Top tips for postgraduate research students

Whether you’re thinking about an academic career or going into industry, there are some key employability skills that all employers will be looking for. So, what can you do to enhance the skills gained during your research to make you stand out?

Take advantage of training and development

There are lots of courses available at Bristol for postgraduate research students (PGRs) to enhance their skills, from planning your time to learning to collaborate. The Bristol Doctoral College has collated all of these in one handy Personal and Professional Development catalogue (PDF). There is also Lyndaan online learning platform providing tutorial videos that cover a wide range of skills.

Use your research skills to get ahead of the competition

Whether you’re applying for a job in a large company, a new start-up or an academic department, research the organisation and build up your commercial awareness to find out what’s important to them and what they want from employees. Find out about recent successes, who their competitors are, and about changes in the industry. Websites such as Glassdoor will help you find out what to expect at interview.

Take part in activities beyond your thesis

Embrace opportunities to get involved in activities outside of your research, this will develop your skills but also give you some important downtime. Use Vitae's Research Development Framework to identify the skills, knowledge and attributes, that you should be developing as a researcher. You may devote some of this downtime time to career planning; Vitae's extensive careers pages have case studies, planning tools and advice for researchers to help with this. 

Do an internship or work placement

An internship/placement or volunteering is a fantastic way to enhance your experience, to sample different working environments, broaden you skills and build your network. You can do an internship part-time alongside your research, or in some situations you can pause your research. Find out more by reading our work experience and internships page. Vitae have useful information on work experience during your research.

Find a niche

Finding a way to standout that incorporates your research is a great way to be remembered in job interviews. Do you write a blog which receives a lot of traffic? Do you enjoy public engagement and translating your research to a lay audience? Do you excel in collaboration? Or perhaps you feel confident working in interdisciplinary teams. Finding your unique selling point will help you tell a story about what type of researcher you are and why you stand out.

Learn the right vocabulary

You may be familiar with what a PhD involves but some employers won’t be. Get experience using a vocabulary that explains what research is and what you do as a PGR. For example ‘running experiments’ can mean project management, problem solving, or meeting deadlines.

Networking and your professional network

Conferences, research collaborations, departmental committees, writing retreats, funding sandpits and field trips all require academics to meet new people and make connections - this is a big part of a successful academic career. Vitae have advice on how to build your professional network. Networking doesn’t have to be face-to-face; sites such as LinkedIn, Adacdemia.edu, and Piirus are good places to connect with like-minded academics and share publications and ideas for new research grants. If you are networking face-to-face, get some business cards printed, including a link to your updated blog or academic profile.

Thinking ahead to after your studies

For information about options after your studies, take a look at our guides to careers in academia and alternative careers with a PhD. The University of Manchester also hosts a guide to An Academic Career, which is rich with information to consider before deciding on whether to pursue a career in academic research.