What makes a good researcher?

One of the things that is central to the world of researcher development is the question of “what makes a good researcher?” In other words, what are the skills and/or competences that researchers should aspire to or seek to acquire to become good at what they do?

Around 10 years ago a bunch of folks from the UK Research Councils and the UK GRAD programme (the predecessor to Vitae) set about describing what skills a doctoral candidate should have developed by the time they complete a PhD and it was published as a Joint Statement on Skills.

This statement included the transferable skills that Sir Gareth Roberts espoused in his report to HM Government, “SET for Success” (2002). It was the catalyst for many of the researcher skills development programmes that are now on offer and provided a useful framework for researchers themselves to reflect on their own progress as a researcher.

Fast forward a few years, there were people in the Higher Education sector who felt that the Joint Skills Statement was limited by the fact that it stopped at the end of a doctoral degree and that it didn’t reflect the changing emphasis on engagement and impact of research with society. This in turn led to a project to design a comprehensive framework that would describe the researcher development journey beyond the PhD.

In 2010, the successor to the Joint Statement on Skills was launched, the Researcher Development Framework (RDF).

The RDF sets out the knowledge, behaviours and attributes of successful researchers and are grouped into four major domains, 12 sub-domains which are then further divided into 63 descriptors which are designed to aid researchers to understand what areas they should focus on to become a “good researcher”.

It was also conceived to provide skills developers like me with a comprehensive framework with which to design activities and workshops to help researchers to understand where they are in their own development.

The RDF can appear a little daunting to the uninitiated, so my advice is to try and view it at the broadest level until it feels more familiar.

I’ve started to introduce the RDF into the skills development programme I offer by colour coding the workshops listings to correspond (broadly speaking) to the major domains.

I’m interested (as ever) in the views of researchers and/or colleagues on how to improve the integration of the RDF into the programmes we run.

Vitae have produced an online planning tool designed to help individuals to self-audit against the descriptors of the RDF, have a look…


If you are interested in using the RDF Planner and are a UWE researcher then please use the form below to get in touch.

5 thoughts on “What makes a good researcher?

  1. Not sure this counts as skill or competency, but visible enthusiasm for what you do is key. Through this you will engage others and may secure their interest and support. I think this holds at all levels – as a student getting better supervision; as a postdoc being trusted to take the lead and build independence and as an established researcher to find collaborators.

  2. Thanks for that Sara, it was the start of a post about the researcher development framework, got auto posted when my back was turned!

  3. I thought it was remarkably succinct…! Look forward to seeing more on the RDF, especially hints on how to use it without printing out 47 page handouts.

  4. Pingback: The Beginner’s Guide to the Doctorate | The Digitally Connected Researcher

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