Why is Professional Development Important?

Learn the role of professional development in advancing your career.

Lian Parsons

Professional development is an important aspect of continuing your career growth and striving to reach your goals.

This blog post will explain what professional development is, its benefits to both employers and their employees, and how to seek different opportunities out to reach your full potential.

What is Professional Development?

Professional development is gaining new skills through continuing education and career training after entering the workforce. It can include taking classes or workshops, attending professional or industry conferences, or earning a certificate to expand your knowledge in your chosen field.

Some companies offer in-house opportunities for professional development, such as training sessions or mentoring programs, but many professional development programs are done independently. 

Professional development is important because it has the potential to open opportunities for career advancement, such as promotions. It can assist you in honing existing skills and in learning new ones. 

It can also help you stand out in a pool of applicants; showing that you have completed professional development programs or additional industry certifications on your resume can go a long way in showing your expertise in your field.

Employees who show initiative in independent learning can signal to employers that you are open to new experiences and are enthusiastic about continuing to grow. 

Benefits of Professional Development for Employers

Professional development can be instrumental in growing a stronger team.

Employers who encourage their employees to seek out professional development opportunities are in turn encouraging higher productivity and job satisfaction. 

Higher Retention Rates

According to a Business News Daily article, businesses should offer professional development opportunities to their employees to improve potential turnover.

Professional development can help to bolster employees’ confidence in their work. Greater confidence can, in turn, translate into higher overall job satisfaction, employee performance, productivity, and overall morale. 

Investing in professional development training programs also shows employees that their company is invested in their success and interested in cultivating their advancement.

Attract Better Talent

It can be challenging to find — and retain — talented employees. Offering professional development opportunities can help employers fill open positions by attracting and retaining skilled employees.

According to talent management platform Clear Company, 74 percent of employees say that a lack of professional development opportunities are preventing them from reaching their full potential. Additionally, 94 percent of employees would stay longer at a company if it invested in staff development.

Employers offering these benefits are more likely to attract potential employees who are interested in striving for excellence and pursuing advancement. 

Investing in professional development for employees can grow an existing team’s skills and entice new talent to join with the incentive of a clear learning and development plan. 

Help Employees Stay Up to Date With Industry Trends to Keep Skills Sharp

Industry trends move rapidly, and it’s important for companies to keep pace with the times. Ongoing professional development can prevent potential stagnation by maintaining — and improving — employee skills. 

Look for programs that will help you stay up to date, such as those for agile leadership for hybrid work, or for innovation strategy .

Employees engaged in professional development are also more likely to stay engaged in their work and to be enthusiastic about pursuing their goals. 

Get started on your professional development journey today.

Benefits of Professional Development for Employees

From gaining confidence in your abilities to building potential for advancement, professional development offers employees many benefits for not only your career, but your personal goals as well. 

Learn new skills

Through professional development, you may hone both hard and soft skills in your work. Hard skills pertain to job-specific knowledge you can obtain through formal training or education. Soft skills are personal competencies, such as effective communication or the skills that contribute to emotional intelligence . 

Developing both types of skills is important to reaching your professional goals — and even some of your personal ones.

Boost Confidence and Credibility

Adding additional skills or certification from a professional development program to your resume is one way to boost your confidence in your skills and show your credibility to employers.

Professional development opportunities can expose both new and experienced professionals to new ideas and expertise. Seeking out these opportunities shows ambition and the space to practice those new competencies. 

Develop Leadership Skills

A confident employee is also likely an enthusiastic employee. If you take the step to grow and develop your skills, the incentive to seek out additional opportunities can continue to expand along with it. 

If you are an employee who wants to advance your career but isn’t sure how to do so, professional development can encourage you to put your hand up for leadership opportunities you may not have sought out otherwise. 

This blog post offers helpful tips on how to choose a leadership development program.

Build Your Network

Professional development can provide many opportunities for networking. Workshops, conferences, classes, and webinars are all spaces in which professionals can meet new people within their industry and make new connections.

These connections can lead to new opportunities, mentorship, and support which may provide the next stepping stone in your career. 

Advance in your career

A well-qualified employee attracts employer attention. Employees who are invested in professional development display commitment to their work and an interest in continuing to improve.

Professional development can also boost your earning potential by increasing your value through obtaining credentials, certifications, and designations. 

Where to Take Professional Development Courses

There are a broad range of professional development opportunities. 

Harvard Division of Continuing Education’s Professional & Executive Development offers dozens of courses spanning multiple industries. Your employer may even help you pay for these opportunities if you effectively show their worth.  

There are both in-person and online options available, so choose what works best for your goals and lifestyle.

Seek out programs, workshops, seminars, mentorship programs, and more within your industry. Investing in yourself is just the first step.

Take the next step to advance your career. Find the program that’s right for you.

Browse all Professional & Executive Development programs.

About the Author

Lian Parsons is a Boston-based writer and journalist. She is currently a digital content producer at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education. Her bylines can be found at the Harvard Gazette, Boston Art Review, Radcliffe Magazine, Experience Magazine, and iPondr.

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The importance of professional development in research: Strategies for advancing your career

Research is a constantly evolving field, with new techniques and technologies emerging every day. To stay competitive and advance in your career, it’s essential to engage in ongoing professional development. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of professional development in research and provide strategies for advancing your career.

What is Professional Development in Research?

Professional development refers to the continuous process of acquiring new knowledge and skills to enhance your performance in your job. For researchers, this can include attending conferences and workshops, collaborating with peers, and engaging in self-directed learning through reading, online courses, or other resources.

Why is Professional Development Important in Research?

Staying Up-to-Date with Industry Trends: As mentioned earlier, the research field is constantly evolving. Engaging in professional development ensures that you stay up-to-date with the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in your area of research.

Building Your Network: Attending conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities provides opportunities to connect with peers, industry experts, and potential collaborators. These connections can lead to new research opportunities, collaborations, and job offers.

Developing New Skills: Professional development can help you develop new skills that are essential for advancing in your career. For example, you may need to learn a new statistical analysis technique, coding language, or laboratory technique to take on new research projects.

Demonstrating Commitment to Your Career: Engaging in ongoing professional development demonstrates your commitment to your career and shows employers that you are willing to invest time and resources to stay competitive in your field.

Strategies for Advancing Your Career through Professional Development

Attend Conferences and Workshops: Attending conferences and workshops is an excellent way to stay up-to-date with industry trends and build your network. Look for conferences and workshops in your area of research and consider presenting your work or volunteering to gain additional experience.

Seek Mentors and Peers: Finding mentors and peers who can provide guidance and support is crucial for career growth. Look for individuals who have experience in your area of research and are willing to share their knowledge and provide advice.

Engage in Self-Directed Learning: There are many online resources available for self-directed learning, including online courses, webinars, and blogs. Use these resources to learn new skills or stay up-to-date with the latest research trends.

Pursue Additional Education: Pursuing additional education, such as a master’s or doctoral degree, can help you develop new skills and advance in your career. Look for programs that align with your research interests and career goals.

Participate in Professional Associations: Joining professional associations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science or the Society for Research in Child Development, can provide access to resources, networking opportunities, and professional development workshops.

Engaging in ongoing professional development is essential for advancing your career in research. By staying up-to-date with industry trends, building your network, developing new skills, and demonstrating your commitment to your career, you can position yourself for success in this ever-changing field. So, take the time to invest in your professional development and reap the benefits of a fulfilling and rewarding research career.

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What is Professional Development and Why is it Important?

7 min read · Updated on January 12, 2023

Marsha Hebert

Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” The same can be true for your career - once you stop participating in professional development, your career can stall

Your skills, personality characteristics, and proficiencies are what get you a job; enhancing them can only make you more successful. There are countless ways to improve yourself professionally – you can take classes, attend conferences, and volunteer. Remember, the expert at anything was once a beginner. 

Since professional development opportunities are around every corner, keeping up with emerging technologies and your industry's best practices is easy. In addition to perfecting your hard skills – things you know how to do from experience and education, you can also hone your soft skills – characteristics you possess that make you good at what you do. 

But what is professional development? Why is professional development important? In this article, you'll not only learn the definition of professional development but also how to develop professionally yourself. 

Professional development definition

You may hear the terms continuing education and professional development used interchangeably. Some careers require a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain licenses. However, you can – and in fact, are encouraged to – take part in some independent professional development. Ultimately, anything you do to improve what you know or how you do your job is considered to be professional development, including learning new skills, expanding your professional network, and performing stretch assignments at work. 

Why is professional development important?

There are a lot of people who get a job, go to work, keep their heads down, collect a paycheck, and go home. This is the best way to get stuck in a dead-end job . If you aspire to something greater, you should invest in yourself and your career. 

While professional development makes you better at your job, it also impresses managers and benefits your company. As you become more aware of trends and best practices, you start to set yourself apart as an expert. When your company seeks someone for a new managerial position, they want someone with the right knowledge to step easily into the role. 

Takeaway: The main purpose of professional development is to be at the front of the line for a promotion.

Professional development isn't just taking classes

Sure, there are a metric ton of courses you can take on every subject imaginable. They provide detailed and up-to-date information that will help to make you better at your job. However, taking courses is not the only way to improve yourself professionally. 

Some examples of professional development include:

Completing formal degree programs

Acquiring certifications or other credentials

Attending workshops or conferences

Presenting at workshops or conferences

Performing specialized research

Serving on a board, committee, or task force

Organizing company events

Building developmental relationships

Taking on special assignments - a trial-by-fire type learning

The benefits of professional development

Professional development creates a perfect win-win scenario.

On the one hand, companies are becoming more aware of the importance of promoting professional development for staff. Employee turnover is very costly and open positions are money pits. As such, many companies invest in their staff to increase retention and improve efficiency.

Conversely, as an employee, increasing your knowledge and abilities can improve your job satisfaction, productivity, and morale. You also become more competitive in the job market.

Additional benefits of professional development include:

  • Increased earning potential: The more you know, the more companies are willing to pay for you to exercise that knowledge to their benefit
  • Improved hireability: When you demonstrate to a company (either a potential employer or the one you already work for) that you're willing to go above and beyond to enhance what you know about the job, they are more likely to want you on staff
  • Expanded network: Participating in workshops, attending conferences, or presenting at seminars gives you access to professionals in your field that you wouldn't have if you sat at your desk and simply did your job every day; by growing your professional network, you can access increased visibility, equal exchange of ideas, new mentors, and the latest business trends
  • Availability of future career moves: You may find that your passion changes as your career progresses; professional development activities could help you to make that bold move into a new career a little easier. 

Knowledge: Of course, the bare bones, main component of any professional development activity is that you come away with more information than you went in with. Improved knowledge in and of itself is worth whatever coursework you finish or conference you attend. 

How can I get started with professional development?

At this point, you should be thinking, “All of this sounds great! How do I maximize my professional development?” You'll be happy to know that you can do so in five easy steps.

1. Create some goals

Start with a big goal and then create smaller goals that guide you towards the big one. This is called having a career plan and should be designed with short- and long-term strategies for managing your career. 

Remember the acronym SMART. SMART goals are:

All this means is that you're not being too vague with what you want to do. By creating a list, you'll be more likely to stick to it. Also, having smaller goals that lead up to the larger goal will keep you on track. You'll be able to easily adjust course if something goes sideways on you. 

