In the first in our Inkpath Insights series, Chris Corr, Inkpath Client Success Manager, talks to experts in their field about the importance of maintaining a skills portfolio and reflecting on what you have learned.
Are you just starting out on your PhD, or are you deep in the middle of your research? Are you responsible for supervising and developing future academic talent? Right now you might feel that you don’t have as much time as you would like to keep a record of your training and development or to analyse the development of your students, especially when you’re busy getting your project organised or preparing the next paper or article for publication. Inkpath makes this record keeping and the analysis a breeze, but why should you bother? In this article we speak with Jen Reynolds (Professional Development Manager at Vitae), Dr Rochelle Rowe-Wiseman (Academic Development Lead, Organisational Development, University College London)and Dr Steve Joy (Head of Researcher Development, University of Cambridge).
We’ve all been there: you’ve spotted a great opportunity that looks like the perfect next step to take, and now you have to try to make the case that you’re the perfect person for the role, whatever that might be. So you probably have an application form to complete and then an interview to attend, both of which are usually painfully-short opportunities to shine. Putting your professional profile in the best light can be tricky if you only have a patchy record of what you’ve been up to, especially when being asked for specific examples of how you’ve put learning and skills into practice.
Jen Reynolds has worked with a wide range of students, researchers and other professionals, and is no stranger to this:
Scrabbling around for examples, particularly if the application has a short deadline, can be stressful and time-consuming. If you have a bank of evidence already created, you can review this in advance of any interview you undertake and then in the interview itself the examples will come to mind much more freely.”
And it’s important to do this on-the-go, rather than waiting to do a huge annual update:
“Creating the evidence examples and recording them at the time you undertake development means you are much more likely to remember what you have done and the impact it has had. Thinking about and recording the evidence gives you the chance to hone the examples, meaning they will also be a lot more robust when you need to use them. Recording the evidence in one place, preferably a searchable platform, means it’s much easier to find examples related to the skills you need to demonstrate, as and when you need them.“
So a training portfolio helps to make taking that next employment step easier. It also helps you when you’ve started that job or programme and you need to tell people about all the great things you’ve been doing. As Jen goes on to say:
“It’s much easier and more time effective to make applications for jobs or promotions if you already have to hand a bank of evidence that demonstrates your skills.”
“Within your appraisal or professional development review, it’s easier to demonstrate what you have done each year and put a case forward for what you need to develop if you have a record of what you’ve done in the past and the impact it has had on your work. This will provide a much stronger case for any new development needs. As well as recording your evidence, an action plan is useful to help to demonstrate this too, so that you can see what you have achieved each year.“
And keeping that record doesn’t just have to be about fulfilling requirements for probation, an appraisal, or other type of annual review:
“Having a record of your skills also means it’s easier to audit your skill set, which makes it easier to see what you should work on next, what you need to prioritise. This can also help with job applications if you have a desired job in mind as you will be able to see where the gaps are in your skill set for that desired job and you can then work on those skills first.“
But what about when the next step isn’t so clear? Aside from the practical aspects, what does it mean for your own development to engage in this practice? Rochelle Rowe-Wiseman makes clear the importance of reflective practices:
“Drawing back from everyday academic practice to record the skills you are using in those everyday activities, research, teaching, admin, project management, leadership, writing, supervision, collaboration, public engagement and so on, is a really helpful reflective habit to get into for career development. It allows you to capture and identify those skills, reflect on what you are doing, develop your own personal skills map, as it were, and then figure out where the gaps are and what you need to do next to get to where you want to go. It’s only when you stop and examine the whole picture, that you gain this richer perspective of your achievements, skills and attributes.”
When we spoke with Steve Joy he noted that our reflective practice should be applied when we put our training portfolio to use, too:
Reflective practice is a core professional skill, whatever profession your research leads you into. For example, many professional bodies make this a condition of retaining chartered status. What we find useful, what resonates with us, what makes us want to reflect further – all of this necessarily changes over time, so it’s valuable to be prompted to remember what we’ve done.
However, we also have to sound a note of caution – researchers shouldn’t be naïve about the purpose of having a record. I strongly disagree with the idea that a transcript of one’s training is important for job applications if, by that, we mean a list of workshops attended which can be transcribed into the applicant’s CV. Most employers are completely uninterested in, and unimpressed by, lists of workshops, because they miss the point. The record is incredibly useful when it is actually used to make the person think: what did I learn? What have I done differently since? What has been the result?
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!
Our thanks again to Jen, Rochelle and Steve for their insights.
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