There are so many useful skills you’ll develop while doing your research – from critical thinking and being able to evaluate your work and that of others, to time management skills. But the research world is rapidly changing, so what skills can you develop now to make you ready for the research future? In this post we guide you through some of the key skills for researchers today.
You can also listen to our 15-minute podcast produced in partnership with Vitae for more tips and insights.
Read the transcript here.
Research communication and public engagement
A key skill for researchers today is around public engagement and research communication (sometimes called ‘science communication’, depending on your discipline). This involves communicating your research in an engaging and understandable way to those outside of academia. Gabby Silberman, Director General of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, explains why it’s important:
“I think that decision makers and society in general needs to have access to what we do at a level that they can understand, so that they can connect the dots of why it’s important to support the scientific and the research enterprise.” (1.41 – 1.57)
A key tip for effective science communication is to make it two-way. As Professor Michael Matlosz, President of EuroScience, comments:
“Far too often in the past, science communication has not been communication, it’s been information: a one-way communication. And so, we need to find mechanisms for science communication that are two-way mechanisms where the scientific communities are not only explaining what they’re doing, but they’re also listening.” (1.57 – 2.17)
Hear insights on science communication in our podcast (1.20 – 5.11)
Research collaboration beyond academia
Another skill for researchers of the future is around effective collaboration. Think broadly when considering who to collaborate with during your research. Research collaboration often consists of academic partnerships between researchers or institutions. However, you might consider collaborating with other stakeholders outside of academia.
Is your research relevant to businesses, industry, government and policymakers, or NGOs? By exploring research collaboration opportunities outside of academia, your research could have an even greater impact on the world.
Working with businesses and industry
If you think your work is relevent to businesses and industry, then here are some ways you might approach building a collaboration:
- Include them as an external advisor on your research project
- Interview them as part of your research
- Explore how your research fits in with their product development
- Make them part of your doctoral advisory committee
- Engage with them via careers events
Listen to advice on working with businesses and industry in our podcast (11.02 – 11.58)
Working with government and policymakers
Margaux Kersschot, Policy Advisor at the Antwerp Doctoral School, shares advice on how to approach collaborating with governments and policymakers:
“Get organized into associations of researchers, or become a member of their national association […] Form a community and start monitoring policies at your institution, and what’s happening at a national level […] Become a member of Eurodoc which is monitoring policy at the European level.”
Hear tips from Margaux Kersschot on engaging with policymakers (11.58 – 12.57)
Use digital tools: insights from the Thesis Whisperer
Today there’s a multitude of digital tools and technologies out there that you can use as a researcher. We spoke to well-known academic blogger Inger Mewburn about some of the digital tools that she sees researchers embracing today, and how you can use these to navigate the current and future research landscape. Inger is Managing Editor of the Thesis Whisperer blog and Director of research training at ANU, Canberra.
Hear tips on using digital tools from the Thesis Whisperer (5.18 – 9.50)
“I’ve met a lot of people at the conference here that I have known on twitter for 10 years. […] It’s like picking up a conversation that you had with someone last week.” (6.14 – 6.24)
Social media can be used by researchers in several ways, such as:
- Networking and sharing ideas with your community
- Sharing your articles to help drive readership
- Finding out about the latest research and developments in your field
If you’re considering using Twitter as a researcher, then read our guide for tips.
“Blogging has become a really huge [and] popular way of disseminating research, […] talking to each other as a community, and sharing knowledge.” (5.56 – 6.05)
But make sure you think carefully before you dive into creating a blog; as Inger comments: “you have to have absolute processes and procedures in place [if you start a research blog]. It’s a lot of investment in time.” (8.30 – 8.49)
“If I was starting my PhD now, I would learn to program. Anything that teaches you the logic of programming, being able to make your own digital tools, even being able to make a spreadsheet do what you want.” (9.27- 9.40)
“YouTube’s huge […] YouTube your papers. […] We’re moving into the YouTube generation” (7.50 – 8.16)
So how can you approach this? Use a PowerPoint to talk over, make use of screen capture software, or have yourself recorded at a conference. Universities often have studios and will sometimes help you make videos too.
Using open research practices
“Digital skills will be useful, but also everything relating to open science […], open access.” – Margaux Kersschot, policy advisor at the Antwerp Doctoral School, Department of Research Affairs and Innovation (13.48 – 13.56)
There are many ways you can make your research more open, from publishing your research open access to sharing data associated with your research in a repository, or even simply sharing information more openly with your colleagues.
There’s an increasing movement towards open research practices such as these. Open research can help policymakers, educators, and practitioners access your research and put it into action. It can also support research validation, research transparency, reproducibility and replicability of results.
Further resources for skills development for researchers
- 15 minutes to develop your research career: check out the rest of the series which explores professional development for researchers. The series covers a range of useful skills for researchers, from getting published for the first time to making the most of conferences.
- Researcher Development Framework: The Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) is a professional development framework which articulates the knowledge, behaviours, and attributes of successful researchers. You can use it to identify your strengths and prioritize your development plan.
- The Thesis Whisperer blog has a wealth of useful advice whichever research skills you’re looking to develop, from general writing advice to presenting and publishing.