Are you a freelancer? Do you feel a bit overwhelmed at times when you’re juggling work, your own PR, bookkeeping, your tax return, and on top of all that, you’re asked to further develop your professional skills?
It’s tempting to use a pause in the workflow to relax and procrastinate, and sometimes, it’s definitely the right thing to do. There are, however, some brilliant ways of developing your professional skills, ways that make me glad that my professional body, the ITI, encourages me to do so – with a deadline!
The ITI suggests a minimum of 30 hours per year to continue my professional development or CPD which, at first, looks like a lot. However, it’s obvious that I mustn’t simply rest on the laurels of my Master’s degree if I want to stay on top of my game. The beauty of a freelancer’s CPD is that I can freely choose what I do to develop my skills. My specialism, deciphering and translating old German handwriting, affords a lot of research. I often have to put explanations in footnotes – be that a reference to a place name that has changed due to geo-political reasons, a word/saying that isn’t used anymore, or a product that might have once been a popular medication and no longer exists.
When I choose my CPD activities, I predominately look for ways to improve my research skills, but I also look at ways to promote what I’m doing in order to reach potential clients who are looking for someone like me. I’m proud to say that, for the fourth time running, I’ve achieved the ITI’s CPD certificate. In the past, I’ve been to museum conferences, learned about emigration from Germany to the US, stayed up-to-date with the latest discussions of my translator colleagues, wrote articles for professional publications, read books about the historical background of my clients’ ancestors, and participated in webinars about skills that I need. If you’d like to know what I did to achieve this year’s CPD certificate, these activities are at the top of my list:
– Going to the official opening of the new 2nd World War and Holocaust Galleries of the Imperial War Museum London;
– Joining an online exchange of research tips with colleagues who work in translation;
– Listening to a lecture of King’s College London (KCL) about pre-war concentration camps in NS-Germany;
– Giving a presentation about my specialism for Surrey University;
– Participating in two genealogy conferences: Rootstech 2022 and Genealogica 2022.
– Writing an article for the ITI’s German network;
– Following an ongoing discussion with my colleagues about gender-neutral language solutions in German;
– Joining a discussion about the German reunification;
– Writing a book chapter proposal for an Academic publication about the use of language in war museums.

As always, there was a lot to learn, particularly at the Genealogica: the difficulties of obtaining data records for Russian-Germans and how to deal with this; the different databases used for genealogical research in Vienna and the whole of Austria; tools to find the correct place of someone’s origin if the same place name is used in multiple locations, especially in Saxony; an overview of Jewish history, decrees and conventions about Jewish name changes, and where to obtain data for Jewish ancestry research.
It’s difficult to say which CPD activity I found the most interesting, but if I had to decide on one, I’d choose the KCL’s lecture about pre-war concentration camps. I often wondered how on Earth people could have committed such atrocities and be so oblivious to human suffering. What went on in the heads of the perpetrators, were they all psychopaths? Not likely. Dr Christopher Dillon (KCL) gave us an insight into what would have led to such brutality, pointing out the psychology of group pressure and authority, and how young men whose average age was often just under 21, were trained to be cruel. Drills, training, and severe treatment were the daily norm for these young men who earned their comrades’ respect by being pitiless. During training, a week’s camp duty was seen as a “public test of manhood” where “unmasculine qualities” had to be suppressed when on duty. Out of hours, however, it was all about male bonding, the buzzword: comradeship. It led to a paradoxical spiral of sequential actions, something I find difficult to follow, and yet, I can see how it came to be.
In reflection, my CPD has – yet again – opened many doors for me to better understand the background of those who wrote the letters and diaries that I decipher and translate, and ultimately, my clients benefit from it as much as I do.