Professional development means different things for different people. In my field, Sociology, there are several basic avenues for professional development that I feel are particularly important:
The American Sociological Association has an annual meeting. I have attended twice, and presented once on a panel and once on a roundtable. Conference presentations not only help add to your curriculum vitae, but they also help you hone your public speaking skills. Conferences can be overwhelming, but they can also be very productive. The key to conferences, though, is networking, and meeting people that are well-known in your specific sub-field. There are also smaller conferences for various sub-fields, which tend to have lower stakes than ASA, but still provide the same types of benefits of attending virtually any conference.
Here in the sociology department at the University of Michigan, there are a variety of workshops that take place on a rotating basis, based on sub-field. These workshops allow students to get feedback about projects and works in progress, and also encourage collaboration and the sharing of ideas.
Informal Get Togethers, Happy Hours, etc.
There are a variety of informal events that are held by students in my department. These informal get togethers serve as a way to meet students you haven’t met before, interact in both formal and informal ways with others, and debunk departmental culture and gossip.
You can also gain professional development by talking to faculty in your department, either those you have established relationships with, such as your advisor and dissertation committee members, or those you have less direct interaction with, but whose work seems interesting to you and may be somewhat related to your work.
If you are planning to get an academic job, teaching is a must. GSIing allows you to interact with professors, interact with your discipline, and also allows you to share your knowledge with the “younger generation.”
I have found that as you move through graduate school, and your career as a student progresses, there are less and less prescribed ways to do professional development. When you start out, taking all the same classes as your fellow cohort members, it makes it easy to collaborate and share. But as you become more advanced, cohort members are spread across the country and there are fewer built-in avenues for collaboration.
This is why it becomes important to take part in the activities mentioned above. These aren’t things that are technically “required,” but rather, are things that you should feel inclined to do because they will help expand your horizons, and potentially help you find a job, which is pretty much the end goal for all of us once we leave graduate school, right?
Remember, though, it’s not just about padding your curriculum vitae. It’s about engaging with your field and the people in it. It’s about experiencing your field first hand.
About the Author
Leslie Rott, Ph.D. Student, Sociology
Published in: Student Voices