Make Time for Professional Development

I’m betting that many of us entered academia because we love to learn. We were the kids who read extra books, did extra work, reveled in intellectual conversations. And yet in modern higher ed, many of us are in precarious, overworked and underpaid positions that offer little time or funding for regular professional development. It’s like the university system thinks that giving us time (and funds) to THINK and learn is not at all integral to our actual jobs. When the pandemic arrived in the U.S., my regular opportunities for PD vanished. Specifically, funding for our department’s learning communities dried up and conferences were largely canceled. Like many of you, I found the prospect of being on a computer longer than absolutely necessary ridiculous. And yet, I could feel the isolation and frustration with my academic obligations balloon. Finally, there came a point last spring when I thought to myself, “if I can’t make time for professional development, what am I even doing?”

I’ve mentioned before that you should make more room for rocks, find ways to make your career awesome, and set good boundaries. Part of doing all this, for me, is making time for regular professional development. In fact, I make it a weekly goal to spend at least an hour on learning something new related to my profession. One upside of the pandemic, after the initial fallout, has been the increasing number of virtual professional development options. The best part is how many international events I’ve “attended” thanks to this virtual format. Time zone issues aside, this has been a boon for me. I, for one, hope that at least some of these continue even after the pandemic ends. What follows is some advice for making professional development happen in your life.

Find Your PD Gold

Even before the pandemic, virtual options for professional development abounded. Just take a look around YouTube to see how many recorded lectures, webinars, and course content videos exist. I am thinking of “professional development” broadly here and not at all in the smarmy way that you might be associating it with (e.g. boring, brownbag presentations at the corporate office). Whatever gets you excited, go for it! I gravitate towards a mix of tutorial style content (like how to use Twine!) and teaching-specific events (e.g. Jesse’s Ungrading session later today!) and broader focus lectures and roundtables on everything from data privacy to public-facing scholarship.

Schedule It

As I mentioned above, I have “PD” listed as a weekly task that I should actually schedule into my calendar each week. When I go to plan my goals for the week, I look around to see where I might fit an hour or so of PD to meet that criteria I set for myself. It isn’t always possible, but I make an effort to prioritize it. Sometimes it is driven by a date/time because it is live and a workshop-style event, but I also come across a lot of events that are recorded or available on-demand. Whenever I come across these types of events, I add them to a list called: Professional Development Options. When I sit down to my PD hour, I select one of the options from the list and get to work.

Take Notes or Just Listen

Like many academics, I am a notebook lover. It took me a while to come up with a system that worked for me. Now I keep a simple notebook for all PD-related information. Once I finish taking notes, I number the pages and then add the title of the PD to the notebook index so I can easily locate the information again at a later time. Sometimes I move these notes into digital notes depending on what I plan to do with them. And in some cases, I do not take notes but simply listen. I might put my wireless headphones on and fold laundry while I focus on what is being said. In any case, I like to have at least a few minutes to process what I heard (whether that is through note-taking or just thinking).


Where this all falls apart for many of us is in the next steps. Where do all those notes and beautiful thoughts go? Do they languish in a half-filled notebook gathering dust in your office? Do they disappear into the ether? I’m by no means suggesting you need to do ALL the things right away. I have plenty of notes that went nowhere and did nothing tangible, but I also wouldn’t be doing all this work if I didn’t plan to use it in some way. So my suggestion is to remind yourself to consult these notes at some point in whatever project you’re working on. For instance, if it is teaching related PD, you might put a little note on your calendar or in your kitchen sink course design document to consult the notes from that Twine webinar you took. Or if a lecture you watched might be a good option for a class or for a work-in-progress article, put a note in the bibliography for those things (or tag it with relevant keywords like I do – e.g. “reading for ENG 302”). Or even more low-key is just to schedule some time at some future date (maybe as part of your summer plan) to look back over your notebook to see if anything in there sparks some new ideas.

Spread the PD Love

Finally, consider collating and sharing these awesome resources for others. Even if you just save them in a file somewhere so they’re handy the next time you’re mentoring an undergraduate or graduate student or even just chatting with a colleague who’s looking to learn a new teaching method. Share them in your professional networks, on your blog, your newsletter (see below), and/or via social media! Some of the best resources that I’ve seen have come from friends and mentors. It is also one of my EAC principles to be a resource to other early career academics whenever I can.

What are your thoughts on professional development? Been to any great ones lately? Are there some good ones coming up? Please share in the comments!

Also, I am thinking of launching a biweekly newsletter which would contain a post roundup and Links I’m Loving. Would you subscribe to such a letter? Let me know in the comments!

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).

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