Why it matters to invest in yourself: Becoming a rounded researcher

While you may want to keep your head down and eyes focused on your research, blogger Ellie King talks about the benefits of becoming a rounded researcher, and some top tips on where to start.

What’s the output of a PhD? Technically, the only requirement to pass is the submission of your thesis and the completion of your viva. That’s roughly eighty thousand words on your research, and a two hour opportunity to defend it. Nothing else on the path to Doctor land.

Well, yes. But also, no. I like to think that my PhD output is not that piece of writing about my research, but who I am as a researcher too. It seems strange to think about, but you are the product of your PhD. Yes, you found out things, made discoveries, contributed to knowledge, but you also developed your outlook, your skills, your personality. Maybe it’s time to think a little bit more consciously about becoming a rounded researcher.

I’m a big advocate of spending the time developing yourself as part of your research. I believe it makes you a better researcher – more organised, more proactive, more confident – but will also greatly help you once your PhD is done, regardless of what you want to go into.

If it’s academia, funding bodies often consider the engagement and outreach impact of research, so it’s worth developing skills like working with young people or communicating your research to non-specialist audiences. If it’s outside of academia, then these skills are crucial for any form of career success. No matter how good your research was, if you’re not good at working in a team, building stakeholder relationships, or project management, then you’re highly unlikely to get hired.

The good news is, whilst you’re at Warwick you’re in a great position to do something about it. There are almost endless courses provided within the University to help you develop, and the best news is that they’re almost always free. If you’re unsure where to start, here’s some of the best places to head to.

Skills Forge

All PGR students have access to SkillsForge, Warwick’s online hub for Researcher Development. Here, not only can you book courses from providers across the university through one system, but there is also a handy way to track your progress. The Activity Log allows you to track everything you’ve done, either at Warwick or beyond, and categorises activities into Research Focussed, Transferable Skills, and Conferencing and Networking. Over the year, you can see what areas you’re developing in and what you may need more work on. It’s super handy.

Postgraduate Certificate in Transferable Skills in Science

Sadly, this is only available for researchers in the Science Faculty, but it’s great to do if you get the opportunity. Covering all three years of your PhD, it focuses both on skills needed to be an effective researcher and skills to support future career development. It’s accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Society of Biology, and the Institute of Physics, and you can check it out here.

Warwick IT Training

We all know the Warwick IT Help Desk, but few people know the sheer amount of courses they run. For pretty much every piece of software Warwick offers its students, there is a course or two on how to use it. When I started my PhD, the IT Training team were a life saver in teaching me how to use SPSS and NVivo. These may be necessary for your research, but if not, you might find it’s a great opportunity to expand your skillset by learning how to use Excel really well, or delving into the world of coding. You never know when you may need it in a future job application.

Warwick Careers

If you’re unsure about what skills are best for you to develop, or what you want to do with the skills you have, then there’s no better people to talk to than Warwick Careers Service. There’s a load of resources on their website, plus an opportunity to book appointments with careers advisors who can answer more of your specific questions. They can help you find work experience, internships, and full time employment.

Take Some Time Out

Whilst all this is really helpful for your future, it’s also important to remember that you are still a student and you still get to do student things. I would recommend getting involved (even if it’s just a little) with the student experience: join a sports team, go to an art club, do the weekly pub quiz. Taking time off and doing things you enjoy, just because, is just as important as developing your skills. It’ll broaden your experiences and help you with gaining general life experience. And, it’ll help you chill out, rest, and stop thinking about your work 24/7. So keep this stuff in mind as you’re navigating research. All researchers put effort into their work, but it might be time to put effort into yourself as well. Invest the time and energy into shaping and growing as a person. You need your thesis to pass, but you need you to succeed.

What skills have you developed since you started your PhD? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

by Ellie

Ellie King is a Second Year PhD student in Warwick Manufacturing Group. She has been at Warwick since 2014 in the History department, and has recently moved faculties to research applying user experience to the museum sector. Ellie is partnered with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here, or follow her on Twitter @ellietheking

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