Are you starting to think about what you’ve learnt during your research degree and what skills you have developed along the way? Are you getting ready to work out what you will do next? For some HDRs and ECRs, plans have changed considerably with the event of the pandemic.
If you are considering transitioning out of academia and into the world beyond, it’s useful to find ways of talking about what you have to offer on the job market. It isn’t always easy to see how your research skills can be used outside the university. This week we explore ways of identifying and articulating your skills and competences in ways that potential employers are likely to understand. While employers might be looking for someone with very similar skills and capabilities to yours, they don’t always use the same language to describe them.
Where are you up to in your career? If you are an HDR, when do you expect to submit your thesis? ECRs, when did you graduate and what have you been doing since then? Have you made any forays into the job market yet? If so, what have you learnt from dipping your foot into those waters?
This week we will systematically work through the kinds of skills you will have developed during your candidature—through your research project and also through other life experiences you bring with you. One area that you will all feel confident about is your ability to conduct research—that’s what you do as a PhD candidate! But how can you list all the things you can do?
Today we’ll start by looking at 3 frameworks that can help you organise all that information: the Vitae framework, the RSD, and the ANU Research Skill Framework. I think these provide useful ways of getting your head around it all. They also give us some language to identify skills that can be used when talking to future employers.
You might already know the Vitae Researcher Development Framework, developed in the UK. Don’t be put off by all the detail! I’ll take you through it step by step…
To read this diagram, start in the centre to read the 4 Domains:
Domain A (top right) – knowledge, intellectual abilities
Domain B (bottom right) – personal effectiveness
Domain C (bottom left) – governance, organisation
Domain D (top left) – engagement, influence, impact
(Yes, it works clockwise.)
Then notice how each of these domains is divided into 3 sections in the middle ring. For example, “Knowledge and intellectual abilities” is divided into Knowledge base, Cognitive abilities, and Creativity.
Sound daunting? Don’t worry, the outer ring gives some examples of what is meant by these terms. For example, Cognitive abilities includes things like “Analysing, synthesising, critical thinking, evaluating, problem solving”. Have you done any of these things during your PhD? I expect you’ve done them every day!
Another way of organising information about research skills is the Researcher Skill Development Framework (RSD). The RSD identifies steps for research, and describes the different levels of autonomy in research, from beginner to world-leading projects (as a PhD candidate, you are expected to end up around Level 6, but might move back and forth a bit as you learn new skills and knowledge along the way).
Yes, it looks complicated when you see the whole framework, so let’s focus on just the first column that identifies 6 steps of conducting a research project.
Do these sound familiar? Do the steps reflect your own experiences? Is there anything left off this list that you would add?
ACTIVITY: Please use the Comments at the bottom of the blog post to let us know how these frameworks fit with your own experience. Do the elements resonate with you? What else could you add that isn’t covered?
Here at the ANU we have our own Research Skill Framework. This is organised around 4 areas: Research Technique; Research Management; Communication; Professional Practice.
ACTIVITY: Skills Matrix. Have a look at the Framework and think about what you could include in the column about your skills in research techniques. What have you done that you can use as evidence of these skills? Remember, when applying for jobs, everyone says they can do things exceptionally well—but what employers want is evidence that you really can do it. They need examples of when you have used those skills effectively. Please share some of your examples via Comments at the bottom of the blog page.
The point of all these frameworks is that they provide a systematic way of identifying and articulating all the skills learnt during a PhD. I’m also really interested in the way they give us a language for explaining to others what we can do well.
ACTIVITY: Skills Inventory. Keep a list of everything you do today, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Don’t ignore the small things—all those emails = communication skills; conflicting advice from your supervisors = negotiation skills. Download the template you find here (click on ‘File’ and then ‘Download as’). On Friday we’ll look back over the list and see just how extensive your employability skillset really is.
Tomorrow we’ll move onto the next column in the ANU framework to look at Research Management.