How can researchers start to connect their diverse experiences within and beyond their research with the wider world of work? Writing for our Inkpath Insights series, Emma Williams (https://ejwsolutions.com/) shares her thoughts on transferable skills
“Researchers don’t realise what skills they have” is a direct quote from a fellow researcher developer. We are an odd breed. We have often been researchers ourselves – for me it was a medical physics PhD and postdoc. We have transitioned into a research related role thereby demonstrating those mystical, elusive transferable skills. And now? We spend our days trying to get researchers to understand what highly literate, numerate, problem solving project planners they all are! In short, getting them to own those skills!
When do we need to articulate these skills? That’s right, at the pain point of applying for the next position, academic or otherwise. And it can be very painful. Faced with 14 pages of online application form asking for evidence of a multitude of skills, your average postdoc promptly books a visit to researcher development. “Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope”. Now as much as we like being Jedi masters, starting with a blank page is tough.
Early career researchers have 10 days’ protected ‘training’ time a year. But really this is development time – it doesn’t have to be on a course. Making a poster for a conference involves the ability to precis complex ideas into short paragraphs, graphic design, branding considerations (university regulations?), stakeholder awareness and probably some negotiation skills as you run to the printer with a short deadline. Being an early career researcher is training in the art of research but it is also a steep learning curve on many other skills.
The trouble is the 14-page application form is often as blank as our minds as we try to think of examples. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you had a record of examples which you had kept up to date throughout your research? I did once meet a postdoc who had done exactly that. He said filling in application forms became very easy as did tailoring his CV. The rest of the course participants looked on in envy.
So how do we avoid the pain point? We need to keep records – we forget our achievements so readily when the next research problem is always around the corner. So, can I suggest a quick exercise that can be done once a week over a cup of tea? Quickly list everything you did this week. Then for each play a game of “I can … because …”. A snapshot from PhD me would be saying “I can solder really well because I’ve had to modify this kit 5 times!”. Then record the skills that come up. The examples are already built in!
Dr Emma Williams has over 25 years’ HE experience as a physics researcher, in professional services and as a freelance consultant working with research-intensive universities. She loves working with early career researchers exploring the development paths that get them to their chosen career. She is a co-author of What Every Postdoc Needs to Know, the Nerd Coach and a coffee lover.
At Inkpath we are committed to widening access to opportunity, raising aspirations, and encouraging the development of students, researchers and staff with a breadth of skills and experience. It’s clear that building a training portfolio with Inkpath is valuable for a range of purposes, but also that this is just one part of a broader approach we can all challenge ourselves to take towards understanding and pursuing next steps that are right for us. At Inkpath, if we can make life a little easier, and support people’s efforts with the latest technology, then we will know we’ve helped make the world go round that little bit better!
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