Susan Hamilton AIfA, External Liaison Project Manager, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS)
I work within the Data and Recording Team, which is part of the Survey and Recording Section at RCAHMS. My role is External Liaison Project Manager, which covers a wide range of tasks but is largely centred on working with individuals or organisations that hold or use heritage data, and in setting up partnerships aimed at data exchange and making heritage information available to the public. I not only work with fellow archaeologists, but with civil servants, local authorities and many third sector organisations. I’m also increasingly involved in developing policy and strategy where there is a data element, which I find fascinating - especially as the technology surrounding this is moving at lightning speed.
I’m lucky in working for an organisation that takes CPD very seriously, and even luckier in that our own CPD recording template is almost identical to the IfA CPD Log, so I only have to maintain one set of forms each year. We’re encouraged to seek out CPD opportunities, but as is the case across all parts of the sector, we are increasingly limited in what conferences and courses can be resourced, although we are encouraged to seek external funding when appropriate – which of course is a skill in itself! This makes us all look harder at what training can be done in-house, and through shadowing colleagues.
Looking back over my CPD activities from the last few years, I found I can divide them into three rough themes. There are the training sessions that come as part of working within a public body, which are arranged through our own Human Resources department. Then there are what I have loosely termed ‘technical’ activities – CPD which is relevant to my own area of expertise. Finally, there are the ‘general’ CPD activities - which would work across sectors - for example project management training. Thinking of my CPD in these terms really works for me, as it helps me keep a good balance.
A few times a year, formal training sessions are made available to staff – either a number of sessions which everyone can attend or which staff can apply for. As RCAHMS are merging with Historic Scotland, the most recent session of this sort which I attended was on Dealing with Change. I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone amongst my colleagues in saying I was a little hesitant about going along and questioned how much I would gain from it, but it proved a really useful morning that prompted some heartfelt discussion and increased my understanding of how colleagues felt about the merger. This session only worked because it was taken by someone who was external to RCAHMS and a specialist in delivering this kind of training, and although I believe a lot of CPD can be gained ‘on the job’, topics such as this really benefit from bought-in expertise.
Much of my work involves information management, and keeping up with developing technologies often feels like a job in itself. I not only have to be able to carry out relatively complex tasks relating to the databases and GIS we use, but also need to be able to participate in discussions and to plan projects with colleagues and external partners about a wide range of technologies that I don’t necessarily use day-to-day. Over the last two years, I have been able to attend the Computing Applications in Archaeology Conference, which is the most relevant conference for the kind of work I do, and which allows me to network and learn. For example, I’ve been able to gain a basic understanding of Lidar, and really increased my knowledge on the possibilities of linked data – sometimes seeing things in action are the key to having the ‘lightbulb moment’ that opens up understanding.
Closer to home, the IfA Scottish Group organise a number of training sessions a year, based on member feedback about what would be useful. For me, one of the most relevant was a day on Desk Based Assessments which brought all the parts of the sector together in one room: the local authority archaeologists, commercial units, archive and funders. The same range of participants were also gathered for a day which RCAHMS organised on archaeological archiving. Being able to understand issues from another point of view is often enlightening and helps me to view what I do as part of a bigger picture.
I also keep up to date with developments in Scottish Archaeology, and I’m again lucky in that I live in Edinburgh, so am able to regularly attend lectures organised by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the First Millennia Studies Group.
Looking back over my CPD log, the activities I have listed include a range of experiences – like asking to chair a meeting for the first time (and asking for the feedback afterwards!) and more formal training. In the last year I have attended a session on giving successful presentations. This was incredibly useful and has increased my confidence about this – necessary but scary – part of my job. I also attended a two-day course on project management which I have already made use of in organising my work and in setting up new projects.
The Scottish Group of the IfA tries to offer at least one course a year in these more general skills, most recently on public speaking, which means that there are opportunities for accessing this type of activity. I would urge anyone to pay attention to CPD in these more general professional skills, as the ability to hold an audience, organise workflows efficiently and make a great first impression should not be underestimated.
My most useful CPD tip? Ask for feedback when you’ve done something new. It’s difficult, and it sometimes stings, but it is worth it in the long run – and it’s quick and free!