Developing researchers in order to develop research

Researcher Development is an approach to developing the personal and professional competencies (skills, knowledge, attributes, behaviours) – and thus the careers – of researchers. The researcher development agenda is informed by viewing the researcher as a professional and understanding: 

  • the competencies that researchers develop during their research, 
  • the competencies  they may need to develop by other means, 
  • and those competencies  that researchers have but may not be equipped to articulate. 

In the UK, Europe and, increasingly, globally many universities and higher education institutions base their professional development programmes on the Vitae RDF.

At the same time, Researcher Development is about more than just skills training. As described in what does the professionalisation of researchers mean, researcher development works on a number of levels, both bottom up and top down.

On the one hand, researcher development is about developing the competencies of individual researchers through development opportunities and activities. On the other hand, researcher development affects attitudes and is therefore is a key driver in establishing and developing institutional research culture, both from the top and the grassroots of the institution, as well as inclusion and institutional strategy and policies, which in turn affect the international standing of an institution.

The impact of researcher development on research culture is demonstrated in the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, commonly known as the Researcher Development Concordat.  This is an agreement between all stakeholders to improve the employment and support for researchers and researcher careers in higher education in the UK. The Concordat has recently been refreshed and now sets out three clear Principles of environment and culture, employment and professional career development.  The Principles are underpinned by obligations for the four identified key stakeholder groups funders, institutions, researchers and managers of researchers to realise the aims of the Concordat.

The RDF and researcher development in the CIRCLE Programme

The CIRCLE programme aimed to enhance researcher development capacity through actions at both of strategic and individual levels.


  • Strategy – The RDF provides a framework when developing your strategy.  What do you want your researchers to have and have you the policies in place to support this?  What skills and competencies do your institution’s researchers possess?
  • Recruitment – Consider the RDF when developing your job descriptions and person specifications.  What skills and competencies would the right candidate have?
  • Inclusion – The RDF allows a framework to consider whether development opportunities are inclusive.


Champions in institutions were introduced to the RDF and training workshops were held to enhance their understanding of the framework and how to use it.  Initially this was for individuals to demonstrate how could use it for their personal development by mapping their own skills and competencies and identifying areas they wanted to develop.

They were then introduced to other ways that you could use the RDF, that were in alignment with the principles of the Concordat.

  • Induction – When planning your induction consider which skills and competencies you want researchers to focus on and map training to this.
  • Appraisal – The RDF provides a framework for appraisal.  How do researchers view themselves?  How do you assess their progress?  It can help set targets for development.
  • Training needs – Do you provide support in these areas that maps to researcher training needs?  What do your researchers want?  What skills and competencies is your training going to address?
  • Take control of own development – Giving researchers an introduction to the RDF allows them to consider and take control of their own development.