“One of my favourite hobbies is to learn new skills”, a PhD student told me recently, during an individual careers interview. She was impressive: very proactive and positive about her career, with the clear aim of finding a role that would combine both her science and her interest in business. To this end, she’d been getting involved in lots of side-projects during her PhD, for example, working in teams and organising activities, done two short internships, and had taken some on-line courses related to business. Now, at the end of her PhD, she had positioned herself well to be able to transition out of the lab and into a commercial role; her CV demonstrated well her scientific expertise, relevant interpersonal skills and a commitment to business, evidenced by credentials she had acquired as a result of short on-line courses she had attended.
‘Micro-credentials’, ‘mini-qualifications’ and ‘nanodegrees’ are a new type of vocational training course designed to upskill a person so that they can demonstrate a level of knowledge or skill in a niche subject or capability. They’re not necessarily accredited and you don’t always get a certificate at the end of the course, however they are gaining traction across many areas of society, allowing people to upskill themselves in line with the requirements of their current job, or to break into a new career or role. According to the European Commission: “A micro-credential is a qualification , evidencing learning outcomes acquired through a short, transparently-assessed course or module. They may be completed on-site, online or in a blended format.” With increasing numbers of these short courses emerging onto the education market, and with a surge in on-line provision, the EU recently launched a public consultation on 20th April to seek a common definition for ‘micro-credentials’ to ensure quality and cross-border parity.
As a PhD or postdoctoral researcher, you can also benefit from these types of short courses to help enhance your PhD qualification and experiences. Your career aims will determine your choice of course, for example:
|Career aim||Relevant micro-credential courses *|
|Academic career|| EMBO Lab leadership course |
Grant writing – various courses offered on-line
|Science specialist|| Summer schools, e.g. Lab skills|
GOBLET – Bioinformatics training
Clinical Research Associate
|Enterprise/entrepreneurship|| Entrepreneurship (DKFZ) |
|Business/Management|| Summer schools (e.g. EIT Health) |
SoSMSE – scientists into business
University courses in Europe, e.g. UWE, Potsdam
*Note that I have no vested interest in any of these courses, which I have chosen at random to illustrate the subject of my blog.
You will most probably have heard of MOOCs (Massive Open On-line Courses). These are free on-line courses that cover a wide range of topics. For example, I searched for ‘Bioinformatics’ and came up with seven courses including, “Introduction to genomic data science”, “How to analyze a microbiome” and “Essentials of genomics and biomedical informatics”. Coursera is a well-known MOOC provider, partnering with universities and other organisations to offer courses such as “University teaching”, “3D data visualization for science communication” and “Clinical data science”.
So, whatever your career plans, in addition to engaging with extra-PhD activities that will enhance your employability, why not consider the opportunity to gain ‘micro-credentials’ to help professionalise these experiences, with the reward of being able to convince a prospective employer of your commitment to this new role.