Fellow of the ARA – Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan

Please give a brief overview of your career so far.

I qualified back in 1996 and went on to work in the museums and local authority sectors.  In 2003 I set up my own consultancy and since then I have worked with all types of public and private archive services and collections across the UK advising on technical, funding and strategic issues. I have also worked with sector leads such as The National Archives and The Welsh Government providing research, evaluation and policy advice.  

 Why did you apply for Fellowship?

Ever since Fellowship was proposed right at the start of ARA’s work on developing the Professional Development Framework I had always intended to apply. Firstly, I have always been involved in Registered membership; I was one of the first to be a registered member of ARA when the original Registration scheme was introduced in the 1990s and I have been an Assessor and sometimes Mentor since I first gained registration. As someone who was so closely attached to Registration, I felt that if I did not bother to apply, then why should anyone else? I think it is important to set an example.  

Secondly, I valued having the driver to prompt my own professional development.  Particularly as I work freelance it is all too easy to let personal development slip and focus on the day job. By having to account to fellow professionals it spurred me to be proactive and forward looking in what skills and knowledge I needed to develop and how I would evidence them.  

Finally, I wanted t to gain the level of professional recognition I felt my career deserves  I have been in this profession for almost three decades so to have that involvement formally recognised is something of which I feel proud and value.

What do you think are the benefits of having qualified as a Fellow of the ARA?

As a consultant, potential clients need to feel they can trust me.  Fellowship signals that I am a senior professional with extensive experience, who is trustworthy, ethical and credible.

What advice would you offer to others thinking of enrolling and qualifying as a Fellow?

Whilst I am talking about Fellowship I think these suggestions apply to any level of application to the Professional Development Programme.

Firstly, making a Fellowship application is a substantial undertaking that certainly took me some months to draw together, but it was definitely worth the effort. So stick with it!

Secondly, as an Assessor with the ARA’s professional development programme, I would advise candidates to consider the intent of each level from 1 to 5, not just the qualification criteria. Consider the concepts put across in the ‘Competencies – Description of Levels’ e.g. Level 3 in these descriptions have words such as ‘contributes’, ‘proactive’, ‘supervises’, ‘develops ‘so in a Level 3 application its useful to give evidence of where you contributed, were proactive etc.  Indeed, using the terms in the ‘Competencies – description of levels’ in your own write up will help you focus your application.  Keep a record of all your professional activity.  You’ll be amazed at the range of things you do in an average week, let alone an average year. This will ensure that relevant activities do not get forgotten.  It will also enable you to identify the competencies that are emerging from your activity and which ones most well reflect those higher level skills as well as helping you think about where are the gaps in your professional development.  This is something you can and should do as soon as possible.

Finally, just do it. Make that start.  It is daunting to have your professional career assessed by your peers, but the process helps you identify key achievements, and seek to be substantial and high quality in your professional decisions and actions. Good luck!

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