Cambridge University Skills Portal


Cambridge University Skills Portal

Why Transferable Skills?

students on a bridge

During your postgraduate research one of your main aims will be to further your knowledge and expertise in your chosen field. However, while you are carrying out your research, you’ll also be involved in various tasks that help you to develop a wider range of skills that will be useful to you as you progress through your career to more senior positions. Many of these skills will be useful to you whether you choose to stay in academia or pursue a career outside of research.

What are they?

participants at a Local Gradschool

Think about some tasks which occur on a typical working day. You might have presented your research in a Graduate seminar, which helps to hone your communication skills. Perhaps you worked on an application for a travel grant, giving you some experience of acquiring funding for your research experience. Or maybe you persuaded your supervisor to allow you to attend a conference, thus employing negotiation skills.

Transferable skills can also be developed outside of an academic setting. Think about some of the activities you get involved with in your spare time. Has playing football helped to develop your team mentality? Are you helping to organise social events within your College, Department, or the University?

Why develop your skills?

Think about the kinds of responsibilities that people in more senior positions have, both in an academic environment and non-academic roles. Tasks such as managing staff, obtaining funding or budget approval, developing relationships with outside contacts – these all require certain levels of so-called ‘transferable’ skills like communication, organisation, negotiation, etc. When you are planning to make your next career move, not only will you have to convince potential employers that you have these transferable skills, you will also have to employ these skills on a daily basis in order to succeed in your chosen career.

For some careers, especially if you are thinking of moving out of the academic environment where your work is less likely to be well-known, transferable skills can become even more important to the success of your application. PhD students are increasingly valued by many different employers for their intellectual capacity, logical and analytical thinking and problem solving abilities, but in addition to your hard knowledge, employers also expect you to demonstrate many of the following:

  • Teamworking
  • Motivation, enthusiasm and drive
  • Interpersonal and communication skills
  • Commercial awareness

Transferable Skills – the Research Councils’ view

The government has set out detailed criteria describing the types of skills PhD graduates are expected to have or develop. These were outlined in the Roberts' Report and the Research Councils' Joint Skills Statement:

Summary of the core skill areas research students are expected to develop by the end of their studies:

  • Self-awareness and the ability to identify your own training needs
  • Research skills and techniques
  • Research management (organisational skills, time and project management)
  • Personal effectiveness (flexibility, open-mindedness, self-discipline)
  • Communication skills (verbal and written)
  • Networking and teamworking skills
  • Career management

What’s expected from you?

The Research Councils have stated that postgraduates should spend around 10 days per year developing their skills. Development can take many forms. For example, you could participate in a skills workshop, you could present at a conference or symposium, or you could take part in an activity outside of the University that hones your skills, such as volunteering.

students on a bridge

While it is essential that you take responsibility for your own skill development, the University, your School and your Department will do all they can to support your training and developmental needs.

You are also recommended to keep a skills development log, enabling you to keep a record of all the activities (whether they be skills training courses, presenting a paper at a conference, taking part in an outreach programme at a local school etc.) which have helped you to develop your transferable skills.

Your Department and/or Supervisor can advise you further about the use of such personal development logs.

Photographs from the Cambridge Local GradSchool 2009 used by kind permission of Andrew Bottomley