com where you can find out about the careers paths people have taken, their motivation and their methods.
Seeking careers support is part of this process; you could get support through your family, friends or colleagues, a specialist careers adviser in your university (you can go back to your alumni careers service for a time after graduation, each university is different, it’s usually around 2-3 years) or via your professional body. It doesn’t have to be about changing role, it could be about progressing in the company you work for already or in a sector you enjoy. Just talking to someone objective about your options can help you find clarity in your thoughts or even give you some new and innovative ideas about your career development and/or plan.
Hopefully having started, maintained and reviewed your career goals through Continuing Professional Development (CPD) or separately, you will find a career which works for you. I would encourage you to be persistent in your approach, particularly if you are looking at a career change as this may take a little more time than if you are looking for progression in your chosen field/sector.
The benefits of professional development are unquestionable. Today’s employment market is changing rapidly, moving towards a more flexible labour market and your employability will be improved by having done some element of professional development, which shows adaptability and flexibility. It shows a prospective employer that you are serious about your career and also your own development, something which employers, recruiters and managers look for in a candidate.
- More about easyFairs LAB INNOVATIONS 2012
The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is running a special conference at easyFairs LAB INNOVATIONS on 7 & 8 November 2012 at Birmingham’s NEC. In addition to focussing on health and safety plus analytical chemistry – including the latest advances in measurement, life sciences and environmental research – a large component of the conference will centre on continual professional development.
LAB INNOVATIONS 2012 is the UK’s only event dedicated to showcasing the latest laboratory technology & consumables, analytical & biotech equipment. The show is being supported by RSC, Gambica, Campden BRI, the Institute of Measurement and Control, the Society of Biology, the British Pharmacological Society and the UK Science Park Association.
The show will feature:
• A top flight conference programme designed by the RSC and delivered by world-class experts – focussing on analytical chemistry – including the latest advances in measurement, life sciences and environmental research, health and safety, plus a key focus on continual professional development
• A free-to-attend seminar programme devised by Campden BRI on micro and analytical topics within food & beverage.
• A major exhibition with 12 worldwide product launches or UK debuts already confirmed.
• A demo area for the latest technologies.
• Lions’ Lair where companies will pitch their most innovative products to a panel of experts from the UK’s leading trade bodies.
To find out more about visiting go to www.easyFairs.com/LABINNOVATIONS