The New Professional Transition

The transition from student to worker is one that many people struggle with. The transition from new professional to full-fledged member of a profession can be just as challenging at times. New professional groups and grants specifically geared to new professionals can help ease the transition into professional life.  But, what defines a new professional? Years in the field? Years since graduation? Type of position?

The National Council on Public History (NCPH) defines new professionals  as”individuals, such as recent graduates of public history programs, who have been working within the public history profession for less than three years.”  Conversely, the advocacy of the Society of American Archivists roundtable, Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) focuses on “students, interns, new professionals, early-career project archivists, and archivists who are still looking for their first professional jobs.”

Most professional associations have variations on these definitions of new professionals.  Personally I prefer the SNAP definition of new professional as it does not assign an arbitrary timeline to the new professional transition period.   Depending on circumstances becoming fulling emerged in a profession can take as little as a year or as long as several years.  Circumstances which can impact this development might include: type of employment, opportunities for professional development, and opportunities for interaction with others in the field. 

I don’t think there is a magic cut off point where you stop being a new professional.  But, I think over time as your experiences continue to grow, you begin to realize that you have knowledge which others in the field could benefit from.  Perhaps, the biggest part of this transition is gaining confidence in your skills and place inside the profession.  Even the newest professionals have perspectives that are worth sharing — it sometimes just takes awhile for them to gain the courage to share it.

Personally, I had an ‘okay, so maybe I’m further along than I thought I was’ moment when speaking with undergrad and graduate students who are looking at their career and education prospects. I’m at the point where, I can begin to provide some anecdotal examples of job successes and failures, job milestones, and valuable skill building.  I’ve held a number of volunteer and paid positions which emphasize different aspects of public history and I’ve come to realize what type or work I enjoy and what type bores me to tears.  I think this realization is partially what made more confident in my place within the public history profession.  

Mentor programs, professional development courses, and ongoing education have also helped me gain my footing in a new professional world.  Some programs have definitely been more worthwhile than others, but I think talking to other people and continuing to learn new skills are something which all new professionals can engaging in to make their transition easier.

How do you define the term ‘new professional’?  What programs helped you as a new professional? 

Overcoming Uncertainity: Possibilites and Passions

Uncertainty and lack of job security can seem like impending doom at times.  However, uncertainty can also inspire reflective thinking, proactive approaches, and reevaluation of goals.  Resisting the temptation to panic when you are unsure of contract renewal or career developments takes practice, but is well worth the effort.

Uncertainty opens the door of possibility.  Now is the time to contemplate options, alternatives, and your career needs and wants.  Once you’ve established the things that are absolutely essential in a career path (eg. you need to make X amount of dollars a month in order to eat) look towards what job opportunities are available to fulfill those essentials.  What professional development can your undertake to make your career goals more attainable? Thinking outside of the box is encouraged.  Just because you’ve always had a certain type of job, doesn’t mean you are not capable of doing something completely different.

Sometimes we focus so hard on a closed door that we can’t see the window that has been opened.  It is hard to plan when you don’t know what is going to happen in the near future.  However, there are lots of things you can do to avoid going crazy.   Think though many possible scenarios (best and worst case), come up with solutions for these possibilities, and accept that some things are just out of your control.  

Explore your passions.  Gaps in work contracts might seem devastating at first.  What are you going to do until your new contract starts in a few months? Being a sloth in your pajamas might be okay for the first little while, but it isn’t overly helpful in the long run.  Use this time productively – rework your cv, gain new experience through volunteering, focus on writing you’ve been putting off, or contribute to a community group you haven’t had time for. 

Uncertainty is part of life, but it doesn’t have to be a bad part.

Built Heritage Chat: Preservation Jobs

Today was the #builtheritage chat for May which focused on preservation jobs and employment within the preservation field. The chat was moderated by @jonaskayla, @PresConf, @PresNation, and @PreservationJob. A complete transcript of the chat is available here.

The first question of the chat was What’s more critical to a successful preservation career – degrees or experience? The overwhelming majority of responses emphasized the importance of experience and the diversity of types of experience that organizations are looking for. It was also reinforced that a balance is best: a degree in something, volunteer experience, enthusiasm, and a friendly personality have the potential to contribute to a great preservation career.

Building on the first question the second portion of the chat focused on the question What’s your number one tip to recent grads or job hunters? Answers to this question built upon the idea of gaining experience in the preservation field. Volunteering, internships, shadowing, researching, and taking low paying summer jobs were suggestions of ways to gain experience prior to finding that ideal preservation job. Chat participants also emphasized the importance of networking, skill building at conferences and workshops, and becoming involved in your local preservation organizations. It was also noted that the preservation field is wide ranging and hires people with a wide range of skills – human resources, presentation, digital expertise, marketing, etc. – and that grads should took to diversify their strengths.

The third portion of the chat focused on the feel good question, What is the best thing about working in the heritage preservation field? A large portion of the responses focused on the variety of the field, the passion of the people, and the feeling of being involved in something meaningful. A couple of my favourite responses included: “Building something that will strengthen our community. Small towns in Eastern Ontario need help. We can be a catalyst.” from @spencervillemil and “inspiring a new set of people – young, old, etc. Getting the message out how important our history is” from @ATHeritageArea.

The last segment of the chat focused on What is the best way to connect with other preservationists? Seeing as how this was a twitter chat it is hardly surprising that many people mentioned social media as a means of connecting. Other mentioned techniques included: conferences, email lists, forums, following up face to face meetings with an email, and meeting up with local organizations while traveling.

In addition to the ‘official’ questions asked during the chat a few of the chat’s participants sparked great discussion with their own questions. @LindsayJSasser raised the question: What are some of the current/upcoming challenges for pres. orgs? What skills can employees bring? Responses focused on grant application skills, presentation skills, a working knowledge of the industry, familiarity with the heritage act, and a willingness to learn.

This was a great chat with a lot of great ideas for those looking to become more involved in their local heritage community. The next #builtheritage chat will be on June 1st at 4pm and the potential topic is local engagement.