2. Attend training programs

If your company offers training programs, you should take advantage of as many of them as possible. It will demonstrate to senior leaders that you're serious about career development. Plus, they're usually free. 

Outside of training programs offered by your company, you can also find your own. Not only can you brush up on industry-specific knowledge, but you can also start working on moving into a leadership position by improving your relationship building, innovation, decision-making, conflict resolution, and critical thinking skills - and so much more!

3. Find a mentor

You've probably heard that the best way to become successful is to follow the habits of successful people. This is where mentorship can help. A great mentor will help you to achieve measurable goals at work, but they should also provide advice and guidance to support your career growth. Having a mentor can also open doors to new opportunities.

If you can find the right mentor, you'll have someone who will hold you accountable for your career development goals. They are there to offer feedback and sometimes even a shoulder to cry on. 

4. Go above and beyond at work

If you get the opportunity to perform a duty outside of your normal job description, take it. You may feel like you've jumped into the deep end of a swimming pool with no idea how to swim, but persevering through the challenge is a great way to improve yourself professionally. 

By broadening your experience and performing multiple tasks, you'll become more attractive to leaders for higher roles. They like having people in leadership positions who take initiative to do more. 

5. Get a certification or license

There is no better way to prove you're committed to your own career than getting a certification or credential outside of a degree program. Read job descriptions to find out what certifications are desired. You can also do an internet search for certifications relating to your job title. 

If you want to be able to demand more money or earn a promotion to a higher role, the best way to do that is through professional development. When you apply for a new position, the hiring manager will want to see how your career has progressed. Be sure to include professional development activities on your resume!

TopResume would love to be a part of your career journey. Our team of professional resume writers knows just what to do to help you highlight professional development on your resume, so why not submit yours for a free resume review today?

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Professional Development Plan: What It Is and Why You Need One

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What do Elon Musk, Pablo Picasso, and Ben Franklin all have in common?

Besides absolutely rocking each of the fields they were in (from tech to art to… well, everything) — it’s the fact that they didn’t just do great things because of their innate skill, or talent, or by chance of luck…

It’s that they all had personal and professional development plans to level-up their lives.

They worked non-stop on their skills, plans, and goals.

They didn’t just “work on their work” — they consciously worked on developing themselves so they would be hyper-capable at their chosen paths to achieve the big goals in their lives.

Watch our video below to learn how to level-up your life with a professional development plan:

What is a Professional Development Plan?

A Professional Development Plan is a roadmap containing the skills, strategy, and education you need to further yourself in career and life to achieve your professional goals.

Professional development is traditionally associated with careers in which it’s compulsory, like teaching, but it’s something that everyone can (and should) be utilizing in their lives!

When you look at the highest achievers in history – the Elon Musks, the Jeff Bezos’, Teslas, Franklins, Twains, DaVincis and every Olympic athlete –– they all achieved their professional development through discipline, education, and planning.

Whether it was from an institution, organization, or most importantly, by themselves.

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. — Jim Rohn

If you’re here on this blog, I bet you’re working towards some form of improvement.

You’re working on getting to the next level of mastery –– maybe you want to:

  • Move up in your organization or leadership level
  • Bring your business to the next level or scale it
  • Get the raise you’ve always wanted (and deserve)
  • Or… you just want to work on your people skills so you can get everything out of life

Well, let me ask you, have you ever felt a bit stuck –– like you’re not moving up the levels in the game of life?

Like you’re one of those cartoon characters running in place??

Trust me, I know that feeling…

The secret to “stepping up to the next level” is to have a professional development plan .

And implement it.

5-Step Professional Development Plan to Being Hyper-Capable

I want to share this concept of having your own “Professional Development Plan”.

With a Professional Development Plan, your biggest areas of need –– from common concerns like goal setting to negotiation skills to speaking skills to productivity –– can be assessed, addressed, and positioned for success with your own personal roadmap.

You can put a path in place to help each area improve with one skill building on top of the next.

The end result: better career and life opportunities through personal and professional growth.

So let’s boil that down to an actionable plan for you!

Ready to start planning your professional development?

Use our free worksheet to get started on your Professional Development Plan.

The First Step: Self Analysis

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self. Ernest Hemingway

Most likely you’re the type of person seeking to achieve ‘hyper capability’ in your given field of passion or work. I like to define being hyper-capable as having the knowledge, resources, and actionable tactics to achieve the goals, life, and dreams you desire…and know exactly how to get there.

It’s one thing to want more out of life. It’s another to actually plan for it. Hyper-capable people have both the desire and the drive to achieve greatness.

As we work on a Professional Development Plan, before we move forward toward goals and actions… you need to know who you are and what you truly want.

“…successful people are good at matching goals with their own skill sets .” — Harvard Business School

So, first you have to self-analyze.

Let’s examine your skill sets, your strengths, your weaknesses, your habits, your desires.

Get out a fresh piece of paper, or a Word doc, or an Evernote note and start to free-flow write and be honest with yourself.

What do you LOVE to do? What are you best at? What would people pay you for?

(Hint: It can be great to ask your biggest cheerleaders for input with this).

List all your strengths in a bullet list of power statements like this:

  • I excel at: 
  • I feel capable when I:
  • My strength is:

And then list your weaknesses. What do you loathe doing…? What would you rather clean bathrooms instead of doing? What are you just not that great at? Please list your weaknesses as desire statements. Instead of saying “I’m bad at ___” (which is very limiting), try “I want to be better at ___.”

  • I want to be better at: 
  • I would like to improve my:
  • I need to learn how to excel at:

Here are the most common weaknesses we see at Science of People:

I want to be a better  leader.

I need to improve my  public speaking skill s.

I want to learn how to  network.

After listing those, ask yourself where are you at NOW and where you want to BE…

What pops into mind with these prompts below:

Right now I’m: ___________

I want to be: _____________

It’s not until we are aware of what we need that we can work on them. Let’s see what to do with this info in the next step.

Make sure to download our worksheet and do this assessment at the end of each month. (See link at the bottom)

The Second Step: Setting Quality Goals

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success. — Pablo Picasso

You need a goal, a vision, an end.

Once you have a solid goal, you can work backward.

And, research continually shows that people who have goals are more successful.

As this Wharton article says on achieving high performance at work, “The no. 1 most powerful factor is setting fewer, bigger goals.”

Did you notice that research said FEWER?

Lots and lots of goals is not the goal.

Aim for higher quality and less quantity. You don’t want to get “bogged down” on setting too many goals, but rather, you want to pick a few BIG goals to work toward.

In relation to the previous step, once you know your strengths and your weaknesses, you’ll be able to see where your gaps are. And gaps are just identifiers of where you need to go.

In other words, gaps can be goal identifiers.

Watch our video below to learn the science behind goal setting:

For example, let’s say public speaking isn’t your greatest strength.

A goal could be to book one event in the next three months where you speak in front of people.

This doesn’t have to be a big keynote or panel, but maybe there’s a meetup on Meetup.com of local business owners, entrepreneurs, etc and you can go there and “introduce” yourself to the room of people.

Or maybe there’s even an open mic you can speak at.

The key is that if public speaking isn’t your greatest strength, you would create a goal to work on it. And chip away at it every month.

And, one more thing.

You want to take time to write down your goals . Try to tie them to your strengths and weaknesses. Do the following exercise:

  • What is one goal that utilizes one of my strengths?
  • What is one goal that can help me improve a weakness?

The widespread 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews at Dominican Edu shares:

…more than 70 percent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than halfway there), compared to 35 percent of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down.

The process of writing your goals down helps solidify the thoughts in your mind, bring them out into the world, and begin the process of holding yourself accountable.

The Third Step: Focus, Focus, Focus

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. — Steve Jobs

This step can feel like the hardest one in our cell phone-addicted, tweet-loving, Insta-story age.

A time where everything and everyone around us is trying to steal our attention and our focus.

Focus is such a valuable asset and something you should be working on for peak productivity.

This NYTimes article shows a research study where people were distracted by messaging interruptions while performing a task…

…the distraction of an interruption, combined with the brain drain of preparing for that interruption, made our test takers 20 percent dumber. That’s enough to turn a B-minus student (80 percent) into a failure (62 percent).

If you want to be successful, you have to minimize distractions and stay focused.

Focus is one of the most valuable assets you can have!

From the previous step, once you have your goal, you need to be able to really dial in to working on it in a productive, effective, and focused way.

I highly recommend Cal Newport’s book Deep Work to help increase your focus.

The Wharton School at U Penn shares this about ‘deep work’,

To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to work 6-hours straight on a single task.

But, it means you should focus on a specific task at a time, rather than multi-tasking or trying to do 10 different things over that time frame.

A very popular method for focus among productivity pros is called “ The Pomodoro Technique .”

What you do is set a timer (which you can find with a quick Google search) and give yourself a small time limit to work extremely focused on a given task (typically 25 minutes) and then take a short break (5 minutes), which gives your mind a momentary rest.

Then you get right back to it.

The process of working with intense focus for 25-minutes and then taking a break is healthy for the brain and actually leads to more productivity.

When you get the small “reward” of a break after focused work, where you can stretch, walk around, or relax your mind with one of your normal “distractions”, it helps you get right back to your focus a few minutes later.

It’s a fact – focused work helps you get closer to your goals – faster.

If focus is one of your biggest areas for improvement be sure to check out our 14 Unique Science-Backed Productivity Tips .

The Fourth Step: A Great Morning Routine

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up. — Benjamin Franklin

Okay, that’s not really the morning routine I’m talking about but I love that quote. And if you’re alive in the morning, you should have a routine so you can maximize your life!

I remember the exact month and year I started my own morning routine. Why? it completely changed my productivity. I used to let my mornings dictate my day. I know I needed a morning routine because I:

  • Languished in bed checking social media for waaaaay too long every day.
  • Dreaded getting up in the morning.
  • Would suddenly realize it was lunch time and I had gotten nothing done.

Sound familiar? You need to set-up your morning routine to initiate your hyper-capability.

Tim Ferriss , a global expert in analyzing, interviewing and sharing the habits of the highest performers and most successful people in the world often talks about the power of their morning routines.

Despite the fact that these are people from tennis to surfing to cryptocurrency to fill-in-the-blank, like any field you can possibly imagine — some type of morning mindfulness or meditation practice would span I’d say 90% of the respondents.

There are studies, books, and hundreds of articles written on one of the most unifying things of all hyper-capable, high achieving, highly successful people across all types of disciplines in life (business, art, tech, innovation, etc) –– they all take complete command and control of their mornings.

It’s one of the most vital ways to guide the success of your day (and in turn… your life). 

If you don’t have one, you need to create one. I have a whole blog on how you can create the best morning routine .

Watch our video below to learn how to create the perfect morning routine:

The Fifth Step: Taking Action

Action is the foundational key to all success. — Pablo Picasso

It’s been the mantra of every self-development guru, philosopher, and hyper-capable human since the dawn of time.

There are no results without action.

Once you know your strengths, your goals, have a great morning routine, and you’re focused on the task – the only thing left is action.

True action.

Bit by bit, day by day, we create the lives we want. Action ties into goals because so many people just “write down goals” but don’t commit to acting upon them.

