Research Professional Development Support

When you’re in the process of researching a potential employer, one of the key things you need to look for is their level of support for professional development.

As an academic, you are really into learning. You will need to keep learning throughout your career to stay engaged. You need a career that will challenge and grow with you. And so you need to get to the bottom of how the organization or team handles professional development.

Look for Written Policies on Professional Development

Dig for any public-facing HR policies about professional development. But just keep in mind that your mileage may vary. Written policies are often open to interpretation.

Look for College or University-Level Funds

Some academic departments have little – or even zero – funds set aside for professional development. But don’t abandon all hope if that seems to be the case. Look and see if the college or university offers limited funds – such as a $1000 travel grant application – to offset one’s out-of-pocket costs to attend a conference.

Proceed with Caution

Of course, be mindful that sometimes you’ll encounter the opposite situation. Some places pride themselves on budgeting $4500 / year / employee for professional development. That makes it sound like you can do whatever you want! In reality, though, those funds are much more limited than you think. You can use them only for certain professional associations or courses. And they’re usually first-come, first-served, and can run out. Or they’ll cover travel, but not annual memberships (which can run into the $$$).

Where I work, there have been years where I’ve had to tell my staff that while on paper I have up to $3500/employee to spend on professional development…this year, a tight budget means I can award funds only to selected folks or small-scale efforts. Everyone loves the Hunger Games, just not when it comes to competing with coworkers for professional development!

Either way, just know that whether you find a place seems to invest a lot in professional development, or very little evidence that they prioritize professional development, my advice is to proceed with caution. It’s best to assume that you’ll have to pay for at least some of your own professional development out of your own pocket than to presume they will cover anything and find yourself disappointed.

By digging into this as you go, you will be better prepared to request more information during an interview. Just as importantly, raising the question will signal that you value an employer who will invest in your growth. I find colleagues who work for organizations that invest in professional development to be happier, more fulfilled, and committed to staying there longer-term.

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