Pecha Kucha Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

One size does not fit all: Tailoring educational programs for professional development in biomedical PhD research cohorts (#333)

Caroline M Owen 1 , Keely M Bumsted O'Brien 2 3 , Stephanie Conos 2 3
  1. Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  2. Department of Medical Biology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  3. Scientific Education Office, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Biomedical PhD education is challenged with meeting research training requirements to ensure students are equipped to contribute to new scientific knowledge, while also providing opportunities to develop more generic and transferable skills for broader career trajectories. Formalized coursework and career developmental activities are regarded as important but typically are not requisite within the research-training program, and as such are often are marginalised. Universities can provide generic skills development, but these workshops are not always appropriately tailored for Biomedical PhD students working off site at independent medical research institutes. 

We surveyed students at two institutions, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, concerning their understanding of generic and research skills requirements. This information formed the basis of a workshop entitled ‘Unpacking your research skills’. Resulting discussions made it apparent that students need help to recognise their existing skills and to identify areas for development. Particularly evident was their inability to recognise the skills they already have or are developing, and how these relate to general career skills.

To address these gaps and complement training programs already available, we developed a series of workshops focussed on 1) Career development, 2) Communication and 3) Leadership and management, each being tailored to a specific phase of the PhD.

Overall, students actively engaged with these workshops, as supported by formal evaluations and sustained attendance.  Our goal of tailoring the program to support and encourage our students to enhance both their research and generic skills development at various phases of their degree has been successful. By complementing established conventional training for Biomedical PhD students, our program is enhancing the preparation of students for an increasingly competitive job-market while broadening their career options.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

In an increasingly competitive research world, biomedical PhD graduates are forced to expand their career trajectories into non-academic and non-research positions that require a broader repertoire of skills. In supporting  this change, an  issue in developing and running postgraduate research training programs is the degree to which additional studies – either formalized coursework, or other personal or career developmental activities – can be used to facilitate postgraduate research skill development. A challenge for Biomedical PhD education is to meet the immediate scientific research requirements to allow the student to make a contribution to new knowledge, while also providing opportunities for students to develop more generic and transferable skills for broader career trajectories.

The research education programs at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research are rising to the challenge of providing greater opportunities for students to strengthen their generic or professional skills. In addition we also are strengthening the opportunities for our research students will develop a higher degree of independence and leadership during their candidature. We are therefore committed to developing world-class researchers with key transferrable skills that can be translated into leadership practices giving rise to responsive and adaptive professionals.