I am a researcher — do I need non-technical skills training?
Issued: 20 Mar 2018

Researcher Development and Training (ReDTrain) Manager, Marisa Parker from the University of Southern Queensland explores the importance of professional development and non-technical skills training.

Researcher Development and Training (ReDTrain) Manager, Marisa Parker from the University of Southern Queensland explores the importance of professional development and non-technical skills training.

Why would a research student need to undertake professional development (PD) or non-technical skills training?

Surely time should be spent on completing a degree and focusing on their research?

But, such single-mindedness can lead to isolation. McFarlane in a Times Higher Education article agrees that academia normally attracts introverts seeking a scholarly environment.

But the world has changed. An OECD report endorses formal training in non-technical/transferable skills for both research students and researchers.

Academics and those in-training need to work in teams, be visible, share knowledge effectively and even present their findings online in real time.

These are expectations set internally by senior management or high-ranking institutions and externally by funding organisations. Verbal, digital and negotiation skills are key areas that may have to be learnt or enhanced to foster and improve research and employability.

Universities are now providing academic staff and research students with training and academic opportunities e.g. the University of Southern Queensland has re-badged its professional development initiatives as the People Capability Framework, and also runs the researcher development and training (ReDTrain) initiative, and the University of Queensland recently launched the Career Development Framework for Researchers.

This trend is not new, and is also in place overseas — the European Commission’s — Researchers in Motion and the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Academic Development .

The reality is that topic expertise is no longer sufficient for employability. Digital platforms have broken barriers for accessing knowledge and well-educated discussion.

Individual strengths and weaknesses need to be honestly identified with the former being promoted and the latter addressed through learning and professional development.

Researchers have a responsibility to themselves, their research students and to the institution, to be the best that they can be. Potentially, they could be undermining their own careers and that of their students.

Common challenges for all staff whether professional or academic are time management, negotiating skills, stress management, being strategic and working within teams.

It’s become a very competitive world for researchers and research students. If a positive approach to PD is not being encouraged in your discipline area then a change to the mental model is urgently needed.

Without honing non-technical skills, academics and their research students will struggle to compete and stay relevant in this evolving environment.

Thanks to Marisa Parker for her blog giving our Queensland researchers some career food for thought.

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