Researchers need soft skills training to succeed

Relaxed confident smart student presenting his study work in front of whiteboard, defending his thesis. Doctoral thesis defense on faculty.

To address a lack of essential, transferable, ‘soft skills’ training, Deakin University (DU) and Macquarie University (MU) are developing a series of seminars for Early-to-Mid-Career Researchers (EMCRs) working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This joint initiative is funded by the Australian Academy of Science via the Theo Murphy (Australia) Fund with in-kind support from both universities.

Seminar topics include leadership, communication, networking, project and finance management, career development, and time and stress management. The topics were selected based on results from surveys and focus groups with EMCRs at DU and MU.

They’re also a response to a 2012 OECD report highlighting the importance of such transferable skills for researchers as they embark on increasingly diverse careers.

‘These soft skills are essential for a successful research career, whether in academia, industry or government, yet are often overlooked in the professional development of EMCRs,’ said Professor Aaron Russell, Pro-Vic Chancellor, Researcher Development and Integrity at DU. ‘Our aim is to enhance the career prospects of EMCRs and improve their research outcomes and real-world impact.

‘The traditional research career path is changing, for the better. These seminars will help EMCRs to diversify their thinking, expand their skillset, and extend their networks beyond academia to find new collaborators in industry, the non-profit sector and government.

‘We want to build their capacity and confidence to conduct high-quality research to benefit the wider community, in Australia and internationally.’

Dr Michalis Hadjikakou is a Research Fellow in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at DU, and one of the EMCRs driving the project. ‘The pilot seminars will be developed during 2018, by a team of EMCRs from DU and MU, with advice from in-house and external experts,’ said Dr Hadjikakou.

‘We’ve selected a development team diverse in gender, cultural background, career stage and discipline, to ensure the seminars address the diversity of EMCR experiences. Although these seminars are primarily aimed at STEM researchers, we anticipate they will also be useful to researchers in the humanities and social sciences.’

In 2019, the training will be delivered face-to-face at several campuses of DU and MU. The seminars will also stream live online.

‘We were delighted to be invited by Deakin to join this project,’ said Emily Brennan, Research Project Coordinator at MU. ‘Given the mobile nature of research careers, particularly in the early- and mid-career stages, it’s exciting to be working together on an approach to researcher professional development that reaches beyond the boundaries of individual institutions.’

‘DU and MU have a history of collaborating to define and implement Best Practice in training our EMCRs,’ said Professor Russell. ‘We want to reach out to EMCRs in other research organisations too.

‘We’ll collect feedback from pilot participants and refine the content further before recording the seminars to create an online training resource for EMCRs across Australia, which we’ll continue to expand and update.’