Continuous Learning 3: Continuing Education (CE) for Academic Researchers
Scientific researchers are, by definition, life-long learners dedicated to keeping abreast of the developments in their field. Regardless of your field of inquiry, you have spent years – if not decades – of your life in the classroom, library, laboratory or clinic just to get to the point where you can begin to conduct your own experiments and investigations. Upon receiving your final degree, fellowship or residency programme, you may have felt that you have already learned much. However, when you report to your academic/research post, it may interest you – especially if you are an early career researcher (ECR) – to know that the formal process of education continues.
How do scientific researchers, especially academics, continue their education? There are many requirements — as well as learning avenues — which you can tailor to your specialty, academic institution and personality.
Gaining a formal licence
You have been accepted to an academic post, have a laboratory and assistants to help you and can begin your work. Congratulations! However, depending upon your field, you may also have to apply for and gain a formal licence alongside your academic qualifications in order to engage in professional practice. This usually requires substantial independent study and passing of a rigorous qualifications test. Be aware that before you gain your licence, your appointment to your post may be provisional. Be prepared to find and pay for a quality learning system that is specific to your qualifying exam.
Pursuing Continuing Education (CE) activities
Once you are licensed, professional societies, board certifying bodies, academic institutions, departments and national/regional associations may all require designated ongoing educational activities from their members. If so, they will clearly define what their requirements are and will provide options to satisfy them. Typically, you will be required to successfully complete a certain number of educational activities within a given time frame.
CE activities: Resources
CE options vary in terms of time, effort and cost. Not surprisingly, the greater the time, effort and cost of a CE option, the more CE credits it will confer upon you. Costs vary from free (often subsidised by an academic department or corporate sponsor) to very expensive.
Note: Before you commit to work for an academic institution, be sure to find out if they will pay for some or all of your CE requirements, as well as licensing tests and renewals.
CE activities: Sources
Below are numerous sources of credit and educational activities, ranging from the most convenient to the most involved.
a. Journal reading and reviewing for journals
Stay up to date in your field by reading its specialty journals. Many will offer a CE credit with each issue in the form of a ‘CE article’. You read the article and take a brief quiz on the journal’s website. Upon successful completion, you’ll receive a CE credit which you can apply towards your requirements. Beyond the required (and documented CE learning), journal reading comprises one of the best and most cost-effective ways to stay up to date. Increasingly, industry sponsors provide CE credit at no cost.
Many journals now offer CE credit to academics who conduct reviews of submitted manuscripts. If you receive requests to review, you may want to investigate whether you can gain credit for this effort. Such credit represents a small but meaningful token of appreciation to you, while also giving you access to information in pre-published manuscripts.
b. Online activities and courses
The COVID pandemic has forever changed the landscape of CE learning. Numerous — and often highly sophisticated — courses, once considered as strictly in-person events, are now offered online. You may no longer have to travel, pay hotel and registration fees or spend hours in crowded lecture halls to gain credit. With online courses, convenience is king, and you can tailor your courses to fit your schedule. Depending on the course, online learning can prove an excellent and highly efficient way to fulfil your CE requirements.
c. In-person professional meetings
Having said that, there often is no substitute to the educational value of a live, in-person meeting. Professional societies typically hold one or more multi-day events each year. Not only will you gain access to the necessary content, but will also have the opportunity to network and work directly with colleagues. Live meetings had paused because of COVID, but are returning. Don’t discount the holistic educational and social benefit of going to an occasional in-person meeting.
d. Guest professorships and lectures
As you make important discoveries and publish high-quality papers, you may begin to receive invitations to serve as a guest professor and give lectures. Such honours typically come with stipends, paid travel and social events, as well as CE credits. You are sure to enjoy yourself immensely, but preparation of your lectures will also stretch you and enhance your own learning.
If your institution offers you a sabbatical, seriously consider accepting. Extended time away from your routine work and location often results in lasting refreshment and re-invigoration of your research.
Some additional useful advice
- Do not procrastinate in gaining your CE credits. You will have a period of years to gain the requisite credits, so schedule your CE activities regularly. Trying to cram in hundreds of hours of learning activities in the last two weeks of your eligibility will only make you miserable and stressed.
- Develop protected time for reading and writing as early as possible in your career. Make time in your schedule to continuously learn, grow and communicate your findings.
- Make time to also learn and enjoy pursuits outside your professional life (depending on your interests, specialty and temperament). The benefits of recreational and translational learning, gained from tangential or even unrelated interests, will surprise you.
There are many avenues to facilitate your ongoing continuing education. Pursuing what works best for you will enable you to keep your mind fresh, your licensure current and your passion for learning ablaze.
Read previous in series: Continuous Learning 2: Methods to keep up with the latest literature
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