Reflections – My journey towards global relevance

Personal development? Professional development? – These are terms that we hear quite often but what do they really mean to you as an individual? Is it simply about developing your skills or does it entail something more? In this ‘Reflections’ piece, Blessing Obinaju expatiates on this topic by sharing her journey of personal and professional development.

Finding your feet in the murky waters of global relevance.’ I recently read this article again on The Aspiring Professionals’ Hub. I will refrain from rehashing the entire message of the article because I want to concentrate on these particular points;

Begin with the end in mind – This is our mantra on the Aspiring Professional’s hub. In your field of study, area of business interest or chosen career, is there anyone, business or role model in that position you aspire to be in worldwide? Knowing something about the journey to their attainment or achievement could be a starting guide for you to start a plan for your own global attainment. These days it is not so hard to learn about global figures when you have Google and in most cases these global stars are on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter or have personal websites.

Have a plan – of your own for that career, design, business or idea BUT with a global audience in mind. For example, if you are choosing a course at University, think broadly about how relevant that course is another country or even worldwide before deciding. If creating a business plan, can that business service a need in another town, state, country, continent beyond your current location? So we suggest in whatever your goals or targets, THINK GLOBALLY.

Finally, personal development is catching fire within Africa. I do remember when I made the decision to pursue a career in academia; I was in my third year studying for an undergraduate degree. I remember the responses I received when I mentioned I was going into teaching. I also remember that to most of my peers at the time, it was the joke of the century.

What is my point?

I was perhaps fortunate to have found my first footing in the murky waters – deciding for myself what I wanted and who I wished to become. It would have been easy to have abandoned that footing simply because it was criticized. Why didn’t I? Well, I wasn’t looking at the immediate moment, I was looking at the end goal, as the article aptly stated, I was beginning with the end in mind.

So, how did I crack on?

I was privileged to have had close relatives who were already in the field. Thus, it was easy to research the steps required to attain the height I envisioned. I devised my plan (including options for any derailment or obstacles) and relentlessly followed it. Of course, nothing ever goes strictly according to a laid out plot – it wouldn’t be life if it did. However, what happens when you have a plan is, there is a calculated margin of what I love to call “happen-stance”: occurrences that take you by absolute surprise, frustrate and completely throw you off your path. I’ am sure that some of you are stomping your feet at this moment and screaming ‘Provide us with a detailed breakdown.’  I won’t tease you longer. For those of you who are Nigerians, you will be able to follow the path more closely. I wouldn’t be an academic if this piece had no schematics. So, here’s the plan and I am happy to say I am currently in the last phase.

Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.
Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.

So, how has this impacted me, re: global relevance? First, one of my most cited papers as an academic is the very first article I published shortly after my M.Sc. This and the various presentations at conferences during the Ph.D., have been quite relevant to placing my feet firmly on the cobbled stones that help us cross the waters which divide relevance and insignificance. As an academic or an aspiring academic, you can never attend enough conference, workshops or seminars in your field. More importantly, my academic experience and my ability to continuously adapt my plans to fit my goals – despite challenges that the world would always throw my way –  resulted in a book – The DANCE of Life: A guide to living your best life every day. It has also opened opportunities to share my experience as a STEM ambassador for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network as well as in several other forums.

There were some critical control steps in my plan;

Location, location, location – Even though I gained my Master’s degree from a country other than that where I currently hold lectureship position, there was no debate over whether or not I should return to my home country upon completion of the degree. It was more of a forgone conclusion because I knew I was aiming for a lectureship position in my home country and that position would pay for the Ph.D.

Think long term – Notice that my very first job was a volunteer opportunity (yes, it was in Nigeria!). The point of this was, while I was job hunting for academic positions, the volunteer position which was still an education role, ensured that there was no gap period on my CV and I gained additional work experience.

My candid recommendation

Never underestimate the value of internships and do not overlook volunteer opportunities either. Just be certain that they are related to or somewhat impact on your end goal. It is also important to state that the most invaluable tool to really finding one’s feet within those waters is, an ability to constantly increase your bank of knowledge and not just in your area of certification. Being well-versed and well-read isn’t just an attribute of the rich and affluent – thanks to technology – everyone can be. It only takes being proactive and of course, actually desiring to reach your envisioned peak, whatever that is.

Blessing Obinaju is an Academic Researcher, Career Counselor, Life Coach and Image consultant. She works in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Uyo, Nigeria. She is also the Principal consultant at La Belle Vie, providing life coaching services to individuals. You can find her on Twitter @ObinajuBE.

#UniAdvice – Three simple tips that improved my academic writing.

Writing 1Do you approach writing assessments with fear or excitement? Do you procrastinate till the day before your paper, dissertation, essay, technical report is due because you just do not like writing. In this article, Emmanuel shares his journey to becoming a better writer. No one is born a great writer, we all have to work at it!

Speaking to my students in a revision class this afternoon about writing dissertations, I was reminded about some of the advice I received that changed my understanding of writing and actually made me appreciate academic writing and dare I say, start to enjoy it. The funny thing is that like many other students at university, I enjoyed creative writing.  I could write for fun, tell stories and create tales etc. However, I found academic writing challenging. I will share three of the key bits of advice I received during my masters and doctorate.

