As my colleague Jane Simm showed in her recent post, for many years ‘competency-based’ interviews have been the mainstay of the selection process for UK employers. This kind of interview is based on the belief that past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance. Therefore, having identified in advance the skills and personal qualities (i.e. competencies – see this resource from Syracuse University) that are essential for effective performance in the job, the employer asks candidates to describe past situations in which they have demonstrated these.
I’m regularly asked (often by researchers just starting a PhD or their 1st postdoc), “what training and development activities should I sign up for?” They are often overwhelmed by the mind blowing amount of workshops, schemes and seminars that are on offer. It is true that a researcher could spend more time attending workshops than actually doing their research. As important as it is to spend time on career development activities, the one thing you don’t want to do is to become a serial workshop booker, enrolling onto everything you see advertised. As managers of training programmes we often come across individuals who sign up for every single workshop we advertise (I’ve even come across people attending the exact same workshop more than once in a year). As flattering as it is that they want to attend all we provide, this really isn’t the most effective use of your time.
A session of my Leadership Coaching Groups for PhD students is dedicated to getting people together over coffee to facilitate conversations between successful academic staff and current research students who are aspiring future academic leaders. I know what you’re thinking – why would they aspire to that?
Topics of discussion in higher education that are currently flooding blogs, tweets, and editorial are the impacts of stress from research workload management, isolation, employability anxiety or workplace bullying, on mental health in academia. Now, I think these are truly important discussions, and serve to raise awareness of some really difficult issues and generate an evidence base from which to begin to generate support structures, and a culture change.
Becoming a competent researcher and progressing in academia requires commitment, dedication, time and much more. Developing the many skills and competencies of researchers to be competitive for jobs within an international research market could be a daunting prospect. During some of the workshops we run for PhD students and Postdoctoral Research Associates, we often discuss about the many opportunities that young researchers should take to make the best of their research period at the University, and we encourage our young researchers to take on additional responsibilities in order to build their CVs.
In order words we tell them “well, just doing your research won’t be enough, you need to develop your leadership skills, gain some teaching experience, practice reviewing papers, develop your network, become commercially aware”, and the list goes on. Not to mention, writing skills, the ability to publish well in good journals and the added bonus of demonstrating a track record in gaining research funding.