Dear Postgraduate Research Students
As noted in the UEA Code of Practice for Research Degrees, “the University is committed to the provision of skills and employability training for all research degree candidates, taking into account national standards including the Roberts ‘SET for Success’ report, the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and the expectations of Research Councils UK. All research degree candidates are expected to actively participate in the training programmes as specified by their Faculties, Graduate Schools or Institutes.”
I encourage you to take advantage of the training and development opportunities available to you as part of your postgraduate research.
Your primary focus, particularly in the early part of your research, will be on training and development opportunities which support your research. However, you should also be looking to develop broader, transferable skills; skills which will be vital for your future career and which will also help you in your research degree. In the words of Sir Gareth Roberts
“The product that the PhD [substitute ‘research degree’] student creates is not the thesis – vital though it is to their subject area through the creation of original knowledge; rather, the product of their study is the development of themselves." 
Employers look for applicants who stand out from the crowd. For some jobs, standing out from the crowd might be through a great record of research or experience with specific technical skills. However, most employers look for more than this. For jobs outside of academia, where your subject specific knowledge may not be the essential requirement for the post, they will almost certainly be looking for other skills, knowledge and attributes. Even within academia, where enterprise, engagement and impact are becoming more important, gaining skills and experience in these areas can help build an academic portfolio. This is your opportunity to broaden your knowledge and skills base to ensure that you are in the best position for whatever it is that you want to do when you finish your research degree.
Dr Sue Jickells
Postgraduate Skills Training Co-ordinator
Faculty of Science
Welcome to the Faculty of Science Graduate School, a valuable resource dedicated to help you
- Develop the skills which underpin high quality research.
- Develop the broader skills that every researcher needs to succeed.
- Prepare you for your future career.
We hope that you will make use of our Personal and Professional Development training programme as part of your overall development as a researcher and to prepare you for your future career.
The Faculty of Science Graduate School and the associated Personal and Professional Development (PPD) training programme was launched in 2009 in response to the requirements of the UK Research Councils for researcher training and development. These requirements emphasise the importance of development of researchers not only in their subject specific disciplines but also in terms of the broader context of research, together with developing generic, transferable skills and preparation for careers beyond the research degree. Academics and research staff from across the Faculty of Science are involved in the PPD training, together with staff from the wider UEA and Norwich Research Park. We also have contributors from external organisations who bring their expert knowledge to support you in your development.
The onus is on you to take full advantage of the opportunities available to you during your research degree and to develop your own personal training and development programme. Designing a programme suited to your needs will enable you to develop skills in a timely manner as you progress through your research and the writing of the thesis, and prepare for the next steps in your career. You should design this programme in discussion with your supervisory team.
What skills do I need?
The Vitae Researcher Development Statement and associated Researcher Development Framework (RDF) set out the skills, knowledge and attributes of successful researchers and is a good starting point to identify many of the skills that you need. We recognise that each individual starts their research degree programme with a unique set of skills and knowledge and that a one-size-fits all training policy is not appropriate. Hence the emphasis is on you to develop a training and development plan which suits your needs, whilst bearing in mind that UEA has an obligation to research funders to ensure that research degree candidates develop the knowledge and skills set out by funding bodies. Our PPD training programme is based on the requirements of research funders, particularly the UK Research Councils.
When thinking about training and development, start by considering the skills needed to get your research underway. Then consider where you are currently in terms of these skills: which skills need to be developed further and, of these, which are of highest priority at this particular point in your research journey. As you get established with your research, consider what broader research skills you should be developing to become a more rounded researcher, as set out in the Vitae Researcher Development Framework. You should also assess your strengths in terms of the broader, transferable skills that employers look for and plan to develop, or strengthen, these skills.
If you have already done some research as part of undergraduate or master’s study, you will probably find that this gives you a good start but that you will need to develop these skills further for your doctoral studies and develop new skills and knowledge. We ask that you reflect on your training and development needs at least annually but, ideally, you should be considering your development needs on an ongoing basis.
Your supervisory team are in a good position to advise you on the skills and knowledge needed for your research and your training plan should be developed in association with your supervisors.
Although your focus is likely to be on your research, do bear in mind that your research degree is a step on your career pathway. Look to develop skills during your research degree to put yourself in the strongest possible position for your chosen career. We encourage you not to leave it until you have finished your degree to think about your future career. If you are not certain what you wish to do after finishing your research degree, the Careers Service at UEA can offer advice on a range of careers, including careers outside academia. They also offer training courses as part of the PPD programme to help you to identify a range of possible careers and the skills that you will need and organise other events and opportunities to support you in thinking about, and preparing for, your future career. The Enterprise Team in CareerCentral offer training and advice to help you learn more about enterprise and, if you are interested, to support you in setting up your own business, including offering start-up funding.
