Disciplinary Research Skills Published: June 10, 2015 By: Patrick McMahon The applicability of discipline-specific research skills often extends well beyond a given home department, and can be cultivated both through routine components of the advanced degree (like coursework) and through more atypical outlets (such as a graduate internship). As you progress toward completion of the degree, keep up to date on the opportunities that exist for translating disciplinary skills into diverse career paths. Steps You Can Take Take On-Campus Courses or Form Campus Research Groups 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 the course again in a later semester after having formulated an independent research project. Participate in Working Groups 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, provide support for such working groups. 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. See, for example, “Designing a Lab in the Humanities,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2017). Even without committing to full-time laboratorial work, many humanists and social scientists are increasingly employing technical and digital research methods that tend to prove especially portable to extra-academic professional contexts. 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. Participate in Internships An internship is a temporary professional position that enables you to explore a potential career while developing practical skills and applying advanced knowledge. Internships provide an excellent way to develop skills that may be harder to gain within the scope of the graduate degree program, and so represent a valuable link between academic and professional experience. The Berkeley Career Center offers advice and counseling about specific internships, as well as about the broader value of participating in an internship. The Center maintains resource lists of internship opportunities sorted by discipline or campus, sponsors an “externship” program for current students to shadow recent Cal alumni, and provides specific advice about the role of graduate internships in professional development. The Center has also published a short booklet on strategies for developing your own tailor-made internship position—an ideal way to build a unique portfolio of skills. 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 to respect the rights of others to be recognized as contributors through proper citation, co-authorship, and granting of permissions for use of material covered by copyright. Online courses, workshops, and staff in the Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) can help you learn about these subjects, and more. Learning to use appropriate research methods and apply standards for responsible conduct provides a practical certification for any future research-based career, but also engages broader critical-thinking skills about the ethics of research practices and protocols. 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. Write a Research Prospectus Doctoral students may be required to prepare a formal research prospectus as part of their progress to degree. Even if the prospectus is not required, there is intellectual and professional value to be found in writing one. A research prospectus, like a grant proposal, shows that you know how to define the scope of a project, understand the steps needed to complete it, and recognize the kind and scale of resources needed—skills valuable in academic and other professional careers. Guidelines and expectations for the research prospectus vary by field, but many include or address the following types of categories: research problems, research questions, assumptions, theoretical issues, literature review, general research plan, anticipated difficulties, anticipated contributions. Your department may retain a file of prospectuses submitted by previous students, or you may wish to consult more advanced students to track down samples. Write a Grant Proposal Mastering the skill of grant writing is vital to the completion and promotion of your research, as well as to success in a variety of academic and professional careers. To support their research, graduate students at Berkeley often write proposals for University or external funding (including organizations such as the American Association of University Women [AAUW], the Fulbright program, National Institutes of Health [NIH], National Science Foundation [NSF], Social Science Research Council [SSRC], and many more). By learning to frame your project for different audiences and purposes, you will develop a vocabulary for both the academic and professional applications of your research methods and findings. Establishing a successful grant history will in turn prove your ability to attract sponsors and build financial support for the work you undertake—a highly desirable commodity in both academic and professional careers. Workshops on writing research grant proposals are offered by the Graduate Writing Center. For a list of major University and extramural funding sources, see “Graduate Fellowships and Awards,” Berkeley Graduate Division. The UC Berkeley Research Development Office provides a general list of proposal-writing resources and specific information about preparing proposals for major grants from institutions like the NIH and NSF. Field-specific grant-writing resources are often provided by professional associations. See also these resources: How to succeed in grant writing: “Grant-Writing Tips for Graduate Students,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2010) Tips on the pitfalls of grant writing: “How to Fail in Grant Writing,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2010) On the “outreach” grant proposal: “How to Write an Outreach Grant Proposal,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2006) Complete a Master’s Project Completion of a master’s project demonstrates mastery of advanced knowledge in a discipline, but also develops research skills that are valued in multiple career paths. The master’s project further provides a place to test ideas and approaches before committing to a lengthier research project like the dissertation, and can be useful as a strategic, transitional document: because it is often shorter than the dissertation, it can be especially amenable to development into a published article or report—whether in an academic forum like a peer-reviewed journal or in a public forum such as a newspaper.