Professional & personal career development – getting the balance right

Have you been on a career development course recently? Career development for PhD students and researchers is becoming more and more popular in universities, offering the chance to broaden skills and increase personal effectiveness. The Concordat, HR excellence award and the European Charter for Researchers have encouraged universities to acknowledge that, due to fierce competition for very few academic posts, the majority of researchers need to be well prepared for their future careers, whether within or outside of academia. They are offering courses, retreats and workshops for their students and research staff to help equip and up-skill them for their next career move. A strategic and mindful approach by a PhD student or researcher, cognisant of the behaviours and skills needed to succeed in particular careers, is more likely to yield results.

But, with limited time and resources, which development training should you choose? Basically, you have two main choices: professional and personal career development.
Professional career development
Dr Carmen Gervais (HFSP) tutoring
on a SEB funding workshop

Professional career development is associated with learning new skills and improving your expertise to enhance your effectiveness within your chosen career, or to help you transition to another. It is closely allied to those professional skills which employers specify on their job advertisements and may also be formalised with a qualification or certificate. The training examples below show how professional training might help you if you are looking to secure an academic career. These activities are offered by universities and other organisations to help you gain expertise in research techniques and associated academic activities. They can also help you transition to a research or technical post in industry or another science-related career.

Research funding: e.g., how to write a funding application, locating funding schemes
Writing and publishing: e.g., how to publish a paper, thesis writing, overview of the scientific publishing business, overcoming writer’s block
Research project management: e.g., managing your research project, supervising students
Technical workshops & summer schools: e.g., synthetic biology, mathematical modelling
Research methodologies & analysis: e.g., Nvivo, SPSS, bioinformatics tools
Associated training: e.g., Endnote, health & safety, LaTEX, Photoshop
Teaching techniques: e.g., e-learning, innovation in teaching, assessment and evaluation
Impact factors: e.g., how to deal with the media, science communication, making presentations, building effective collaborations
Personal career development
PhD students (Max Planck Institut) during a recent careers retreat
Personal career development is associated with self-development, and is not specifically targeted at enhancing career prospects and effectiveness (although in many cases it achieves this indirectly). There is usually no formal qualification associated with this type of development training, as it is primarily aimed at personal growth and raising self-awareness (although some personal career development provides practical advice and information to help transition into a new career, e.g., CV writing). If you want to identify and build on your strengths, if you need support to help you choose a new career path, or if you’re looking for ways to improve your personal effectiveness these types of activities will help you to achieve this.
Self-awareness: e.g., analysis of personality, values, skills, interests
Networking & communication: e.g., using social media, getting the most out of conferences
Career choice: e.g., alternative career talks, analysing the job market, making effective career decisions, volunteering, workshadowing
Career transition: e.g., making applications, writing an effective CV, successful interview technique, assessment centres, psychometric testing
Personal effectiveness: e.g., improving self-confidence, managing your time/workload, leadership, team building, entrepreneurship
So which activities should you choose to do? I recommend a combination of both types of career development, professional and personal. The balance will depend on your current situation, level of skills and expertise, as well as your career plans for the future.

Related content:
Career services and support
Education, policy and career meetings
NPA postdoctoral core competencies toolkit
Vitae RDF planner


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