We have put together a Skills Assessment form based on the Vitae RDF planner to help you assess your current skills and identify areas for skills development.
How much training do I need to do?
UEA has adopted a credit-based system for training and requires PhD students to complete a minimum of “30 credits” of training contributing to your personal and professional development. For MPhil students the requirement is a minimum of 20 credits and 10 credits for MSc by Research students. Personal and professional development can come from a wide variety of sources including:
- Training offered by Faculty Personal and Professional Development (PPD) programmes
- Other training courses at UEA or the wider Norwich Research Park
- Training courses in the UK or overseas
- Specified activities in which you participate within your school during the course of your research
- Learning by experience
For students who are members of Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPS), training will also be offered by your DTP, some of which may be mandatory. This training forms part of the UEA training and development requirement. The information provided here is in addition to information on training provided by your DTP.
It is important to recognise that training offered by Faculty Personal and Professional Development programmes is unlikely to provide all the training that you need to become a fully rounded researcher and to prepare you for all the possible careers that you might wish to pursue when you finish your research degree. Learning new skills and improving on skills that you already have will continue through life, and your time as a researcher is no different in this respect. We encourage you to take advantage of training courses offered elsewhere where this best suits your training needs.
Often, skills and knowledge taught in a classroom setting need to be practised in order for you to develop those skills or knowledge further and this will be true of many of the things that you learn in training courses. For example, you can learn the theory of how to make a good presentation but the proof of what you have learned lies in how well you put theory into practice. Hence we encourage you to participate in activities beyond classroom or online training to develop to your full potential.
A variety of training courses are available elsewhere at UEA and on the wider Norwich Research Park. This may include training courses which develop knowledge and skills in the topic area of your research or courses which develop the broader skills, knowledge and attributes that all researchers need or which may be important for your future career. CareerCentral at UEA offer training as part of the Faculty PPD programmes but also offer training and other opportunities directly, including 1-to-1 guidance appointments and mock interviews. As you progress through your research degree, you may wish to take advantage of the job vacancy pages of MyCareerCentral.
You should develop your training plan in conjunction with your supervisory team. The initial meeting with your team which takes place shortly after you register for your research degree is an ideal time to discuss your initial training needs. Interim and Annual Meetings with your supervisory team are also good opportunities because you will find that you need to develop different skills, knowledge and attributes as you progress as a researcher, including skills for your future career. Update your training needs analysis regularly and at least once a year. This will help ensure that you identify any gaps in your knowledge and skills and take proactive steps to address these. Carrying out a review of your skills development on an ongoing basis, at least annually, will help remind you of the skills that you should be thinking about developing and show your skills development.
Training offered by Faculty Personal and Professional Development programmes
The Faculty of Science offers a Personal and Professional Development (PPD) training programme designed to support your development as a researcher and to prepare you for employment after you finish your research degree programme. All training in the PPD programme links to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF). This framework “articulates the knowledge, behaviours and attitudes of researchers and encourages them to aspire to excellence through achieving higher levels of development.” (Vitae, 2010). Training in our Faculty of Science PPD programme is designed to help you develop the skills, knowledge and attributes described by the RDF.
The Faculties of Social Sciences (SSF), Medicine and Health Sciences (FMH) and Arts and Humanities (HUM) also offer PPD training programmes tailored to the specific needs of their PGRs. We encourage you to explore the training offered by other faculties because we recognise that research in the Faculty of Science spans a very broad remit and overlaps with research carried out in other Faculties. This is particularly true for the health sciences and the social sciences and some of you may find that training offered by other faculties is more appropriate for your particular research needs. This is also a great time in your career to expand your knowledge of other disciplines and we hope that, as researchers, you have natural curiosity to explore knowledge and gain skills beyond your immediate research area.
Training offered by the Faculty of Science Graduate School, and by other Faculties, is listed in the online PPD catalogue. The catalogue is searchable through a number of parameters. The descriptor for each course indicates the course content, the intended learning outcomes and indicates which skills in the RDF are addressed through the training. You can register online for training offered by any of the four Faculty PPD programmes. You register through eVision for most courses listed but, for some courses offered by UEA Careers or Enterprise, you may be directed to their registration portal.
