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What Specifically Can I Do To Become Professionalized?


Here, we use the term professionalism to represent the attitudes, actions, etiquette, ethical behavior, and civic responsibility you need to learn so that you can conduct yourself like a professional and convey to others that you are a true professional.

As with the other components of professional development, professionalism is a set of traits you should continually work to develop during high school and college, and then exhibit in school, on the job, and even in your personal life.


Because these traits don't develop by themselves or just appear suddenly out of nowhere, we encourage you to practice making a conscious effort to develop and maintain constructive, determined attitudes about classes, activities, responsibilities, situations, circumstances, and people. This does not mean you have to like everything and everyone. It simply means that you adopt an attitude that focuses on solutions rather then problems. For instance, as we suggested earlier, a class you dislike is not simply an opportunity to complain; it's an opportunity to learn to do well at something you dislike - a crucial attribute for any professional to possess. Work hard to be relentlessly positive! This attitude, developed through practice, will impress any interview committee.


There are certain things that every student should simply do, but which many do not. The result is always a student who is not performing academically or professionally as well as they could. Here is a practical list of things you can do to help avoid this pitfall:

  • Follow-through: Keep appointments with your advisor, people you are shadowing, instructors, and others.
  • Deliver on commitments and promises you have made to peers, instructors, and others.
  • Be an active participant in your own education: Consistently and meaningfully participate in class discussions. Sit in the first two or three rows everyday.
  • Go to class every day and be on time. Do your assigned readings before class. Always know where your grade stands. If you have a genuine reason for missing or being late, explain it to your instructor beforehand or email them the same day. Follow-through and personal accountability are signs of someone who is becoming a true professional.
  • Introduce yourself to your instructors: During the first week or two of class make an appointment to visit each and every one of your instructors during their office hours (two minutes before or after class doesn't count!). If their office hours conflict with your class schedule then ask to arrange an appointment outside their office hours. Most instructors are willing and able to do so. Bring all of your course materials and introduce yourself. Discuss course content, but also talk about yourself and your interests, and talk with them about how and why they became interested in their area of expertise.
  • Meet consistently with instructors throughout the semester; ideally, one or two each week for most of the semester. Doing so serves many purposes: 1) It shows them that you care about your grades and about the course content; 2) It helps you develop a sense of personal responsibility and accountability, two crucial points of professional development; 3) It garners experience interacting one-on-one with someone who is already a professional; 4) If you and an instructor get to know one another well enough, and you do well in their class, you can ask for a letter of recommendation if required by your program, or ask to use them as a reference.
  • Manage your time efficiently. Efficient time management is crucial to your success in every facet of life. Your degree progress and professional development as a whole will be less stressful and more fulfilling, and you will be better equipped to convey a sense of professionalism, if you develop this skill early and continue to improve it.


Another set of actions which reflects your level of professionalism has to do with personal etiquette. Usually your behavior is not interpreted by others as being neutral. In every setting - email and web, interpersonal, public - your personal conduct usually impacts the image you convey either positively or negatively.

