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Professional Development—Ways To Go

Professional Development—Ways To Go

Aylin Imeri
Take-Aways During the Panel titled Professional Development in Crisis at the AM 2022

The 2022 ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Pittsburg offered several possibilities to discuss the topic of professional development. This post will highlight take-away messages from one such activity, i.e., the panel titled “Professional Development in Crisis,” that discussed empowering students and professionals in their early career stages and making them more resilient in a hyper-competitive society and uncertain world.

The panel was organized by Aylin Imeri (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Germany) and Imane Hilal (School of Information Science (ESI), Rabat). Chirag Shah (University of Washington, US), Diane H. Sonnenwald (University College Dublin, Ireland), and Abebe Rorissa (University of Tennessee-Knoxville, US) shared their experiences and perspectives regarding professional development at the Annual Meeting. Blessing Mawire (Integra Professional Services, South Africa) and Emad Khazraee (Turing, San Francisco, US) could not attend the meeting, but they have also provided their perspectives. In this article, we summarize those perspectives and discussions at the panel session and address especially students, junior professionals, and mentors.

An additional description of the panel and discussants can be found at:

—We often talk about trying to be successful, but what does it mean to be successful?—

Professional development is one of the pillars of personal and professional success because it is the catalyst for professional fulfillment and a way to improve one’s skills and excel professionally. However, this subject is not addressed enough in academic courses, therefore students and new recruits start learning while being challenged without strong enough prerequisites to support them. The objective of the panel is to gather ideas from different scholars and professionals; to exchange ideas and experiences around the different themes of this subject to empower students and professionals in their early career stages and make them more resilient in a hyper-competitive society and uncertain world.

Understand the process

There might be several times when bachelors, masters, doctoral students, or junior professionals question their studies, research projects, and career choice, challenge themselves, or even think about quitting their studies. Often, these stages last a little while and are part of the process. But you know what? While questioning what you are doing, you also learn to be brave, find answers, and make decisions. Examining what you are doing and thinking about why you are doing it shows you care about it and that it matters to you.

Remember: During the journey, which has ups and downs, you must focus on your abilities and end goal. Try to develop your abilities. Don’t underestimate the value of your abilities in the near and far term. This is something that nobody can take away from you.

Diane H. Sonnenwald called attention to the importance of communication during your project. Particularly, the ability to convey to other people the importance of what you are investigating/doing. You should try to understand your various audiences, including what is meaningful to them. Your efforts will be better appreciated if you describe your work in ways your audiences can best understand it. For example, consider what are their circumstances? What are their aims and expectations? What is helpful for them? If you have answers to such questions, then your work becomes more meaningful and valuable to the audience.

Chirag Shah stressed that academia and industry would not hire graduates or junior professionals because they know buzzwords or did a project involving a hot topic or a trend of the day. They will hire them because of their ability and expertise. During your journey, you could face challenges; try to switch your perspective on how you look at failing. Struggling and facing challenges can be helpful because you learn to deal with them both emotionally and cognitively. Challenges can lead to positive growth personally (e.g., being more resilient) and professionally (e.g., presenting well-elaborated ideas and papers).

Abebe Rorissa recommended that graduate students and junior professionals work on a topic or problem and/or develop skills that prepare them for an uncertain future. He mentioned that twenty years ago, there was already a need for people who analyze data, collect data and produce predictive solutions. Sure, maybe not in a fancy way like today, considering advances in digital platforms and tools, but the core idea remains the same. Today people with these skills are called data scientists; back then, only few would have used this term to refer to them.

Blessing Mawire emphasized that graduate students need to get an opportunity to reflect on their professional development and options before they successfully receive their degrees. She also mentioned that it is essential to outthink the box considering the traditional job description within the LIS field. Since COVID-19, all of us realized that we need to be ahead considering the demand for new job profiles and skills. Graduate students and junior professionals need to understand to what extent their professional can be a fit by getting in touch with industry, other sectors, and disciplines as early as possible.

Emad Khazraee explained that you are collecting several skills, so-called transferable skills, during time in academia. Those skills are independent of your research expertise and are often applicable in many ways. Those skills are, for example, writing and oral communication skills, being able to systematically present an idea/research/problem, being resilient (learning about a new topic in a short time), predicting solutions, and critically making decisions. Emad emphasized that it is crucial to be aware of those strengths. Refrain from underrating them considering their capability for information/technology companies.

Find your joy and thoughtfully stick with it

A general piece of advice is to do what you like and what you are interested in. It is why you want to focus on a topic and your work. Feeling motivated, being happy, and enjoying what you are doing are crucial.

Chirag suggested remembering that the purpose of your project matters and the value it can create matters the most. This can also be a hot topic if there is an added value. There is nothing wrong with investigating a hot topic or a current trend of the day. But explaining to a potential employer that you focused on Twitter simply because it is popular and hot is usually not reason enough.

