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From PhD to Life

Why you should continue your professional development


On Monday I finish a coaching class. This will be the second professional development course I’ve done since getting my PhD in 2012. Back then, I’d never thought I’d see another classroom ever again! And, it’s true, I haven’t: My coaching courses are all over the phone! But still; you understand.

I enrolled in the MentorCoach Foundations program, a 31-week introduction to the art, science, and business of coaching, in May 2013. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a coach per se, but felt confident that coaching skills would help me in my work and life no matter the details. It didn’t take long for me to start thinking very seriously about making a career as a coach, though. When Ann-Marie McKelvey told us students to “get coaching!” I did. On Twitter and Facebook I put out a call for volunteers to help me practice my new skills. And by July I had my first paying client. Getting that first $10 (minus PayPal fees) was cool. Knowing that I was actually helping someone, at least a bit, was even cooler.

That first course ended in January, and the one I’m just finishing now is called Intensive Individual Coaching Skills Master Class. Next month I’ll sign up for one or two more courses, in hopes of eventually getting certified by the International Coach Federation. (This isn’t a regulated industry, so I don’t need any credentials to work as a coach. But part of me likes the idea of getting the A-Ok from a recognized institution. I do have a PhD, after all!)

But, just as it’s the work itself and not the money that I find fulfilling, it’s the learning itself and not the future (even more) letters after my name that will keep me taking professional development courses. From Ann-Marie and from Skills trainer (and MentorCoach CEO) Anne Durand I’ve learned a great deal. And I use what I’ve learned nearly every day on my own clients. Continued training, I know, will make me an even better coach.

As I write this, I’m reflecting on how excited I am to keep learning: about coaching, positive psychology and applied psychology in general, adult education, and related fields. One text I was reading the other day implored me to subscribe to a couple academic journals! How many times have I said that one of the best things about being done my PhD and not seeking academic employment means I never have to read journals ever again? And yet, here I am, reading academic articles. But this time around, they’re in psychology, not history. Fascinating. (Isn’t it?)

When I was in my first year at Carleton as an undergraduate student, I took something called—hold on while I find it in my filing cabinet; here it is — the Jackson Vocational Interest Survey. My “Basic Interest” profile most closely aligned with people who were “Counsellors/Student Personnel Workers” (+0.70). I’m looking at the report now: I never realized how similar this is to what I do these days! “People in this area assist others in understanding and overcoming individual and social problems,” page 8 of my report tells me about this occupational classification.

Well, there you have it. Why I didn’t listen to Jackson, I can’t tell you. (Teenagers never listen?) But one thing is clear: More coaching classes for me!

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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