Here’s how we can activate your goals. First, set a monthly reminder to write down your 3-5 monthly goals at the beginning of the month and follow up on what was accomplished the previous month.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say these were 3 of my goals at the beginning of the month:

  • Cold email outreach to 10 new prospects per week
  • Take a local class on ‘Networking Success’
  • Schedule and do a photoshoot to level-up my LinkedIn

On the last day of the month, I would open the document and reflect on the goals. Then I would assess the actions I took on them.

  • Did I actually cold outreach 10 people per week? Who said yes and who said no?
  • Did I Google search and sign up for the networking course? How did it go? Should I do another?
  • Did I look for local photographers, check out rates, and schedule the photoshoot? Do I have the right outfits? Am I ready?

All of those question reflections are looking at the action I would have taken over the month, and I can either confidently note that YES I took action and moved the ball forward, or no I did not and it’s time to step up and take the action.

Many people make the mistake of tracking their goals — did they succeed or fail? But what’s even more important is tracking the action. Did you take action on your goal or not? Action is what moves things forward.

It’s Never Too Late to Start Developing Yourself

If you want a great jump in the quality of your life, an extraordinary jump in the quality of your life… You gotta set yourself up to win, you gotta set yourself up for the process that allows you to consistently grow, constantly enjoy your life and consistently produce the results that you’re after. — Tony Robbins

A personal and professional development plan doesn’t have to be rigorous like you’re getting a university degree.

It doesn’t have to be boring like you’re sitting in a 6-hour, monthly office check-up.

And it doesn’t have to be something you wait until next year to start.

A plan is something YOU can create and stick to.

You can create the parameters and you can judge its effectiveness.

Ben Franklin notoriously created 13 virtues or “categories” of self-development that he measured himself on *daily* for months, all in an effort to improve himself as a human and as a worker.

And, I must say… I think he did quite well.

Now, he may have been Ben Franklin.

But you can be the most incredible and successful you .

To your success and development,

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20 thoughts on “professional development plan: what it is and why you need one”.

professional development research meaning

Dear Vanessa, It is a pleasure to meet you via email.Thank you for sharing the PDP. I am an fan of yours and I bought your book: Captivate. Unfortunately, I cannot find your first book that you wrote and Barnes and Noble/Amazon does not have it. I am very sad for this.

Sincerely, Sarah Nandlal Baruch College student, Corporate Communication [email protected]

professional development research meaning

Hi Sarah! Vanessa’s first book, Captivate, is available both at Barnes and Noble and Amazon- you can find the link here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01L8C4WKC?pf_rd_r=8NSA91BVSB8B3D5YZFEM&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee&pd_rd_r=704754a7-2e9a-4f6e-b70b-5876e29a520c&pd_rd_w=PSLb7&pd_rd_wg=kyHiC&ref_=pd_gw_unk Thanks for reaching out! -Kensi | Science of People Team

professional development research meaning

very interesting information, keep it up

professional development research meaning

Enjoyed your YouTube session on Professional Development. However, I do not see the Professional Development 6 month free template link below. Please email.

Thank you so much

professional development research meaning

Hi, Patricia! This can happen sometimes if you already signed up for our newsletter. Have you tried using a different browser and/or clearing your browsing history? Let me know if this helps. Rob | Science of People Team

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Helping you develop your professional practice.

professional development research meaning

Continuing professional development (CPD) is defined as learning experiences which help you develop and improve your professional practice. This can include building on your strengths, as well as developing yourself where you have capability gaps. That’s why it’s so important for you, and why we’re committed to providing you with as many opportunities, tools and resources to embed CPD into the flow of your work and life.

CPD is about developing your professional practice. So it may help keep your skills and knowledge up to date; prepare you for greater responsibilities; boost your confidence; help you become more creative in tackling new challenges; enable you to make better decisions, or help you take your career further.

All learning that helps you to change and improve your practice is CPD, whether that’s learning something from a conversation with a colleague, doing a new piece of work, working in a new team, taking a course, reading something on LinkedIn, or simply reflecting on the last few months of your work.

The key to making and truly embedding that change is reflecting on your learning, which is why we’ve developed a tool on the  Learning hub to help you do that. My CPD Reflections provides an online space to review and reflect on your learning. It provides a structured approach to help you embed learning and improve your professional practice.

It’s also an easy way to keep a record of your CPD.

You can use the CPD cycle to take a structured approach by identifying and planning your learning. However, remember that much of your learning will happen in the flow of work, through conversations with people, the work you do, what you read online, and working with colleagues – to name a few examples.  

A combination of identifying your learning gaps and planning to meet them – along with recognising your everyday learning – is an effective approach to take. And remember to reflect on what you have learned in order to improve your professional practice.

Use our My CPD reflections tool, which is an online space to review and reflect on your learning, supporting you to make and embed changes in your professional practice.

  • Log in to the  CIPD Learning hub  or  watch the introductory video

Yes, it's especially important that you're able to manage your CPD whilst on a career break. Doing so will ensure you're able to return to work with the ability to articulate the value of your experience and how you've maintained your knowledge and skills throughout.

Our  CPD policy and requirements  allows you plenty of flexibility to select the forms of professional development activity most suited to your current circumstance. Read our  'How to manage a career break'  for more information.

Listen to how people professionals approach their CPD


CPD isn't just going on a course. It's a mindset, it's an integral part of your career. If you can see a skills gap and address it and learn from that. The boost that you get from that, it could be really rewarding. And, when you look back and you look at your achievements and know that has come from your own initiative - there's nothing better, than that.

CBDs very much self-directed learning. I worked in the Banking sector where it was very structured and you knew where you had to get to and how you were going to get there. In the public sector, that wasn't the case, so I had to be responsible for my and I had to take the opportunity. They weren't just going to give it to me. It's a commitment by me to improve my capabilities to look where I've got a skills gap, fill that gap and build on my knowledge.

if anybody's thinking about doing CPD now, is a brilliant time to do it. We're in a fast changing environment and that means that you need to be flexible and be able to adapt and organizations are becoming more aware of that. And that doesn't need to cost you anything. Their TED Talks podcasts, CIPD in a nutshell and updated free webinars of white papers - take those opportunities, because the rewards are far away, any effort.

Learning helps because it inspires me, for one. Learning makes me want to learn more and learn different subjects and not just always do the same thing in the same way that I’ve always done. It does enable me to do things that I would never have done 5 years ago.

Initially, I went to Law school and became an employment lawyer. Moving into HR, it’s opened up a whole world for me. It’s changing so quickly – new opportunities to learn are coming up the whole time.

If you study HR and you do a formal qualification, I think you can fall into a mindset that there’s only one way of doing things. One of the things I do make time for is webinars and L&D themed Google Plus chats that I’ve joined in with. So, even though I have been on a really tight budget, I’m learning all sorts of things I would have never across when I was a lawyer. 

Who knows what the future holds, but it certainly is going to involve a huge amount of learning and continuous development on my part.  

Useful links to tools and resources

The profession map.

The international standard for all HR, L&D, OD and all other people professionals

Additional information

professional development research meaning

Explore the CPD cycle for HR and learning and development professionals.

professional development research meaning

Build your capability through tailored recommendations, aligned to the Profession Map.

professional development research meaning

Meet the CIPD’s high standards for HR professionals by demonstrating your commitment to continuing professional development, as set out in our CPD policy.


What Is Professional Development?

Why is professional development important, where to find professional development, how to create your professional development plan, planting the seeds, what is professional development (and why does it matter).

Rachel Pelta

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professional development research meaning

Forage puts students first. Our blog articles are written independently by our editorial team. They have not been paid for or sponsored by our partners. See our full  editorial guidelines .

Table of Contents

School may be over, but learning is a lifelong process , especially if you want to move up the career ladder. Professional development plays a huge role in helping you advance in your chosen career. But what is professional development, and how do you find it? And once you find it, what do you do with it?

Professional development is “the continuous process of self-awareness, application, and reflection on how to best apply your strengths and skills to the world of work,” says Dylan Houle, executive director, career and professional development at Santa Clara University. It’s when you learn new skills while enhancing your existing skill set and can be formal (like attending training and classes) or informal (like working with a mentor or reading books).

Career development is also ongoing and evolving, says Christine J. Spadafor, lawyer, management consultant, and board member at Boyd Gaming Corporation. “It is embracing and utilizing what you’ve learned to achieve your career goals with expected goal refinement along the way.”

>>MORE: What Is a Management Consultant? – Forage

To be clear, professional development is similar to but not the same as continuing education. Continuing education is the mandatory classes you take to maintain a professional certification or license you already have. However, taking these classes to obtain a new certificate or license is a type of professional development.

Spadafor also points out that there’s a difference between development and growth. “Development is attending training and seminars while growth more fully encompasses a demonstrated eagerness to learn new skills and knowledge, seek new experiences and take on increased responsibilities.”

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You might think that devoting time to professional development is a waste. After all, you learn and develop your skills on the job, so why do you need to spend additional time educating yourself?

Let’s start with the data. A 2023 survey by the Project Management Institute found that 70% of respondents value their job when it provides ample professional development. This same survey also found that 52% of all workers would leave a job if they didn’t get the kind of development they desired. And of those workers, 57% of young professionals (people ages 18 to 30) reported they would leave a job if they didn’t have professional development opportunities.

So, while you can and do learn many skills on the job, professional development is more than that. “It provides a competitive edge for promotions, selections for high-visibility projects and more career choices,” says Spadafor. When you’re intentional in your professional development, you’re “managing your career, rather than passively responding only to available opportunities.”

What’s more, you’ll be able to communicate what you’re capable of. “Job seekers who approach their career development with intention can easily communicate how their various experiences intertwine with and reinforce each other,” says Houle.

Here’s how professional development can help your career grow.

A photo of Christine J. Spadafor

Don’t be afraid to fail. Get out of your comfort zone. Venture out on those skinny branches. You’ll learn so much more!

— Christine J. Spadafor

Learn New Skills

You might be perfectly happy in your job right now. But how long will that last? One year? Five? Forever? Once you’ve learned all you can and mastered every skill for that role, then what? Will you still be happy? Will you be bored and uninspired? Or bothered that your career hasn’t progressed the way you expected?

Pursuing professional development and learning new skills (also called “ upskilling “) means when you inevitably outgrow your current job, you’re ready for the next one — whatever it is!

>>MORE: What Is Career Planning?

Confidence Builder

It’s cheesy but true. Learning and mastering new skills is a true confidence booster because you start with little to no knowledge of the topic. But as you use and hone these new skills, your competency and ability increase — along with your confidence! And being confident in your professional self is one of the best career boosts out there.

Expand Your Network

Some professional development is also an opportunity to grow and expand your professional network. Classes and workshops bring people from the same or similar fields together and often have participants engage in small-group interactions. These groups are a great time for you to connect with others.

And while you may not need these people now, you never know what the future holds. The people you network with today may help your career prospects tomorrow.

Demonstrate a Growth Mindset

And finally, engaging in and pursuing professional development demonstrates you have a growth mindset. Actively learning and using new skills shows your employer that you know you’re never done learning and growing. Employers often look for people who seek out challenges and a desire to grow, and professional development is an excellent way to do that.

Professional development can be formal and informal. Some opportunities will be offered to you, and some you’ll have to find on your own, but here’s where you can start.

