Fostering Meaningful Postdoctoral Scholar Professional Learning and Development Opportunities in Higher Ed

Postdoctoral Professional Learning and Development Framework (Source: Nowell et al. 2021)

With leadership from University of Calgary’s Dr. Lorelli Nowell (https://twitter.com/lorelli_nowell), I recently collaborated with a fabulous group of scholars to publish a framework for postdoctoral scholar professional learning and development. The framework presents a holistic view of how we can better support postdoctoral scholars as they move forward in their academic and professional careers – recognizing that the vast majority of postdoctoral scholars do not enter permanent academic positions. With ever changing job markets and demands, higher education must better prepare postdocs for a range of careers, whether that be in higher ed, government, not-for-profit or private sectors (see Ålund et al., 2020).

Moving beyond academe’s traditional focus on research skill development, the Professional Learning and Development (PLD) framework consists of four major domains:

  1. Professional Socialization (mentorship, community engagement, inclusivity & diversity, networking)
  2. Professional Skills (leadership skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, careering planning)
  3. Academic Development (academic writing, academic service, critical thinking, teaching & learning)
  4. Personal Effectiveness (time management, work-life balance, health & wellness, project management)

The framework builds upon results from our previous research, which included literature reviews, document analysis, surveys, interviews, and consultations with key stakeholders (see Nowell et al., 2018, 2019; 2020). Through this research, postdoctoral scholars consistently communicated the need for professional learning and development that extended beyond research skill development. For example, areas of particular interest included teaching and learning, mentorship, academic service and well-being. I will note that COVID-19 has escalated the stress-related challenges that postdocs face, including burnout, work-life conflict, and social isolation.

Our research certainly has practical implications, including serving as a framework for institutions as they create, design and implement robust supports and a learning culture for postdoctoral scholars. We imagine postdoctoral supervisors and postdocs using the framework as a guide for mentorship conversations, developing learning plans, and fostering critical reflection and career growth. Teaching and learning centres, academic units, and postdoc offices could use it as a reference to develop robust professional learning programs. More broadly regional, national and international postdoc organizations can use this framework to amplify discussions to strengthen how we conceptualize and design meaningful postdoctoral scholar communities, cultures and practices in higher ed.

We’d love to hear how you imagine using this framework in your particular context, and successful examples of initiatives to meaningfully integrate postdoctoral scholars in the academic community, and to strengthen professional learning and development for postdocs across a variety of career contexts!

References:

Ålund, M., Emery, N., Jarrett, B.J.M. et al. Academic ecosystems must evolve to support a sustainable postdoc workforce. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 777–781 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1178-6

Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Berenson, C., Kenny, N. and Hayden, K.A. (2018), “Professional learning and development of postdoctoral scholars: a systematic review of the literature”, Education Research International, Vol. 2018, p. 5950739.

Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Kenny, N., Hayden, K.A. and Jacobsen, M. (2019), “Professional learning and development initiatives for postdoctoral scholars”, Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 35-55.

Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Kenny, N. and Jacobsen, M. (2020), “Postdoctoral scholar’s perspectives about professional learning and development: a concurrent mixed-methods study”, Palgrave Communications, Vol. 6 No. 1.

Nowell, L., Dhingra, S., Kenny, N., Jacobsen, M. and Pexman, P. (2021), “Professional learning and development framework for postdoctoral scholars”, Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-10-2020-0067

Author: natashakenny

Senior Director, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. Interdisciplinary academic and professional background in educational development, landscape architecture, urban planning and environmental science.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s