  • Email etiquette:
    • Email IU faculty and staff only from your official, imail, or umail account. Emailing them from a 3rd party account (gmail, yahoo, etc.) is not acceptable, as IU email is the officially sanctioned means of University email communication. There are a number of reasons for this policy: emailing through your official account is a sign of professionalism; it is more secure; it decreases the chances your message will wind up in the recipient's spam / junk mail folder.
    • Email is often mistakenly thought of as a form of communication in which it is always acceptable to be casual no matter who is being addressed. Don't make this mistake! All the usual rules of good writing apply to your emails to faculty, staff, and professionals. In other words: begin sentences with capital letters; use proper punctuation (and avoid double punctations, such ?? or !!!); employ helpful paragraph breaks, so your email is easier to read quickly and efficiently; thoroughly spellcheck; thoroughly proofread.
    • Always include a useful, specific subject line.
    • Begin your message with a greeting. Address the recipient as Professor, Mr., Ms., Dr., or whatever is correct and appropriate. It is usually not appropriate to address them by first name, unless they have told you it is fine to do so. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and use a formal greeting and closing.
    • Sending emails with typos, misspellings, incoherent sentences, or thoughtless paragraphing is extremely unprofessional and will not leave the recipient with a good impression of you. This is a bad thing in and of itself, but is especially unproductive when you are hoping to garner a letter of recommendation, arrange an internship, and the like. Most importantly, writing emails and all correspondence carefully is simply the mature, professional thing to do.
  • Web content: Depending on how you have them set up, Facebook, Twitter, personal web pages, and other social media can be viewed by anyone. If you wouldn't want a prospective employer, an instructor, or a professional program admissions committee to see it, then don't post it! Always assume everything you post is public, even if you feel positive you have everything set correctly to block posts from public view.
  • Phone and interpersonal etiquette: Be professional, be polite, always and with everyone. When you call a school or program on the phone, it doesn't matter whether you are speaking with the Dean of Admissions or a receptionist. Don't be rude, impatient, or presumptuous. Treat them with respect. It is simply the mature way to behave. But if you need another reason, remember that any given staff member may have influence, and may have something to say about whether or not you are admitted to the program. When you are finished with the conversation, thank them for their time and assistance. Similarly, remember that a firm handshake and confident eye contact can also go a long way towards establishing a professional demeanor.
  • Public etiquette: Be professional, be polite, always and with everyone.

Ethical Development

There is no simple way to define the concept of ethical conduct, but if you look up ethical in a thesaurus you will find synonyms like moral, principled, right, fair, decent, and just.

Whether something is "legal" or "illegal" does not necessarily determine whether it is ethical or not, and it is not always obvious what is "right" and what is "wrong" in a given situation. Furthermore, peer pressure - the desire to be accepted, the fear of rejection or of looking bad, the desire to avoid getting other people in trouble - can become a factor if you let it. For example, if a group of students were to actively seek the confidential password that would give them access ahead of time to exam questions, they would be engaging in unethical behavior, as would any student who used the password. What may not be obvious, though, is that even students who did not cheat, but who knew about the cheating and did not report it, could be deemed guilty of unethical conduct.

The American Heritage Dictionary (4th Ed.) defines ethical as, "Being in accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a profession." Your profession at this moment is student, and Indiana University has a Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct that you are expected to follow. You are also either considering or have already decided to become a member of another profession, be it in the area of law, medicine, or another health profession. Both the professional program and the professions they lead to will have their own codes of ethical conduct they will expect you to adhere to, and they take breeches of ethics very seriously. Many programs and professions also expect students to report on their applications incidents where they have been involved in breeches of ethics. Criminal background checks are commonly required as well.

If you want to discuss ethical development in more depth, or if you have a hypothetical situation you'd like to discuss, feel free to make an appointment with a HPPLC advisor. If you have been accused of misconduct or caught in an act of misconduct at IU, you may contact the Student Advocates Office and / or the Department of Student Rights for assistance. Information about the Campus Judicial Process is available here, and theOffice of Student Conduct home page offers additional resources.

You may want to learn about ethics through coursework. (In fact, many professional programs require an ethics course or have ethics built into the core classes.) Examples of ethics courses include PHIL-P 140: Introduction to Ethics, REL-R 170: Religion and Ethics, and REL-R 373: Religion and Bioethics. The Political and Civic Engagement certificate program (PACE) is another way for students to bolster their ethical development.

Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility

Two other components of ethical development which comprise another important dimension of your professional development as a whole are civic engagement and social responsibility. Examples of activities which reflect civic engagement and social responsibility include volunteering just for the sake of being of service; voting and being politically active; making yourself aware of local, national, and international news; becoming active in student government (refer to Participating in Events, Clubs, and Organizations, and review the list of programs at the Indiana Campus Compact site); and pursuing civic engagement academically (for instance, the PACE certificate, and other service learning opportunities, which incorporate volunteerism and civic engagement through coursework).

In the past, the word "citizenship" was used to describe these actions and attitudes. More recently, many have lamented what they see as the loss of these "core values." Regardless of the degree to which these claims are true, or not, it does remain true that being an active and responsible participant in the communities to which you belong (classroom, campus, city, state, country, world, and everything in between) is an important characteristic possessed by any truly professionalized person.