Advice for new professionals (or anyone in the job market)

I recently signed up for Char Booth‘s webinar Librarianship as an “Avocational Vocation” – Advice for new professionals. Unfortunately due to a calendar error I didn’t make the live session, but have have just caught up on the recording. I don’t really consider myself a new professional any more, but if you read the blurb for this webinar it says it’s for “anyone interested in the future of libraries”. Well, that’s definitely me.

When I signed up I was in a precarious position career-wise having handed in my resignation with no new job to go to. I’ve therefore been thinking a lot about career paths and progression and was seeking advice anywhere I could get it. Between signing up and the actual event I found a new job. So, my perspective on the session shifted somewhat and I’ve picked up lots of good tips for starting in a new role.

First of all it was interesting to hear Char talk about her route in to librarianship, particularly as it felt like she was telling my story: graduating from university with a history degree, identifying that the research aspect of that was the most interesting and enjoyable, equating that to libraries and information, and as a result undertaking a graduate library course.

Below are the tips I picked up from the session as well as some of my own under four key themes…

Pushing boundaries

This topic came from a question posed by one of the hosts about how new professionals can find it hard to challenge traditions. Char suggested two possible routes:

  • inside the workplace; making changes through practical and scalable ideas
  • outside the workplace; through advocacy groups and contributing to the professional discourse

The key success factor for both is collaboration.

Making allies

For collaboration we need allies. Char’s tips for making allies at work, and I think this goes for in life in general are:

  • get to know your colleagues informally. Who are they? What do they enjoy? What are their personalities?
  • be nice! Manners and sincerity go a long way.
  • show yourself to be a good colleague

I would add to this to give the best of yourself. A very good friend once told me that when she first met me she thought I was an ice queen. It was hard to get to know me as I gave little of myself away. With this knowledge when I meet new people now I try to be open and give them the leads they need to get to know the best of me. This will be particularly important when starting my new job soon.

Professional writing

Something I struggle with is developing ideas into output. Here are some great tips for overcoming just that:

  • don’t let an idea go at the superficial level – dig deeper.
  • put your heart and brain into writing
  • take notes on everything you do
  • seek to add value, e.g. don’t just retweet, tell us what it means to you. This scales up to extended writing – a lot of professional literature is rehashing what has gone before.

Public speaking

When I first started working, public speaking was my worst nightmare. Everything changed when I discovered that you can’t forget what you were going to say if you don’t have a script to start with. This helps you to get to know your subject really well and to have a natural delivery style.

It’s about confidence and practice: remember you’re not just giving your audience information, you’re entertaining them. What is your presenting personality? My view – be yourself.

Char suggests you conquer your presenting fears by doing karaoke! If you’re not into that, and I’m with you there, try recording and re-recording your practice runs. I’ve written about this topic before in a post on preparing to present.

Being Human: redefining the human #edmooc

This week on the E-learning and Digital Cultures course we continued to focus on the topic being human. The four short films (1) explored ideas of trans- and post- humanism. These were supported by the core reading (2) which focused clearly on the ethics and values surrounding transhumanism.

Emma’s response:
This week I think I saw my first glimpse of utopia with Gumdrop. In my notes on this video I found myself writing positive words like integration and equality. Prior to this week’s discussion group Emma King shared our ideas about what it was that made Gumdrop seem human. We decided that it was the emotion expressed in her voice and the associated mannerism, her capacity for reflection, the slight pause before responding to difficult or unexpected questions and perhaps her sense of humour.

In response to True Skin we got into a very deep conversation about the difference between replacement and enhancement, and evolution. We talked prosthetics, heart surgery, IVF and orthodontics. Through this conversation we stumbled upon one thing that we didn’t discuss last week in relation to what defines us as human: we have opinions, for example on IVF, which we will stand by and fight for, but these opinions are subject to change if a case is presented where someone close to us is involved.

Once again we came back to an unanswered question:

what have any of the resources that we’ve been looking at throughout this course got to do with eLearning?

I feel like now we’ve come to the end of the directed learning I have an answer. The resources have provided us with some background and context on how society and culture could change based on future technological developments. Education is influenced by society and culture and so will be affected by any changes. Now after four weeks of the course I feel like I am in a position to begin making connections between these two elements and to start envisioning a future for education.

Cate’s response:
I was briefly moved by Robbie, the Catholic robot astronaut, and the human traits that he expresses, wonder, imagination, fear, could certainly trick you into believing that he is more than just a robot. It was when he came to talk about hope that my concentration wandered, as I tried to understand how a robot could possibly have such a reaction, and the rest of the video started to seem more tenuous. Unlike Emma, I didn’t find Gumdrop to be a utopic vision. Despite some rather endearing characteristics, I mainly found Gumdrop hesitant, vague and vain. I somehow expect that a robot would have the capability to avoid these traits. It is interesting, though, that the flaws I found in her are very human ones.