Additionally, Diane brought up inspiring thoughts and recommendations. Look to the purpose of your focus before you commit to it. Ask whether it is meaningful to do it. Consider carefully the purpose of this project. What could be its value? Who will derive that value? What is not the purpose of this project? That is, what are its limits? And yes, listen to your mentor or supervisor (they have experience and your interests in mind) but also try to convey to them why what you are doing is essential.

Emad explained that to find joy, it is crucial to figure out what satisfies you. Often, we are satisfied in situations or working environments where we know that what we are doing is contributing to something or creating value, and it is adequately awarded. We will be able to stay motivated and passionate if the job (no matter if academia or industry) is aligned with our values. Try to understand what matters to you and which values need to be respected and provided by academia or industry.

Blessing highlighted that sometimes students are discouraged from considering the profile of an LIS professional, as they only think about the librarian and the dusty books. To be able to find joy, it is important to show opportunities that an occupational profile could have. This supports graduate students and junior professionals to reduce profiles of stereotypes and to find joy behind unperceived professions.

Abebe mentioned that mentors should also be aware of their students’ professional aspirations. It is crucial that a supervisor or mentor first ask students what their preferred profession is and guide them accordingly. As a mentor, it is essential to understand that it is not your perspective that should be pushed in the foreground.

Academia and industry

Do questions such as “Where do I belong? Academia? Industry?” or “What are my skills and abilities?” worry you? That is natural. Usually, during your education/academic career, there might be several opportunities within your studies or programs to try something out. If not, seek out mentors and look for opportunities to connect with other industry professionals and within academia. All panel speakers agreed that it is critical to impact the future professional growth of students and junior professionals because this could help them succeed.

Blessing called attention to the fact that many LIS curricula need to change as they ignore non-traditional areas that could be suitable for LIS students and young professionals. If we, as a mentor or an institution, would like to support students and junior professionals, we need to outthink the box. Collaborations with industry partners and different disciplines enable us to understand to what extent the LIS profession can fit into non-traditional areas.

Emad made graduate students and junior professionals mindful of the importance of being proactive. Often, as a graduate student or junior professional, you might be not aware that scientific work is not only happening in academia but also in industry. He explained that finding the right people (e.g., mentors, colleagues) who can connect you with others outside of academia is important. Internships provide you with valuable insights and the opportunity to collect experience to form a view on a company’s job profile and work philosophy.

Diane and Chirag mentioned that it is useful to have project collaborations and additional relationships with industry partners. Those collaborations and relationships could help students and mentors realize which skills are necessary and which are yet to be developed to have a portfolio ready for career success. For example, Diane suggested inviting professionals to provide feedback on student presentations. A further example is networking events. Chirag recommended inviting industry partners who introduce ideas for a project so that graduate students and junior professionals can collaborate.

No matter if graduate students’ or junior professionals’ interests are founded in industry or academia, you as a mentor, could be the one who gets the ball rolling. As Abebe highlighted: Would students like to present the findings of their studies at a conference? Try to provide them with funding or at least help them connect with researchers and other students. They need to belong to a group and associate with a group.

Last words

At times you might feel confused or disoriented; remember to be reflective and that you are not alone. It can be helpful to think again about the activities you would like to do more of, what you are interested in, how you could reach your goals, and what barriers hinder you from reaching your goals right now.

We often talk about trying to be successful, but what does it mean to be successful? Imane mentioned a crucial point: When measuring success, it is essential to ask yourself, what does success mean for you? Success is something that the working environment, your colleagues, and yourself define. For some people, success could be the salary; for others, it could be the position; and sometimes for students, it could be the acceptance for a Ph.D. program.

For Aylin, success doesn’t mean making no mistakes. In her opinion success means showing that you can improve yourself and learning from the mistakes that were done in the past and avoiding them in the future. For Imane, success is how far we have become the best version of ourselves.

All panel speakers agreed on one point: critical thinking is the essential factor in your success.

Cite this article in APA as: Imeri, A. (2023, January 25). Professional development—A ways to go. Information Matters, Vol. 3, Issue 1. https://informationmatters.org/2023/01/professional-developmenta-ways-to-go/

Aylin Imeri

Aylin Imeri is a PostDoc (research associate) and lecturer at the Information Science Dept. of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. Her current research projects include social media (especially considering health-related topics), activity tracking technologies (e.g., motivation, gamification, data privacy, and health information behavior), and information behavior within the health-related context. Since 2022 (November) Aylin has been a member of the ASIS&T Board as Director at Large. She is part of the Health Information and Library Journal Editorial Advisory Board, and an Associate Editor for the Data and Information Management Journal and Information Matters.