Skip navigation
Careers Café

Taking control of your professional development


No matter what stage of an academic career you are in, you will always be developing your skills and knowledge. Whether it is improving how you do the core tasks of your job, learning how to use new technologies, or taking on new challenges, there are always things to learn and experience to gain.

Needing or wanting training, mentoring, or some combination of the two is not an indication of weakness. It is an indication of your commitment to doing your job well.

Professional development begins with needs assessment.

I highly recommend that you do this yourself, probably annually. Make time to sit down and think about where your career is going.

  • What is going well?
  • Where are you struggling?
  • What would you like to be doing?
  • What skills do you need to do your current tasks better?
  • What skills do you need to be able to take on those tasks you’d prefer to be doing?

No one is judging you. Be honest about both your successes and your struggles.

The next step is to figure out how to get the support you need.

If you want to develop or improve teaching related skills, investigate what your Centre for Teaching and Learning provides. Are any of their workshops appropriate? Do they offer one-on-one support?

You can also organize your own peer support for teaching. Ask a trusted colleague to come and observe your teaching and give you specific feedback. You can do this on a reciprocal basis. The colleague doesn’t have to be from your department. Sometimes asking someone from another discipline to observe and comment on your teaching can be really productive. Be curious and explore options together.

Research development needs might also be met through peer-support (remember you have peers in other universities) or there may be training workshops offered within the university or by outside organizations. Ask the Office of Research Services for help identifying appropriate providers. Or ask colleagues who have skills you want to develop.

You might also want to develop skills that will help you manage your lab better, or work more effectively with TAs and RAs. There are things you need to know about employment law and dealing with unionized staff. There are also things you can learn about working well with a team, mentoring, dealing with difficult situations so they don’t escalate into bigger problems, and where you can go for help if you need it.

The university cares that you do these things well. They probably offer training. Ask around. If there isn’t something already available, someone might organize a workshop if they know there is demand.

Consider professional development a regular part of managing your own career. Pace yourself and make both needs assessment and learning new skills part of your regular workload.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *