By Janet De Wilde, Head of Postgraduate Professional Development, Graduate School, Imperial College London.
Opportunities for Professional Development are snapped up by some, but for others time spent on professional development is perceived to be a “day lost” or “hours lost”. We witness this division of opinion in the Graduate School courses quite often. It is something we all have felt at some point, our mind is thinking about what we need to be getting on with. However, if we stay task focused, when would be the time to consider the big picture, develop our self-awareness, or challenge ourselves to improve if we are always busy?
Personally, I have studied and worked in several places where there was no opportunity for professional development, no opportunity to step outside of the day-to-day work focus. There was just no occasion to think about what I was doing, how I was going about my work and my career – in fact there was no prospect of a supported process to develop my self-awareness.
Some people advocate that learning the hard way, by being thrown in at the deep-end, is the best way. However, one challenging experience of this for me was being recruited directly into a technical team at a major engineering firm. I instantly recognised that I had to sort out my approach, I had to learn fast to communicate well with technicians and managers in order to deliver my part of a project. If I didn’t I would sink very quickly and may not pass probation period. I wish I could have had some preparation to handle that transition.
The real gift from development courses is not ‘solutions to problems’ but the development of an ‘array of tools’ that provide you with methods to get around potential road blocks in your work or your relationships. You have the space to practice a skill or you can learn a new technique.
Companies see the benefit from taking top talent students and putting them on graduate schemes. They learn the technical knowledge for the company alongside great support for developing professional skills. The two are synchronised in development. Professional bodies also recognise these skills, they have a list of professional competencies that they expect each level to achieve. The graduate school has been working with these external organisations to align our provision with their recommendations. This has been so successful that the Royal Society of Chemistry has approved our courses so that students in that department can submit their attendance as evidence to gain Registered Scientist status, and for membership status.
So what may seem like a day lost can give you a life time of inspiration, recognition and direction. I would encourage all students to make the most of professional development at the College.