We suggest that you read the description of training offered by Faculty programmes carefully to ensure that it will fit your needs, paying particular attention to any comments about cohorts for which the training is, or is not, suited. There can be significant difference in academic practice between the sciences and other disciplines. This is most notable between the arts and humanities and the sciences, particularly in terms of academic writing styles and how this translates to the thesis, but there are also differences in research methodology between disciplines. If in doubt, contact the PPD Training Co-ordinator in the Faculty concerned, or the session leader listed in the online catalogue, to see whether a particular course is appropriate for you.
If you have attended training in a Faculty programme, signed the attendance register, and completed any other requirements specified for that particular training, the training and associated PPD credit is normally updated on your PPD training record without you having to notify the PGR Service of your attendance. It is important that you sign the attendance register on the day of the training because it is the primary route for establishing that you participated. If you did not sign, and the session leader is unsure if you attended, you may be asked to write a reflective report on the training. It can take several days (even weeks) for session registers to be returned to the PGR Service. Hence we ask you to wait for at least one month between a training session and contacting the PGR Service if your training record has not been updated (to allow time for registers to be returned and for the PGR Team to update your record). It can cause significant difficulties if you query training taken in Year 1 at the point you submit your thesis. Hence if you think that there is a problem with your training record, we ask you to contact the PGR Service (email@example.com) as soon as you notice the issue.
Other training courses at UEA or the wider Norwich Research Park
Other training opportunities are often available at UEA or through the wider Norwich Research Park so look out for these. Science-related training courses which are open to PGRs are usually advertised through School Bulletins, by flyers pinned up on School noticeboards, emails circulated by the PGR Service or by the Skills Training Co-ordinator or may be drawn to your attention by a member of your supervisory team. This training may be advanced skills training or training to develop generic/transferable skills. All contribute to your Personal and Professional Development.
Enterprise and Engagement training and other opportunities offered by the Enterprise Team in the Career Service is advertised through Career Central, although some courses are also listed in the online PPD catalogue. Check the TV screens around campus for other training courses and opportunities.
You can also attend undergraduate or MSc modules which are relevant for your research. I recommend that you discuss with your supervisory team which modules may be relevant and whether you need to attend all lectures and practicals in a module. You will need to get permission from your supervisor to attend and to be registered by the Learning and Teaching hub. Contact the PGR Service (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let them know the module number and module title. Your supervisor will need to authorise your attendance on the module. The PGR Service will help organise module registration. When you have completed a module complete a Confirmation Only Claim form and submit to the PGR Service so that the training can be confirmed on your training record.
Activities such as the annual PGR Opportunities event, the Recruitment Opportunities Fair organised by the UEA Careers Service, talks from potential employers and similar activities offer great opportunities to think about possible careers and are considered important contributors to your personal and professional development.
If you attend training offered at UEA or the wider Norwich Research Park which does not form part of a Faculty PPD training programme, you will need to let the PGR Service know in order for this training to be added to your PPD training record.
Training courses elsewhere in the UK or overseas and online training courses
There will be opportunities during your research to participate in training offered elsewhere in the UK or overseas. This may be advanced research skills training closely linked to your research or the development of the broader knowledge or skills that all researchers should gain. If your research is funded by one of the UK Research Councils (BBSRC, NERC, ESRC), you can take advantage of the public engagement and media training courses that they offer for early career researchers.
Participating in training courses outside UEA offers the opportunity to meet other researchers and share experiences and to start developing friendships and collaborations which may benefit your current research or your future career. Funding for attending training courses is not available through the Science Graduate School but may be available from your Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) or the course provider. Your supervisory team may be able to offer advice about possible sources of funding. This may involve submitting a proposal. If you are asked to submit a proposal for funding, read the application procedure carefully and take advantage of your supervisory team’s expertise in applying for funding by asking for their feedback on your draft application.
We consider some online training courses to contribute to your personal and professional development. The general guidance that we apply in making decisions as to whether an online course contributes as part of PPD, and hence is eligible for credit, is whether the course is specifically recommended by the PGR Director for your School; whether it is offered by a reputable organisation; and that you can provide evidence of having completed the training. We have, in the past, recognised some of the courses offered by Coursera where there is a clear link between a student’s research and the online course. Please contact the PGR Training Co-ordinator if you require further advice on whether a particular online course is likely to be considered as part of your personal and professional development.
The previous comment about notifying the PGR Service also applies to training courses that you attend elsewhere in the UK or overseas and online training courses.