A photo of Dylan Houle

You must be willing to research and network, experiment and immerse yourself in new things (like a Forage work experience), and be flexible enough to pivot and adapt to new opportunities as they arise.

— Dylan Houle

Your job is probably the number one place to find professional development opportunities. Depending on the company’s culture , it may be a part of your job, but it might also be something you have to find yourself.

Some companies provide professional development as a benefit through ongoing training from internal staff members or outside consultants. These training sessions might be mandatory or optional and often cover a wide variety of professional topics.

>>MORE: What Are Fringe Benefits?

Other companies may not provide internal training, instead offering a stipend or budget. This way, you can attend the professional development courses that truly interest you, and the company pays for them. In some cases, the company may require you to come back and present your learnings to your coworkers (yet another form of professional development!).

Not all companies provide or pay for professional development, but that doesn’t mean you should skip it.

There are tons of books that can help you grow and develop professionally. Though most focus on soft skills and leadership, there are options if you want to improve your hard skills . What’s more, many of these are available through the library, making this a low-cost way to enhance your professional development.

Outside Courses

Even if your employer doesn’t offer internal professional development or pay for outside classes, you still have options.

There are many free or low-cost professional development courses online. For example, Google offers tons of certification courses to help you master the skills you want and need. Completing something like a virtual job simulation also allows you to enhance your skill set and show employers you’re committed to growth.

Of course, learning a bunch of random skills doesn’t do much for your career. That’s where professional development goals and a professional development plan come in.

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Professional development plans are similar to your yearly evaluation. Once a year, you and your boss sit down to discuss your performance. During that discussion, you work together and decide what you want to accomplish in the upcoming year and determine what steps you need to take to make that happen. 

A professional development plan is similar in that you set professional development goals and outline how you will accomplish them. In both cases, using SMART goals will help you stay on track.

So, say your goal is to take on additional leadership responsibilities. You would create a professional development plan that breaks your end goal — leadership responsibilities — into smaller, more manageable steps. It could look like this:

Goal: Take on more leadership duties

Timeline: 3 years

Step 1: Discuss specific skills I need to develop with supervisor

Step 2: Attend leadership trainings through work, including [examples]

Step 3: Attend at least four leadership conferences through [name or names of outside professional development courses]

And you’d add additional steps as necessary to help you achieve your goal of becoming a leader.

Starting your professional development now will help you take the career path you want in the future. And focusing on developing the skills you’ll need to grow throughout your career can make you a top candidate in your job search, no matter where you are in your career journey.

Not sure what skills employers are looking for? Here’s a list to get you started:

  • What Are Critical Thinking Skills?
  • What Is Microsoft Excel? A Beginner’s Guide
  • What Are Programming Skills?
  • What Are Writing Skills?
  • How to Improve Your Presentation Skills
  • Tips for Improving Your Public Speaking Skills
  • What Is Active Listening?
  • What Are Verbal Communication Skills?
  • What Are Collaboration Skills? Definition and Examples

Image Credit: Canva

Rachel Pelta

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Created by the Great Schools Partnership , the GLOSSARY OF EDUCATION REFORM is a comprehensive online resource that describes widely used school-improvement terms, concepts, and strategies for journalists, parents, and community members. | Learn more »


Professional Development

In education, the term professional development may be used in reference to a wide variety of specialized training, formal education, or advanced professional learning intended to help administrators, teachers, and other educators improve their professional knowledge, competence, skill, and effectiveness. When the term is used in education contexts without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation, however, it may be difficult to determine precisely what “professional development” is referring to.

In practice, professional development for educators encompasses an extremely broad range of topics and formats. For example, professional-development experiences may be funded by district, school, or state budgets and programs, or they may be supported by a foundation grant or other private funding source. They may range from a one-day conference to a two-week workshop to a multiyear advanced-degree program. They may be delivered in person or online, during the school day or outside of normal school hours, and through one-on-one interactions or in group situations. And they may be led and facilitated by educators within a school or provided by outside consultants or organizations hired by a school or district. And, of course, the list of possible formats could go on.

The following are a representative selection of common professional-development topics and objectives for educators:

  • Furthering education and knowledge in a teacher’s subject area—e.g., learning new scientific theories, expanding knowledge of different historical periods, or learning how to teach subject-area content and concepts more effectively.
  • Training or mentoring in specialized teaching techniques that can be used in many different subject areas, such as differentiation (varying teaching techniques based on student learning needs and interests) or literacy strategies (techniques for improving reading and writing skills), for example.
  • Earning certification in a particular educational approach or program, usually from a university or other credentialing organization, such as teaching Advanced Placement courses or career and technical programs that culminate in students earning an industry-specific certification.
  • Developing technical, quantitative, and analytical skills that can be used to analyze student-performance data, and then use the findings to make modifications to academic programs and teaching techniques.
  • Learning new technological skills, such as how to use interactive whiteboards or course-management systems in ways that can improve teaching effectiveness and student performance.
  • Improving fundamental teaching techniques, such as how to manage a classroom effectively or frame questions in ways that elicit deeper thinking and more substantive answers from students.
  • Working with colleagues, such as in professional learning communities , to develop teaching skills collaboratively or create new interdisciplinary courses that are taught by teams of two or more teachers.
  • Developing specialized skills to better teach and support certain populations of students, such as students with learning disabilities or students who are not proficient in English.
  • Acquiring leadership skills, such as skills that can be used to develop and coordinate a school-improvement initiative or a community-volunteer program. For related discussions, see leadership team and shared leadership .
  • Pairing new and beginning teachers with more experienced “mentor teachers” or “instructional coaches” who model effective teaching strategies, expose less-experienced teachers to new ideas and skills, and provide constructive feedback and professional guidance.
  • Conducting action research to gain a better understanding of what’s working or not working in a school’s academic program, and then using the findings to improve educational quality and results.
  • Earning additional formal certifications, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification, which requires educators to spend a considerable amount of time recording, analyzing, and reflecting on their teaching practice (many states provide incentives for teachers to obtain National Board Certification).
  • Attending graduate school to earn an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree or doctorate in education, educational leadership, or a specialized field of education such as literacy or technology.

In recent years, state and national policies have focused more attention on the issue of “teacher quality”—i.e., the ability of individual teachers or a teaching faculty to improve student learning and meet expected standards for performance. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, provides a formal definition of what constitutes high-quality professional development and requires schools to report the percentage of their teaching faculty that meet the law’s definition of a “highly qualified teacher.” The law maintains that professional development should take the form of a “comprehensive, sustained, and intensive approach to improving teachers’ and principals’ effectiveness in raising student achievement.” Similar policies that describe professional-development expectations or require teachers to meet certain expectations for professional development may be in place at the state, district, and school levels across the country, although the design and purpose of these policies may vary widely from place to place.

Generally speaking, professional development is considered to be the primary mechanism that schools can use to help teachers continuously learn and improve their skills over time. And in recent decades, the topic has been extensively researched and many strategies and initiatives have been developed to improve the quality and effectiveness of professional development for educators. While theories about professional development abound, a degree of consensus has emerged on some of the major features of effective professional development. For example, one-day workshops or conferences that are not directly connected to a school’s academic program, or to what teachers are teaching, are generally considered to be less effective than training and learning opportunities that are sustained over longer periods of time and directly connected to what schools and teachers are actually doing on a daily basis. Terms and phases such as sustained , intensive , ongoing , comprehensive , aligned , collaborative , continuous , systemic , or capacity-building , as well as relevant to teacher work and connected to student learning , are often used in reference to professional development that is considered to be of higher quality. That said, there are a wide variety of theories about what kinds of professional development are most effective, as well as divergent research findings.

While few educators would argue against the need for and importance of professional development, specific programs and learning opportunities may be criticized or debated for any number of reasons, especially if the professional development is poorly designed, executed, scheduled, or facilitated, or if teachers feel that it is irrelevant to their teaching needs and day-to-day professional responsibilities, among many other possible causes.

In addition, school leaders may encounter a variety of challenges when selecting and providing professional development opportunities. For example, one common obstacle is finding adequate time during the school day for teachers to participate in professional development. Securing sufficient funding is another common complication, particularly during times when school budgets are tight or being cut. The amount of funding allocated for professional development by states, districts, and schools may also vary widely—some schools could have access to more professional-development funding than they can reasonably use in a given year, while other schools and teachers may be expected to fund most or all of their professional development on their own. Other common challenges include insufficient support for professional development from the administrative leadership, a lack of faculty interest or motivation, or overburdened teacher workloads.

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Professional Development: Importance & Best Practices

By: Grace He | Updated: December 11, 2023

This is a guide to the importance and best practices of professional development for employees.

Professional development is the step towards increasing an employee’s skill set to open up opportunities and career progression. The practice may accelerate advancement in the workplace by improving competencies and skills. Participating in professional development programs allows workers to demonstrate their dedication to personal and professional growth.

These concepts often appear in career-planning books and books on employee training and development , and factor into job satisfaction statistics .  Professional development is an employee engagement best practice .

This article contains:

  • definition of professional development
  • importance of professional development
  • benefits of professional development for employees
  • best practices for a professional development program

Let’s get started!

Definition of professional development

Professional development involves employees getting better at their jobs and progressing in their careers. This process includes formal activities, like classes and workshops, and informal methods, such as self-study and networking. Engaging in professional development helps employees acquire new skills and knowledge. This process enhances employees’ appeal to potential employers and keeps them competitive as jobs continuously evolve.

The advantages of professional development extend beyond simply securing a better job or a higher salary. This process also fosters confidence and creativity in the workplace. When employees are more self-assured in their abilities, they are more likely to embrace new challenges and come up with innovative solutions. In summary, professional development is a commitment to lifelong learning and growth in employees’ jobs, leading to career success while fostering confidence and fulfillment.

The importance of professional development

The importance of professional development cannot be overstated. This process plays a crucial role in the personal and career growth of individuals and the overall success of organizations.

Here are some key reasons why professional development is essential:

  • Skill Enhancement : Professional development helps individuals learn and refine skills and knowledge relevant to their field. This ongoing learning allows employees to stay up-to-date with industry trends, technological advancements, and best practices. As a result, workers become more proficient at their jobs, contributing to improved job performance and productivity.
  • Career Advancement : A commitment to professional development often leads to career progression. Employees who continue to develop their skills and expertise are more likely to be considered for promotions and leadership roles. Skill development opens doors to new opportunities within an organization and enhances employability in the job market.
  • Adaptation to Change : In today’s fast-paced world, industries and job requirements can change rapidly. Professional development gives individuals the flexibility and adaptability to thrive in evolving environments. This process helps workers embrace change with confidence and competence.
  • Innovation and Problem-Solving : Learning new skills and gaining diverse experiences through professional development encourages innovation. Employees who engage in continuous learning are more likely to bring fresh ideas and creative solutions to their workplaces, contributing to the growth and competitiveness of their organizations.
  • Employee Satisfaction and Retention : Companies that invest in their employees’ professional development are committed to their growth and well-being. This commitment, in turn, leads to higher job satisfaction and increased employee loyalty. When employees feel valued and supported in their development, they are more likely to stay with their employers.
  • Maintaining Competitiveness : Organizations that prioritize professional development stay competitive in their industries. These workers are better equipped to attract and retain top talent.
  • Compliance and Industry Standards : In certain fields, adhering to industry regulations and standards is essential. Professional development often includes training and certifications that ensure employees comply with industry-specific requirements.
  • Networking and Collaboration : Professional development opportunities often involve networking with peers and experts in the field. Building a robust professional network can lead to collaboration, knowledge sharing, and valuable partnerships that benefit both individuals and organizations.

