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A ladyfellowing

Well, in January this year, I submitted my Fellowship portfolio, and heard in April that it had been successful, making me now officially a Ladyfellow and able to add FCLIP after my name, yay!

Me registration fees were paid in September 2015, so technically it took less than 18 months from registration to submission. However, that doesn’t include the good few months before that, preparing my thoughts, talking to my mentor, and plotting out just how I would Get This Damn Thing Done, so realistically, it was more like a 2 year process.

So, how big a task was it? In a “dear god, what have I done” moment, I totalled up the word count of all items in the portfolio, and it came to approximately 30,000 words. That’s easily the largest piece of work I’ve ever produced (I’m a rubbish student, so I’ve never had to produce an academic dissertation). So yes, it turns out that reviewing your career and achievements to date, and reflecting on what you’ve learned from all of your experiences is quite time consuming and makes for a hefty piece of work! Undertaking Fellowship does make you critically assess your skills - everyone develops as they progress in their career, but you rarely get time and space to think about the ways, and the whys. Fellowship specifically makes you think about this, and also about whether this development in your skills and knowledge was planned, plannable, voluntary or involuntary….

So, would I recommend doing Fellowship, if you’re in a point in your career where you’re considering it? Well, I’d advise taking all the information below into account, and making your own choices….

  • What’s the time commitment?
I won’t lie - doing Fellowship takes a significant commitment of your personal time. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to be able to fit the work needed into your normal working day, unless you have both a very understanding and supportive employer, and the ability to block out substantial amounts of time from your working day. Unless you have both these elements in place, you have to understand from the start that you’ll be doing this in your own time, and that means using your evenings, weekends, and yes, annual leave.

  • How’s your motivation?
Are you self motivated? You’d better be! Because the person setting the deadlines for this is you, so you have to be both realistic, and strict - set realistic targets, and stick to them. Or agree with your mentor that they have free reign to berate you if you slack off. It’s very easy to let progress slip or stall if there’s nobody being let down but yourself. I was odd, and competed against myself to beat my own deadlines

  • Who are you doing it for?
If you are doing this for anything other than personal satisfaction, you’re going to be disappointed. You may be lucky enough to be in a workplace that will recognise and celebrate your achievement, but sadly the majority won’t. Also, you may end up changing employer/workplace during the Fellowship process, so don’t tie your motivation to workplace recognition - it has to be an entirely personal process. And as for financial recognition of the achievement - forget it! Fellowship has no positive effect on your salary! Unless you maybe work in that utopian workplace with lots of time for doing this sort of professional activity during the day…

  • You can’t predict when you’ll be ready to think deeply about your career!
If you’re like me, you need to be in the right mood to be introspective. And there is not one single thing you can do to make yourself be in that mood. So you’re going to feel like you “waste” a lot of time, when you’ve scheduled it in for working on your portfolio but instead find yourself clicking through dozens of Buzzfeed stories…

  • You will need others to help you
Fellowship can be a confusing process at times (not helped by the minimal guidance, and the fact that the Fellowship Handbook is 99.9% the same as the Certification and Chartership ones, with the word Fellowship swapped in), and it can be really easy to get lost and lose motivation. As the process is as individual as you are, it can be difficult for even experienced mentors to know how to help you sometimes. Find people who’re also doing Fellowship and support each other - it helps build a pool of knowledge that helps everyone. I was part of a wiki where mentors and mentees discussed their individual processes, and talked to others about how they were doing things. It helped!

  • Give yourself a break
It’s highly likely that you’ll have a demanding job (who doesn’t these days?), and that will always be your priority when you’re determining what to spend time on. Next comes your personal life - that thing you have when you’re not in work, but which is also demanding (in different ways from your job). After that, comes professional activities like Fellowship. Juggling these competing priorities can be tricky, but never lose sight of the fact that you work to live, not live to work (I know, but who can resist a good cliche?), and give yourself a break when attending to those other things push Fellowship progress back a bit.

  • It commits you to continued membership of CILIP
Due to a change in the way the Professional Registration system (i.e. Certification, Chartership and Fellowship) works, you can now join CILIP and immediately begin the Fellowship process. Previously, it was (perhaps officially, perhaps unofficially, all I know is this is what I know) recommended that you undertake 3 Revalidation cycles (when Revalidation was done every three years and required the submission of the equivalent of your Chartership portfolio), and then you’d be ready to begin the Fellowship process Things are much more straightforward now, but it does mean people may be joining without having had time to discover if the organisation suits their needs. Once you’re a Fellow, if you leave CILIP, you lose the post-nominals, as you can only use them if you’re a current member. That’s as it should be - would you trust a Chartered surveyor who’s no longer a member of their professional body, but were still saying they were Chartered? So, the only person who can judge if those post-nominals are worth the initial investment of time (CPD hours and portfolio creation) and money (registration and submission fees), and the ongoing investment of money (membership fees) is you.

So, with those thoughts in mind, consider whether it’s right for you. 

Personally, I’m glad I did it. I was working on it during a time of huge professional upheaval for me (I remained in one workplace during it, but had four different managers in those two years; the library moved from one department internally, to another, to another; I restarted one library service from scratch, and set up another one; recruited and trained for both; took on a promoted role; and we’re now preparing to launch and eventually integrate the two libraries into an organisation-wide, national library service).

It made me focus on what my skills are, and unpick why I did the things I did, and therefore why I do the things I do. It was in some ways like a self-therapy session, spanning a couple of years. My mentor is now probably the person who knows the most about my career, and was able to give objective input regarding situations that I had struggled with, and help me to see that I needed to be less harsh about myself and my skills, and accept that I was more competent than I had believed. Her dedication to the process, and intensive support for me during it was key to getting me through it, meaning it is as much her achievement as mine. So: THANK YOU C√ČLINE, you’re the best of mentors!!

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