Researcher Development is something we are very passionate about here at the PGR blog – the fact that it’s called Researcher Development Blog may have given it away – so today I would like to share some advice on getting your development on within the college of MVLS!
In a way, our whole PhD is one big researcher development process. Whether we are doing lab experiments, field work, animal studies, paper and grant writing: we are constantly doing and learning new things. However, as we progress through our careers, we will also be confronted with various tasks that require a wider range of skills: the so-called “transferable skills”. The government has set out detailed criteria describing the types of skills PhD graduates are expected to have or develop. These were outlined in the Roberts’ Report and include things like research management, personal effectiveness, communication, networking, and team working skills. In addition, a study conducted at Dutch universities showed that a lack of such soft skills is a major cause for delay during and dropout from PG research, and can also cause poor work-life balance. They concluded that learning key soft skills can improve time management, reduce stress, and enable PGRs to be more effective and better prepared for their work: benefits that extend beyond the completion of their PhD.
The University of Glasgow is totally on board with this, which is why you are required to gather 20 development credits during your time as a PGR. I think there are some misconceptions about this rule, which I would like to clarify. Some of my peers have told me that they almost see it as a punishment, and sometimes go to courses just to tick the box and get a credit. If this is you, please do not waste your time on stuff you don’t think you will learn from! There are so many opportunities for useful training that it’s really not necessary to follow courses you don’t actually like. These credits are in place to give you legitimate time off from your research to spend on yourself and your personal and professional development. Even if your boss prefers you to work 24/7 – they will have to let you go on courses, simply because it is a requirement of your PhD to gather these credits. And getting to 20 is really not that difficult, because it is not just courses that will earn you credits. More tips & tricks on that later.
As always, your first stop to find information is the webpage for current MVLS students where you can download the Research Training Programme booklet. All training opportunities fit in one of the domains of the Vitae framework:
The Vitae framework
You are expected to attend courses that fit into each of the four domains; of course, you will be best equipped to decide what areas you require the most training in. Once you find courses you like, you can book your place using MyCampus, which Cia Jackson recently wrote a how-to guide for. Make sure to keep track of the courses you are attending, as you will have to complete your Researcher Development Log as part of the annual review process. You can check how many credits you have so far in the Course Attendance Database by logging in with your GUID and clicking ‘Transcript’. Please note that course credits will not always be allocated to you automatically, sometimes you have to apply for them by e-mailing the Graduate School, who will then add it to your transcript.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can also do a lot of training that will benefit your future career. For example, I have obtained my licence for animal experiments, a management accreditation, as well as certificates that allow me to work with compressed gas cylinders and radioactive materials. For those of you doing clinically oriented research, the Glasgow Clinical Research Facility offers the opportunity to obtain your Good Clinical Practice accreditation. If you are looking for a career in science communication or public engagement you will also find lots of specific courses, and those wanting to go into publishing may benefit from the many courses about writing and literature appraisal. Additionally, there are specific IT oriented courses, as well as a lot of workshops on business and industry. These will be great to demonstrate experience once you are applying for jobs.
There are loads of opportunities to obtain accredited certificates and qualifications during your PGR.
The Research Training Programme booklet also details “external training opportunities”. These include presenting a paper in journal club or a poster at a conference, being involved with teaching, acting as a postgraduate representative, public engagement activities, and many more. You can get up to 30% of your credits from such external activities, and to apply for them you just have to fill in the External Credit Application Form and return it to the Graduate School.
To make matters even better, there is even some funding available for you to go on courses, workshops, and trainings organised outside of the UofG. To be considered for this, you will have to fill in the Application for Skills Training Form and describe your event and outline in which Vitae domains the training opportunity falls. You also have to demonstrate how you will benefit from this particular activity and justify the amount of money you are applying for. Next, your Postgraduate Convenor (check who this is for your institute on the website) has to confirm that they endorse your application, after which you send the form to the Graduate School. Applications are considered in cycles, so try to apply as much in advance as possible to ensure you have the funding decision before the registration deadline of your training closes. Last year, a colleague and I received £1,600 to organise a workshop on transferable skills during our student retreat, which I have written about before, so I can definitely personally recommend applying to this fund!
I hope I have convinced you that the skills credit programme can be great fun if you make it work for you, and provided an oversight of forms and procedures to get the best out of your time at UofG within the college of MVLS. Do you have any other suggestions, or did you attend some courses you found particularly useful? Get in touch via the comments or Twitter @UofG_PGRblog!