There are SO many options for professional development for student affairs graduate students that it can become overwhelming. From webinars, to regional and national conferences, to committees, and submitting proposals, it is a constant battle of “what should I get involved with?” and “what can I afford?”
During my first few weeks of graduate school I heard other members of my cohort talking about various conferences that they were attending and I was thinking…what? Of course I knew about NASPA and ACPA but it wasn’t until I started my graduate program that I realized the overwhelming importance of professional development. Throughout the past year I learned a lot about student affairs professional development opportunities, with a few struggles and triumphs. My five tips are listed below:
1. Get involved with something!
Even if it is “just” a committee on your campus, you will learn more about the field outside of classes and assistantships. Just as we encourage our students to become involved, we must practice what we preach!
2. If it is FREE, always go.
If there is a free webinar or symposium related to student affairs at your institution, why not attend? If we don’t help ourselves, we can’t help our students! Professional development doesn’t always have to happen at a national conference, soak up the little things from mentors and professionals around you.
3. Determine what you are REALLY passionate about
Don’t feel pressured to attend something just because everyone else is. Make sure that you will benefit from what you are attending, but don’t be afraid to try new things. We tell our students not to overwhelm themselves by getting involved with everything, and we should take the same advice. It’s all about self-care and effective time management!
4. Build a budget
Attending a national or regional conference is expensive, really expensive. Although graduate students receive discounted rates, make sure to plan ahead and determine what conferences will most benefit you, your office, institution, and students. IF you have the financial means and the opportunity to attend a national conference, go for it! I attended ACPA last year and had a life-changing experience. This conference helped me to meet some amazing colleagues and further develop my passion for student affairs, which leads me to my next point.
5. Rekindle the flame
Finally, we are very fortunate to work in such an innovative field with numerous opportunities to learn alongside other passionate professionals. With that being said, don’t forget to reconnect with the people you meet and the ideas you learn. Ask someone you met at a conference for an informational interview a month after or to coffee if they are close by. Most importantly, make sure that your students benefit from these professional development opportunities! Don’t only be fired up at the conference and then lose that spark when you come back to your institution. Apply what you learn, reinvent what you already knew, and rekindle that passionate conference flame.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Jake Nelko at email@example.com.