Research skills for the future

Earlier this week, I joined Jisc and a handful of other interested parties in a Twitter chat on the theme of research skills. This was part of the co-design consultation which identifies six challenges that Jisc could help to tackle. The overarching question for the Q&A was: Which skills do people need to prepare for research practice now and in the future?

Over the hour we were presented with nine questions to prompt discussion. Here’s a summary of the themes that arose to accompany my Storify of some of the individual responses.

Essential skills and access to training

We kicked off with a pretty straightforward question, to give some context to the chat: what skills are essential for career researchers to have under their belts? The theme of the responses was clear – communication. Whether relating to the practical process of sharing research, open access publishing, research data management etc, or the ability to communicate that research to diverse audiences using appropriate technology. There were also some mentions of interpersonal skills like negotiation and team-work, as well as those enabling the practical elements of the research process such as data creation and computational skills.

Question two was a follow-up: why would researchers seek to learn these skills? All the responses focused on the creation of new opportunities to:

  • make connections
  • collaborate
  • create new outputs
  • share research and ideas
  • find finding
  • transition to careers outside academia

The responses to question three, on the importance of researchers understanding their digital identity all identified a single theme: ownership. It’s the fact that if you’re not managing your online identity, and telling your own story, then someone else will be. A key thing to remember here is that digital identity is also not about tools or platforms, but strategies and approaches. A late entrant to the chat, Paolo Vecchi, summed this up well (although actually in response to question 1, I think it’s equally important here):

Critical thinking. Give them the tools and experience needed to ask the right questions & not be passive users of technology

A couple of people raised the issue that we shouldn’t just be talking about digital identity, but the idea of identity as a whole – or a single, multi-faceted identity. That’s absolutely right – digital identity isn’t something different, or other, it’s part of who we are and shouldn’t be separate.

The picture for how researchers access new skills (question four) is mixed, the common factor is there’s not a single source. It could be the library, research office, IT, external sources, or from their peers. And most likely from all of, them and more. In my experience it all starts informally, then may (or may not) lead to some formal training. There’s a large element of trust involved and relationship building is crucial.

The key issue to address is how we reach researchers at all stages of their career to provide relevant, practical, meaningful support and training. Something that was explored in responses to question five – why aren’t universities equipping their researchers with the right skills? Whether they are or not is a debate in itself, so let’s just assume for now that they’re not.

Barriers identified were time, resourcing and cost. There’s also a question of whether too much choice and the lack of a joined up approach can be counter productive.

Or maybe it’s that we don’t know what skills development researchers perceive a need for. Something I was aware of throughout the hour was that the voice of the researchers themselves was missing.

Models for researcher development

In terms of whether there’s a need for new models for researcher development (question six), the overwhelming view was that a partnership approach would be a good place to start. There are lots of resources and support on offer already, through Vitae and others, so it’s important we build on these and don’t reinvent the wheel. The question I have here is whether Jisc would be looking to train and support researcher developers or the researchers themselves. Or both?

Do improved skills enhance other opportunities? I felt like I’d answered question seven in many of my responses to earlier questions. The skills identified in question one were seen to be required partly to address the need to create opportunities – for funding, collaboration, career development etc. I see it as a cycle – if you develop skills to move into new areas you are in turn creating new opportunities for learning.

The response to question 8, ‘who needs digital research skills?’ was unanimous: everyone. In a follow-up, Alison McNab asked whether any HEIs included updating the skills of support staff as part of their research strategies. This perhaps goes back to the point I made earlier of whether a potential role for Jisc is in upskilling researcher developers, not researchers themselves.

Question nine was a meaty one to end on: Is the research process optimised by upskilling researchers? I think the lack of responses may be an indication that we’d all run out of steam a bit. There are certainly opportunities throughout the research process for skills development. Andy Tattersall’s point about it also potentially being disruptive is a good one, and something to keep in mind.

What happens next?

The discussion and debate phase of the co-design consultation goes on until 25 November. So there’s still time to share your views on this theme, and others. Find out more about this challenge and the ways you can get involved on the Jisc R&D website.

Image credit: Mitchell Hartley (via Unsplash)

One reply on “Research skills for the future”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.