The first major change in my writing came from my MSc project supervisor (and mentor) who told me that my writing was too modest. Initially, my thoughts were, of course it should be modest. Clearly I did not understand the logic behind the statement and as she occasionally reminds me, she read my work about ten times before giving the go ahead to submit (I despaired at that point). Looking back over the years, my writing was modest for many reasons – one in particular which resonates with many students which is cultural background. Coming from a cultural background where you are not meant to criticise or question ‘authority’ creates a writing mindset where you write like you are walking on coals of fire “softly softly” just to get through the writing rather than express your ability, knowledge and critical awareness. She said, “Your writing is a reflection of your personality” so project yourself well through your writing.

The second bit of advice that got me through my academic writing was the importance of planning your write up before you put pen to paper or better still, fingers to keyboard. With the experience of marking dissertations you get to see different levels of engagement and ability to write but it is all so easy to see the unplanned dissertation or thesis write up. An unplanned dissertation or thesis is usually more difficult to write and for the marker hard to read or follow. Without planning, written work can lack coherence and structure. So what to do? There is no generic first step but before you start writing it would be helpful to seek advice from your tutor, adviser or supervisor (who obviously understands your topic or project) about how to plan your writing and what would be important to communicate in your work; review past successful dissertations in similar subject areas and have the key materials you need to begin your writing. For example, if writing a science focused dissertation or thesis, without  a well written ‘Methods’ and ‘Results’ section, you are unable to articulate your findings and tell a good story. Many Universities provide writing support through their learning development units so take advantage of them!

The third key I received from my doctoral supervisor was simple but effective. Writing a thesis is like telling a story. Considering these great bits of advice came from women, does it mean women are better writers???? Food for thought. Back to reality now, if you cannot tell a critically appraised, logical and well written coherent story then your write up would not be received as well as you might think or believe. From personal experience and talking to several examiners, it is common that at the end of a viva (Oral examination) examiners tend to comment on the quality of the writing and in some cases how easy or nice or pleasant a thesis or dissertation was to read. Think about this, if your work is easy and pleasant to read, perhaps it would be easy and pleasant to assess??? So remember, tell a good story (not a narrative) of your academic work or project and ensure it reads well and makes sense before you press the submit button.

Many thanks to my supervisors for the key tips that ensured I developed a liking and value for my voice on written academic work. Please share your own tips in the comments sections. For any suggestions or tips about getting through the academic writing process, please feel free to email us at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com. Connect with us on Twitter @emmanueladukwu and @amaratweets.  

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#APHUniAdvice – 7 Ways to Enhance your University Experience

University studentsWhat thoughts come to mind when you reflect on your time at University? If you could go back in time and start out again, would you do anything differently? For students currently in Higher Education, have you ever thought about what you want to take away from your time at University? 

The answers to the questions posed above are quite revealing. Recent graduates says things like ‘I wish I had focused on identifying and developing, skills, attributes and more importantly, relationships that were necessary to succeed after University.‘ Interestingly, for the most part, current students tell us that they want to finish with a good degree (2:1) and have some fun while doing it. There is nothing wrong with having a good time at Uni, in fact, it is advisable you do! This article is about thinking of ways to make the most of the relatively short time you spend in Higher Education.

Begin with the end in mind – While graduation may seem a long way off in your first year, sooner or later your course will come to an end. Apart from a degree certificate, what else are you going to leave with? ‘Beginning with the end in mind’ is a concept that was first described by Stephen Covey in his best selling book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.’ This is about reflecting on where you want to be at the end of an endeavour before you start out. In other words, throughout your time at Uni, think about what you want to leave with. This allows you to modify your thinking and actions towards SMART goals to get you there. This enables you recognise and  maximise resources at your disposal. How do you want your CV to look on the day you graduate? Start working on it from Day 1!

Experience, experience, experience – If you do not do anything else while at University, try and get some relevant experience. The key word being relevant. If you are studying for a degree in Biomedical Science today in the UK, it will be near on impossible to get into a graduate training position without some laboratory experience. Having a part time job in a bar may provide some much needed funds but just won’t cut it for the type of job you are after. This is because Universities are churning out graduates by the thousands each year and there are just so many jobs. Even if it is an unpaid internship, see it as an investment in your future. Another benefit besides making yourself more employable is that you can decide if that profession is for you or not. Believe us, you do not want to get stuck in a career that you derive no satisfaction from.

Get involved! – You’ve committed the next 3-4 years of your life to your University, you might as well get more out of it than a degree certificate. Join a Society or start one. Become a Peer Mentor, a Student representative for your course or run for the Student Union. Organise a student conference or plan a study trip that can help take your learning outside the classroom. Become a student ambassador and engage with prospective students on Open Days. If you’re that way inclined, sign up for University Challenge! Do something that shows you are able to take initiative and are innovative. Do not just go through your University, allow your University go through you too.

