Week in Review: Researcher Development Edition

Overview

Last week was full of holiday season campus celebrations. Coming from the US, mince pies are still a novelty to me – or at least they were, before I ate about a dozen of them. So this week, my tea (8) and coffee (7) intake was supplemented with mulled wine. Maybe this should become a regular thing, because I had a pretty good week! I practiced yoga for 2 hours and spent 132 minutes sitting on the exercise ball, although once again I have not begun meditating. I spent 147 recorded minutes writing (plus some extra) and read 5 papers. My goal is to read many more than 5 papers in a week, but my academic reading was so slow when I started and this is a significant improvement.

Researcher Development Edition

Last week I mentioned the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) developed by Vitae. It articulates the skills one needs to develop over time to be a well-rounded researcher, and is used by my university to help students with personal and professional development.

 

rdf-wheel.jpg

 

I have been shown this wheel in several mandatory training meetings over the past year, and I expect I will be seeing it again. The Researcher Development team at the university are very keen on it, and my department actually requires us to spend 10 days per year on training/development activities. In order to get our degrees, we must write a summary of what we have done to develop our skills in each domain. A lot of people find this to be useless box-ticking, and dislike the time it takes away from research. But I think it’s performing a valuable and difficult service: to spell out otherwise tacit knowledge.

There are many unwritten rules in academia. Things like teaching, paper submission and review procedures, building collaborations, and professional etiquette are all “learn as you go” skills that you pick up through experience. Learning by doing may be effective, but a little preparation never hurt either. That’s why I like the RDF – it tries to explicitly point you in the right direction. The full report online has more detailed descriptions of each area, including development over time. I can look at the skills and abilities listed in Phase 1 or 2 and ask myself whether I feel competent at them, and identify where I need to expend effort to develop further. I can also look ahead to Phase 3 or even up to 5, to plan a route of skill development, especially in the areas that are more relevant to my long-term career goals. The university offers a host of researcher development seminars and workshops that I can sign up for once I’ve identified a gap in my skill set. Or, I can approach my supervisors for advice, armed with specific questions. “Do you think I’m rigorous in argument construction and production of evidence? If not, can you suggest ways that I can specifically develop that ability?”

Another reason I like the RDF is that it describes transferrable skills (communication, organisation, self-management) that are useful for any career. While many supervisors don’t discuss this with their students, the fact is that there are very few permanent jobs available in academia – many of us working towards a PhD now will end up in industry, or in another field altogether. Being able to identify skills that we have developed beyond lab work or experimental design and can apply to any career is helpful, and makes the uncertainty of the future less daunting.

 

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