UK career development services for individual researchers

If you are considering a move to the UK or have already taken up a position in a UK university or research institute as a doctoral candidate or member of research staff, you can expect to benefit from professional development support.

Your supervisor, research director or group leader will usually offer some support and they can help you to access relevant services.

Provision in each institution is different, but here are some of the services you will most often find:

  • Careers service/department/centre: All UK universities will have a careers service - usually centralised and with a dedicated physical space as well as an online presence. It will usually offer individual face-to-face advice, from help with considering your options to writing a CV to approaching potential employers. The service may also offer resources and events. Ask whether the careers service has one or more advisors dedicated to advising research staff or PhD candidates
  • Staff development/professional services: You can expect training and other development opportunities (e.g. events, schemes and networks) to be on offer but what is offered and how varies. There might be a centralised service (for the whole institution) or localised provision (e.g. for a single faculty or school). It might be located in a centre that you can visit or accessible only through the website. There are often resources such as advice and online courses based on the website or on a Virtual Learning Environment. It's very likely that some of the courses, events etc on offer will be tailored to researchers. Courses may be open to everyone or e.g. to staff or students only. Participation is usually optional but may be required in the case of inductions (e.g. health and safety or for new supervisors)
  • Graduate school, Centre for doctoral training, etc: There is no single or prevailing model in the UK for offering 'extra' support to doctoral candidates, i.e. extra to direct supervision of the research project. Many institutions (or faculties or schools in larger organisations) have a 'graduate school' which acts as a base for graduate students to access relevant information and/or opportunities. Small institutions might have a 'graduate tutor' or other designated contact point. Some doctoral candidates will be part of a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT - or similar title), which offers development opportunities to a specific group of researchers; the grouping can be intra- or inter-institutional and may be discipline specific. Whatever the structure, doctoral candidates are likely to be offered many development opportunities alongside standard research training. Courses etc are usually optional but some institutions or CDTs may require participation
  • Mentoring or coaching schemes: not all institutions will have formal schemes for researchers but if there is a scheme it might be operated by staff development, the careers services or run by a department or faculty. If there is no formal scheme to suit your need, you can ask for mentoring support from your line manager or supervisors or approach another academic working in your field
  • Enterprise/knowledge transfer schemes: In all but the smallest organisations there is likely to be one or more services, schemes, networks or contacts ready to help if you're interested in commercialising a research idea, developing your skills through consultancy opportunities in companies, or gaining the skills needed to start your own business. Schemes or opportunities may not be specific to researchers but those involved are likely to be accustomed to working with researchers. If it's not easy to see what's on offer or who can help, the careers service, graduate school or staff development function will probably be able to point you in the right direction
  • Work placement schemes: Some institutions run or participate in internship programmes or work placement schemes, which may or may not be tailored to researchers. Again, any such scheme may operate at any level within an organisation or between organisations but the careers service, graduate school or staff development will probably know of any. If there is no scheme but you feel that a work placement could be the development opportunity you need, you may be able to organise your own through your line manager, group leader or supervisors
  • Other support: Networks, associations and other groups may provide support for your professional development, either by enabling you to share ideas, supporting training or events, or by helping you to access wider opportunities. Groups exist internationally, nationally or within your discipline or institution. For example you might benefit from joining a network for women working in STEM or a local group for researchers from your country of origin.

Based at a smaller research institute?

If you are a PhD candidate you are likely to have access to development services and opportunities either through a graduate school or Centre for Doctoral Training, your funding body, the university where you are registered (as a higher degree student) or possibly through an industrial partner. If you are a member of research staff, services, schemes or networks such as mentoring, enterprise clubs and training courses might be available but a small institute is unlikely to have a formal careers advisory service. Some research institutes have arrangements with local universities allowing you to use their facilities. If you have previously studied or worked at a UK university it may be that you can access their careers advisory service even after you have left. There is also a UK national careers service (online resources and free advice available by telephone).

Funding bodies

It's worth finding out whether the body that funds your research (or that funds your institute or department) offers development training and opportunities since some have opportunities open only to the researchers they fund.

The EURAXESS UK funding scheme database lists sources of support for researchers coming into or going out of the UK. It includes career development opportunities such as travel to conferences, support for meeting organisation and research collaborations, visits to other countries etc. in addition to funding for long-term fellowships.