Archives for posts with tag: skills

If I told you a PhD student developed writing skills I doubt you would be surprised. “Of course we develop writing skills – we have to slog over thousands of words to create a thesis!”

writing hard work

As with any skill, the heading ‘writing skills’ hides a multitude of complexity and diversity about what it actually entails and how you have demonstrated it. If you look in a dictionary you will find a mix of definitions;

  • The activity or skill of writing
  • A sequence of letters, words or symbols marked on a surface
  • The activity or occupation of composing text for publication
  • Written work, especially with regard to its style or quality
  • Books, stories or other written works.

We also have a phrase that uses the word – “the writing was on the wall” – which means there were clear signs that something negative or unpleasant was going to happen.

Could you clearly articulate the writing skills and attributes you have developed as a researcher? What would you include? As always, I would encourage creativity and open-mindedness when thinking about this – you have all had different experiences after all! Here’s a starting point;

  • Articles, chapters, books
  • Abstracts
  • Funding applications, travel grants
  • Ethics approval
  • Project plans
  • Posters
  • Reports
  • Log books
  • Updates
  • Biographies
  • Recommendations and conclusions
  • Book reviews
  • Editing
  • Proof reading
  • Documents
  • Newsletters
  • Instructions
  • Manuals
  • Guides
  • Teaching materials
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Feedback and marking
  • Emails
  • Webpages
  • Blog posts
  • Twitter contributions
  • Publicity material
  • CVs, application forms and personal statements
  • Plays
  • Poetry
  • Stories
  • Compositions
  • Business plans
  • Computer code
  • Equations

You might think I am stretching the point but hopefully you can see what I mean. There will be things I haven’t thought of so add your own. I’ve just created a simple list here – what you did, how you did it, why you did it, the context you did it in all make your experiences richer and more individual. Regardless of what you’ve done, you can see that talking about ‘writing skills’ will never do you and your experience justice.

Knowing what writing skills you have is one thing. Reflecting on what aspects of writing you are good at, what you most enjoy and what you would like to use in your career is a different thing entirely. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you want to or should! I see a lot of researchers who tell me that writing has been the least enjoyable part of their research experience. Obviously I don’t assume they mean all writing, so I find out what they do mean and help them clarify what aspects of writing they are referring to and the reasons why. They’ll often then be able to identify the writing they do enjoy and understand themselves better. After all, can you think of a job that’s likely to appeal to a researcher that wouldn’t involve writing?

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Everyone tells researchers that they need to get their research “out there”.  They should be promoting themselves and engaging with the public via YouTube, twitter, blogs and the like.  Some researchers can crack on with this and take to it like a duck to water, especially the written format.  But videos…well for some that’s an entirely different matter.  In an age where it can seem like every 10 year old is a YouTuber, what do you do if you’re not confident on screen or if you haven’t got the first idea of what makes a good video? Read the rest of this entry »

On Thursday 3rd November we successfully ran our first full-day event of workshops specifically designed for postgraduate research students to recognise and refine their knowledge of leadership skills. Under the title “Leadership Development Workshops”, sponsored by Science Think Ahead, PGR students across all faculties attended four sessions from 9:30am – 4pm in the Arts Tower computer room, with speakers from a wide range of disciplines and services within the University.


Some of the resources that each of our attendees received

The first session of the day was given by Phil Wallace from the University’s Leadership Development team.  He discussed with the participants what it means to be a successful leader in today’s world, the role of the leader within the community, and the concept of living leadership. Researchers were also given the chance to reflect on that using their own experiences and achievements. Read the rest of this entry »

Below, and here, are two stories of PhD study from researchers who combined work and a PhD. While both are positive accounts, there are some differences, for example, working as a practitioner in the same field as you study, or working on multiple research projects including the PhD. What both have spoken of though is:

  • Perspective: the PT PhD as one aspect, albeit important, of who they are and their career portfolio. This helps to maintain momentum, and enthusiasm, and avoids becoming entrenched in the idea of the perfect PhD.
  • Complementary: Working and studying within the same topic areas, or having insight into the research culture and university workings, all useful things in navigating PhD progression.
  • Process not product: seeing the PhD as a learning and growth opportunity, and slowly building skills and experiences towards the next step.

I hope you enjoy them both, there are some good ideas here for full time PhD students too.