From the touching to the downright disturbing, the second two videos deal with the robotic in the human. Building on the eerie ‘Sight’ video from week 2 of the MOOC, ‘True Skin’ shows humans using various embedded software and hardware to enhance their experience of the world around them. I thought it was interesting that here we see technology greatly widening the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in society, demonstrating that in this world, technology is not the great democratiser that we sometimes expect. Those who cannot afford any enhancements languish in the gutters. Whilst those with the enhancements seem super-human, those without having been demoted to sub-human status.

Waiting expectantly for some clear connections to e-learning to be made, and despite some interesting points, week 4 left me disappointed. Emma is right that technology will affect education as a sub-section of society, but I feel that the MOOC and its course leaders have not really given enough direction in this area, and it has therefore not really lived up to its name. I don’t expect to be spoon-fed, and admittedly, overwhelmed by the pure volume, I have not managed to take part in discussions with my MOOC peers, but so far I don’t think I have grasped much more than I could have by picking up a good book myself. It will be very interesting to see how future MOOCS address this in terms of their content and interaction.

1. Robbie, Gumdrop, True Skin, Avatar Days
2. Bostrom (2005) ‘Transhumanist values’ reproduced from Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 4, May (2005)

Being Human: reasserting the human #edmooc

This week on the E-learning and Digital Cultures course we moved on to the second main topic: being human. The four short films (1) explored ideas of what is valuable about being human and we were asked to think about how this can be re-asserted when human existence may be seen to be under threat from technology. Instead of core reading this week we had a recording of a talk from TEDx Warwick on the topic of defining humanity (2).

Cate’s response:
In our edcmooc discussion group (Thursday, Teaching Grid, 3pm. Shameless plug.) we demonstrated some key elements of the definition of what it means to be human. As humans we are, I think, the only race on the planet to discuss, compare, debate. And this week, all pretty stuck for ideas, we needed it! Moving on from how technology affects us, we have arrived at what it means to be human in today’s world. Is there some irreplaceable value in human ways of being and learning? Is this undermined by technology and science?

I think that my lack of ideas this week was not helped by the ‘film festival’ clips. From a car advert, to a short film depicting two aliens trying to understand the nature of humans, and a man creating a virtual world in an attempt to treat an ill partner, the overwhelming thrust of the clips seems to be that we can only be interesting through technological involvement. This is pretty uninspiring. We have undeniably come far beyond the hunting and fishing stage of humanity. Through using our brains to research the world around us we have earned the right to go beyond the simple Darwinian ideas of survival. In my free time I like to cook, read, go to the theatre, travel. None of these activities necessarily further my chances of survival on this planet. Frankly, I’d be no good at hunting, I’m much happier reading a good book, so I’m glad that we have developed systems which allow me to partake in developing a wide understanding of the world around me.

When developing technologies then, or deciding which ones we want to use, we must not forget that we should only adopt them if they enable learning and understanding, which are the things which make us human. This could be through facilitating scientific research (the Hadron collider comes to mind), or by saving us time which we can then use more beneficially elsewehere (and here I am thinking of… the washing machine!) With some rather dystopic images still hanging around from previous MOOC weeks, I tend towards the pessimistic, but maybe the chance to enhance ourselves with the aid of technology, to add or remove things from an (imperfect?) human nature, is actually rather exciting.

Emma’s response:
I’ll be honest, I struggled this week. In previous weeks we’ve seen a collection of films which shared common themes and that each seemed to build on the ideas of the former. This week the collection felt disconnected. That’s not to say I didn’t engage with them though. The short clip from the BT advert resonated; I’m currently living 250 miles from my partner and much of our communication is through social media. It makes you think about the quality of human interaction when it is through a layer of technology. Themes that I think came through and were discussed in relation to last week’s resources. We talked a little about the quality of relationships made online and the awkwardness of finally meeting someone who you have previously only known virtually. I was also oddly gripped by They’re Made of Meat. It was quirky and comical, but I’m not sure what it added to my understanding of this week’s theme.

The resources I got most from this week were the further readings (3) under the heading Perspectives on Education. These had a lot of interesting ideas that relate to the experience of students through online learning. Both suggest that there is a requirement for the human touch in the delivery of education in a virtual environment. It is something that I am very aware of when delivering live sessions online; your voice is not enough, people want to see you sitting in front of your computer too. I was particularly interested in the ideas around the development of literacy and communication skills presented in The Human Touch. To communicate effectively online, we need to have the skills to communicate offline. In using social media, we already need to have an understanding of the social contract and the responsibilities of being part of any community.

  1. Toyota GT86BT heart to heartWorld BuilderThey’re Made of Meat
  2. Humanity 2.0: defining humanity – video of Steve Fuller’s TEDx Warwick talk3.
  3. Monke, L (2004) The Human TouchEducationNext
    Kolowich, S (2010) The Human ElementInside Higher Ed