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Supporting doctoral students in their professional development – a guide for supervisors

Advice and resources for doctoral supervisors to help support the personal and professional development of research students.

Supporting professional development

UKRC and other funders expect doctoral students to demonstrate a commitment to professional development, particularly in the area of transferable skills.

'SET for Success', also known as 'The Roberts Report', 2002 recommended that researchers spend at least ten days a year on developing transferable skills.

We fully encourage all students to make professional development an integral part of their doctorate but recognise that it is sometimes difficult for students to attribute an exact number of days to it - particularly as skills development may often be a part of their day to day research activities. We therefore see the recommendation for ten days as a guide.

Instead, we recommend that students focus less on the quantity of time spent and think more about the process of professional development and what they want to achieve from it. This will help them to develop skills in the right areas.

This process involves:

  • understanding the required skills necessary to carry out their research and complete their doctorate on time
  • planning and undertaking activities and/or attending training to develop or enhance these skills
  • recording and reflecting on these activities
  • evidencing these skills as part of their wider career development, whether within or outside academia.

Your role

Identifying and reviewing needs

It is your responsibility to discuss with your doctoral students their skills development needs. At a minimum, this should be done on an annual basis, preferably more frequently.

A good starting point for discussions with first-year students is to encourage them to conduct a training needs analysis using the Researcher Development Framework (RDF), a tool developed by Vitae. We have produced a guide for supervisors and students to help in completing the training needs section on the Candidature form.

Students should be encouraged to audit their skills and competencies on an ongoing basis using the RDF. The RDF helps researchers to understand what their strengths are, to identify any areas where they feel they need further development and to identify and evidence skills during job searching after their doctorate. This process will, in itself, provide evidence of engagement with professional development.

The Careers Service offers support for doctoral students, with suggested career development activities for each stage of the doctorate, and also extensive information on career options for researchers. Anne Cameron (Researcher Career Development Adviser) can provide confidential 1:1 advice sessions, where students can discuss career options and plans. The Careers Service also offers the opportunity for students to engage with a wide range of employers and alumni through their recruitment and skills programme.

Recording achievements

Activities and experiences should be recorded by the student. This can be done in SAMIS, on a simple Excel spreadsheet, or it can be included in their personal development plan. Wherever they choose to record it, students should be encouraged to articulate how the activity has benefited them in the context of transferable skills development.

Examples of activities to gain transferable skills

There are many ways that students can learn and develop transferable skills. To help you in your discussions, we have suggested some example activities that students can undertake.

Workshops and online training resources

For those who wish to undertake formal training, the Doctoral College provides a range of free workshops and online resources to support students in completing their doctorate and enhancing their career prospects. Workshops are delivered by a range of specialist university professionals and professional external trainers and are aligned to the Researcher Development Framework (RDF).

Other activities

As well as taking part in formal training, students may also want to consider other activities as evidence of transferable skills development. These could include:

  • drafting abstracts and manuscripts for conferences and journals
  • attending conferences and networking with other researchers
  • raising the visibility of their research by developing their PURE profile
  • collaborating with researchers from other disciplines or institutions
  • giving a research talk or producing and presenting a research poster
  • developing literacy and information searching skills by consulting your departmental librarian
  • developing IT skills
  • improving your writing and communication skills at the Academic Skills Centre
  • undertaking teaching activities
  • supervising project students
  • getting involved with student representation and university committees
  • applying for funding, for example travel funding for conferences or research visits
  • exploring opportunities for commercialising your research
  • taking part in the annual Three Minute Thesis Competition
  • volunteering
  • taking part in public engagement activities, such as Pint of Science
  • using social media such as twitter to promote or facilitate your research - don't forget to add our @DoctoralBath Twitter profile and we'll help you to share
  • starting a personal blog
  • taking part in festivals, such as Bath Taps into Science
  • learning a foreign language


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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