University of Bath

Your professional development - a guide for doctoral students

Find out how to build an impressive set of transferable skills which can help you succeed in your doctorate and whatever you choose to do next.

A student and skills advisor planning professional development activities
Assess your skills, make a plan and review your progress.

Developing transferable skills

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

We understand that it is often difficult to monitor exactly how much time you spend on developing transferable skills, especially as many of these will be gained in the course of your day-to-day research activities. Therefore, rather than focusing on the number of days, we recommend that you think more about the process of professional development and about what you hope to achieve. This will help you to develop your skills in the right areas.

You can do this by:

  • understanding the required skills necessary for you to do your research and to complete your doctorate on time
  • planning and undertaking activities to develop or enhance these skills
  • recording and reflecting on these activities
  • evidencing these skills as part of your wider career development

During your doctoral studies, you will have many opportunities to develop and enhance your transferable skills. To complement this we offer a professional development programme of free courses and workshops called DoctoralSkills.

Planning your professional development

The Researcher Development Framework (RDF)

Our professional development programme is aligned to the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) developed by Vitae. It is the industry standard framework for researcher development.

The RDF organises researcher professional development into four domains: knowledge and intellectual abilities; personal effectiveness; research governance; and engagement, influence and impact. You can use the RDF to learn more about the transferable skills you have and also to identify the areas where you feel you need further development.

Getting started

You are responsible, with the help of your supervisor, to manage your skills development during your doctorate. If you haven’t done it already, a good starting point for discussions with your supervisor is to conduct a training needs analysis using the (RDF).

This will enable you to assess the skills you need in order to complete a particular task against your current abilities and can be used to develop a personal development plan.

The Doctoral College Professional Development team can also help you to assess your skills and experience, make a plan and review your progress. You may find our training handbook useful in your discussions and planning.

Reviewing your needs and your progress

It’s important that you periodically review your skills development needs.

Together with your supervisor, discuss your progress to date and consider your development needs going forward. Make some time and space for this discussion and don’t make it the last item on a list of things to talk about. Think about what do I know I can do? What skills and abilities do I have already? What do I need to work on to achieve my goals for the coming year and beyond? The Careers Service has a career planning timeline for doctoral students, with suggested career development activities for each stage of the doctorate, and also extensive information on career options for researchers. Contact the Researcher Career Development Adviser, Anne Cameron, for a confidential 1:1 discussion of your career options and plans.

When reviewing your progress, bear in mind that there are many ways of learning that are not always obvious. Establish what you need to learn first, then discuss with your supervisor (and others) the best way to learn this. This might be by attending a formal training course; undertaking a task or activity within your research programme (for example drafting a research paper or presenting at a research conference); volunteering; or your own self-directed learning.

Recording and reflecting on your development

It’s also essential to keep a record of the activities or tasks you have undertaken and how they have contributed to your skills development. Remember, these don’t have to be just formal training workshops or courses. Write statements to demonstrate what skills you have developed, give specific examples of how you have used them and what you achieved. These statements will be invaluable for writing job applications and preparing for interviews. Use the training handbook to help you define the skills you have.

The Doctoral Skills Programme

DoctoralSkills is a programme of free professional development workshops and courses. They are designed to help you develop the essential skills you need to carry out your research, to communicate your findings and to complete your doctorate on time.

The programme is suitable for all research disciplines, although some of the workshops and courses are tailored to specific disciplines to make them more relevant. All of the workshops and courses are delivered by a range of specialist university professionals or external trainers.

The programme is aligned with the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) in order to aid you in planning your development. All of the skills are necessary to develop into an effective researcher, and are also highly transferable to careers outside of academia and research.

Other ways to develop transferable skills

As well as formal training, there are many other ways in which you can develop and evidence your transferable skills. Here are some examples:

  • drafting abstracts and manuscripts for conferences and journals
  • attending conferences and networking with other researchers
  • 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

Take a look at our training handbook for more examples.