by David Firth*
*completed PhD in 2018; worked as an Advisor in the University of Manchester Careers Service since 2012, and also PGT Skills Training Coordinator for SALC since 2016
In addition to the specific specialist knowledge (such as theory) and technical knowledge (such as lab techniques and programming languages), you will have gained and developed a variety of transferable skills throughout your time as a PhD. However, it’s quite common for PGRs to find it difficult to identify the broader skill set they have developed beyond the specificities of their PhD research. This article aims to provide a starting point for PGRs in identifying transferable skills.
Why is it important to consider transferable skills?
Being aware of all the transferable skills you will develop as a researcher during your PhD is important both for your continuous professional development within HE but also for any applications you make outside of academia. Being mindful to your skills profile as a researcher allows you to identify your strengths, as well as your own skills training and development needs.
Transferable Skills: Examples
Here’s a list of key transferable skills that you are likely to have gained and developed on your doctoral journey:
Social media and IT skills
This list also comprises core skills that employers most frequently look for in applicants and job specifications will often ask you to provide evidence of these skills. To help you start identifying your own evidence, here’s the list again but with examples and suggestions for how you might identify these yourself:
Research methods = techniques used to plan your research project; collection of qualitative and quantitative data; data gathering; data analysis; use of statistics; discourse analysis; troubleshooting
Analytical skills = formulating research questions; classifying and summarising data; being able to use results effectively and conveying this in chapters/articles/graphs/tables/pictures/lab reports.
Communication skills = giving presentations and conference papers; translating complex ideas for different audiences;
Critical thinking = theoretical knowledge; participation in debates; running experiments; developing chapters and articles that demonstrate your ability to form arguments.
Leadership = any projects or tasks that you’ve led; any academic roles you’ve taken a lead with or volunteered for (such as with journals or research groups); taking the initiative
Supervisory skills = working as a seminar instructor and GTA; providing training to students in workshops and labs; assessing and providing feedback
Team work = participating in reading groups; running training activities in your School; conference planning; joint projects; joint lab work; being part of a research group
Time management = managing multiple workloads effectively; managing your research commitments alongside other responsibilities
Problem solving = researching for and completing literature reviews; lab experiments; planning as part of your decision-making processes (do you toss a coin or do you have a system/method?)
Project management = managing your research project
Flexibility = any challenges you’ve overcome in your research; any problems you’ve encountered and accommodated; any examples of multiple tasks that you’ve managed simultaneously; adapting your goals in line with your analysis; learning new skills as required
Motivating others = providing support to peers and colleagues, as well as to more junior researchers; engaging with and encouraging junior colleagues; supporting the professional development of others, such as through training activities or leading workshops
Social media and IT skills = using professional social media accounts to network, communicate your research, and demonstrate public engagement; examples of any resources you’ve created.
These examples are just starting points – some, none, or all may apply to you. The key is being aware that the skills you develop as a researcher are not exclusive to the context of the PhD, but transferable to a range of applications. Someone who develops strong presentation skills as a researcher, for example, can also put those skills to good use as a consultant. Many HE institutions in the UK provide support resources on transferable skills for PGRs. The University of Manchester Careers Service also offers lots of advice and skill-by-skill guides on our website: http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/experience/skills Vitae, a UK-based body run by The Careers Research and Advisory Centre, specifically designed to provide support mechanisms to researchers, is also a great source for training, resources, and events.
Vitae Researcher Development Framework
The Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) is a particularly useful tool designed, by researchers and HE professionals, to help researchers identify and apply the various skills they will have developed on their doctoral journey. The RDF is structured into four domains covering the knowledge, behaviours and attributes that make up a well-rounded and well-developed researcher.
Domain A identifies the knowledge, intellectual abilities and techniques needed to do research.
Domain B covers ‘personal effectiveness’, detailing the personal qualities and approaches that are most commonly identified as necessary to be an effective researcher.
Domain C addresses issues of research organisation and the professional standards expected of good researchers.
Domain D covers ‘engagement, influence and impact’, detailing the knowledge and skills to work with others to ensure the wider impact of research.
The RDF is designed to help you identify your strengths but also any gaps in your development and therefore allow you to prioritise professional development needs.
A copy of the RDF and more information is available here: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers-professional-development/about-the-vitae-researcher-development-framework
This article has provided a starting point to help PGRs identify transferable skills.
Wherever you may be, next steps could include:
▪ creating your own professional development plan (PDP), including a list of skills and your own examples, in line with the RDF
▪ seeking out further training, whether in your school/institution or at other institutions
▪ discussing skills training with your supervisors and peers – is there more you can/want to get involved in?
If you’re a PGR at Manchester, next steps could include:
▪ seeking out further training from our institutional providers, such as: ArtsMethods, your School Researcher Development Team, the University Library’s My Research Essentials team, the Careers Service, Methods@Manchester, as well as taking part in Pathways and Gold Mentoring,
▪ discussing your options in the Careers Service by booking a 30-minute guidance appointment with one of our Careers Consultants.
▪ discussing how best to present your research and transferable skills on your application documents by booking a 15-minute applications advice appointment with one of our Applications Advisors.