Assessing your skills
Why do I need to assess my skills?
The process of researching and writing a thesis is exciting and rewarding. It is also a long and challenging journey that contains many unanticipated hurdles. It is important to understand that every student encounters problems. It is also important to recognise that while these challenges may be disheartening, they present you with the opportunity to improve your research. A line of enquiry or an experiment that reaches a dead end will encourage you to rethink your approach or follow a different path. This often leads to the development of stronger ideas and methods.
Your ability to constructively deal with challenges, however, is dependent on the quality of your skills. You might need to learn some specific skills in order to carry out your research. For example, you might need to develop techniques for interviewing participants. You will also need to master the art of constructing logical and convincing lines of reasoning, supporting them with evidence, and communicating them clearly in your written work. Successful graduate work is also dependent on a range of personal skills such as creativity, flexibility and resilience.
When starting out on your journey, therefore, it is extremely useful to assess your strengths and shortcomings as a writer and researcher. An assessment of your skills will help you to recognise and capitalise on your strengths. It will also help you to identify the skills that you will need to acquire and develop as you proceed on your journey.
How can I develop my skills?
Now that you have identified the required skills, you will need to devise a plan to help you develop them.
The first step is to work out what you want to achieve in clear, concrete terms. A useful way of determining this is to think about how academics and other practitioners use a particular skill. What is ‘best practice’ in your field? What impresses you as a reader or listener? What annoys or confuses you? For example, if you want to improve your oral communication skills think about lectures, presentations or conference papers that you enjoyed listening to. Why did you find these talks appealing? Was it the tone? The pace? The structure? Getting a clear sense of exactly what you are trying to achieve will help you find the best resources and methods for the development of your skills.
There are many different kinds of resources that you can take advantage of. One type is books and articles on academic practice and other relevant skills. For example, if you want to improve your understanding of quantitative research methods you might read a guide for researchers in your field. Make sure that these guides are of high quality and not too old. Your supervisor or a learning skills adviser may be able to recommend or help you locate a suitable text or online resource.
Monash provides a number of skills development resources for students. The Monash Doctoral Program includes training, seminars and other opportunities to assist you in developing your skills. The Library offers a range of resources, too. These include:
Create a plan for developing your skills
Working with your questionnaire results and written reflections from the previous activity, create a plan for developing your skills. You might construct a table, a flow chart or a mind map (such as the one below). Perhaps use post-it notes to record the details of classes or other items so that you can remove or replace them at a later date. You might map your plan on a large piece of paper and stick it up in your main working space or use a whiteboard (remember to take a photo for your records). Make sure that your map contains the following elements:
- skills that you wish to develop (e.g. improve oral communication skills)
- specific goals that you wish to achieve (e.g. engage more effectively with audience)
- specific strategies for developing each skill (e.g. attend more seminars and conferences)
- ways of measuring your progress (e.g. give two seminar or conference papers this year).
Sample skills development mindmap