Finding Planners with Shared Interests: The Post-Graduation Experience

Ann Forsyth's picture
In recent months many planning students have graduated and are moving on to the next phase of life-jobs, internships, fellowships, and such. For many this will involve a move to a new place. Even those staying in the same metropolitan area will seldom make it back to their planning program, and besides their fellow students will have scattered. Graduate school provides a peer group of those with similar interests and training. How do recent graduates create such a network when they are no longer in residence at a university? The following tips should help you start.

Join national and international organizations of planners and activists with common interests. In an earlier posting I highlighted the work of Planners Network, the Association for Community Design, and Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility.  There are similar small organizations in topics from citizen participation (International Association for Public Participation) to transportation. Such organizations have web sites, newsletters, magazines, conferences, and other events that provide information and bring people together. While it is important to use these as places to affirm what you believe in or who you are, I think it is also useful to find organizations that will challenge you to be a better planner and a better person.

Join divisions of the American Planning Association (or the equivalent where you are)-these are smaller groups that share a common interest like transportation or new urbanism and are a good way to meet people. At one time I had been a member or all but one or two of the APA divisions-a few new divisions have been subsequently created so I can no longer say that. I joined a different one or two each year including ones where I had no training and population based divisions where I wasn't a member of that population. I didn't take a lot of airtime in those divisions but rather tried to listen and learn. It is likely that in one of these you'll find your niche. For members of under-represented groups the population-based divisions of APA can be a really crucial source of support-by this I mean the divisions Planning and the Black Community, Planning and Women, Gays and Lesbians in Planning, Indigenous Planning, and Latinos and Planning. Students can join divisions for $10 so they are well worth it.

Look for local groups working on an issue you believe in. They can be useful too.

One can be in too many groups. I just left the Australian Planning Institute where I was a corporate member (like AICP) and that I had belonged to for more than two decades. This was mostly because I disagreed with the way they'd implemented some membership changes and partly because one can be in too many groups. And for much the same reason while I have a web site and am a member of many groups I am not on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or other similar sites as faculty can be overwhelmed with requests to join networks of this kind.

Overall, while making connections and having support are both important they are only a means to an end of doing good work. Make sure they don't get in the way of doing good planning and changing the world for the better.

I have been writing this blog each month for almost two and a half years and have dealt with a set of issues including finding out about planning, choosing and getting admitted to planning programs, key planning skills, the exit project, information sources, and getting jobs. I'm looking for new topics to cover in the next year. Suggestions for topics are welcome in the comments area below.

Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.


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