Teaching and academic adjacent careers for graduate researchers have grown over the past decade. Inside the university, these careers can be as diverse as grant writing, faculty advancement and project management. This article explores how graduate students can explore careers in educational development (ED), which the Professional Organization Development Network for Higher Education (POD) defines as “the enhancement of the work of colleges and universities, with a focus on teaching and learning.” We share personal narratives and strategies from three educational developers at different stages in their careers — graduate student, early career and mid-career — as inspiration for getting started.
Finding your voice: Samantha Chang on exploring your identity in ED
Three years ago, I had not heard of the term “educational development,” and I stumbled into the field through graduate student professional development opportunities on campus. Educational development became the third space between academic and professional spheres where I could put a wide range of my skills (academic and otherwise!) into practice.
I was introduced to educational development through mandatory teaching assistant job training. During training, I discovered that (1) I want to facilitate positive change in teaching and learning and (2) I enjoy collaborating with a diverse community. After speaking with the training facilitators, I realized the possibility of a career that allows me to creatively combine my research, teaching, technology and interpersonal skills.
My first venture into the field was becoming a graduate educational developer on campus. In this role, I was able to apply much of the experiential knowledge that I previously deemed irrelevant to my career. For example, my work as an invigilator (or proctor) for students who require accommodations turned my attention to the importance of accessibility in course design. The first-hand experience of interacting with students in tests and exams settings became the central pillar of my educational development practice. I approach my work with an accessibility-first lens and foster dialogue with accessibility advocates and Universal Design for Learning experts. What started as a side gig during my graduate studies is now the foundation of my chosen career. The many facets of graduate education — from transferrable skills development to innovative research and teaching, to experiential knowledge acquisition — helped define my educational developer’s voice.
Strengthening your voice: Cristina D’Amico on building community
In my experience, moving from nearly a decade of training in academia to a non-traditional academic role requires both external supports and an internal, mental reframing of one’s work. From applying to positions to learning the language of the ED field, there are many transitions involved with changing one’s career path (even if it remains within the walls of the academy). To that end, I sought out resources that would support me in my career transition. My first move was seeking out mentors in the field. This process could be as formal and informal as you want to it to be; finding people in the roles you’re interested in and connecting with those people (whether for coffee, a Zoom call, or a more formal informational interview) helped me get a better sense of the field. After three years working in ED, I now find myself on the other end of these encounters, and I am more than happy to connect with TAs and grads seeking career transition advice.
Another way I started strengthening my voice was through creating career networks with my colleagues. Because my own work is in graduate student development, I felt a particular affinity for TAGSA (a special interest group of the STLHE) that focuses on supporting graduate student and TA professional development. Volunteering as TAGAS’s vice chair for the past year and a half has helped me get a hands-on sense of the key issues in the field, as well as provided a context where I could explore my own interests within educational development.
Nourishing your voice: Mike Kasprzak on engaging in ED work
During the pandemic, teaching and learning centres across higher education became academic heroes, with educational developers becoming first responders to support faculty and staff in the pivot to online teaching. This was an intense but incredibly meaningful and rewarding time when many educators genuinely engaged with issues of equity and access, racism and social justice, Indigeneity, effective learning design and reflective practice.
So what do I do? Perhaps I will answer this question by pointing out what I enjoy the most about this work: its highly collaborative nature (connecting with people), its ongoing mission to continuously reshape teaching and learning cultures (inspiring change), its multifaceted nature and fluidity (wearing different hats), its ability to allow me to experiment and grow (learn, unlearn and relearn). Although I have been doing this work for many years, I still occasionally struggle with imposter syndrome in this field. Nonetheless, continuously engaging with the educational development community keeps nourishing my work.
Wondering how to get started?
The good news is that there are many pathways into this career and the types of work in which you could engage. Explore these three strategies:
- Connect to the community: Connect with the teaching and learning centre and educational developers at your institution to identify mentors and fellowships. Alternately, connect with networks of educational developers locally (e.g., Ontario’s COED), nationally (Canada’s EDC) and internationally (POD).
- Explore the profession: Explore York University’s Educational Developers Thinking Allowed, a series of thirteen asynchronous modules on the many faces of educational development work.
- Reflect on your skills: If you want to identify key competencies of entry-level educational development jobs, explore the characteristics, skills and knowledge to enter this profession, by reviewing the Novice Educational/Learning Consultant matrix and the EDC’s Educational Developer’s Portfolio
Educational developers, curriculum designers, or learning consultants — designated with a wide range of labels across ac and non-ac sectors — have became key players in many organizations striving for effective curriculum design for audiences with diverse learning needs. Many graduate students who acquire a range of teaching experiences and skills as teaching assistants, lab technicians, or mentors, can leverage these competencies to explore a career path and find their voice in educational development.