Diversifying your skill set during your PhD

by | Aug 21, 2020 | Blogposts

To discuss the importance of diversifying your skillset during your PhD, we’re collaborating with Cher Farrugia from the University of Sheffield.

Cher is a PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health. Her work investigates the role of oral microorganisms in the initiation of cardiovascular disease.

Cher attended our ‘Communicating research beyond academia’ workshop following which we agreed to collaborate on this blog about diversifying your skill set during your PhD.

Cher has experience in developing her own rich PhD journey and we’re delighted to learn from her today.


Cher Farrugia PhD University of Sheffield


Divisory line


PhD perceptions and misconceptions


Diversifying your skill set during your PhD Lab work


We generally associate PhDs with long hours of lab work or data analysis. Yet, according to Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework (RDF), a theoretical and practical knowledge base are only a small part of a researcher’s development.

Several PhD programmes in the UK adopt this RDF approach, which aims to enhance development and build a workforce of world-class researchers.

Vitae's Researcher Development Framework (RDF)

Read more: About the Vitae Researcher Development Framework



Although the framework can be a bit intimidating at first glance, it’s a great starting point for a well-rounded development plan. In this blog, I go over three main ways I personally found extremely useful for widening and diversifying my skill set during my PhD.


How to diversify your skill set during your PhD


1. Seek out courses and development opportunities offered by your institution


Diversifying your skill set during your PhD Uni

Most UK universities offer a wide range of free courses, seminars or development programmes to their PhDs. Unfortunately, the opportunities can be scattered across various portals within the University’s website and therefore might not be so easy to spot. You learn about a lot of these opportunities during your induction week.

During my induction, I was introduced to two of the outreach opportunities I eventually participated in during my PhD, PubhD and PintofScience Sheffield. Both events provide unique opportunities for PhD students and young researchers to disseminate their research to the public in a unique setting.

Therefore, I suggest taking note of anything you think is interesting during induction sessions and also asking past students what they found useful.

Pint of Science Festival Sheffield

Certain faculties also offer seminars or courses to students from other departments. For example, the School of Clinical Dentistry (@ShefDentistry) used to organise weekly seminars including seminars with external invited speakers, which I have found very beneficial to learn about research outside my main area of interest.

It might also be useful to subscribe to PGR newsletters of other departments if possible. In fact, I came across Research Retold’s ‘Communicating research beyond academia’ online workshop through a newsletter sent to PGR students in our faculty, which eventually resulted in this collaboration.


2. Join scientific societies

Scientific societies are a great way to widen your professional network. Most societies also offer several Early Career grants and workshops for their members. These provide additional opportunities to meet other researchers in your area, learn a new skill and, in some cases, meet a potential collaborator.

In addition, several societies also offer grants for collaborative visits, which are a great opportunity to go to another lab and learn a new skill, or even grants for outreach projects to enhance research communication.

Cher Farrugia British Society of Dental and oral research conference 2019

I’m a member of the British Society of Periodontology and Implant Dentistry, the British Society of Oral and Dental Research (subdivision of the International Association of Dental Research) and Microbiology Society.

As a member of these societies, I have secured 2 research grants to supplement my PhD research, attended Continued Professional development sessions and participated in an outreach initiative through an online interview highlighting the role of the oral microbiome. As a result, I gained experience in writing grants and online blogs and increased my research’s impact.


3. Engage in student and ECR societies

Student-led societies or ECR branches of scientific societies are also a great way to broaden your skills. By participating in these societies, you work in teams and gain experience in event planning and budgeting.

At the School of Clinical Dentistry, we have a very active postgraduate student-led society, DSRS (Dental School Research Society). In my role as Secretary of DSRS, I organised outreach and social events, applied for society funding and made lifelong friends.

Dental School Research Society University of Sheffield

ECR branches of societies, in particular, are also a great way to meet leaders in your field and inform yourself of initiatives organised by societies.

Most societies offer chairing opportunities for ECR during their main conferences, as well as ECR focused symposia or workshops. For example, our research group attended a PGR symposium organised by the BSODR’s Microbiology and Immunology subdivision (OMIG), which was a great experience to meet other researchers in the field in a focused setting.



Diversifying your skill set during your PhD

We can all agree that a PhD can be stressful and to-do lists may sometimes seem never-ending. However, it’s also one of the few phases in life when you are exposed to a variety of exciting training opportunities in an environment where it’s safe to have a go at different areas of interest you previously weren’t exposed to.

Taking some time to further develop and diversify your skill set during your PhD will not only enhance your research skills but also widen your network and is likely to make you more attractive for a potential jump in the non-academic job market.


Many thanks to Cher Farrugia (@FarrugiaCher) for sharing how you can be diversifying your skill set during your PhD. Please comment below with your own insights.
If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy reading Vera’s academic writing tips to write longer and be productive or Gemma’s three reasons to undertake an internship whilst doing a PhD.

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