Professional Development: Where to Start and Where to Look (Hidden Curriculum #5)

For those of you who are new here, the hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. This month I’m talking professional development and why it’s so important, especially for grad students.

The classroom at the BSA where I took my ceramic petrology class

Professional development and academics have always been at odds. 

Either you write your thesis or you take workshops and courses that make you a better job candidate. 

Either you spend your summer working on a field project or you participate in an internship that gives you first-hand experience in the field you want to work in. 

But you can never do both. Or so it seems.

The truth is that you can and should be able to do both. But there are structural constraints which make it difficult.

We’re conditioned to prioritize our course and degree requirements, our research, our hypothetical tenure-track job – which is certainly important, but to an extent that leaves little room for anything else. Least of all actually preparing for an academic job (or any other kind of job, for that matter).

For me, this meant a total lack of time or energy to pursue workshops or courses that advanced me professionally until I reached candidacy. That was three years that I could have spent at least some time developing skills, field-specific or not.

I’m not on the job market yet, but as it rapidly approaches I think it’s important to emphasize what a follower on Instagram shared with me a few weeks ago. Grad school is not just about meeting requirements and writing a thesis; it’s about professional development, too, whether your department facilitates it or not. 

What’s the point of spending so many extra years in school if you don’t take advantage of the free workshops and courses around you? Or the larger benefits of being a part of an academic institution? 

If the opportunities you take interest you, they aren’t a waste of your time or energy (or, potentially, money), and may benefit you in the long run.

A word of caution

Nothing in this life is free – especially not professional development. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be. I’m just saying that’s the world we live in.

When searching for workshops and courses that might advance you professionally – especially in terms of field-specific skills – keep in mind that there may be some (big) costs up front. 

If you think that it would be worth it to invest in your professional future, ask around before you dive in. There are a lot of people out there who have undergone workshops and courses that you might be interested in. Take an extra day or two to get their opinions before making your decision (or wasting your money, energy, and time).

If you’re not interested in spending your hard earned stipend on a few hours or weeks of extra learning, I’ve got some good news. 

First, you can gain a lot of general skills for free by attending workshops hosted by your academic institution.

Second, there are several funds which could offset the cost of participating in a workshop or course with fees. Check with your department and academic institution to see if they offer specific pots of money for professional development. 

For example, my home department provides funding for language learning in the summer, and my university’s graduate school offers funding for professional development

Don’t be afraid to ask your own department about whether this kind of funding is available! And if no such funding is currently available, get a group of your colleagues for whom professional development is also important together and advocate for it. 

Beyond your department, see if the institution offering the professional development opportunity offers scholarships for participants. You can also check out this blog post for other sources of funding, including microgrants.

What kinds of professional development opportunities are out there?

At the expense of turning this blog post into a list of cliches: the world is your oyster.

But seriously, there are so many opportunities out there, both field-specific and general. I suggest you try to get in a little of both, regardless of your perceived career trajectory. 

Some possible categories of professional development include:

  1. Funding
  2. Publishing
  3. Public scholarship
  4. Digital humanities
  5. Language learning
  6. Teaching and pedagogy
  7. Public outreach and community engagement
  8. Field-specific skills (i.e. pottery analysis, micromorphology, epigraphy, etc)
  9. General skills (i.e. written and verbal communication, leadership, computer skills, etc)

Opportunities for professional development can also come in many forms. They can be virtual or in-person. They can be workshops, courses (short- and long-term), or internships. 

Making decisions about which opportunities you’ll take ultimately depends on how much money you’re willing to invest and how much time you have to participate fully. 

You should also consider whether it’s possible to make substitutions. For example, while there’s an excellent course on ceramic petrology in Athens, there’s an equivalent course at the Penn Museum that would eliminate the cost of international travel. 

These sorts of substitutions aren’t always available, but it’s worth considering if you’re tight on funds or time.

Where to look?

Free options:

Start with your own institution. Check its website for upcoming workshops (or past ones, to get an idea of what workshops you can attend in the future). 

If your institution has a teaching and/or learning center, chances are they host pedagogy workshops throughout the year. Take advantage of them! It’s never too early or too late to start.

Use your networks. Pay attention to what opportunities others around you are taking. Ask around if you are interested in finding particular ones.

Follow blogs. If you’re not into face-to-face professional development, a lot of great information is also found in written form. One example is an article from the SCS blog on publishing a scholarly article in Classical Studies

Join a listserv (at your own peril). This might be a surprising recommendation given the nonsense that a certain listserv has produced over the last year. 

However, listservs offer information about upcoming workshops and conferences that you might otherwise never hear about. 

If you’re thinking about careers, you might be interested in the SCS Placement Service.

Options you have to pay for:

Attend conferences. Attending a conference can be costly, but not as much of an investment as enrolling in a more intensive course. 

In addition to offering presentations on interesting projects, conferences are also good sources of professional development. This may be related to pedagogy, field-specific skills, or simply learning by observation (like how to give a presentation or structure a handout).

Other US institutions. These might be harder to find because they aren’t as easily accessible as workshops offered at your own institution. However, remember to use your networks and join listservs! 

Ask your friends at other institutions whether there are any publicly available opportunities there (like the intensive courses at the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials at the Penn Museum) and apply for them.

International institutions. The American Academy in Rome, the British School at Athens, and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens are all good examples. They offer courses meant to help students and instructors develop field-specific skills.

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