In summary, professional development is vital for personal growth, career advancement, and the overall success of individuals and organizations. Development fosters continuous learning, adaptability, and innovation while boosting job satisfaction and ensuring compliance. Embracing professional development is an investment in the future.

Types of professional development

Professional growth is not necessarily linear and structured, and a wide variety of activities and approaches may help you grow. On-the-job training, formal education, and unstructured, hands-on education all fall under the umbrella of professional development. In the end, your chosen type will depend on the areas you want to grow. Developing an individualized professional development plan is up to you, so long as you know your workplace’s demands and prospects.

There should be various learning opportunities available in today’s contemporary workplace, including official and informal professional development activities. These learning possibilities fall into one of three categories:

1. Structured and active learning

Structured professional development takes participatory learning and an interactive approach. This method includes training sessions, workshops, conferences, seminars, lectures, and e-learning courses. Structured professional development also includes assessments and tests geared toward advancing the employee’s career. However, keep in mind that preparing for these tests fits under self-directed learning.

2. Reflective or passive learning

Reflective professional development is one-way and passive, and there is no interaction between the instructor and the participants. Podcasts and reading relevant articles, case studies, and business updates are good examples of this learning activity. If the employee’s overall professional development plan reflects the learning goals of an informal meeting, then the meeting falls under the reflective professional development category.

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3. Unstructured or self-directed learning

All unsupervised professional development activities, such as reading papers and publications online or in print, fall under self-directed learning. Peer-reviewed books and research, industry journals, trade publications, and industry-specific news feeds are examples of unstructured educational resources. On-the-job training is just one aspect of professional growth. Any additional training or education outside of the workplace falls under this umbrella term.

Benefits of professional development

Some of the benefits of continuing professional development include:

1. Better organizational culture

One of the significant benefits of professional development is its role in creating a positive organizational culture. When employees engage in continuous learning and skill enhancement, it boosts their individual growth. In addition, this process contributes to a workplace atmosphere of collaboration, respect, and a commitment to improvement. As employees develop new skills and share their knowledge, they foster a culture of innovation and teamwork. This positive culture, in turn, enhances job satisfaction, reduces turnover rates, and creates a workplace where individuals feel valued and motivated. Ultimately, a positive organizational culture nurtured through professional development initiatives creates a more productive work environment.

2. Boosted confidence

Professional growth might help you feel more confident in your abilities as an employee. As your knowledge grows from expanding your skillset and learning new skills, you may gain greater self-assurance and mastery of your role. In other words, a long-tenured employee will have learned a great deal more than when they first started. This skill upgrade makes individuals more confident in their ability to carry out their duties at work. In addition, self-assured employees are more likely to take advantage of opportunities, make well-informed judgments, and demonstrate leadership qualities.

3. Improved employability

Developing your skills, knowledge, and abilities through professional development programs improves employability. Employers may consider you a more appealing candidate if you have increased your skillset via professional development. Employers may be more inclined to hire you if they see you as a competent applicant.

4. A bigger pool of available work options

If you want to get a raise or promotion in your present position, then you should focus on your professional development. You may have a better chance of moving up the corporate ladder if your boss sees that you are working hard to improve yourself. The firm will know how you are becoming more informed and skillful and that you are a self-taught individual. Employers may see your progress and opt to promote you, which might open up more work prospects for you.

5. More networking opportunities

Participating in professional development activities such as seminars, webinars, conferences, workshops, volunteer events, and classes can provide a chance to network with other professionals.

Professionals from your sector are usually present at these events, making them excellent venues for meeting industry experts and influencers. By meeting colleagues, mentors, and potential employers via networking, you may advance your career. Mentors and coworkers can provide advice on your professional path, while hiring managers may be able to point you in the right direction.

6. Mentorship opportunities

Finding a mentor or role model to look up to might also help you advance your career. With the support of a mentor, you can achieve your objectives. The mentor may also help you learn new things or offer suggestions to improve your situation. If you can identify a mentor or role model in your field who has the position or characteristic you can, you may get insight into their work and how they achieved their success. Mentors might also provide information about other career opportunities that are a good match for your skills and interests.

Here is a list of books on mentorship and a list with unique mentor program ideas .

Best practices for a professional development program

The following are professional development program best practices:

1. Conduct a needs assessment

In professional development, a needs assessment is like a survey or study that helps determine what skills and knowledge employees need to improve their jobs. This study is a way to identify the areas where folks might need more training or support. By doing this assessment, organizations can ensure that the training they provide is exactly what employees need. Firms can customize a learning plan for each team so they can do their job better and help the organization succeed.

2. Clarify the goals of your employee development program and get management buy-in

Several employee professional development initiatives lack defined goals or sufficient support from management. Since there is no metric for success, these projects often fail. SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound—are essential to achieving success. Setting the program’s goals ensures participants and leaders understand why they should participate or support it. You should have a metric to define the attrition rate of your program if your objective is to keep talented employees in your company. Every quarter, conduct a satisfaction survey of employees and track the findings over time to enhance the program’s efficacy. You should consider appointing an executive who is enthusiastic about the program and ready to act as its advocate. This executive will be an invaluable supporter and resource.

3. Choose your executive sponsor or a good program director

The success of any professional development project hinges on your choice of a program manager. A competent program manager does not assure success, but a bad one is certain to provide disappointing outcomes. The program managers can ensure participants get continuous support and training. The managers look for new possibilities and solve the existing issues while collaborating with other parties to ensure the program’s long-term viability. The manager will work to promote the program to prospective participants and act as the program’s representative to the company. This role requires passion, excellent communication, and meticulous planning.

4. Allow for flexibility when developing a learning and development strategy

Employee career development programs that are well-balanced between structure and flexibility are more likely to succeed. Standards are important, such as participant training, progress monitoring, and communication to ensure that the program runs successfully. However, since the focus of mentoring and coaching programs is on the personal development of participants, the results and preferred approaches will differ from one participant to the next. Therefore, identifying and incorporating areas that demand flexibility into a company’s employee career development program is critical. Areas for consideration include program type, length, and participant engagement tools.

5. Do some marketing

When presenting new employee career development initiatives, excitement does not necessarily convert into high participation rates. One of the most prominent causes of non-participation is a lack of efficient marketing. Participants may not be aware of all the advantages of the professional development program. The process may demand showing the employees that participation is worth their time and effort.

You could utilize internal promotions to spread the word about your program. Some strategies include lunch and learns, corporate communications, launch parties, milestones, and presentations at business meetings. You should ensure every employee has adequate information.

For more advice, here is a list of books on marketing strategies .

6. Ensure participants’ preparation

Participants should understand their responsibilities, recommended practices, and training methods. You also need to ensure mentors, coaches, and mentees know the goal. After the first orientation, there is still a need for more training and assistance. You should provide tips and best practices during each training session to ensure participants remain focused and maximize results.

7. Talk about successes

After kicking a professional development program for employees, the attention naturally switches to administering and maintaining the program. To illustrate the importance of the mentoring and coaching program to prospective and present members, continue to acknowledge and highlight the successes and milestones. These steps can boost participation and support for the program.

8. Acknowledge and reward success

Success for an employee may not always mean a promotion or some other public recognition, depending on their goals. You can track an employee’s progress through the number of hours spent on training, the skills or proficiency levels attained, or any other metric and award badges. You can also acknowledge progress through peer support and recognition programs.

Here are employee recognition ideas .

9. Make development a part of a larger system

Succession planning, performance management, recruiting and hiring, and even pay and incentives are integral parts of the most effective professional development strategies.

Talent management may benefit significantly from an integrated approach to development. For instance, you can widen the recruiting pool by finding applicants who, with a minor investment in training, may become valuable long-term workers.

This approach can turn a performance assessment into a window for growth and success. Training personnel to replace crucial positions that may become vacant can help firms strengthen their workforce and maintain stability.

10. Implement feedback mechanisms

Feedback mechanisms are tools that help participants share their thoughts about training programs. These tools allow participants to share their opinions and suggestions on things like the program’s content and teaching style. In professional development, feedback is crucial because it helps organizers understand if the training was effective and how they could improve. Feedback is a way to make sure that the training is interesting and useful for the attendees. This process also shows that the organization cares about improving employee learning.

It takes time and effort to train and develop your personnel. Well-executed professional development programs indicate an organization’s commitment to employee growth and retention. The program provides the employee with a wide range of skills for a lifetime. Even yet, a professional development program may be difficult to maintain and, if mishandled, can be detrimental to both the organization and the person.

Next, check out this list of employee engagement strategies , this guide to virtual lunch and learns and these professional development ideas for work .

We also have a guide to employee advocacy in the workforce .

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FAQ: Professional development

Here are answers to some common questions about professional development

What is professional development?

Professional development refers to the continuing education and training for employees to gain new knowledge, keep abreast of industry developments, and advance their position in the workplace.

Why is professional development important in the workplace?

Professional development in the workplace is important for upscaling employees’ talents, boosting employee retention, and improving service rendering to clients or customers.

What makes a professional development program good?

A professional development program requires marketing, employee participation, and a qualified program manager to be successful.

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Author: Grace He

People & Culture Director at teambuilding.com. Grace is the Director of People & Culture at teambuilding.com. She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.

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professional development research meaning

People & Culture Director at teambuilding.com.

Grace is the Director of People & Culture at teambuilding.com. She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.

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Teacher Professional Development, Explained

professional development research meaning

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It’s lauded by some as one of the best ways to improve teaching and learning, scorned by others as a complete waste of time. It’s something that teachers might have access to weekly, or barely get once or twice a year.

Professional development will be part of almost every teacher’s career. They will take district-provided training, participate in collaborative learning groups, or seek out seminars and conferences.

When professional development is done well, it provides an opportunity for teachers to grow their knowledge and sharpen their skills, which can lead to better student outcomes. It’s a way for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues, and one avenue through which administrators can support their teachers.

That’s the goal. But it’s not always the reality.

The K-12 professional development landscape is diffuse and highly local, with offerings varying from district to district and even school to school. Teachers have long said that the PD they receive often isn’t relevant to the subject or grade level they teach, that it doesn’t provide tips for practical application in the classroom, or that its goals are vague.

And research on the topic is mixed, with studies demonstrating that some approaches work well—and others don’t have any effect.

Read on for an overview of the field: what options exist, what research shows can improve student outcomes, and how teachers say professional development could be improved.

What is teacher professional development?

Professional development, or professional learning, can refer to any kind of ongoing learning opportunity for teachers and other education personnel.

Some professional development is required—for example, a state law could mandate that all elementary school teachers undergo training in early literacy instruction , or a school could host a mandatory workshop on a day reserved for in-service teacher professional development.

Most states require that teachers complete a certain number of hours of professional development to renew their teaching licenses or to receive salary boosts. Usually, teachers can meet these requirements by taking continuing education classes through colleges and universities, or by taking professional development courses from state-approved providers.

A host of organizations provide these PD sessions, including teachers’ unions, subject-specific professional associations, education companies and publishers, museums, government agencies , and nonprofits.

