5 must-have skills for researchers of the future

The world of academic research is changing rapidly and so are the skills required by researchers.

While skills for writing a research paper are undoubtedly still vital, upcoming researchers need to be thinking about digital skills, societal impact, communication skills, and more.

Our 15-minute podcast for researchers, produced in partnership with Vitae, explores these topics and offers up some expert insight. Listen to it below and read on for some of the key highlights.

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Read the 4 skills for researchers of the future podcast transcript.

1. Research communication

A key theme from the podcast is the importance of being able to communicate your research in a variety of ways. We need to increase our skill in communicating what we do and how we do it to the general population,” explains Gabby Silberman, Director General at the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology in Barcelona, Spain. “I think decision makers, and society in general, need to have access to what we do at a level that they can understand.”  

 “Far too often in the past science communication has not been communication, it’s been information – a one-way communication,” agrees Michael Matlosz, President of EuroScience. “We need to find mechanisms where scientific communities are not only explaining what they’re doing, but they’re also listening to what others think about what they’re doing.”  

Our interviewees agreed that this isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do – especially when most researchers already have a large workload on their plates. However, for the public and policymakers to continue to back research endeavors, researchers will need to involve them more in the workings of the research process, not just inform them of the outcomes.  

But how do you hone those all-important communication skills? The links below will help: 

2. Collaborate beyond academia

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Collaborating with business, industry, policymakers, and NGOs is increasingly important for researchers looking to ensure their research translates into real-world impact. But how can you start making those connections? 

 “Have a look at your research project – and consider if there’s a way you can include collaborations with business or industry?” advises Margaux Kersschot, Policy Advisor at the Doctoral School, University of Antwerp. “It can be in any type of way – just by contacting them for information, interviewing them, looking at product development.  It could also be, for example, by including them in your doctoral advisory committee, if you have one. Or just having them as an external advisor for the project.” 

With university researchers under increasing pressure to demonstrate the impact of their work, and politicians requiring evidence to inform their policies and convince the public they’re making the best decisions, it’s clear that research matters to policymaking, and policymaking influences research. 

However, despite its importance, engaging with policymakers is not straightforward and there isn’t one clear route for doing it. Take a look at our tips for how you could approach it. 

3. Digital research skills

Digital tools are, of course, not just for communication. Great computer skills are increasingly important in academic research, no matter which discipline you’re in.  

“If I was starting my PhD now, I would learn to program,” agrees Inger Mewburn. “The logic of programming is a really valuable thing to know how to do and I think just to have that skill would be amazing. It would allow you to work so much faster.” 

The good news is that programming can be learned at any stage and at any age. And don’t be fooled into thinking it’s purely a STEM pursuit. To process the amount of data available offline as well as online, humanities researchers will benefit from having decent programming skills too. 

4. Open research

There’s an increasing movement toward open research practices, from publishing your research open access to sharing data associated with your research in a repository. So it’s vital to understand the many ways you can use open research practices.“Digital skills will definitely be useful, but also everything related to open science, open access,” says Margaux Kersschot.  

Publishing your research open access is a good first step. This will make your published academic articles freely and permanently available online. Anyone, anywhere can read and build upon them. You can read our guide to understand more about how this works.  

In addition to published articles, open research in a broader sense can allow others to see the workings of your research and use or build upon data and ideas. For example, the F1000Research platform gives you the opportunity to share a wide range of different outputs of your work, including documents, posters, slide decks, data notes, and study protocols. 

Sharing your research in an open way can help policymakers, educators, and practitioners access your research and put it into action. And it can also support research validation, research transparency, reproducibility, and replicability of results. Find out more about choosing open

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5. Delivering research impact

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Linked to many of the skills above, particularly communication and collaboration, is research impact.   

Impact is about looking at the effects a piece of research has had. And there are many ways your research could have an impact depending on the nature of the work, from cultural or societal impact to environmental impact, and much more.  

Research impact is an important topic in the research world. Funders, institutions, and researchers themselves are all interested in assessing the quality and impact of research. Plus, demonstrating the impact of research can help you develop your career as a researcher, whether that be increasing your academic profile, or providing evidence of impact when applying for grants or positions that will allow you to take the next step in your career.

Our guide on research impact will help you better understand impact and the skills you’ll need to build to deliver it. And you can also download our Research Impact eBook

Where to next?

If you’ve found these tips helpful make sure you listen in full to our podcast episode, which has ideas on everything from using YouTube to promote your papers to translation skills to different career paths. 

And for even more helpful tips, you can look at

  • Our podcast series for researchers – 15 minutes to develop your research career (which includes the episode mentioned in this post)

  • The Thesis Whisperer – a blog that contains a wealth of useful advice, whichever research skills you’re looking to develop, from general writing tips to presenting and publishing.

  • Our Insights newsletter – the latest news, tips, and resources delivered straight to your inbox.

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