Identifying training needs
Now that one recognises that students come without a variety of experiences, how to communicate, how to write, how to put in an ethics application, how to ?, how to ? These are basic skills that many students don’t have. It’s always been the case, only now it’s being recognised, so one has to teach these basic skills to bring everyone up to a certain level. Beyond that, as I said earlier, there are few topics that don’t require – well, let’s put it the other way around: there are few topics that are so simple that they just require one set of skills.
This quote from an experienced Oxford supervisor highlights doctoral students' frequent need for support to acquire a broad range of skills that underpin their doctoral study and enable them to develop as a researcher (see Skills Development). The University of Oxford expects supervisors to assist their students in identifying learning and skills training needs and sources, including development of broader personal and professional skills, as outlined in the Policy and Guidance on Research Degrees and in divisional Codes of Practice for supervision (there are links to these on the New supervisors page).
Research students at Oxford are supported in identifying and fulfilling their training needs through a range of tools and resources.
- The National Researcher Development Statement lists a range of skills which postgraduate research students should expect to develop during their programmes of study and research. Supervisors should encourage and help their students to plan, record and reflect on their skills development. The broad domains of the RDS are:
A. Knowledge and intellectual abilities (Knowledge base; Cognitive abilities; Creativity)
B. Personal effectiveness (Personal qualities; Self-management; Professional and career development)
C. Research governance and organisation (Professional conduct; Research management; Finance, funding and resources)
D. Engagement, influence and impact (Working with others; Communication and dissemination; Engagement and impact)
- In the UK, personal development planning (PDP) for research students is now an expectation of the Quality Assurance Agency, as outlined in their Code of Practice on Postgraduate Research Programmes. PDP is seen as helping to facilitate and document development of associated skills, as required in the Researcher Development Statement (above).
- The Central University Research Ethics Committee (CUREC) oversees University of Oxford policy, guidance, and application forms for ethical review of research involving human participants and, thus, sets out the standards and behaviours which researchers need to adopt. Further guidance and training (including discussions, podcasts of events and lectures, and self-study courses) in ethical issues are provided by the Research Skills Toolkit. See also Integrity and ethical practice in the conduct of research.
- Good management of research data is key to the responsible conduct of research and the University provides insights and resources into how to manage data throughout a research project via its Research Data Management web pages, which also include a useful diagram indicating the elements to include in a research data management plan. Links to internally and externally provided training (including online training) on managing your data are provided on the Training and tools page.
- Health and Safety training is provided for both students and supervisors by the University Safety Office. Supervisors may also wish to refer to the University’s Safety in Fieldwork policy and the statement on Supervisors’ Responsibilities. Particular attention should be paid to the need for students who plan to undertake fieldwork, whether in the UK or overseas and including work in ‘urban’ environments, to receive appropriate training.
- Other training offered to doctoral students is organised through the divisions. The development of teaching skills should not be overlooked, especially if a student is interested in an academic career. Divisional and Departmental Teaching Registers are now widely established to aid access to teaching opportunities and the links below also offer information on arrangements for teaching preparation programmes:
Humanities Training and Support
Medical Sciences Skills Training
Social Sciences Doctoral Training
Ideas and tools
I can remember I went to a conference here, and one of my supervisors said, “Oh, was it useful?” and I sort of said, “Oh yes,” and he said, “Who did you meet that you can work with in the future?” and I thought, "oh, I don’t know...!" There were lots of lovely people, but I wasn’t thinking about, you know, creating a network I suppose, which is obviously part of what you’ve got to do.
This student, though quite advanced in his doctoral journey, is only now coming to recognize the importance of networking in developing relationships that may be helpful intellectually and also in exploring career prospects. Situations such as this might be avoided if a written statement of students' specific training requirements were drawn up early on (see Getting started), and reviewed at least annually.
In undertaking this joint task, deciding what to record should include:
- Future career prospects and what would be useful for constructing a CV
- Not just developing skills, but how the skills development can be demonstrated
Tools which can be used to identify gaps and then track the development of skills include the following:
- Medical Sciences - Record of Achievement forms (96kb)
- Humanities - Personal and Professional Development Framework for Humanities Researchers
- Social Sciences - In Social Sciences, supervisors are expected to engage in an annual skills review cycle with all students. A Training Needs Analysis (TNA) Framework is used to carry out this review, enabling all students to consider where they are with the skills listed and where they ought to be, and to receive guidance on how to fill any gaps. Students are expected to carry out a self-evaluation before the skills review meeting with their supervisor; following the meeting the outcomes are recorded in the Graduate Student System (GSS) as a plan of action. Subsequent termly review meetings re-visit the action plan, agree on a progress report and adapt the plan should changes be needed. Each department has created its own Training Needs Form which lists the skills which are seen as being essential in the specific subject areas covered. See the Politics & International Relations TNA form (150kb) as an example.
