8 Meaningful Professional Development Experiences As A Life Design Educator (So Far)

By Smiti Nathan, Life Design Educator: Physical and Environmental Sciences Since starting as Life Design Educator at Johns Hopkins University, I have had many opportunities to develop professionally. This post details my 8 meaningful professional development experiences as a Life Design Educator (so far).

What’s Not Included In This List

There are three ‘categories’ of professional development opportunities that I have not included in the list:

  1. Internal Programming
  2. Self-Directed
  3. Invited Engagements

1. Internal Programming

I decided not to include internal programming because its continuous at the Life Design Lab @Homewood and via Integrative Learning and Life Design division at Johns Hopkins University. The list would get way too large. In case you are curious about what our internal professional development looks like, here are a few examples:

2. Self-Directed

I consume a lot of content on my own that has contributed to my professional development. Again, the list would get unwieldy if I tried to include everything, but check out my Life Design Book List if you want to see some of the things I am reading.

3. Invited Engagements

I have grown a lot through invitations to speak to diverse groups. I didn’t include these in my list because I wanted to offer insights that most of my readership could possibly implement. Invited engagements seemed too particular to me. In case you are curious, check out the post: 5 Takeaways From My First International Presentation on Life Design.

8 Meaningful Professional Development Experiences As A Life Design Educator (So Far)

1. Attending an international conference 1 month into my new job

Teaching a class Prior to starting at the Life Design Lab @Homewood, I was selected as a Research Data Alliance (RDA) Early Career Fellow. The fellowship paid for me to attend and present at the RDA’s 14th Plenary in Helsinki, Finland; however, the meeting took place a month into my new position. I felt grateful that my supervisors were supportive of my achievement and my attendance (without having to take leave!). It made me feel that my new workplace really valued the interdisciplinary lens that I wanted to bring to my role. And me, as a person. I also learned a lot about the research data world and early career opportunities for my students.

2. Getting a crash course on structural inequality in the US by playing Factuality

Factuality the game In a staff meeting, my colleague – Andrea Wiseman – mentioned she had a friend of a friend who had created an amazing game about structural inequality in the US and would be hosting a session nearby in the near future. Pretty much, every colleague who was available signed up. If you haven’t played Factuality, I won’t give anything away. I played as Sofia and I think of her often in my work. Natalie Gillard has crafted a thought-provoking and engaging way to start discussions and action on structural inequality. She offers virtual sessions too. I appreciated that my workplace funded our participation and was open to staff input on opportunities. I think this helps us stay up-to-speed on the latest learnings, while also supporting small businesses that are doing excellent work.

3. Presenting on work that is not directly related to my job

presenting work not related to job In addition to being a Life Design Educator, I’m an archaeologist. While my archaeological research definitely influences my life design approach, it’s not directly related to my current role. I appreciated the monetary and time support to present my archaeological work at a nearby conference. I felt that my professional development was valued holistically and not just for opportunities that directly related to my job.

4. Presenting on work alongside my colleagues

presenting with colleagues While I appreciated the opportunity to present in my studied area of expertise, I also enjoyed co-presenting with my colleagues about our work as life design educators at a regional career conference. I had only completed 4 months in my position by the time of the conference. Still, I appreciated the confidence and trust my team put in me to organize and lead our presentation. It helped me feel that I was in an innovative environment. It also motivated me to put our work out there by publishing our work.

5. Training to be a Wilderness First Responder alongside my students

training with students Prior to coming to Johns Hopkins University, I had heard about the Wilderness First Responder course sponsored by the Office of Experiential Education. My colleague – Lauren Barrett – is an experiential education expert and her support throughout the process was invaluable. In addition to learning important wilderness medicine skills and knowledge, I was able to connect with so many students in way that I had not been able to before. Taking the training together was an equalizing atmosphere. As a person who loves being outside, but did not grow up hiking or camping, this training built my confidence while also facilitating meaningful connections with a fellow colleague and my students.

6. Completing an executive certificate in Innovation & Human-Centered Design in-person and virtually

executive certification Life design borrows a lot from human-centered design and design thinking. One of the huge professional development perks of being staff at Johns Hopkins is the free access (i.e., tuition remission) to Executive Education courses and certificate programs through the JHU Carey Business School. I started the certificate by taking the introductory course in-person. Once COVID-19 hit, I completed the rest of the certificate virtually. I appreciated the opportunity to see how we could translate design thinking activities to the virtual environment. I immediately implemented many of the learnings into my work.

7. Attending a virtual conference on virtual teaching

As Life Design Educators, we can teach courses. I have taught both an 8-week summer course an intensive 2-week winter course on life design. Teaching in the virtual environment can be challenging and I appreciated attending a university-wide conference on the topic. It was particularly meaningful to hear from students about their experiences. I think it was important that such a space existed to learn from one another about virtual teaching. For a recap, check out: Surviving to Thriving: Reflections from Teaching Online Conference Recap

8. Becoming a certified Designing Your Life coach

becoming an LDE The Designing Your Life approach is foundational to the work we do as Life Design Educators. We use a lot of the tools and activities, but also adapt and diverge from them to serve our students. While I had read the books and followed the updates, I felt a bit disconnected from practitioners of the approach outside my workplace. I was thrilled to get approval to attend the DYL coaching certification course. In addition to meeting life design enthusiasts from around the world, the course helped me in 2 majors ways:

  1. I learned the flexibility and adaptability of various tools and activities
  2. I discovered I much prefer facilitating small groups versus 1-1 coaching

Furthermore, I hope to use my certification to help others – both in and out of my workplace.

Closing Thoughts

Professional development is crucial. I also understand that there are employers and bosses who don’t think about, or worse discourage, the growth of their employees. While I believe individuals can still design their own professional development in these situations, it certainly demands a lot more effort and resources from the individual. Personally, I will heavily evaluate the mindset and opportunities for professional development in any future role. For me, meaningful professional development in the workplace focuses on the following:

  • Investment from my employer: I feel valued when my employer doesn’t require me to take leave or pay out-of-pocket to pursue certain opportunities. Having an upfront budget for professional development, especially for external opportunities, definitely helps.
  • Trust in pursuing holistic and creative opportunities: I feel invested in when I have the freedom and flexibility to pursue opportunities that might not be immediately directly related to my work, but support my overall growth as a person. I do appreciate the time taken to develop staff-wide trainings, but I also feel that it’s important to balance that with self-directed individual opportunities.
  • Creating a team culture around professional development: I feel supported when there is an overall team culture that promotes and encourages professional development. This can help with collaboration, knowledge exchange, and reduces competition surrounding opportunities.

To start, I think it is important for workplaces to be clear on what type of resources and opportunities are available for professional development. From there, a conversation and action can take place to support the growth of team members. Pursuing meaningful professional development opportunities has been a major highlight of my current role. I’m looking forward to seeing and sharing what’s next. To read more from LDE Smiti Nathan, visit The Life Design Log

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