On Learning Professionalism and Other Skills Through Applied Research

There is always something to be said for learning on the job – I learned how to make salads on the job when I worked on a line, I learned how to act while in rehearsals for plays, and I most recently learned an abundant amount of technical skills as stage manager, sound operator, and light operator for the same production. There’s also interpersonal skills and concepts that only get better with practice. I was talking to a student director about her behavior toward her cast, to which she got defensive and said, “But I’ve been so encouraging this whole time!” It is with practice that I have come to recognize that encouraging words are not encouragement itself. One’s actions and words other than words of encouragement determine how your words of encouragement are received and whether or not they are believed – it does little good to simply recite encouraging words.

All of this is a parallel to the knowledge gained from spending this semester doing specialized archival research. I learned how to search and use university archival systems, how to think of different keywords, and what makes a source viable for an archive. We also spent a good portion of the class going over primary versus secondary sources, writing about academic works, and other things that could probably be taught under a communications class. These are skills that are valuable early on, especially in undergraduate programs, as they will undoubtedly be used again.

Something in particular that I figured out and became more comfortable with this semester, though, is communicating in professional settings. There is the obvious theme of teamwork – we were divided up into groups by topic and needed to work cohesively to put together a topic annotated bibliography and timeline, then again with our whole class to put make project decisions and a comprehensive timeline with every group’s entries in it. Because this was a learning curve for most of us, we also spent a great amount of time talking out with and explaining to each other our assignments. In a broader sense of professionalism (defined as “-the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person” (Merriam-Webster), though, was the communication we had with Amy Reed, the curator through which we were participating in this community partnership.

It was made clear early on that we did not need to go through our professor when communicating with Amy. We could email her with whatever concerned her directly. As we dug further into our research, I remembered her talking about interviews during our visit to the museum – because doing interviews in this capacity would require informed consent paperwork, we were welcome to just pass along people of interest that the museum might interview themselves. As I got approval for a few sources, I realized that I did have someone to put Amy in contact with in this capacity – a professor in my theatre department with an extensive creative history and Costa Rican heritage. The process of setting up that connection was something I had never done before, but ultimately got done.

As a student, it can be intimidating trying to talk to people outside your school about anything non-social or work related. However, from a shared research perspective, that interaction is simply part of it. Liaison and connector work is largely interacting with people outside your immediate circle. Documentarians and interviewers are completely submerged in other worlds. Media reporters need to get pieces greenlit and sources verified. It is a completely useful professional skill to have and is applicable throughout most professions. It is also now a skill I have experience in through learning with this project.


“Professionalism.” Merriam Webster Dictionary.

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