Exactly how much teachers pay for PD varies, too. Districts and unions will offer some options to teachers for free, or deeply discounted. But often teachers pay out of pocket, especially for opportunities hosted by outside organizations.

What are some examples of teacher professional development?

The stereotypical PD session is the “one-and-done.”

A group of teachers gather in a classroom or an auditorium to listen while a consultant delivers a scripted presentation on a general topic. It’s then up to teachers to figure out how to apply that information to their specific classroom contexts—if they choose to do so at all.

Teachers, policymakers, and education researchers have criticized these kinds of one-off workshops for their lack of continuity and coherence, but they’re still very much a part of the PD landscape (see the next section).

Still, the suite of options is much broader than just workshops. Here are some of the other types of professional learning that teachers could have access to:

  • Professional learning communities: Also known as PLCs, these small groups of teachers—often organized around subject areas or grade levels—meet regularly to share expertise and plan for instruction.
  • Curriculum-based PD: Teachers learn how to use their school or district’s curriculum and other instructional materials, often discussing how to adapt it for their students’ needs.
  • Coaching and peer observation: An instructional coach, or teachers themselves, help other teachers plan lessons, observe each other’s classrooms, and offer feedback.
  • Conferences, seminars, and institutes: Teachers attend meetings outside of school, where they can learn from experts and their colleagues. These often occur during summer or other school breaks.
  • National Board Certification: Teachers who complete a series of portfolio projects and pass an assessment receive this advanced certification, which comes with salary increases in some states.
  • University courses: Teachers can take these to deepen their subject matter knowledge or their understanding of instructional practice. They can also count toward graduate degrees, which help teachers move up the pay ladder.

What kind of teacher professional development is most common?

Teachers say that the type of PD they participate in most often is collaborative learning, according to a 2023 study from the RAND Corporation that surveyed a nationally representative sample of 8,000 teachers.

This includes work time with colleagues or more structured meetings, like professional learning communities. Thirty-nine percent of teachers said they did this at least weekly.

Still, workshops and short trainings are still part of many schools’ approaches.

The federal government provides funding that districts and states can use for professional development through Title II-A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Data from the 2020-21 school year show that 90 percent of districts that used some of this money for PD spent the funds on trainings that lasted three days or fewer, or on conferences.

Districts spent on other types of PD too. Eighty percent of districts said they funded longer-term professional development lasting four or more days, and 55 percent supported collaborative or job-embedded professional development.

Research from the past decade shows that much of the professional development that teachers undergo doesn’t meet the federal standard for “high-quality.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal K-12 law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, defines high-quality professional learning as meeting six criteria: it’s sustained (meaning not a one-off workshop), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused.

But most offerings don’t meet all of these benchmarks. A 2016 study from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute examined 3.2 million PD enrollments between 2011 and 2016, and found that 80 percent of them didn’t meet the federal standard in full.

Most professional development is locally provided, from school districts, regional offices of education, or teachers’ unions. Quality control is often lacking : Some states have hundreds of approved providers, and only audit a small sample each year.

What makes for effective teacher professional development?

Hard data on which professional-development models lead to better teaching are difficult to come by.

In part, this is because professional development relies on a two-part transfer of knowledge: Teachers need to learn new knowledge and skills such that they change their behavior, and those changes must subsequently result in improved student mastery of subject matter. Unsurprisingly, the complex nature of those transactions renders the field of professional development a challenging one to study.

Still, research reviews conducted over the last five years or so have provided some insights.

In a brief published in 2022 , researchers at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Brown University reviewed dozens of studies on professional development to identify some commonalities in successful programs.

They found that professional development that focused on instructional practice —identifying key teaching strategies and providing support for carrying out those changes in the classroom—was generally more effective for improving student performance than professional learning that focused solely on building teachers’ content knowledge in their subjects.

This instruction-focused PD is most effective when it’s tied to materials that teachers are going to use in the classroom, an approach also known as curriculum-based professional development. The paper cites two metanalyses—one of coaching programs , and one of science, technology, engineering and math instructional improvement programs —that both found PD had larger effects on student outcomes when it helped teachers understand how to best use their classroom materials. Other research reviews have identified the importance of providing teachers with models and examples.

Adding follow-up sessions was helpful too. They provide opportunities for teachers to share their experiences implementing new information and get feedback from peers.

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Coaching is also powerful. A 2018 meta-analysis of 60 studies on instructional coaching found that it can improve teachers’ practice, so much so that in some cases a novice teacher performed at the same level as one who had been in the classroom for 5 years. It improves student performance, too, as measured by standardized test scores.

Still, the results came with a caveat. Coaching programs became less successful as they got larger, involving more teachers. Recruiting, developing, and supporting a large staff of coaches can be costly and challenging to districts to implement, the researchers said .

Other types of professional development also have stipulations.

Adding collaboration time for teachers to work together can be very effective—but only if that time is well-used. One 2022 study , for example, found that teachers reported participating more—and perceived collaborative time to be more useful to their practice—when it was focused on a specific goal, rather than swapping general strategies to improve instruction.

What do teachers say would make professional development better?

Because professional development varies so widely in type and in quality, teachers’ opinion of it varies too. But in general, teachers’ critiques of PD line up with research findings about what is, and isn’t, best practice.

Teachers have said they want professional development to be more practical and directly connected to the work that they’re doing in the classroom. A common complaint is that PD is not tailored to teachers’ needs —for example, mandatory seminars that often have no relevance to their particular subject area or cover skills that they mastered years ago.

Teachers want time to apply what they’ve learned with students and then follow up with PD providers and their colleagues to evaluate: Did this go well? Why or why not? And is it helping students?

Finally, teachers have also identified a need for more support in reaching certain student groups. In the 2023 RAND survey , most teachers said their professional learning offered no access to expertise, or only slight access to expertise, in supporting students with disabilities or English learners.

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How to write a professional development plan for career success


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What’s a professional development plan?

5 benefits of professional development plans, professional development plan versus leadership development plan, how to write a professional development plan in 6 steps, 2 professional development plan examples, plan for success.

Every step up in your career happens because of your professional development.

Growing your skills, adapting to changing job markets, and narrowing your expertise are all contributors to successes like promotions and new positions. And while much of your on-the-job skill acquisition happens naturally, creating an intentional professional development plan (PDP) can help build a targeted path to your specific career goals. 

A thoughtful plan identifies where you currently stand in your career and pinpoints goals, resources, and opportunities to advance . It’s an intentional process that requires self-reflection and realistic goal-setting, but the hard work will pay off — often literally. 

A PDP is a comprehensive document outlining your skills and competencies alongside your short-term and long-term professional goals . This honest self-assessment allows you to identify what professional development is necessary to move your career forward, laying the foundation for a roadmap of realistic, actionable steps to support continuous learning.

Creating a professional life that excites and motivates you requires thoughtful reflection on your past, present, and future, and a PDP hosts that knowledge. It documents your skills and offers a space for goal-setting , giving you the tools you need to work more effectively. Here are five reasons to build your own:  

1. Establish a sense of direction

The hustle of your everyday responsibilities can sometimes make you lose focus on long-term objectives . A PDP helps you stay future-minded, providing clear goals and actionable steps that reduce the chance of languishing or drifting off your career path . 

2. Involve others in your learning

Involving your manager or supervisor in the process can catalyze valuable conversations about your development needs. Talking to them could also give you professional development ideas you wouldn’t otherwise consider. 

Your openness and interest in developing new skills, implementing SMART goals , and improving your ability to perform your current roles is a powerful signal for your organization. It shows that you’re interested in bettering yourself and the team, encouraging your employer to give you the growth opportunities you need. 


3. Improve engagement

Developing your professional abilities and tracking progress feels good. But it’s about more than a sense of pride. According to a report from Frontiers in Psychology, career growth is positively linked to job engagement , meaning a PDP can help you connect to and enjoy your job. If you’re stuck in a rut or feel like your position could be a dead-end, professional development could be just what you need for deeper job satisfaction. 

4. Anticipate roadblocks

There will always be bumps in your career journey, and you can’t foresee them all. But understanding your current skills and what you need to develop for professional growth helps you spot potential problems or gaps. You’ll build a resilient mindset through anticipation rather than sudden changes. 

5. Create urgency for growth

Big, long-term goals can feel overwhelming and leave you unsure where to begin. Through a PDP, you can write an action plan and break big objectives into small, measurable goals. Time-sensitive actions can instill you with a sense of urgency and progression, turning “someday” goals into “today” objectives. 


Both professional and leadership development plans focus on nurturing career growth , but they center on different skills and timelines. Here’s a breakdown of their biggest distinctions to help you d ecide which action plan is better for you:

  • Scope: A PDP can cover a range of skill-related ambitions, from becoming a better communicator to learning hard skills. But a leadership development plan has a more narrow focus on developing leadership capabilities , like project management, emotional intelligence , or employee development strategies. 
  • Skills versus behaviors: While a PDP may include a mix of hard and soft skills , a leadership development plan focuses on exclusively soft skill behaviors like effective communication , confidence , and decision-making. 
  • Accountability: While you may bring a mentor or manager on board when creating a PDP, the onus to set goals and track progress will most fall on your shoulders. A leadership development plan tends to be more collaborative and may include regular feedback from superiors, coaching , and organizational benchmarks. 

Real progress takes a combination of planning and hard work. Following a step-by-step process can make creating your PDP easier. Here are six steps: 

1. Self-assessment

Developing an action plan begins with an honest self-evaluation. This isn’t a cursory glance at your resume or CV — it’s a deep dive into your skills, knowledge, and interests. 

Your self-evaluation sets the tone for the rest of your strategic planning, which means it’s important to be intentional about your goals and honest about your current strengths and weaknesses . This will help you identify what you need to improve to effectively advance in your career. 

To develop a better understanding of your current skill set, personality, or interests, consider the following activities: 

  • Take a personality test like DiSC assessment or Enneagram Personality Types
  • Request a performance review from your manager or ask team members for constructive feedback
  • Identify your needs with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  • Practice journaling or meditation techniques to get in touch with your future aspirations
  • Take note of the skills you use most in your current position

2. Set goals

After evaluating your current skills and knowledge, use that information to develop clear goals. One way to do this is by choosing one large, long-term objective, like getting a promotion or switching industries, and breaking it up into smaller, more achievable pieces. 

Here’s a guide to different types of goals:

  • Long-term: This is your finish line, which could take months or even years. Going back to school to complete a master’s degree or transforming a side hustle into a full-time job are good examples that require several milestones to complete. 
  • Mid-term: These can take a few weeks or a couple of months to accomplish and usually represent significant changes in your professional growth. If you want to pursue a master’s degree, mid-term goals may be to create a financial plan to afford the extra cost of tuition or reorganize your work schedule with your current employer. 
  • Short-term: Your short-term goals can be daily or weekly tasks. If you want to turn your side hustle into a full-time job, short-term goals could be opening an LLC, contacting your network for advice, or implementing a financial tracking system. 

While defining your goals, you can use the SMART technique to develop specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound objectives. This will help you track your progress and make sure the goals you’re setting are actually achievable. 

Ambition is a valuable characteristic, but be careful not to overload yourself. Ta king on several big, long-term objectives at once can be counterproductive, leaving you feeling overworked to the point of burnout . Instead, work toward one or two goals at a time.