Use your University’s Careers service – We are constantly surprised at the number of students that pass through a University and never speak to a single Careers Adviser! These are specially trained individuals who can provide advice and help you with creating a CV, personal statement, filling in application forms, interview preparation and so much more. Most importantly, the service is free! A number of Universities now organise Career fairs and events, providing opportunities to network with prospective employers. We advise making an appointment with a Careers advisor at least once each academic year. This allows you review what you have done in the past year and identify skill gaps. You can then set goals to fill in any ‘gaps’ for the next year. It can sometimes be difficult to see the link between work experience and skills developed. A good Careers Advisor can help with that and help you enhance your CV.

Join a relevant professional body or Learned Society – Most disciplines are associated with a professional body. If you are in your 2nd or 3rd year at University and do not know which body is relevant to your discipline…there are no words! There are many advantages to joining a professional body including – careers advice tailored to your discipline, information about conferences which provide networking opportunities, grants to support you attending a conference etc. Many of these organisations offer reduced rates for students (sorry not free) but are definitely value for money.

Develop key horizontal and vertical relationships – So you want to be a lawyer, accountant or dietitian? How many professionals in your field do you know? Is it possible to ask one of them to mentor you? Mentoring (vertical upwards) relationships are very powerful in opening doors and getting a leg in. You can only get so much information online. Mentors come with a breadth and depth of experience that cannot be obtained from lectures or textbooks. What about you? You can develop mentoring relationships (vertical downwards) with students just starting out. Tell them what you wish someone had told you when you were starting out. Maintain a good relationship with your peers (horizontal). They are the future of your profession and you never know when you will need their skills and expertise.

Do your homework – What do you want to do when you finish? Get a job, start your own business, maybe both, maybe neither? Know what is required for your next step. Will professional certifications put you at an advantage? What are the main skills and attributes employers are looking for in your sector? Where are you now and what do you need to get where you want to be?

This is by no means an exhaustive list and we may do a follow up post soon. We would love to hear your thoughts too so please join the conversation by clicking the comments button.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia, teaching and supporting a new generation of scientists as well as undertaking research. Amara believes in the combined power of education and developing productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers. She tweets @amaratweets.

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#CareerChat – The ‘nuts’ and ‘bolts’ of transferable skills

3-skill-wordsPicture this. You get onto a bus and see a gentleman selling health supplements. In an effort to sell his wares, he sparks the interest of his target market by sounding knowledgeable and intelligent about the constituents of his products. His witty and humorous communication style engages the audience and by the time he mentions that he is selling at ‘a one day special reduced rate’, they no longer need convincing. Within a few minutes, he has convinced a bunch of strangers to part with their money.

Alongside ‘knowledge’ of his products (subject specific skills), the gentleman has demonstrated other skills such as: communication, research, literacy, self-awareness, presentation and confidence. A more introspective look at the mentioned skills and you will note that these skills are used in almost every job type or sector including; hospitality, academia, finance, management, media etc. These generic skills are known as transferable skills and differ from subject specialist skills which are specific to a particular profession. The clue in the name being that that these are skills you can ‘transfer’ from one professional field to another.

Transferable skills are skills and abilities that are relevant across different areas of life; professionally as well as socially.

Note that as important as the sales man’s knowledge about the product was, it was his ability to connect with the audience that enabled him succeed in selling his wares. Similarly, your transferable skills set can be the ‘extra’ that differentiates you from other candidates and enables you succeed in getting your dream job

The good news is that we all already have transferable skills because we start developing them as early as when we are in school. Were you a school prefect? You were already developing leadership and problem solving skills. Were you a part of the debating society? You were already developing communication, team work and research skills.

So what are these skills? The UK transferable skills framework provides the following list;

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Self-management
  • Digital (IT)
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Planning and organising
  • Research and analysing
  • Leadership and supervising
  • Resilience, adaptability and drive

Now let’s reflect. Which of these skills do you have? Where have you displayed these? Have you highlighted them in your CV?

If no, what are you waiting for?

2. TransferableAn awareness and understanding of transferable skills enables one recognise and therefore take opportunities where these skills could be developed. Skill profiles are increasingly being used by employers to identify suitable employees. Graduates come a dime a dozen these days, so make yourself unique by developing an unmatched skills profile.

How can you develop transferable skills? First, identify the gaps between your skill set and what potential employers are looking for. Take every opportunity to utilise these skills both professionally and socially. We learn and develop by doing.   Remember this quote from Thomas Edison that ‘opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.’

Opportunities to develop key transferable skills.

Communication – Writing articles, reports, dissertations, and minutes of meetings. Giving presentations and lectures, participation in a debating society.

Team work – Membership of a sports team, committee responsible for organising an event, being part of the Student Union, any responsibility that requires team effort.

IT and digital skills – Proficient use of word processing, blogging, data analysis, presentation programmes and use of the internet.

It is essential to take the initiative and start developing transferable skills that you have recognised as being key in your chosen field.  Evidence showing how you have utilised transferable skills must be well articulated in your CVs, personal statements as well as in interviews. Experience doesn’t have to be everything!

Success is a process and not a destination so keep working at it. All the best!

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