Continued professional development as personal growth:
My journey as a HE professional

Development Monthly | #9 May 2022 | Continued professional development as personal growth: My journey as a HE professional

Samima Hussain

Operations Support Manager, Research Services | Institute for Creative Cultures

Coventry University

A quick search on Google and most organisations and accredited bodies will define CPD as “a combination of approaches, ideas and techniques that will help you manage your own learning and growth.” (CIPD website, 2022).  The empathise is placed firmly on practical results and the impact on your professional development. My own CPD journey at the beginning of my career has been anything but! I graduated with an upper second-class honours, walked into a number of temporary fixed term roles within Higher Education (with no real direction I hasten to add!) and in between different positions, I travelled extensively. One thing I was certain off was that I wanted to pursue a career in professional services specifically within Higher Education, supporting and managing research, but like most ‘accidental administrators’ I had no idea what my starting point ought to be.

After completing 17 years within Higher Education and upon reflection, this is what I have learnt of my own CPD journey and as a result myself.

  1. Developing self is about setting and managing your own expectations

For the first half of my career (2005 -2013) there was no clear pathway or trajectory, a decision to change roles was based on external factors such as environment, the team, or a restructure, I was completely reactive which led to some very poor decisions on my part. 2014 was a turning point for me when I finally applied for and accepted a role working in research support. Starting a role that I was genuinely interested in and knew was the right direction for me compelled me to consider CPD seriously and the benefits this could have on me personally as well as professionally. With the support of my then line manager (now an AUA Trustee) I found the confidence to apply to undertake the AUA PgCert, then a two-year course and very much aligned to my new role.  The PgCert was a baptism in fire it taught me to think critically, undertake thorough research, think strategically, and the value of connecting my role with the wider HE context. 

In the Perspective article ‘What’s in a name? Job title and working identify in professional service staff in Higher Education’, Melling (2018) states that ‘our working identity is an important element of our working relationships and sense of belonging at group and organisational level’. This is certainly true for me, having a job title that I identified with, where I could bring in my personal interests (such as EDI) and where my previous experience was recognised, enhanced my performance and a sense of belonging. 

Morale of the story? It’s never to late to engage in CPD and set your own expectations. CPD should and can go beyond career progression goals, it can be used as a personal development tool to help you through a personal experience or a work-based experience. It can give you back your confidence, resilience, and a renewed perspective.

  • Embrace change or change will embrace you

As I mentioned early the first half of my career was reactive, I was reacting to people around me, the change in environment or a shift in roles due to a restructure.  I never felt that I had any degree of control over my career and as a result I found myself in positions that were not suited to my personality, interests or skill set (and thus demotivated). After a series of poor experiences, I made the decision to change areas and I moved from International Student Support to Research Support, dropping two grades as this area was completely unfamiliar to me. The risk paid off, I was in an environment I was thriving in, people I enjoyed working with and where I was making a difference. As a result, I took more interest in the strategic direction of the centre I was supporting, engaged in self-assessment using tools such as psychometric personality testing and deepened my knowledge of research culture. All with the intension of embracing change when it enviably knocked on my door and it did, four restructures to be precise!

Change and CPD are interconnected, both require long term planning, direction, and investment in terms of your time.  As Pundyke (2020) explains change management can be seen ‘as a process of identifying where you are, determining where you want to go and planning the route between’.  Organisational change such as department restructures are now an integral component of university management structures, informed by external factors such as funding or a pandemic. By engaging in CPD you are investing in yourself and thus, you are in a stronger position to manage the consequence if any change thrust upon you, be it redundancy or change within your teams. Rather then dreading change or feeling apprehensive, you can pre-empt it and welcome it in some instances.

  • Engaging with the wider context: your network your community

By far this is an area where I have most excelled and benefited from as a result of the opportunities available within AUA, building a network of peers and like-minded professionals across Higher Education. Some people I have connected with because we have similar professional interests (EDI for example) and others who are performing in roles completely different from me.  Like many of us I have always cringed at the idea of ‘networking’, I don’t enjoy small talk and I struggle to showcase myself. However, I have learnt that you can connect with other professionals on a much deeper level then a conference attendance, you can choose to build your own community of professionals, who can be ‘there’ for you, act as a sounding board, a critical friend or simply engage in peer learning. This of course takes time, you must be prepared to listen, be proactive and invest in ‘others’. I believe the pandemic has facilitated some of this dialogue, the wide variety of events now available within AUA means that you can choose to attend an event which is strongly aligned to your role or personal interests. If you connect with an individual or a group, use this to follow though and ask further questions.

Ultimately, establishing a network beyond your institute can be a mechanism for personal support in addition to the usual reasons of why networking is a good idea, such as learning about the wide variety of career pathways, sharing best practice and knowledge gathering.  After all, we work in an industry which is highly relational, it’s all about working relationships and good will, so why not explore this.

Samima will de delivering the working session: “AUA CPD: me, you and us, kick start your CPD journey by developing others” at the AUA Annual Conference 2022 along with Bridget Williams (Coventry University) and Rosella Brennan (Arden University).”

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