Professional development planning

Training needs analysis

A key part of your development as a researcher is to identify the development you require to enhance your skills. The first stage of this process is to audit your current skills and strengths and identify areas for development. This is often called ‘training needs analysis’ by employers, graduate schools etc. but the approach is useful for considering all development opportunities, not only formal training courses. Your university or employer may support this with a formal process, using forms and meetings with your supervisor or principal investigator. If not, it is something you can decide to do for yourself. Once you have completed this thinking you will be able to create a professional development plan detailing the training and development opportunities you need.

A Training Needs Analysis is an examination of the skills you need in order to complete a particular task against your current aptitudes. For example if you are giving a poster presentation at a conference you might break down the skills required in the following way:

Skills associated with giving a poster presentation

  • Discipline specific skills: completing the research and checking data
  • Communication, design and writing skills: organising the data in a clear and visually engaging way
  • Inter-personal and presentation skills: presenting the poster confidently to conference delegates
  • Networking skills: making the most of the opportunities presented at the conference

You would then compare these against the skills you have and the confidence you have in them. As a result of this you might decide that you need some training or further preparation to help you present effectively; after the presentation you might find it useful to record the skills that you have had an opportunity to demonstrate.


Many successful people follow a plan for their career; this can vary from a detailed plan to a broad direction. However, any plan should include clear and achievable targets with deadlines for completing different activities. It should also detail how you are going to access particular training and development. You could consider the training opportunities that exist in your lab, office or department, and that are available to you via your supervisor. Some opportunities will be formal courses, others might be hands-on sessions provided by other researchers or gaining experience through involvement in new areas of work. Your university or employer is likely to offer a number of organisation-wide training events that you can find out about. It is important to consider development opportunities available beyond academia through professional and disciplinary organisations, work and voluntary experience and independent training providers.

Remember: not all training has to be provided by practical courses or workshops. You might set yourself other tasks such as working through a short online course, undertaking some desk-based research, talking to qualified colleagues and setting your own targets and timetable.

The Vitae RDF Planner has been designed to make it easy for you to identify strengths and areas for development, and to plan and record your training and development.

New to professional development planning? Try our online course: PDP ROC.


You should see your development plan as a dynamic document that you continue to return to and amend throughout your career and as part of your wider personal and professional development. You can review your career, where you are and where you want to be, at many different points, for example to:

  • develop in your current role
  • prepare for promotion
  • find a new direction/job.

The key to managing your development is to review your training plan regularly (perhaps once every three months). You can then discuss your needs and progress when you meet with your main supervisor or research manager. You may want to talk about:

  • whether you have completed the training you identified
  • whether you have learnt what you hoped from your training
  • what development needs you still feel you have
  • the setting of priorities and deadlines for future development.

As you undertake your research you may also identify further training needs. Talk these issues over with your main supervisor, peers or other contacts. Get their advice on what opportunities will help you to respond to the challenges presented by your research and by your wider career aims.