There is no such thing as a researcher who ‘knows it all.’ Experienced members of research staff will be the first to tell you that the job is a continuous learning curve. After all, research is about the discovery of new knowledge.
It is common to feel intimidated at the start of a research project. You might have to spend a lot of time in the library or on the internet before you can even begin any new work. There may be new experimental techniques to learn, instruments to master, theoretical frameworks and novel methodology to become familiar with.
A good project supervisor or line manager will stay in close contact with you at the beginning, to make sure you are not overwhelmed. Your university will also have measures in place to monitor your professional development, and to make sure that you receive all the training you need to do your job well. But the real key to success as a researcher is to take charge of your own professional skills development.
This section of the website is designed to help you find resources to develop the skills you need. Your colleagues and your line manager will also be able to help.
Researchers in all disciplines need to develop skills in project management , teamwork, managing others, giving presentations and writing research papers. Most universities run training programmes for research staff which will cover these areas. Make use of these; they are great opportunities to network with researchers from other departments as well as to improve your skills. Experienced research staff can often benefit from ‘refresher’ training in these areas too.
Another crucial skill you will need as a researcher is that of self-evaluation. This is the process of reviewing your actions and how effective they are.
You probably use self-evaluation on a day-to-day basis without realising it. Every time you review the success or failure of an experiment or a literature search, this is an aspect of self-evaluation. But you can apply it strategically too, as you think about the progress of your research project, your skills and the development of your career. The Kolb learning cycle summarises the process of self-evaluation as follows:
1. ACT – take a particular action.
2. REFLECT – how successful was the action? Whether it was successful or not, what did you learn from the action?
3. PLAN – in the light of your reflections, what will you do next? Are there improvements you could make? Is there a new direction you should follow? Is there any new knowledge or training you will need to help you overcome a particular hurdle?
4. IMPLEMENT THE NEW PLAN.
If you get into the habit of self-evaluation early on in your research career, you will find it pays dividends – both for your project, and for your own development.