Professional Development in a Virtual World

By Morenike

YouAlberta
Dec 4, 2020 · 5 min read
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With everything being virtual these days, we are in such a unique and special place. It has become easier to share resources and connect with people, and the possibilities for professional development are absolutely endless. Professional development is incredibly vital and, in my opinion, is what makes the university experience full and complete. Lately, I have felt re-energized to become more intentional about career building, particularly with starting to understand the various branches of science communication such as policy work and science literacy advocacy.

It’s funny how reading week is sometimes synonymous with resting, yet it always appears like we have so much reading and other things to catch up with instead! I took the opportunity for some professional development and attended FGSR’s annual Career Symposium. I attended a few of the sessions starting with the keynote address: Now What? How to Navigate Your Career presented by Dr. Marvin Washington, a professor from the Alberta School of Business and an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sports and Recreation.

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Dr. Washington used various anecdotes to connect the importance of understanding the “why,” and discovering purpose beyond our current studies as graduate students. One thing that stood out for me was an anecdoate about the great leadership Ernest Shackleton displayed during a historic Antarctic expedition. In our career pursuits, we are leading ourselves and we may need to navigate ourselves in such a way that displays endurance and perseverance, especially in the current economic climate. I graduated with a BSc in 2018, and attempting to match the career I had in my mind to the reality of the economic climate was quite difficult. Yet, like Shackleton, sometimes you have to pick yourself back up and try again. Dr. Washington elaborated that understanding our purpose can help inform our professional life and trajectory. This quote he cited from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was another standout for me: “You can drive a car all your life without knowing how the engine works, because the goal of driving is to get from one place to the next, regardless of how it is done. But to live an entire life without understanding how we think, why we feel what we feel, what directs our actions, is to miss what is most important in life, which is the quality of experience itself.” This for me means that, although some of us have an obligation to complete professional development hours as part of our requirements as graduate students, we must ensure those hours are spent intentionally, helping us get closer to achieving purpose within our career. For me, this means seeking out opportunities that will help align me in the direction I want my career to go in, such as by attending conferences and talks with people in my field of interest. The takeaway from his session was “find purpose, find passion, and develop your passion.”

I then had the privilege to attend the ComSciCon Western Canada (#CSCCW20) conference and it was such an awesome experience! I was able to connect and network with some amazing science communicators around the country, including a lot of fellow U of A graduate students, and hear the great work and research happening across universities. For example, I was able to connect with Farah Qasier, a science communicator who recently defended her master thesis and also has an interest in policy. I have been following her on social media for a while and fan-girling from a distance, but a conference like this enabled me better access to her expertise. What was even more crazy was that she was the expert reviewer assigned to view my work! Most importantly, it was reassuring to be in a community of fellow science communicators and feel supported and inspired to continue down a path that seems uncertain right now.

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A panel at #CSCCW20

It was so refreshing to hear the experiences, and see the diversity, of science communicators. For example Peter Soroye, a Biology PhD student at the University of Ottawa, spoke about his experience using Twitter as a platform to showcase his research in conservation biology as well as ecology. Ella Chan, an undergraduate biology student, also spoke about her eight years of experience making YouTube videos on her channel Sci Files (yes, you read that correctly! She started making videos when she was 12 years old!) and how that has evolved over time. Therefore, it seems the possibilities are endless! Hearing about these experiences made me realize that there is more than one way to engage in science communication. As someone who is interested in science policy and increasing literacy and equity for all in the health system through science communication, this encourages me.

Opportunities like these two conferences showed me the importance of being proactive and seeking opportunities to further my career in science communication. I found out about this conference when researching career opportunities in science communications. However, by the time I emailed to get more information, the application process was closed. But, guess what! When I saw the application show up once again in the graduate student digest emails I jumped at the chance to get involved (reading emails is so important guys!) I would encourage everyone to skim through the digest emails, no matter how lengthy they may be, as you never know what hidden gems you may find! And thus began my quest on this journey to discover more about science communications. I got involved in the Write-A-Thon portion of the ComSci conference, which brought me out of my element. Imposter syndrome tried to rear its ugly head once again as I wasn’t quite as prepared as I thought I needed to be. However, having expert reviewers as well as constructive reviews of my peers encouraged me to put in the work needed to improve my writing.

Overall, career or professional development is incredibly vital and one can never start too early! Now is the time to create and develop your LinkedIn page! I am learning the power of not limiting oneself to formal professional development courses but also connecting with people through social media and keeping updated on what is going on and which virtual conference is happening in the blogosphere. With our constant access to resources and people it is all about being intentional about furthering our professional development. By starting sooner rather than later, I am learning that professional development goes beyond attending a conference or a career symposium, it’s an intentional and gradual process.

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