Some supervisors and students may want to use the opportunity of submitting the termly report through GSS as a self-assessment report on progress for the student which could lead to a reconsideration of training needs with the supervisor. (Online quick guides enable students to familiarise themselves with using GSS.)
Supervisors and students may also use the RDF Professional Development Planner. This tool, developed from the Vitae Researcher Development Statement, sets out phased targets for the achievement of particular skills, enabling researchers to create a training plan and track their progress.
|Case Study: Brad|
The DPhil - what is it preparation for?
|Brad: The big problem is that many supervisors in the sciences want their students and postdocs chained to the bench. They won’t let them go to things like teaching preparation. Many supervisors are very anxious if they feel that people aren’t generating results from morning to night. This is really the issue … whether they would let them go to these courses and sometimes they won’t let them.|
Questions to consider about this case study
Why do you think some supervisors, regardless of discipline, might feel this way?
What do you think we are preparing students for?
What range of training/ experience do you want students to have?
To what extent are you aware of your student’s hopes for the future?
How do the answers to these questions influence your interactions with your student?
For more strategies and resources see Ideas and tools on the Careers - academic or otherwise? page.
Insights from research and literature
Different universities and supervisors have developed ways in which they assist research candidates to identify the knowledge, skills and experience they bring to their research programme and where they might need to develop additional skills and knowledge. Recognising what they bring with them is important for all students, and it is particularly critical for many of our mature age students, who may have been in the workforce for many years, brought up their families, etc.
However, the development and implementation of skills at the doctoral level is not as simple as it might seem. One issue is that, despite substantial work on the development of skills, it is common for students at the end of their research programme to find it very difficult to identify the generic skills that they have developed, even though they can define the content knowledge and technical skills they have gained. Consequently, they are unable to define and promote them adequately to potential employers and to the broader community.
Any analysis of students' training needs should take into account the broader personal and professional skills required for their future career, as well as their immediate research skills requirements. As increasing numbers of research students are being employed outside of academia, their research training is expected to address these broader future employment needs. A survey of UK employers reported by the QAA emphasised the importance of the following generic skills:
- flexibility, adaptability and the capacity to cope with and manage change
- self motivation and drive
- analytical ability and decision-making
- communication and interpersonal skills
- teamworking ability and skills
- organisation, planning and prioritisation abilities
- ability to innovate
- leadership ability
Even within academic employment, there are concerns about the narrowness of research training as preparation for academic careers. For example,
...there is... cause for concern that UK PhD study and postdoctoral work is not particularly good training for would-be academic staff, because of its near-exclusive focus on research and the lack of preparation for other academic roles including teaching... (HM Treasury, 2000: para 4.49).
The above text is based on:
Crotty, R. (2004). The implementation of research degree qualities: A university-wide approach. In M. Kiley & G. Mullins (Eds.), Quality in postgraduate research: Re-imagining research education (pp. 18-21). Canberra: CELTS.
HM Treasury (2002). SET for Success. (The Roberts Report).
Kiley, M., McCormack, C., Maher, B., & Cripps, A. (2004).Learning plans for higher degree by research students at the University of Canberra. In M. Kiley & G. Mullins (Eds.), Quality in Postgraduate Research: Re-imagining research education. Canberra: CELTS.
Manathunga, C. (2004). Developing research students' graduate attributes. In M. Kiley & G. Mullins (Eds.), Quality in postgraduate research: Re-imagining research education (pp. 22-31). Canberra: CELTS.
Metcalfe, J. (2004). Re-imagining outcomes for research education: A national cross-disciplinary focus on students. In M. Kiley & G. Mullins (Eds.), Quality in postgraduate research: Re-imagining research education (pp. 3-8). Canberra: CELTS.
Park, C. (2007) Redefining the Doctorate, HEA Discussion Paper.
QAA, Getting the job you deserve, progress files for students. This is now an archived document. See Personal Development Planning.
Acknowledgements: original content prepared by Gerlese Akerlind and Margaret Kiley, CEDAM, ANU. Updated by Lynn McAlpine, Oxford Learning Institute, May 2011.