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On Professional Development and Continuing Scholarship

Lelia Graham, Technical and Scientific Communication Graduate Assistant

During my past two years as a graduate student at the Institute of Technical and Scientific Communication (TSC), I have been seeking additional opportunities for professional development to supplement the monthly presentations by our student chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). While interested in shadowing a professor at a paper presentation or professional conference, the prospects for such an arrangement were scarce. Recently, through my student membership in the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), I had the opportunity to work with a mentor at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston. The NASW Education Committee has been matching veteran journalists and public information officers via the mentoring program at the AAAS meeting for over 10 years, giving over 250 new and aspiring science writers the chance to meet and mingle with potential colleagues and employers in a relaxed business setting. Just one week before the conference, I was chosen as one of 39 students to pair with a mentor.

I spent the week leading up to the conference arranging travel and lodging and sorting through the hundreds of events, lectures and symposia to outline my itinerary for the extended weekend. It became apparent that this sort of preparation, though time consuming, is critical to a worthwhile conference experience as I was able to attend many more sessions of personal interest than those mentees who did not review the schedule in advance. Much of the professional development I gained came from similar logistical efforts, such as juggling my graduate assistant duties, attending seminars for colleagues and tracking expenses. In addition to the connections I made at the convention, these skills will help me continue to have successful involvement in the profession throughout my career.

Though thoroughly drained by Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of speaking with many science writers who offered helpful advice; of listening to numerous lectures of both mine and my professors’ interests; and of meeting potential employers who were excited about my educational background and training. Without question, the highlights of the weekend were chatting with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, who inspired my choice of undergraduate studies when he spoke at my high school, and asking a question (while plugging JMU and the TSC program) on Talk of the Nation’s Science Friday (visit

Attending the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting proved a worthwhile expenditure of both time and money, providing numerous contacts and much of the professional development I desire from a graduate program. I look forward to continuing my professional development this summer at both the 2008 Homeland Security Symposium, sponsored by JMU’s Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance, and the Society for Technical Communication’s annual summit in Philadelphia.

Published July 2008