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Skills audit and needs analysis

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A skills audit is a systematic assessment of a student's research skills and knowledge. An audit should provide evidence of existing or developing competence. It is closely associated with needs analysis: identifying any needs for training or personal development. Skills audit and needs analysis are two sides of a coin: what the student has, and what the student needs.

An initial skills audit and needs analysis is a reflective process and should be conducted in the first three months of full-time studies, and the first six months of part-time studies. The skills audit and needs analysis should be updated regularly. The initial development plan should focus on skills required to pass probation. Summaries of skills development must be included in 6-monthly progress reports to the university.

Resources for skills analysis and development planning

All students will be asked to complete a Skills audit soon after induction. This will form the basis of your Development plan, which you should agree with your supervisors at an early meeting. Your progress towards your training goals will be formally assessed twice a year through the Progress Report system. There are several ways you can structure skills audits and development plans:

  • PGR Manager contains a skills audit tool. Once in your record, look for the 'Development plan' block which contains elements of Analysis, Training plan and Log.
  • The Graduate School has a skills audit template (based on RDF sub-domains)
  • Some October 2017 starters filled out an online skills audit based on a framework using ESRC standards; if they wish to continue mapping their development using this framework we have produced a skills audit template for Oct 17 starters.
  • Some Faculties and Schools may have their own arrangements for skills auditing and development planning. For example, in some STEM subjects, students use a Postgraduate development logbook; another STEM school uses this sample skills audit spreadsheet. Ask your supervisors if you are unsure which approach to use.
  • The Open University’s subscription to Vitae also includes access to the RDF Planner, a tool that you may find useful when planning your skills development.

Individual students and supervisors agree exactly how to conduct the analysis. Some will take an incremental approach, focussing on selected skills or groups of skills at different times, and deferring others until later in the programme; others may begin with a comprehensive initial audit; different disciplines will interpret priorities within their own contexts; and so on. However, all must document the analysis and the resultant development plan. And all students must maintain a Progress File, which accumulates records and evidence of each of the elements of skills development. The RDF Planner makes this easy for you. This allows you to keep and update a record of your progress and supporting evidence that you can print out whenever you need it.

The point is to demonstrate that you are developing the skills needed to conduct independent research, and making progress towards your wider training goals, in a way that relates directly to external expectations about doctoral training (as specified in the Vitae Researcher Development Framework – RDF).

Variations in the process

There are many ways to go about the skills audit. Auditing can be formal or informal, comprehensive or incremental, student- or supervisor-directed, strictly individual or linked to a group development programme, and so on. In our Affiliated Research Centres (ARCs) it is often linked into how each Centre works. The initial skills audit (due at the end of month 3 for full-time students and month 6 for part-time students) can range from a comprehensive review of generic research skills, to an in-depth review of a very small number of crucial skills, such as critical reading, academic writing, and debate. Auditing should be repeated regularly as part of skills development over the course of your PhD studies, and all students should have completed a comprehensive audit (one way or another) by the time they submit their thesis.

Individual students and supervisors are welcome to agree exactly how to conduct the analysis: what the timeline should be (taking into account that you'll need to develop your plan in good time to make progress during probation), what the priorities are, and how you should document it. The Vitae Researcher Development Framework Planning Tool is available to all students to support the entire skills audit process and there is further guidance on how to complete a skills audit on the Research Skills site.

Whatever form the audit takes, you must document the analysis and the resultant development plan. Such documentation should be incorporated into your Progress File.