The Professional Development Plan- A Window Into Your Future


Hey All! I’m actually back again- for two consecutive weeks in a row (don’t judge me- I know it’s been awhile)! And what on earth could I be back with at this busy time of the year for SAPros near and far? Why, the very key to your professional future- the professional development plan!

So why do I say with such confidence that having a PDP is the key to your professional future? For one, I’ll admit that I’m biased: I’m a planner- so much so that if there were an Overplanners Anonymous I’d not only be a member but I’d probably be planning the meetings (see what I did there?) so that’s definitely one reason I have one. It’s actually a problem. As someone who was raised to believe that a goal without a plan was just a dream, it just comes naturally. However, there’s a much more important reason that I created my own PDP and that I recommend doing one. Think about it- when you were in school- be it grade school or grad school- someone gave you the blueprint to get to the next level. A set of core classes, expertly designed syllabi, the full works – it’s incredibly helpful and if you do it right will give you the skills to get where you want to go, but in some ways it’s a handicap because the second you get out of grad school… it disappears. There’s no academic advisor or professor giving you an outline of what books to read, what conferences to go to, who to meet for coffee and discuss concepts with. Unless you have a supervisor who’s willing to pick up the slack (and with workloads increasing these days most can’t do this the way you’re used to), you’re on your own.

As a professional, the onus is on you to chart your own course- which at first can seem very daunting. However, if you take the time out of your busy schedule to do some reflection and thinking about what you want for the year and for the years to come, you can come up with a very useful tool that can be just as helpful to you as your academic educational plan. Developing your own PDP can be a great way to figure out what you want to do for the year and can be a great tool to present to a supervisor to help them figure out what they need to do to get you there. In my new role, I’ve asked my staff to develop their own PDPs using a template that I designed.

The Professional Development Plan- A Window Into Your Future

Every professional tends to have their own way of doing a PDP – I’m not going to claim that my way of organizing the information is the best but it definitely has worked for me in the past, so in an attempt to help folks who’ve never done this before out I’m sharing it below. Feel free to e-mail me, message me or comment below if you have questions.


GotDegrees’ Professional Development Plan “Master Recipe”:

  • Professional Philosophy: In order to figure out where you’re going, you need to think about where you’ve been and what effect those experiences have had on your personal approach to doing this work. The first step in determining your plan going forward is to think about what guides you as a student affairs professional- why do you do this work? What do you want to impart to students and to colleagues? What makes you get up in the morning and brave 100 degree temps in July and a foot of snow in January to get to the office?
  • What’s Your Endgame?: Once you know who you are in this field, it’s time to think broadly about where you want to be at the end of the time covered by your plan. For some of us, the endgame is another position- be it a move up or a lateral move across functional areas. For others, it’s building skills, knowledge or capacity in a current role – maybe getting more involved outside of your department, maybe becoming involved with a professional association, maybe even thinking about writing more. One way to think about this section that can be helpful is to take a look at job descriptions for the roles you’d like to have and pull out some of the responsibilities and requirements to use as a starting point for where you’d like to be. This section should be big picture- you’ll get more specific in the next section.
  • Specific Goals: The next step is to think about the details of your plan- what are the specific goals you want to achieve? Do you want to submit a program proposal for a conference? Get to know more about a different office on your campus? Prepare to take the GREs in anticipation of applying to a doctoral program? Whatever it is, I recommend keeping it simple and not having more than three or four specific goals. Developing SMART goals (more information on what this means here) is a good idea here because you want to be able to keep track of your progress throughout the period that you plan for. In addition to goals, you should think of a couple of objectives that spell out the steps you want to take to get to your goal- again, keep it simple and SMART whenever possible.
  • Other Information: After your personal philosophy, endgame and goals, you can go in a few different directions- the questions that I tend to ask myself and my team include:
    • What offices or departments do you want to work with or learn more about?
    • What auxiliary or collateral assignments do you want to work with in our office?
    • What conferences do you want to attend or present at?
    • What might you be looking for in terms or webinars or reading material?
    • Do you want to do more writing?
    • Might you be interested in taking a class at your institution or elsewhere?

The Professional Development Plan- A  Window Into Your Future

These are just a few of the questions you can ask yourself- depending upon what you’re interested in doing, you might have interests that get covered here or that may be completely outside of what I’ve thought about. At the end of the day, this document is about you and your wants and needs, so don’t be afraid to tweak and change it to make it work for you.

I usually try to create a plan at the beginning of each academic year (ideally prior to the start of student staff training but it can easily be after) that covers the full year- obviously it doesn’t have to be set in stone and can change, but it’s good to go into the year with a plan so you can make decisions. I’d keep the plan’s scope limited to a year at most- you can decide to do one each semester if you like if you like something more short-term. As someone who loves all things technology but isn’t exactly a digital native per se, I like having hard copies up in my office to keep me grounded but usually keep plans electronically so I can refer back to old ones and see how I’ve grown over the years. Finally, you should share your plan with your supervisor if you believe it will be helpful for them- but make sure you’ve added any tasks or needs for your position if you do so they know those are priorities for you.

I won’t be bold enough to promise that doing a PDP will automatically get you the job of your dreams- if I had that power I would have put Miss Cleo, Walter Mercado, and every other psychic out of business years ago. However, I can say from personal experience that having a plan will take the guesswork out of figuring out professional development, which in the end can lead to the job you want anyway. In any event, it’s a useful tool that I highly recommend and enjoy using in my own practice – if you have time over the next few weeks (stop laughing/crying- I know you don’t and I don’t either), start working on one and let me know how it goes.

Enjoy your last few weeks of summer/your first few weeks of the new semester!


Learning Navigation Skills In The “End of Days”: Recapping NASPA Region I

The Hyatt Regency Newport in warmer times... It's probably for the best that it was cold or I'd have spent more time here than in sessions...
The Hyatt Regency Newport in warmer times… It’s probably for the best that it was cold or I’d have spent more time here than in sessions…

Happy Monday! I’m back with a fresh coat of paint and some updates on the page- now that it’s cold as hell I figured that a winter/holiday makeover made sense. The page will stay this way until things warm up…

Anyway, now that I’m back in town and have had some time to digest everything from NASPA Region 1, I figured it would be a good idea to recap my little conference vacation for those who didn’t get a chance to go or for those who are in different regions. As someone who tends to prefer the sessions and having a beautiful hotel room to myself over all of the extra social crap (introvert, remember?), I actually did make an effort to go to more of the other events this fall and really enjoyed myself. That isn’t to say that I didn’t get plenty from the actual conference sessions- I learned a great deal that will help out in my work and got to connect with some amazing presenters. After attending, I feel much more motivated to pursue my own professional development and goals than I did before and feel more energized to do the work waiting for me at my institution. The majority of my recap will be on the individual sessions I attended, but to start, I do want to tell you a bit about the space that the conference took place in since it did contribute to the overall vibe.

Continue reading Learning Navigation Skills In The “End of Days”: Recapping NASPA Region I

Protip Phriday II: The Sequel!

...And you can drop some off to me at my office if you feel so inclined...
…And you can drop some off to me at my office if you feel so inclined…

Welcome to the end of another week here at GotDegrees- and the second Protip Phriday! While the rest of the country shrieked in fear at each of the 999 ebola scares that have popped up in the past few days (and at the two unfortunate cases in which people actually did contract the disease) and waited (FOREVER) for OS X Yosemite to download, I’ve compiled a new list of PROTIPS for those who need them. Let’s cut the BS and get to them, shall we?

Continue reading Protip Phriday II: The Sequel!