Discipline-specific research skills can be cultivated both through routine components of the advanced degree, such as required coursework, and other avenues, such as graduate internships. As you work to define and develop a research project, consider seeking relevant opportunities to build a diverse portfolio of research skills and methods.. As you progress toward completion of the degree, consider how you might translate research and data analysis skills into diverse career paths. For more guidance on translating your skills into diverse career paths, visit the Career Exploration and Preparation competency in this guide.

Steps You Can Take

Take On-Campus Courses

Many departments offer formal training in the research methods associated with their discipline, allowing students to experiment with different approaches to answering research questions. Because these courses are often offered at an introductory level, it may be useful to revisit or sit in on a course you have already taken again in a later semester after having formulated an independent research project.

Particularly for students who work across disciplines, it may be relevant and useful to enroll in or audit methods courses offered in other fields. This is also a good way to broaden your skill-set in preparation for a variety of academic and non-academic careers. For instance, students in fields that rely primarily on quantitative data may benefit from taking a writing course in preparation for careers that require translating specialized findings for popular audiences or that broadly value strong communication skills. Similarly, many students in humanist and social science fields increasingly discover that their qualitative research and non-academic career preparation may be enhanced through the use of new digital and computational technologies.

Browsing the Berkeley course catalog will offer a sense of the wide variety of courses on offer at the University. Note that you may need the permission of the instructor to take a course in another department, and that it is best to request this permission well in advance of the beginning of the course.

Thanks to the Intercampus Exchange and Stanford-Berkeley Exchange programs, graduate students with an excellent superior academic record may take a limited number of courses that are offered at Stanford or one of the other UC schools, and have the opportunity to make use of special facilities and collections and associate with scholars or fields of study not available on their home campus.


Take Time to Explore Scholarly Publications to Get an Overview of Diverse Research Approaches

While your department may specialize in a particular set of research approaches or methods, you may also wish to review other methods practiced by colleagues in the field, by academics in other disciplines, or (depending on your field) by practitioners associated with your field of study. Reviewing scholarly publications may inspire new research approaches or expand skills not necessarily honed in your home department, pinpointing new ways to distinguish and diversify your professional portfolio. The Library also offers subject librarians who are available for consultation on particular research projects.


Participate in Working Groups and Attend On-Campus Lectures and Training Sessions

Advanced students may also wish to form research groups based on shared methods or questions that allow them to discuss the opportunities and issues associated with their approach. Creating and participating in research-based discussion groups can help not only to advance your research, but to cultivate leadership and collaboration skills valued in many professions. Some programs on campus, such as the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, have existing groups that you can join and provide support for new working groups.

The Berkeley D-Lab offers many resources for acquiring computational and technical skills, which are now broadly used across academic disciplines and various career paths. D-Lab training workshops focus on a wide range of topics, which in the past have included workshops on Text Analysis Fundamentals, Preparing Your Data for Qualitative Data Analysis, Introduction to Georeferencing, and Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks. They also regularly hold training workshops to build skills in a variety of platforms and programming languages, such as Excel, R, Python, and more. Find upcoming trainings and workshops on the D-lab’s Upcoming Workshops page.

The D-Lab also hosts a team of consultants who offer free appointments and drop-in hours for advising and troubleshooting on qualitative and quantitative research design, modeling, data collection, data management, analysis, presentation, and related techniques and technologies. Should you have advanced skills in these areas, consider applying to become a graduate consultant at D-Lab.


Participate in Lab Rotations

Many lab-based disciplines have formal programs of lab rotations that allow students to explore a potential research area and develop practical skills. The research rotation offers the opportunity to learn new experimental techniques, gain familiarity with different areas of research, experience the operating procedures of diverse types of labs, and identify mentors within the discipline. While the academic objective is to identify a lab in which to conduct dissertation research, skills gained on rotation can also provide relevant training for research projects and career prospects beyond the dissertation.

In recent years, some non-lab-based disciplines have found it useful to model their operations on the lab-based disciplines. If you are unsure, consider asking your advisors and faculty working in your research area if they have a lab group. For more on lab groups in the humanities, see “Designing a Lab in the Humanities,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2017).