This piece is from Samuel Dent (@SRDent89), a researcher in Higher Education, at Sheffield Hallam University.

My PhD topic area is based in my experiences of working on the front line of University Student Support. Each March I’d brace for impact as swathes of 20/21-year-olds about to graduate would come to see me; exhausted/tempted to withdraw, and questioning the purpose of their entire education. At this point in the year most graduate recruitment schemes had announced their new recruits, and inevitably some students didn’t make the cut. For many of these students this was the first time they had realized that beginning their career would not be straightforward, and that being successful had not come easy this time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Being a researcher at the University of Sheffield means that you have a whole host of development opportunities at your fingertips. There’s so much on offer that you could probably spend a couple of days every week attending workshops, events, participating in online training etc. and not tackle the same thing twice. So how do you go about choosing which development event is right for you?

PaniniTo avoid a situation where you start to collect development events like you would panini stickers (got, got, NEED!), it’s always handy to take a step back and reflect on your current strengths and areas for development. There are plenty of tools and resources to support you with this, such as the Researcher Development Framework, which identifies the behaviours and attributes of successful researchers and enables you to recognise your existing skills and set realistic goals for your own development.

Read the rest of this entry »

According to, a cohort is:

  1. a group or company
  2. a companion or associate

I have had a few recent experiences that have got me thinking about the cohort learning model.

We recently ran a recruitment round for the Independent Researcher Scheme. The scheme, “offers a bespoke development programme for Researchers who are committed to developing their research careers and aspiring to be an independent researcher.”

We found it really hard to recruit a cohort, which made me ponder. Was it the marketing? Was it this visibility of the scheme? Likely. Was it something else as well? Undoubtedly. Read the rest of this entry »


I often get asked by new researchers, generally when starting to complete their training needs analysis, which skills do I think they need to spend time to develop. This question doesn’t have a straight forward answer as everyone is different, coming to research with a range of experiences, different preferences for the kinds of activities they would enjoy focussing on and often different career pathway intensions. So obviously there isn’t a standard answer to this question (hence the purpose of completing a training needs analysis) however, if I’m really pushed to pick just one, then the choice for me is communication of your research.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has just launched Bridging the skills gap in the biopharmaceutical industry; maintaining the UK’s leading position in life sciences, which is an update of its 2008 report on the skills sought by employers in the UK’s pharmaceutical industry.

One piece of good news from the report is that demand for people with a PhD has increased within the industry since 2008.

In particular, the report highlights a number of scientific/technical fields in which firms are having difficulty in recruiting suitably qualified people. Most of these involve the application of mathematical and computing skills (e.g. bioinformatics, health economics, health informatics, statistics). So, if you have expertise in one of these areas, now is a good time to look out for opportunities in the pharmaceutical sector

However, the report states that

~90% of respondents had found it difficult to recruit people with adequate communication and team-working skills.

In 2008 only about 70% of respondents had reported difficulties in relation to these skills. For researchers this underlines once again the importance of being able to identify the key transferable skills gained from carrying out research and being able to provide evidence of these in applications and at interview. Although this report focuses on the pharmaceutical industry, the same goes when applying to employers in any other industry.

If you haven’t yet started to think systematically about these things, two useful starting points could be VITAE’s publication The career-wise researcher and AgCAS’s University researchers and the job market. Both publications explain in depth what employers mean when they talk about particular skills and show how you can draw effectively on your experience as a researcher to provide evidence for these.

The full ABI report can be downloaded here.

You may have read a recent post by my colleague, Bryony, which introduced the Thirty30 Staff Development Festival at The University of Sheffield. Well, we’re now in November and the festival is well underway, with lots of activity taking place around campus (have you checked out the Lego Lunches and the Active Learning Sets?) and the hashtag #myThirty30 seemingly a major fixture on our twitter timeline.

One of the ideas behind Thirty30 is that “development is everywhere”. I was thinking about this in the build up to the festival as my role is to support Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Researchers with their professional development but, if I’m honest, I rarely take time to attend development events myself. I can feel a bit of a fraud advocating to others to take the time out to invest in themselves when I don’t really do that as much as I should. Read the rest of this entry »

Do researchers lack entrepreneurial spirit or are they the victims of system failures?

So when you think your research could make a difference and help improve people’s lives, what stops you from developing your idea into a reality? Is it: Read the rest of this entry »