IGHR Tuesday: Am I Ready for Certification?

One of the hot topics amongst this week’s IGHR participants is certification. This comes up even in casual conversation, and because most of the genealogists here have a certain level of osity toward the subject, I doubt many realize how frequently it’s mentioned.

Tuesday night, Dr. Thomas W. Jones and Elissa Scalise Powell moderated a discussion about certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists. This particular session deviated a little from the usual more formal format in that certified genealogists who were in the audience were invited to share their reasons for seeking certification. This was followed by a short conversation by Michael Hait and Harold Henderson on how not to submit an application for certification.

Afterwards, I cornered Elissa to ask her some nagging questions I had about the case study and KDP (Kinship Determination Project) portions of the certification portfolio. We were shortly joined by another certified genealogist, Jerry Smith. One thing led to another and we began discussing issues, not just research related, but concerns Elissa and I both have about women, self-confidence (or the lack thereof), and empowerment, for example. You know how these things go. Conversations devolve when they flow naturally. Part of that devolution from certification to women’s issues was sparked by something Elissa said in her remarks as a moderator of the session, that we always place the bar of excellence (that is, the standard we’re trying to reach) above our heads. No matter how hard we work or how much we learn, that bar is never reached because we always keep it above our heads rather than realizing that eventually our work will surpass those standards.

Elissa was using this as an argument for researchers to not wait to start the clock (meaning, formally begin the certification process). For me, that argument struck fairly deeply, and I won’t go into all the reasons why; part of that was covered in our conversation about women. But one thing I will share is what I told her about my reasons for seeking certification, that when I first learned there were other academically oriented genealogists out there, that there were standards and journals and institutes like “college for genealogists,” I determined that I wanted to be the best of the best. I wanted to emulate researchers I saw (and still see) as stars in the field, including Elissa herself (which I think made her blush). Since many of those genealogists are certified, then that’s what I felt I needed to do to become one of the best in the field.

Certification is a goal I’ve been working on for several years now. At the beginning of this year, I decided to at least begin picking out appropriate projects and conducting the research, or finishing it up as the case may be. Initially, I hoped to finish the entire certification process, including submission and, I hoped, approval, by the end of 2013, just in time to register for IGHR 2014′s Course 4: Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis, co-ordinated by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

Quite frankly, I’ve been dithering all year. The case study I initially chose turned out to be inappropriate for this particular purpose, at least in my mind. So I’ve been searching for another project. The KDP I first chose went the same way: I’d rather use it for something else because I have a different focus in mind than the one I would have to take to fulfill the KDP requirements. What to do, what to do…

Part of the problem isn’t even finding appropriate research projects. It’s more a question of mental readiness. Am I really ready to take on the various projects of this scope, requiring this much intense research, that I have to finish in just one short year amidst all the other chaos of my life? Can I even afford mentally, financially, or as a parent to focus in that manner on a process that is so consuming?

And all the while I’m thinking this, I’m also thinking: Can I afford not to start the certification process now? Will my growth as a researcher be stunted because I’m not going through this process at this exact time?

It’s something I need to ponder a while. I’m very tempted to go ahead and “start the clock,” and have been encouraged to do so by Elissa and Michael in separate conversations, in part because they both feel that I’m ready, that my skills are good enough to get me through certification, or very close to being so.

But am I really ready? I don’t have an answer, which is, in and of itself, an answer. The skills might be there (or close) but the mental readiness is not…I don’t think. And certainly, my time is already at a premium as it is. I would have to rearrange my entire schedule for the next twelve to eighteen months. Not as much of a problem as I’m making it out to be in my mind, but it would delay a couple of major projects, with possible financial consequences.

The fact is that I’m going to do this sooner or later. Whether I make it to actual certification or not is a whole nother kettle of fish, but sooner or later I will apply. Being a Watson and, therefore, a procrastinator, maybe I just need to give myself a good kick, apply for certification so I’ll have that fixed deadline (something Judy Russell swears by), and give it all I’ve got. Something I’ll definitely consider.

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