Tips for Grads: Getting the most out of your professional development opportunities

Guest column by Rachel Hutchinson, PhD Student

What motivated you to pursue an advanced degree? My undergraduate professors inspired me to learn how chemistry can explain and improve the world. As a graduate student, I am excited to similarly inspire others through teaching and mentoring—which is easier said than done.

To develop essential teaching and mentoring skills that are valuable for my career, I’ve taken advantage of the classes, workshops, and internship offered by the Delta Program. Through Delta, I’ve learned how to promote a diverse and inclusive environment in education and research, how to apply research skills to diverse contexts, and how to prepare important materials for the job market, including my teaching philosophy, resume/CV, and diversity statement.

Participating in Delta also taught me strategies to maximize my professional development opportunities. Over time, I learned and practiced the following strategies that helped me make the most of my opportunities:

  • Identify and prioritize goals. I realized I did not have the time to explore all the valuable teaching resources available. So, I identified and wrote down my specific goals for my teaching professional development, including skills to develop (such as guided discovery teaching) and materials to create (such as a lesson plan for lab skills course). I regularly revisited these goals and reflected on if I was spending too much time, or not enough, on certain tasks. Articulating and reflecting on my goals helped me use my time wisely to reach the goals that were most important to me.
  • Balance professional development with research. I scheduled time each week to work on Delta activities and set deadlines for course assignments (e.g. writing and revising my lesson plan). Scheduling work time and deadlines helped me to resist perfectionism and progress toward my goals without spending too much time on certain tasks.
  • Find community and mentors. My mentors in Delta helped me develop an achievable internship project that helped me progress toward my teaching goals. Additionally, meeting regularly with my fellow Delta participants created a community where I could talk about my teaching and mentoring challenges and learn from others’ experiences. The Delta community also helped me generate and improve my teaching and job market materials and revive my motivation to teach and mentor effectively.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.