Serve as a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR)

As in the lab rotation, participation in research projects as a GSR allows students to gain experience, identify strengths, and develop specialized interests. Work with your GSR supervisor to ensure that you are able to make the most of the opportunity: if you want to gain experience approaching the research question through the use of specific tools or methods, it is worth discussing the possibility with your research supervisor.

Be sure to keep track of the different skills you cultivate as part of the assistantship—when requesting recommendation letters to apply for jobs in subsequent years, it will be useful to remind your supervisor of the specific work you did for them. You may be surprised by how many of the disciplinary research skills honed in an assistantship correlate to desired qualifications for various professional positions and translate readily between academic and non-academic contexts. For examples, see Margaret Newhouse, “Transferring Your Skills to a Non-Academic Setting,” Chronicle of Higher Education (1998) and Stacy Hartman, “Transferable Skills and How To Talk About Them,” MLA Connected Academics (2016).


Complete Training in Responsible Conduct of Research

Your research may require you to protect the privacy of human subjects, to observe standards for research using animals, and/or to respect the rights of others to be recognized as contributors through proper citation, co-authorship, and obtaining copyright permissions. Online courses, workshops, and staff in the Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) can help you learn about these topics, and the Human Research Protection Program can answer questions about the process of getting approval for research with human subjects. 

Learning to use appropriate research methods and apply standards for responsible conduct provides practical experience for any future research-based career, but also engages broader critical-thinking skills about the ethics of research practices, protocols, and data analysis. The ability to conduct research responsibly in an academic setting testifies to the rigor and dedication that can make Ph.D.s appealing candidates for a variety of academic and professional careers.


Use Academic Breaks to Attend Intensive Skill-Building Programs

Some campus programs and centers offer high-intensity short-courses that take place during the spring or summer breaks. For instance, graduate students considering a career in industry or tech sometimes participate in summer bootcamps for coding or other technical skills, or participate in D-Lab summer trainings. These types of programs typically offer certificates of attendance or completion that should be listed (when relevant) on a CV or resume. In addition to the competencies they explicitly provide, they also attest to your ability to acquire a host of new skills in a short period of time.


Explore Bay Area Computational and Data Analysis Skill-Building Resources

As the home to Silicon Valley and multiple world-class universities, the Bay Area is an ideal location for those interested in learning, using, and building careers around computational and technical skills. Students looking to build computational or technical skills may also wish to participate in workshops or attend events at area hubs like the Stanford Literary Lab or the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center. Groups also exist for connecting locals with technical skills to burgeoning employment opportunities. For instance, Tech SF (a branch of the Bay Area Video Coalition) seeks to help unemployed tech professionals get the skills they need for a continually changing job market.


Take Advantage of Online Skill-Building Resources

Many discipline-specific, interdisciplinary, and generalist resources exist online for those seeking to expand their technical repertoire—particularly in the realm of computational skills. The Institute for Digital Research and Education offers resources, events, and consulting for UC-affiliates, including a wealth of materials accessible online. BerkeleyX provides free online courses in a variety of subjects for currently enrolled students, while sites like CourseraCode Academy offer a mix of free and low-cost training sessions. Students employed by the University can also access many training videos and courses on LinkedIn Learning.

Students of color can explore the resources offered by the Institute in Critical Quantitative, Computational & Mixed Methods, which focuses on advancing scholars of color in data science and diverse methodologies.


Acquire Foreign Language Skills Relevant to Research

Certain fields may require students to acquire foreign language skills as part of their progress to degree. However, even when not required, students may wish to acquire new language skills independently, either as a supplement to their academic research or as a bridge to a variety of future careers. UC Berkeley offers instruction in over 80 languages, and fellowships such as the FLAS and Fulbright are available for graduate students undertaking language study. With its emphasis on the study of critical and less commonly taught foreign languages, the FLAS program is designed to lead into careers in university teaching, government service, or other employment where knowledge of foreign languages and cultures is essential. Participation in the Fulbright program, which offers an English Teaching Assistant program and fellowships for study and research abroad, opens up a wide variety of career paths for graduate students, including foreign service, academia, and many more.