Professional Topography: Are you a practicing professional?

April 29, 2009
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Last summer, I went white-water rafting on a river in Colorado.

As I was paddling, I couldn’t help but think about how grateful I was that all of my fellow crew members were paying attention to our guides’ paddling instructions. If they hadn’t, our boat could have gone down the creek backward or even upside down. Fortunately, we were all motivated by our desire to be on the creek rather than in it.

I’ve written before about what a profession is. But here’s a dimension I haven’t touched on much: A profession flourishes only when every member actively works at being a member.

Whatever responsibilities we face, it is easy to contribute less than our fair share when we’re in a collective situation. There’s a human tendency to “let George do it.” However, our success as a profession requires active participation from all of our members.

Paiva (front left) and his fellow crew members.

Grab an Oar

Our profession is facing a number of responsibilities that can only be addressed properly and completely by practicing professionals. These responsibilities include preparing newcomers for the profession (how we educate them, mentor them and provide them with opportunities to develop); encouraging children in school to consider the profession as a possible career; providing information to the public (potential clients, peer professions, legislators, etc.) on what the profession is and does; encouraging students with incentives and opportunities (scholarships, grants, career days) to achieve their career goals; and helping new professionals understand how to recognize when they are qualified to take on a job--and how to go about becoming qualified when they’re not.

It would be unrealistic to expect every member of our profession to address all of these responsibilities (and many more that I haven’t mentioned). But do you take responsibility for addressing any of them? Take inventory.

You can begin with membership in professional societies. These societies exist so that each member can draw from and contribute to the dialog that occurs within them. Yet I hear many surveyors grumble about how a particular society just doesn’t offer any benefits; therefore, they don’t join. But what are they willing to contribute? We need a more widespread realization that not only should we join the societies we are eligible to join, but each person should also contribute for the benefit of others.

Additionally, every surveyor should tackle at least one item (a few would be better) that helps make progress on the challenges facing the profession.

Perhaps you could give to a scholarship fund or to a surveying program to help finance an equipment purchase or buttress the salary of a professor in the program. Financial contributions are the easiest contributions to make, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

How about visiting a school (preferably junior high or above) and talking to the students about what it means to be a surveyor today and how the profession is changing. You may have to work on your presentation skills, enthusiasm and ability to relate to young people, and you’ll need to correlate the profession to topics they study in school. Your rewards may be immediate, or you may have to be satisfied with the knowledge that you might have persuaded a few students to consider surveying in their future academic careers.

What about actively participating in a committee in your association or another organization? Another idea is to speak at your local chapter or association of realtors, lawyers, engineers, public works officials, teachers, vocational counselors, county records and administration officials, environmental scientists, etc. Legislators, business associations and associations of other government workers should not be ignored as possible candidates for a visit and talk.

Paddling Together

These are the kinds of activities that determine how we measure on the “professionalism” scale--whether we do that evaluation ourselves or someone else does it for us. And that brings me back to my rafting story.

Being a professional is like being on the crew of a white-water raft. The health and well-being of the crew, the direction the raft takes, and whether it arrives at its destination or gets lost, sunk--or both--depends on everyone heeding the mission, following the “signposts” and paddling together.

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Recent Articles by Joseph Paiva, PhD, PS, PE

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