Planning Your Skills Development
In the same way that you plan your research project, in order to gain the most from your skills development you need to be actively involved in an ongoing cycle of self evaluation, reflection, target setting and action planning.
Identify Personal Strengths and Weaknesses
The first step in any planning process is to establish where you are now, before deciding where you want to be later, and how you are going to get there. The easiest way to find out ‘where you are now’ is to conduct a ‘review’ or self evaluation of your skills. To assist you with this task Vitae have produced an interactive tool using Microsoft Excel based on the RDF. The RDF encourages you to identify your strengths and prioritise your professional development. It enables you to consider the skills and experiences that will enhance your career prospects and to articulate your knowledge, behaviours and attributes to a range of employers and professional bodies.
The RDF provides a way for you to assess your strengths and areas for further development to ensure you progress in your career. It provides a universal language for communicating your capabilities. This can be very valuable in planning your career, preparing for developmental meetings with your supervisor or updating your CV.
You can download a copy of this ‘Professional Development Planner’ here. It will take you through each of the four domains, 12 sub-domains and the descriptors which describe the knowledge, behaviour and attributes of successful researchers outlined in the RDF.
By being more aware of your skills and having a plan for future development you will be able to make more informed choices at key points during your career.
Using the RDF Planner
Once you have downloaded the spreadsheet to your personal space and opened it up in Microsoft 2007 or 2010, you will see a security warning box in the top left hand corner. You must click on the ‘options’ button, and select ‘enable this content’ in order to make the spreadsheet work.
The next step is to choose which of the domains you are interested in for personal development, for example, click on ‘Domain A’. This will show the sub-domains and individual descriptors within that domain. Tick the boxes to select which of the descriptors you are interested in for self assessment, for example, how you can develop your ability to identify opportunities for research, so you would tick the boxes that say ‘research methods practical application’, ‘critical thinking’, ‘problem solving’, ‘intellectual insight’, and ‘innovation’. This will give you the developmental phases for the descriptors that you tick. There are between three and five phases for each descriptor in the RDF.
Read the phases for each descriptor and see which relates best to your current capability – highlight them and click ‘record’. Then highlight the phases which best describe where you want to be in the near future and click ‘target’.
Now enter the evidence you have to support your current phase. Try to be a s specific as possible, for example don’t just put ‘I am familiar with a wide range of methods’ instead put ‘ I have a good working knowledge of X methodology, including use of A, B and C (examples of methods) in Y (situation in which you used the methods).
Repeat the process for all the descriptors that you selected. Repeat for each domain, then when you have finished click the ‘report’ button.
Planning your Skills Training
Once you have completed this exercise, you should have begun to formulate some idea of what you have achieved already, your strengths, areas for improvement and need for training. Having clicked the ‘report’ button you will be prompted to develop an action plan about how you will achieve your target phase for development. Remember this can be done in several stages.
At this stage you need to seek clarification from your supervisor about what individual elements of this review mean within your discipline, and to add those skills which are specific to your research project. Your supervisor should be able to confirm your assessment of yourself if you choose to share it) and more importantly to tell you at what level of competence you should be in relation to your current stage of research. You can enter into the relevant fields in the RDF tool information about how you might develop in this area, for example it could be a training course, advice from your supervisor, PI or mentor, or develop on your own. Consider your first steps in development as well as your ultimate goal.
You might want to think about how SMART (Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) the objective is and clearly define each step along the way, how you are going to review and measure your progress, when you are going to take action by and what you will do in the next week, next month, next quarter or longer term.
After completing your Professional Development report you will probably have identified a number of skills that you would like to develop over the coming months. It is useful to discuss with your supervisor how your research is progressing and what particular areas of development and training might be needed. Here are some points to consider when prioritising your development objectives:
- you should give priority to any aspects of your research that you are struggling with and concentrate on getting these right first.
- give some consideration to developing the key/transferable skills that could, for example, improve your personal effectiveness or enhance your future employability prospects.
- you might find that you simply need to maintain a current standard in a particular area. For example, you might feel you need to give regular presentations in order to maintain your confidence at public speaking.
Remember to look ahead in all areas of your work, for example, if you are due to be using a new research technique later on in the year, you need to have been trained before this point.
Once you have decided on your development needs, ensure that you do not have more objectives than can be accommodated in your research plan for the coming months. As a general rule, if you have more than 8 objectives, then you need to prioritise and cut some out, perhaps for focus at a later date. You don’t have to try to develop in all areas of the RDF at once. Some phases may only be reached through experience and practice, however good self awareness and professional development planning will aid the process.
You are encouraged to involve your supervisor in this process and to include development needs in your research plan. Remember that your final list of objectives should be SMART.
To book a place of any workshops you have identified, click here.
In order for the skills development process to be effective, you need to REFLECT on what you have learned, PLAN for your progression, and RECORD your development.
10 Tips for using the RDF for your skills development
You might choose to use the RDF for short term as well as long term development. The RDF can be used in planning for your long term career ambitions but also to make a feasible short term plan. It can be useful to imagine your long term ambitions in order to focus your career path, however the reality of progressing through to the higher phases may be more difficult to plan. In the short term, making decisions about how to progress to the next phase or what sub-domains are most important for you will be easier. Try to be realistic when setting these short term goals.
Use the RDF to highlight your strengths and areas for development and how these might be used to benefit/influence your personal, professional and career development
Use the RDF to highlight your applicable and transferable skills. This is important for career progression within or outside academia
Prioritise those areas which are most relevant. You don’t have to try to develop in all the areas of the RDF at once. There may be some sub-domains/descriptors where there is less relevance in progressing through the phases for you
Draw also on experiences outside of work to evidence your capabilities.
Progression to the highest phase in a descriptor will not be applicable to everyone but being aware of the possibilities can aid personal and career development
Talk to others to get their views about your strengths and capabilities. Your supervisor, manager, peers, family and friends are a great source of information to find out more about yourself. Talk to them about how they perceive your capabilities. By understanding how others view you, you will be able to make more informed choices about your future
To move from one phase to the next why not explore attending courses. These courses may be run at a local level (within Cardiff University) or may only be run nationally or internationally so awareness of opportunities for training is important.
Some phases may only be reached through experience and practice however good self-awareness and professional development planning will aid the process
Networking is likely to enable you to reach more experienced phases. You might want to try networking with local, national and international colleagues and collaborators. Try to make the most of opportunities at conferences and workshops, gain experience sitting on committees and maintain contacts within and beyond academia to enhance your reputation.