3. Strategize

With your self-assessment and goals in hand, write down exactly what you need to do to improve your skills, expand your know-how, or broaden your network to reach your objective. 

During this process, write everything down you can think of, whether that’s attending a networking event , spending 30 minutes per day on a new skill, or filling out the sign-up sheet for a new seminar. Brainstorm and narrow down your ideas to the most impactful. Then you can organize your time with productivity in mind.

4. Examine opportunities for growth

Your strategies form the framework, but your resources are your building materials. This step involves writing down every tool you have access to that can help you meet your objective. Here are some development opportunities examples that can be important resources for growth: 

  • Training and certification programs that broaden your knowledge
  • Webinars, workshops, and other professional development activities that improve your industry knowledge or skill set
  • Conferences, networking events, and collaborative projects that strengthen relationships with colleagues  
  • Mentorship and coaching relationships that invest in your growth with guidance and support
  • Social media platforms like LinkedIn , Instagram, or YouTube where you can connect with your target audience and promote your personal brand

5. Build a timeline

Autonomy over your professional development isn’t always a good thing. Another article from Frontiers in Psychology reports that procrastination is a common problem for tasks that require self-regulation , like personal goal-setting. 

Creating a schedule helps you stick to your objectives and stay accountable. Hard deadlines signal that your development is as important as your daily work tasks, which can help you stay on top of them. Try tying them to daily, weekly, and monthly milestones, seeking a balance between challenging yourself and being realistic about your energy . And you can also share your schedule with an accountability partner for an extra layer of support.

6. Track your progress

Schedule regular check-ins with yourself to track your progress. Remember, your professional development plan isn’t set in stone. You may find you need more time or additional resources along the way. Flexibility with your plan (and yourself) will help you improve and grow. 


Although your professional growth process is unique, you can still use templates and examples to help visualize what your PDP could look like. Here are two different examples to help you get started: 

1. Recent college graduate

Entering the job market means a whirlwind of new learning experiences and information. To lean into the professional world, try setting smaller goals that focus on your transition. Here’s what the structure of a new grad PDP could look like:


  • I joined the company one month ago
  • I feel excited but overwhelmed
  • I don't know how to make a place for myself on the team and contribute to projects
  • Cultivate a professional reputation as a trustworthy and hardworking team player within three months


  • Company onboarding program
  • Mentorship program
  • Colleagues who may be open to sharing professional advice
  • Weekly team meetings
  • Internal project management tools
  • Request a monthly 1:1 with my manager to understand how I can improve
  • Be proactive in team meetings, offering constructive ideas
  • Meet deadlines and produce high-quality work to demonstrate reliability
  • Build rapport with team members with open communication and active listening
  • Daily: Use the Eisenhower Matrix to stay on top of team tasks
  • Weekly: Introduce myself to two team members and ask about their work
  • Monthly: Attend a seminar on emotional intelligence to improve communication skills
  • End of three months: Check in with supervisor to identify areas for continued growth

2. Career changes

A career change requires flexing your transferable skills and learning new ones entirely, which means there are lots of goals to set along the way. Here’s how to structure a plan focused on skill-building:

  • I want to leave a job in finance and transition into data science
  • I have strong analytical skills but lack specific technical skills and credentials
  • Bring up my competitive edge against more experienced professionals within six months
  • Online platforms, courses, and certifications
  • Networking events and industry seminars
  • Externship opportunities to shadow a data scientist
  • Freelance or part-time opportunities in data science that can provide hands-on experience
  • Learn a common coding language, like Python 
  • Attend industry seminars to meet professionals that can give me insight into industry needs
  • Take on one freelance project
  • Within two weeks: Enroll in a coding class and join a data science group on LinkedIn
  • Within one month: Attend a virtual or in-person networking event and schedule two informational interviews
  • Within three months: Secure a freelance data science project
  • Within six months: Complete coding class, update resume to reflect new skills, and actively look for job opportunities

A professional development plan provides more than a guide to improve your job performance. It’s a technique that helps you check in with yourself and stay in line with your interests and aspirations. The progress you make isn’t only to land a promotion, show up for your team, or develop a new skill — it’s about finding the intrinsic motivation to continuously learn. 

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Elizabeth Perry, ACC

Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

Skills gap analysis: How to build one in 7 steps

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Spotlight on the Clinical Research Associate Career Pathway and Resources

Blog June 24, 2024

professional development research meaning

Anthony Chew, Clinical Trial Operations, Guardant Health

Standing on the outside of a profession and looking in is no easy thing. Without access to “insider’s knowledge” about how to pursue a career path in which you are interested, how do you even know in which direction to take the first step? For example, many people who are just beginning to explore different roles in clinical research find the duties of a clinical research associate (CRA) very attractive (on paper, at least). However, they may not realize immediately that very few applicants for a CRA position with a sponsor or contract research organization (CRO) will be hired straight into a monitoring role without first having worked as a clinical research coordinator (CRC) for a site or as a clinical trial assistant (CTA) for a sponsor.  

In a forthcoming peer-reviewed article for ACRP’s Clinical Researcher journal, Anthony Chew, a clinical trial operations professional and recent graduate of the MS program in Medical Product Development Management at San Jose State University, describes CRAs as serving as “the primary liaison between the sponsor and the site by monitoring and verifying data to ensure accuracy and adherence to protocols. They collaborate with investigators, conduct site visits [including for site feasibility/selection and validation/qualification purposes followed by study initiation and ongoing monitoring], and maintain strict documentation to guarantee the integrity of a trial.”  

As part of his graduate studies, Chew surveyed current and former CRAs to learn about their professional backgrounds, the types of employers that initially hired them, the training processes they underwent as new CRAs, and any advice they had for aspiring CRAs. Among the respondents, experience in the clinical research field ranged from two years to more than 25 years, with an average experience of nine years in the field. Nearly half of the respondents held their first CRA job with a CRO, whereas most of the rest began at a sponsor organization and just a handful began at an academic institution/hospital.  

Notably, more than two-thirds of respondents were observed to have held positions as CRCs or CTAs prior to becoming CRAs. At the most basic level, CRCs support, facilitate, and coordinate daily research activities on the site end; CTAs provide administrative and project tracking support for clinical trials on the sponsor end.  

“Among the respondents who were former CRCs, almost one-third cited their experience as CRCs to have played a major role in helping become an effective CRA,” Chew writes.  

“Respondents who had experience as a CTA also indicated its benefits.”  

According to one of the respondents to Chew’s survey, “I do think one benefit of being a CRC is that if you’re interested in going into the medical field, that can be a really good bridge, because you’re working with patients and physicians in a clinical setting. But…there isn’t quite as much room for [direct] upward mobility” for CRCs at a site. On the other hand, CTAs might be promoted into a CRA position without having to leave their current employer.  

Chew notes that characteristics related to “communication skills” and “attention to detail” were listed by most respondents as important for being an effective CRA. He also writes that “the purpose of this survey was not to provide a definitive judgment of where or how CRAs are hired, but rather, to point the aspiring CRA in the ‘general direction’ and offer insight as to the advantages and disadvantages that each type of experience provides. While there is no ‘wrong’ pathway to become a CRA, the responses would suggest that the ideal pathway is to start out as a CRC, then join a large CRO as a full-service alignment CRA [working on multiple trials for different sponsors at once], and then to secure a CRA position with a sponsor. This pathway optimizes the ability for the potential candidate to receive as much experience as possible. …Obviously, this is easier said than done.”  

Respondents who did not have CRC or CTA experience before becoming CRAs mentioned networking, continuing education, and having a background in such duties as working in a laboratory, handling clinical samples, and demonstrating an ability to adhere to the protocols for trials as useful, Chew wrote.  

“Clinical research is still a developing field, and while the pathway to becoming a CRA can be frustrating, the experiences [noted by current and former CRAs in this survey demonstrate] that persistence can pay off,” Chew concludes.  

The full article by Chew will appear in the August 2024 issue of Clinical Researcher .  


  • Association of Clinical Research Professionals—Ready, Set, Clinical Research!  
  • ACRP Certified Clinical Research Associate (CCRA®) Certification  
  • Career Navigation in Contract Research Organizations: A Vignette from Clinical Researcher (August 2023)  
  • Available in the Course Catalog as ACRP 2024 Study & Site Management session replays (login required):  
  • A Crash Course in the Basics of Clinical Trial Monitoring  
  • Fixing Feasibility: Collaborative Approaches for Redefining and Improving Site Selection  
  • Site Qualification Visits: From “The First Date” to Going Steady  
  • Site Validation/Qualification Visit: Picking the Right Sites  
  • Available in the Course Catalog in the ACRP 2024 Workforce Development session replays (login required):  
  • A CRA Training Program for Overcoming Workforce Development Roadblocks  
  • Available in the Course Catalog in the ACRP 2024 Leadership & Professionalism session replays (login required):  
  • A Holistic CRA Evaluation Process for Improving Monitoring Visits  

Edited by Gary Cramer  

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Basic Sciences celebrates its 2023–24 Russell G. Hamilton Graduate Leadership Institute awardees

Lorena Infante Lara

Lorena Infante Lara

Jun 21, 2024, 9:14 AM

The Russell G. Hamilton Graduate Leadership Institute presented 137 students from the School of Medicine Basic Sciences with Dissertation Enhancement Grants, Professional Development and Training Grants, and Conference Travel Grants.

The GLI offers several funding opportunities to support students in a range of endeavors, from leading on-campus programming to pursuing professional development and training opportunities beyond Vanderbilt.

“We are grateful that our students can enhance their research and training through the financial support provided by the generous donors of the Russell G. Hamilton Graduate Leadership Institute,” said Walter Chazin , senior associate dean of biomedical research education and training. “This initiative, through a partnership with the Graduate School, provides our trainees with unique experiences that refine the tools in their toolbox and with opportunities to share their discoveries, build networks, and stand out as they progress in their careers.”

Dissertation Enhancement Grant

The Dissertation Enhancement Grant supports Ph.D. students with outstanding potential to accelerate progress on their research, adding depth or breadth to their work. This competitive award provides students with up to $2,000 for research expenses related to their dissertations and is designed to help them accelerate progress on their research or add depth or breadth to their work.

This year’s Basic Sciences recipients were:

  • Perry Wasdin , Chemical and Physical Biology
  • Allison Lake , Human Genetics
  • Joseph Benthal , Human Genetics

Professional Development & Training Grant

The Professional Development & Training Grant supports graduate school students pursuing professional development and training opportunities to develop their academic and professional skills. These grants, which provide up to $1,000 for non-credit-bearing professional development and training opportunities, have helped support student attendance at workshops, short courses, specialized training, conferences, symposia, and meetings across the U.S. and the globe. Opportunities designed to broaden the applicant’s skill set beyond their academic field of study are encouraged.

  • Joseph Holden , Neuroscience
  • Kimberly Bress , Neuroscience
  • Jessica Collins , Biochemistry
  • Minh Tran , Chemical and Physical Biology
  • Natalie Favret , Molecular Pathology and Immunology

Graduate School Conference Travel Grant

The Graduate School Conference Travel Grant is designed to encourage graduate students to present their research at major regional, national, and international conferences. It provides up to $1,000 to cover fees associated with travel or other conference-related costs.

