Blog: Professional registration, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and the merits of reflection

Dr Penny Hundleby CSci, John Innes Centre  

When asked if I would be willing to share my experience with professional registration, I must admit that I initially found it quite hard to put into words why I had applied for Chartered Scientist (CSci) status. I’ve been at the John Innes Centre for over 20 years and have been a senior scientist for 11 years. Being a CSci isn’t a requirement for my job and I don’t get paid more for having it. So why do it?

Applying for professional registration was an individual decision. For me, having an accountable structure to ensure I was continuing to develop as a person and as a scientist appealed to me. Changes in my family and work life had impacted on my job satisfaction and the opportunity to apply for CSci status came along at a time when I needed a chance to reflect. The process of reflection during registration and CPD renewal has also had an unexpected positive effect on my general wellbeing.

In 2015 I negotiated a short-term reduction in my hours, down to a 3-day week. I wanted to spend more time with my children before they entered full-time education, but the transition to working part-time proved far more challenging than I had envisaged. I wanted to ensure my decision didn’t impact the rest of the team, so initially I didn’t reduce the time I spent in the lab. This left no room for any of the development or outreach activities that I previously enjoyed as part of my role. This was hugely demoralising, and it had a knock-on effect on my self-esteem.

It was clear that I had to reassess; should I accept that something had to give, or should I take another view?

Around this time, I became aware of the professional registration scheme run by the Science Council. After taking their online quiz, applying for CSci status seemed perfect. It would allow me to assess what I had achieved and where I was heading. Perhaps if I’m honest, it may have also provided the validation that I needed to prove to myself that I was still operating at a senior scientist level.

It wasn’t a quick or easy task to complete the paperwork, but I found the process empowering. I swung from thinking ‘wouldn’t it be embarrassing if I didn’t make the grade’ to ‘I’ve done some amazing things to be really proud of’. I also had a great mentor, Clare Stevenson, who talked me through the application process.

When I received the email confirming my new CSci status from the Institute of Science and Technology, the reviewers commented “this was one of the best applications we have seen in a while, clearly showing the candidate has been working at this level for some time”. Despite the endorsement, I still felt reluctant to share news of my award. The news was later celebrated by our Director, Dale Sanders at one of our all staff briefings.

Suddenly it was a year later, almost renewal time. I hadn’t thought about my CPD activities, but on reflection I was surprised by how many I’d clocked up – activities most of us do already.

Looking back, gaining CSci status now seemed to be the easy part. Maintaining it and gathering evidence of CPD activities each year is where the commitment and work really starts. I discovered that this was when most people drop out of the scheme. Renewal takes time, effort and money. So, while there was no obligation, I thought of it like those dumb-bells I have at home, collecting dust. I thought that if I didn’t make myself accountable, I could be the one gathering dust.

Having the time to reflect on what you have gained is a real eye opener. It also makes you focus on what you’ve achieved rather than what you haven’t. All too often we can fall into the trap of comparing ourselves unfairly to others: this is especially tough when working with so many talented people.

One of the most satisfying things I’ve done so far was focusing on my presentation skills. I asked James Piercy from our communications team to look at my slides for a public lecture. I was already pretty happy with them, but James slashed half the material away, taking me way out of my comfort zone with less prompts to work from. I had visions of finishing my talk too early – but actually it gave me the space to relax and enjoy the dialogue rather than rushing through the content. For the first time in my career I felt I had given a talk where I had totally ‘nailed it’!

I used this new skill in an MSc lecture shortly after. Later that same year James Brown, Head of the Crop Genetics Department, suggested I apply for an honorary lecturer position at the University of East Anglia (UEA). This process made me look at teaching I was already doing. Being recognised for these contributions was surprisingly rewarding and motivating.

Professional registration has provided me with a structure to think about areas I want to develop and perhaps also peace of mind that I am continuing to grow each year. For that reason, I am proud to be able to renew and maintain my CSci status.

Looking forward, I’d like to develop my mentoring skills and would like to support the Technician Commitment further; allowing me to give back to something that has helped me considerably. So, I encourage everyone to take time out to acknowledge their own successes and celebrate the achievements of others too. By recognising and empowering staff to have confidence in their own abilities, we can unlock huge untapped potential in the workplace.

About Penny Hundleby

Penny is a Senior Scientist at the John Innes Centre. Read more about Penny on the John Innes Centre website.



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