Congratulations, you have earned your doctoral degree! The journey to your Ph.D. or Ed.D. may have been a long, windy road, with a few exits and entrances to stay on track to the finish line, but you did it! Now, going forward, how can you capitalize on all your achievements as well as make significant contributions to your field?
An efficient way to do both things is through professional development, because it provides an opportunity for you to grow and learn from the wealth of knowledge and technological advances in your field. Professional development enhances the skills and abilities you need to do your work effectively and efficiently. And, at the same time, it provides an opportunity to network and grow your circle of positive and supportive people who have a common interest. The benefits are mutual: through professional development, you learn from others but can also share your own knowledge, skills and experience with them to make significant contributions to your field.
We recommend that you think about how you can effectively pursue your continuing professional development and, to get started, that you first reflect on three basic questions.
- How can I best identify three professional development organizations that focus on my field or discipline? You can ask colleagues, department administrators, centers for teaching and learning, or faculty organizations for ideas. You can also search online or in professional journals, which often promote professional development organizations in their publications.
- What two professional development milestones would I most like to accomplish to reach my immediate goal? Identify a short-term goal and the skills, knowledge and experience you needed to attain it. Continuously monitor and evaluate your progress toward that goal and make any needed adjustment in your professional development efforts.
- How can I share the knowledge that I’ve gained from my professional development initiatives with others? Offer to present at one of your institution’s department meetings and other events or post a summary of your professional development experience online for others to see. Write a brief article based on the topic for newsletters or journals. Some people also share what they’ve learned by reporting at meetings or doing a presentation at a conference.
Beyond these key questions, we also offer five general tips for improving your professional development.
- Find the time. This may seem like an easy tip to implement, but it is, in fact, one of the most difficult. Even after you know all the benefits of professional development and you’ve successfully completed the time-consuming job of earning your advanced degree, finding the time for professional development can be a challenge. We can be bombarded with tasks and responsibilities at work—Zoom meetings, committees, projects, emails, teaching—all of which seem to have short deadlines. We also have personal responsibilities with family, friends and social activities. But despite all the demands, try to carve out time and commitment for professional development at least a few times a year. You might attend a virtual webinar or conference, join a discussion board, have lunch with a mentor, or create your own professional development opportunity at your institution or organization. Additional resources: Mastering Time Management in Higher Education Careers, The Covey Time Management Matrix Explained
- Identify cost-effective opportunities. Now that you have earned your advanced degree, it is understandable that you are reluctant to pay for further professional development. But many professional associations, colleges and companies offer professional development opportunities at little or no cost. If you or your employer don’t have funding for you to participate in a professional development opportunity, see if the organization hosting the professional development event has scholarships for participants. There are also government grants that will cover professional development opportunities. In addition, you can significantly cut costs through collaborations, such as when you can attend or present with someone else at a professional development event. Your collaborators will also usually keep you informed of other professional development events that may fit your budget. Through research, networking and working with others, you should be able to find some financial support for your professional development. Additional resources: Tips on Collaborating, Career Development Grants
- Expand into different roles. Ongoing professional development can help you expand your skill set to prepare for different roles in your career. You might step out of your comfort zone by taking on the role of a presenter at an event. Even, and maybe especially, if you have a fear of presenting in front of others, doing a presentation on a topic that you enjoy can help you to overcome those fears and build your self-confidence. You can also help organize, plan and lead a conference, workshop or meeting. Additional resources: Tips on Creating Your Own Career Pathway, Tips on Presentation Skills, How to Push Boundaries & Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
- Learn about advances in technology. Professional development will allow you to stay abreast of changes in technology and how to apply them in your work—such as instructing students through distance education, using social media for networking and much more. Most institutions provide training to help their faculty and staff members learn the latest technological updates in learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas. They also provide professional development on how to incorporate educational technology into the curriculum to foster student engagement. If your institution or organization does not provide professional development in this area, explore online course sites that offer free or low-cost technology training. Additional resources: Increase Student Engagement in Your Online Course, 12 Free Online Course Sites for Growing Your Tech Skills
- Grow through networking. While earning your advanced degree, you probably had opportunities to network with other students and to form mentoring relationships with your professors. Ongoing professional development provides opportunities to continuously expand your network by connecting with others. Often, we attend professional development opportunities related to our field, job or subject we’d like to explore, which means we will meet people with similar interests and often want to stay connected. There are many virtual networking opportunities available—you can do networking online through professional associations, webinars, LinkedIn, blogs and social media. Networking through professional development is an excellent way to continue to grow as well as to expand your social network of positive, knowledgeable and inspiring colleagues. Additional resources: Networking Tips: Creating a Positive Circle in Higher Education, 7 Reasons Networking Can Be a Professional Development Boot Camp
In sum, while completing your advanced degree is a major achievement, the journey does not end there. We all have a lifetime of learning and growing. The questions, tips and resources related to maximizing your professional development that we’ve suggested here can provide ways for you to enhance your skill set, improve engagement and connections with your students, and contribute more to your field.