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Professional identity formation

In this step, you will get to understand the concept of professional identity formation (PIF).
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Every person has their own identity. In its simplest form, you could say that your identity is the answer to the question: who am I? If we broaden this a bit, then your identity includes, for example, your norms, values, and beliefs. It says something about what you stand for and what you find important in life.

Your identity is formed in many ways, partly because of your biological makeup and partly because of the outside world. Think about your upbringing, your friends, the neighbourhood where you live and the place where you work. More broadly, you are also shaped by the culture, society and country in which you were born and raised.

We often speak of multiple identities, such as your personal, cultural, social, online, and professional identity. All identities that show pieces of yourself and that, if all goes well, are congruent with each other.

Professional identity formation

You gradually develop in your work as a PhD supervisor, besides the other (academic) roles you fulfill. You do not only learn the (theoretical) knowledge and skills that are necessary to practice your profession properly, you also develop an attitude that suits a PhD supervisor. This process of preparing you for your role as a professional is called professional identity formation (PIF). You can see it in this way that you are increasingly thinking, feeling and acting like a PhD supervisor.

In this process, you slowly grow towards a full membership of the so-called community of PhD supervisors. Forming a professional identity is a complex process that takes place largely unconsciously and implicitly through socialisation. Socialisation is the process by which someone is taught the values, norms, customs, and other characteristics of their group and can function within this group by making this his own. We will come back to the concept of socialization in a later stage in this course.

Matching identities

As a human being you have multiple identities and it is important that your professional identity is also in line with these other identities. If your identities match well, this contributes to a higher degree of well-being, involvement, pleasure and enthusiasm in your work. That in turn is conducive to your sustainable employability and prevention of, for example, burnout complaints.

When your identities do not match, friction arises. For example, your professional identity is too far removed from what you consider important or clashes with your own values and beliefs. You may start playing a role or you feel like you cannot be yourself.

This friction between identities can arise because it is very tempting to get completely absorbed in your (new) role as a PhD supervisor. This is because as humans we have a strong need to belong and then tend to adapt to our environment. Nevertheless, it is important to watch out for this. Belonging is good, but you do not want to lose yourself in it. It is important that you continue to recognize yourself in your new role. It is therefore ultimately about finding a conscious balance between remaining yourself and retaining your individuality on the one hand, and connecting with the group you want to belong to on the other.

Finding that balance can sometimes be quite difficult. It is therefore important to really get to know yourself and, from time to time, reflect on the things that are passed on to you consciously and unconsciously within the academic community. This way you can continue to make choices that suit you and you will develop into a healthy professional.


© University of Groningen
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Successful PhD Supervision: A Shared Journey

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