Although we recognise the importance of advanced skills training courses in terms of helping you develop skills and knowledge directly related to your research, we normally apply a limit to the PPD credit which can be gained through attending such courses. By advanced skills training, we are referring to courses offering training in a rather specific research area. Usually these types of courses include lectures on specific research topics and may include training designed to teach practical skills in specific research areas. Often these courses may be 1 to 2 weeks or more in duration. We want you to develop a broad range of knowledge and skills during your research degree. Hence we limit the amount of credit given for training which we consider relates very closely to a student’s specific research topic and this is the case for advanced skills training courses. However, if a course included a direct element of training which contributed to broader skills development, you can submit a reflective report giving details of the training (see SCI6RB4Y ‘Summer School attendance’). Examples would be if you made a presentation during the course, took part in activities specifically designed within the course to develop your team working skills, had special training sessions on publishing, developing CVs etc.
Specified activities in which you participate within your school during the course of your research
Whilst we do not give credit for the research that contributes to the production of your thesis, we do recognise that there are activities in which you will take part in as researcher that help you to develop skills which can be considered as generic and transferable. If you participate in these activities you can apply for them to be added to your PPD training record. Examples are listed below, together with the code which can be used to have the training added to your record:
Consultation with primary supervisor to plan the Probationary Review Report (SCI2RD3Y).
Presentation of a research paper to a seminar series or internal conference (SCI7RG3Y).
Publishing your research (Academic writing discussion with supervisor) (SCI4RA8Y).
Attending and participating in research group meetings/seminar series (SCI7RE8Y) (both of these activities can be claimed for separately).
Attending and participating in School Research Days (SCI7RJ6Y).
Supporting student learning and teaching (SCI7RN1/2/3Y).
Ship board safety training (SCI5RA4Y)
Check the online catalogue for details of how to have this recorded on your PPD record. Note that there are specifications relating to claiming PPD credit for some of these activities.
The above list is not exclusive. If you have participated in other activities within your School that you think may be eligible as part of your PPD training, contact the PGR Training Co-ordinator to see if the activity is eligible.
We limit how many times you can claim credit for participating in some activities, including those listed above. This is because we take the view that the learning which accrues from participating in a particular activity decreases as the activity is repeated.
Please bear in mind that we do not credit training directly connected to your research unless there is an obvious link to the development of skills which can be used beyond the research environment. We do not give credit for training to use most types of instrumentation or technical techniques because we consider this as a direct part of the research. We do consider credit where a student has become an expert in using certain instrumental techniques; with emphasis on techniques where you could gain employment because you are an expert. Techniques such as PCR, FT-IR, UV-vis, fluorescence spectrometry, HPLC and GC are not eligible.
Learning by experience
Learning by experience or experiential learning relates to activities which may or may not be related to your research and which contribute to your broader personal and professional development, helping you to develop or strengthen those vital, transferable skills which so many employers value. Emphasis is on learning by doing and on experiences which help you develop or further improve current generic or transferable skills.
We encourage you to look for, and make, opportunities involving experiential learning. Experiential learning opportunities which we view as an essential activity for every researcher include attending (SCI3RA4Y) and presenting at external meetings, conferences and symposia by poster (SCI3RA8Y) or talks/oral presentations (SCI3RA9Y). Many of you will participate in workshops associated with your research which will help to improve your communication skills, raise your research profile and help you develop networks with others and we consider that this contributes to your personal and professional development (SCI6RB3Y, Workshop Attendance).
What about getting involved in helping organise a meeting or conference, either at UEA or elsewhere? This can help raise your profile, help you develop organisational, communication and teamwork skills and, depending on the role that you take on, may help you develop other skills. Activities associated with organising a conference may include: assessing abstracts and selecting speakers; identifying speakers and contacting them to invite; judging posters; chairing sessions; dealing with registrations; being the event photographer, financial officer etc. Similarly, most Schools are keen for PGRs to help organise seminar series.
Many students are keen to enthuse the next generation of scientists and so get involved in Outreach and engagement activities. This may be through a member of the supervisory team; initiatives in Schools; training offered through the SCI PPD programme, personal contacts or UEA’s Outreach and Engagement programmes. Outreach might involve taking pre-prepared activities into Schools or developing your own outreach activity and taking it into schools or elsewhere. Checkout the PPD programmes for training associated with Outreach activities; ask in your School; check UEA’s Outreach and Engagement websites; look for emails circulating within your School; attend the annual PGR Opportunities Event organised by Career Central; checkout the Teacher Scientist Network and The SAW Trust (Science Art Writing Network). Opportunities to teach in Schools are also available through The Brilliant Club and through Kay Yeoman and her SCI PPD training ‘Taking your research into secondary schools’ (SCI4RD6Y). The Brilliant Club offers training if you are accepted onto their programme. Many Schools at UEA welcome the input of PGRs to Open Days so that they can speak to students interested in coming to study at UEA and their parents. These types of activities help develop/evidence your communication skills, creativity, confidence, organisational skills, time management and leadership.