  • Hanna Abe , Human Genetics; American Society of Human Genetics
  • Alexandra Abu-Shmais , Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; Keystone Symposia Vaccinology During and After Covid
  • Danielle Adank , Neuroscience; Alcohol and Nervous System Gordon Research Conference
  • Verda Agan , Biochemistry; EpiCypher 2023 Conference
  • Christin Anthony , Cell and Developmental Biology; Wnt Signaling Gordon Research Conference
  • Jillian Armenia , Biochemistry; EMBO Workshop on DNA Topology and Topoisomerases
  • David Aslaner , Cell and Developmental Biology; 2024 American Physiology Summit
  • Elena Bagatales , Neuroscience; SfN
  • Caroline Baggeroer , Neuroscience; Alzheimer’s Association International Conference
  • Natalie Bennett , Cancer Biology; American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Annual Meeting
  • Tomas Bermudez , Microbe-Host Interactions; AMS Microbe 2024
  • Michael Betti , Human Genetics; ASHG Annual Meeting
  • Wendy Bindeman , Cancer Biology; CNIO-CaixaResearch Frontiers: Metastasis
  • Avery Bogart , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; American Thoracic Society International Meeting 2024
  • Monica Brown , Cell and Developmental Biology; The Gastrointestinal Epithelium Conference: Interface with the Outside World
  • Kaeli Bryant , Microbe-Host Interactions; Helicobacter pylori Genomics, Signaling and Carcinogenesis
  • Jamal Bryant , Pharmacology; Wnt Signaling Gordon Research Conference
  • Rebecca Buchanan , Neuroscience; XVI European Meeting on Glial Cells in Health and Disease
  • Kennady Bullock , Pharmacology; American Association for Cancer Research
  • Andrea Burgess , Neuroscience; Society for the Scientific Study of Reading
  • Andreanna Burman , Cell and Developmental Biology; American Physiology Summit
  • Stephanie Cajigas , Neuroscience; Winter Conference for Brain Research
  • Darian Carroll , Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; American Physiology Summit
  • Anna Cassidy , Cell and Developmental Biology; American Society for Cell Biology – Cell Bio 2023
  • Shu-Ting Chou , Cancer Biology; American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2024
  • Brooke Christensen , Neuroscience; College on Problems of Drug Dependence
  • Yunli Chu , Cancer Biology; Annual Meeting of American Association of Immunologists
  • Jessica Collins , Biochemistry; EMBO workshop on DNA topology and topoisomerases in genome dynamics
  • Alex Contreras , Human Genetics; Alzheimer’s Association International Conference
  • Ela Contreras Panta , Cell and Developmental Biology; EMBO | EMBL Symposium: Organoids: modelling organ development and disease in 3D culture
  • Amber Crabtree , Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; American Society for Cell Biology – Cell Bio 2023
  • Claire Cross , Chemical and Physical Biology; 47th Annual Course in Cytometry
  • Christian de Caestecker , Cell and Developmental Biology; American Society for Cell Biology 2023
  • Kacie Dunham , Neuroscience; International Society for Autism Research Annual Meeting
  • Anna Eitel , Biochemistry; SfN Neuroscience 2023
  • Nada Elsayed , Neuroscience; International Society for Stem Cell Research Cincinnati International Symposium
  • Rebecca Embalabala , Neuroscience; Barriers of the CNS Gordon Research Conference and Seminar
  • Lauren Emmerson , Chemical and Physical Biology; Annual Conference on Mass Spectrometry Imaging and Integrated Topics
  • Megan Erwin , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; Immunology 2024
  • Zahra Farabakhsh , Neuroscience; Research Society on Alcohol
  • Olivia Feehan-Nelson , Cell and Developmental Biology; The American Society for Cell Biology – Cell Bio 2023
  • Emilie Fisher , Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer 2023
  • Jamisha Francis , Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; Society for Basic Urologic Research
  • Margret Fye , Cell and Developmental Biology; American Society for Cell Biology 2023
  • Casey Gailey , Cell and Developmental Biology; 2024 ceNeuro
  • Hwi Gil , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies
  • Sarah Glass , Cell and Developmental Biology; 18th International Congress of Immunology
  • Azuah Gonzalez , Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; The 19th International Winter Eicosanoid Conference
  • Sarah Guagliardo , Human Genetics; ExDep Retreat
  • Natalie Guzikowski , Neuroscience; Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology Gordon Research Conference
  • Christopher Hansen , Pharmacology; Society for Reproductive Investigation 2024
  • Emily Harriott , Neuroscience; Society for the Scientific Study of Reading
  • Heather Hartmann , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; Wnt Signaling Gordon Research Conference
  • Emely Henriquez Piller , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; American Association of Immunologists Conference
  • Clinton Holt , Chemical and Physical Biology; European RosettaCon 2023
  • Tyler Huth , Chemical and Physical Biology; American Society for Virology Annual Meeting 2024
  • Mirazul Islam , Cell and Developmental Biology; Single-Cell Genomics Gordon Research Conference
  • Matthew Jenkins , Pharmacology; American Society for Hematology Annual Conference
  • Mariana Jimenez , Neuroscience; Cell Biology for the Neuron Gordon Research Seminar and Conference
  • Gwenyth Joseph , Cancer Biology; American Society for Bone and Mineral Research
  • Samika Joshi , Biochemistry; ASM Microbe
  • Jeremy Kane , Cancer Biology; American Society of Bone and Mineral Research Annual Meeting 2023
  • Breelyn Karno , Cancer Biology; American Association of Cancer Research Annual Conference 2024
  • Sara Kassel , Cell and Developmental Biology; Wnt Signaling Gordon Research Conference
  • Kyung Kim , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; Tennessee Rheumatology Society
  • Hailey Kresge , Neuroscience; Alzheimer’s Association International Conference
  • Ansley Kunnath , Neuroscience; SfN
  • Han Noo Ri Lee , Cell and Developmental Biology; Endothelial Cell Phenotypes in Health and Disease Gordon Research Conference
  • Samantha Lisy , Biochemistry; RNA Society 2024
  • Matthew Loberg , Cancer Biology; ENDO 2024
  • Taralynn Mack , Human Genetics; American Society of Human Genetics Meeting
  • Leah Mann , Neuroscience; Organization for Human Brain Mapping 2023
  • Cody Marshall , Chemical and Physical Biology; American Society of Mass Spectrometry
  • Allison McCabe , Cancer Biology; Gordon Research Conference
  • Kevin McCarty , Biochemistry; International Conference on Cytochrome P450
  • Kathleen McClanahan , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; Keystone Regulation of Barrier Immunity
  • Kara McNamara , Cancer Biology; Digestive Disease Week 2024
  • Stephanie Medina , Cell and Developmental Biology; American Association of Immunologists Conference
  • Jia Mei , Microbe-Host Interactions; Essentials of Staphylococcal Genetics and Metabolism
  • Haley Mendoza-Romero , Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; European Molecular Biology Organization Workshop: Microglia in Health and Disease
  • Jade Miller , Pharmacology; American Society for Bone and Mineral Research
  • Adam Miranda , Cancer Biology; EpiCypher 2023: Biological and Clinical Frontiers in Epigenetics
  • Katherine Moster , Biochemistry; Biophysical Society Molecular Biophysics of Membranes Conference
  • Matthew Munneke , Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; ClostPath 13
  • Kateryna Nabukhotna , Biochemistry; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Response
  • Bianca Nguyen , Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; Hypertension 2023
  • Chiamaka Okoye , Microbe-Host Interactions; American Society for Microbiology Microbe 2024
  • Dominique Parker , Cancer Biology; American Society for Bone and Mineral Research
  • Alyssa Parker , Human Genetics; Gordon Research Conference
  • Yash Pershad , Human Genetics; American Society of Human Genetics
  • Nicholas Petersen , Neuroscience; International Brain Research Organization World Congress
  • Yasminye Pettway , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; European Islet Study Group Meeting
  • Jared Phillips , Pharmacology; Alzheimer’s Association International Conference
  • Michelle Piazza , Neuroscience; SfN
  • Alexis Pope , Chemical and Physical Biology; American Society of Mass Spectrometry Annual Conference
  • Seth Reasoner , Microbe-Host Interactions; 2023 North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference
  • Jared Rhodes , Cancer Biology; Digestive Disease Week
  • Abigail Rich , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; International Society for Experimental Hematology 52nd Annual Scientific Meeting
  • Kyle Riedmann , Cell and Developmental Biology; American Physiology Summit 2024
  • William Robb , Neuroscience; Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2023
  • Kimberly Rogge-Obando , Neuroscience; Organization of Human Brain Mapping
  • Jorge Rua-Fernandez , Biochemistry; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory meeting
  • Anna Schwarzkopf , Cell and Developmental Biology; Wnt Signaling Gordon Research Conference
  • Claire Scott , Cell and Developmental Biology; American Society for Mass Spectrometry Annual Conference
  • Elizabeth Semler , Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; RNA Modifications in Health & Disease
  • Jennifer Silverman , Cell and Developmental Biology; American Society for Cell Biology
  • Rachael Smith , Molecular Pathology and Immunology; Immunology2024
  • Ty Sornberger , Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; Antibody Biology and Engineering Gordon Research Conference and Seminar
  • Jade Stanley , Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; 84th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association
  • Amy Stark , Pharmacology; Winter Eicosanoid Conference
  • KayLee Steiner , Cancer Biology; Keystone Immunometabolism
  • Aubrie Stricker , Cell and Developmental Biology; Collagen Gordon Research Conference
  • Xiaopeng Sun , Cancer Biology; Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer
  • Brandie Taylor , Cancer Biology; Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer
  • Kimberly Thibeault , Neuroscience; Catecholamines Gordon Research Conference
  • Megan Tigue , Cancer Biology; Myeloid Targeting Strategies for Cancer Treatment
  • Minh Tran , Chemical and Physical Biology; 72nd ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics
  • Sirena Tran , Microbe-Host Interactions; Helicobacter pylori Genomics, Signaling, and Carcinogenesis
  • Logan Treat , Microbe-Host Interactions; Essentials of Staphylococcal Genetics and Metabolism Workshop
  • Paige Vega , Cell and Developmental Biology; Gastrointestinal Epithelium Conference: Interface with the Outside World
  • Steven Wall , Microbe-Host Interactions; Antibody Biology and Engineering Gordon Research Conference
  • Hannah Waterman , Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; American Physiology Summit 2024
  • Abigael Weit , Neuroscience; SfN
  • Mandy Westland , Microbe-Host Interaction; Helicobacter pylori Genomics, Signaling, and Carcinogenesis
  • Michelle Wiebe , Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phage
  • Melissa Wolf , Cancer Biology; Biology of Cancer: Microenvironment & Metastasis
  • Rachael Wolters , Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; American College of Veterinary Pathologists Meeting
  • Xiaoyu Yu , Biochemistry; The 37th Gibbs Conference on Biothermodynamics
  • Sarah Zelle , Chemical and Physical Biology; American Society for Mass Spectrometry

Explore Story Topics

  • Research, News & Discoveries
  • dissertation enhancement grant
  • Graduate School
  • professional development and training
  • Russell G. Hamilton Graduate Leadership Institute
  • School of Medicine Basic Sciences
  • travel award


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