Public Communication of science can be a powerful way to improve your communication skills, raise your academic profile and increase research motivation. Opportunities may come through your research group, through UEA-organised opportunities or through opportunities which you create. Examples of opportunities arising through research groups might include communication events with stakeholders in your research (e.g. employers, local or national organisations, the general public), School or UEA-organised science communication events (e.g. PGR Research Showcase, UEA in the City), ‘Present in the Pub’ (organised by the Union of UEA Students), ‘Pint of Science Festival’, science communication events sponsored by learned bodies (e.g. Royal Society Summer Exhibition). Other opportunities include online activities such as ‘I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here’ or ‘Naked Scientists’. Some students blog; this may be through personal websites that they have set up to communicate their research, through group websites such as SCISnack or Research Group sites (e.g. the Science, Society and Sustainability (3S) group). Writing a successful blog can help raise your academic profile and build networks beyond UEA. Similarly, some students communicate science through Twitter and Instagram. If you cannot find a group site in your research area, what about contacting other like-minded researchers and setting up a site? Some students have made videos and released online to communicate their research. Training in social media for academics is available through the SCI PPD programme (SCI3RD7Y). Some supervisors are active in the public communication of science and invite their PGRs to get involved. In 2016, some PGRs helped organise the ‘Pint of Science’ festival in Norwich and some PGRs presented at the event. ‘SET for Britain’ offers researchers the chance to present their research to Members of both Houses of the UK Parliament.
There are usually opportunities to get involved in supporting undergraduate or masters students in their learning. Most Schools look for demonstrators to help support academics with practicals, seminars, workshops, field courses and marking. Officially, you are employed as an Associate Tutor when you demonstrate and you will need to attend a training course for the role. Check in the online PPD catalogue to see which course is relevant for you (search under ‘demonstrator training’). It is not common in many Schools in SCI for PGRs to lead teaching but opportunities do arise or can be created by asking your supervisory team if there are any opportunities for you to take a more leading role in teaching. If you are considering a career in academia, take advantage of working as a demonstrator and other teaching opportunities. Demonstrating and leading teaching also helps with communication skills and confidence. In some Schools, it is common for PGRs to help with the supervision of undergraduate or master’s students undertaking their mandatory research projects. This can be a great opportunity to develop teaching and mentoring skills and will also improve your communication, time management skills and leadership skills, not to mention improving your understanding of the science underlying the research. Training to supervise is available through SCI1RB8Y ‘Supervising Project Students’.
Activities in which you participate outside of the research environment can also be powerful in terms of developing the skills and abilities that employers value. We do not give credit for participating in sports or for hobbies per se but, if you are involved in such activities in a way that involves developing broader transferable skills, we will consider this as part of PPD. Examples could include taking a substantial role in running a sports activity e.g. president, secretary, financial officer, coach, organising national events, membership or chair of a committee. If you have a leading role in a society, charity or other voluntary organisation, that may also be eligible. Examples might include being on a local or national committee, organising local or national fundraising campaigns, coaching the less advantaged. Other external activities in which students have participated and gained credit include tutoring/teaching outside UEA; Senior Tutor in a Hall of Residence at UEA; major role in village hall committee; mentoring the less abled through a gardening scheme; chair of local charitable organisation and interaction with the charity at national level; completing training to obtain football coaching badges and coaching youth team; giving a talk to their home town audience, including the local mayor; governor at child’s school. If you are taking part in an activity which you think may be eligible but are not certain, contact the PGR Skills Training Co-ordinator. In the reflective report required for your development to be recognised and added to your PPD training record, remember to provide sufficient details of the activity, your role and the skills that you have developed as a result, with emphasis on generic and transferable skills development. Be sure to mention any training that you had for the role and interactions with others, particularly in terms of legislative/regulatory authorities, national or international bodies and/or where you have had to negotiate to obtain desired outcomes.
And in conclusion…………..
There are thousands of students graduating each year with a PhD. You need to stand out from the crowd. Look for opportunities to build a strong CV during your research degree and take advantage of training and other development opportunities that help with this.
 Hinchcliffe, R., Bromley, T. and Hutchinson, S. (eds) 2007, Skills Training in Research Degree Programmes Politics and Practice. Open University Press McGraw-Hill Education, England. p. ix.