Book and magnifying icon Research and Data Analysis

Learn to find and use appropriate research methods and apply standards for responsible conduct in order to make an original contribution to advanced knowledge.


Research skills & steps you can take to develop them *

Disciplinary Research Skills

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:


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.

Research Skills beyond Your Discipline

As you work to define and develop a research project, consider seeking relevant opportunities to build a diverse portfolio of professional skills or to bridge your research with interdisciplinary or extra-academic questions, issues, and approaches.

Steps You Can Take

Take Research Methods Courses in Other Academic Units

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 may be enhanced through the use of new digital 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.


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 UC Berkeley library offers research guides categorized by subject to help students get a head-start with this type of exploration.


Attend Research Talks, Colloquia, and Seminars in Other Disciplines and Fields

Attending research talks, colloquia, and short seminars is a useful way to gain a sense of other disciplines and their research approaches without committing to a semester-long course or expending the energy required to survey the literature of a field. The UC Berkeley Events calendar—searchable by day, week, or month—is a good place to look for the many events that occur each day on campus. You may also wish to look to the websites of specific departments, centers, or concentrations related to your interests, as well as local institutions like museums and libraries.


Attending research talks, colloquia, and seminars also provides great opportunities for networking with potential future colleagues, mentors, and employers. For more on how (and why) to build networking skills, see the Professionalization section of this guide.


Acquire Foreign Language Skills in Relation to Research 

Certain fields may require students to acquire foreign language skills as part of their progress to degree. But students may also wish to acquire these 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 or 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.


Think Strategically About How Your Research Fits Diverse Career Paths

More non-academic careers rely on or benefit from a background in research than you might think. To identify positions, industries, and careers that utilize the research skills you have already begun building, check in regularly with the following types of resources:


  • The Berkeley Career Center’s site on “Careers Beyond the Academy,” designed to help you explore and pursue the vast range of career options available to advanced degree candidates.
  • Beyond Academia, a graduate-led Berkeley organization and annual conference that exposes fellow Berkeley Ph.D. students and postdocs to career options outside of academia.
  • Career Development Initiative for the Physical Sciences (CDIPS), a graduate-run organization at Berkeley that provides information to graduate students and postdocs in the physical and mathematical sciences about their options outside academia through a speaker series, the Data Science Workshop, and improved access to alumni.
  • Humanists at Work,” a UC-wide initiative geared towards UC Humanities and humanistic Social Science MAs and PhDs interested in careers outside or alongside the academy.
  • The Versatile PhD, a web-based resource that can assist you in exploring careers, reframing skills, and applying for positions beyond academia. All UC Berkeley graduate students have free access to Versatile PhD resources.
  • The ImaginePhD, a career-planning tool that seeks to bridge the knowledge gap between Ph.D. training and the realm of career possibilities for humanities and social science Ph.D.s.  Spearheaded primarily by UC Davis and UCLA, the group is creating an online tool to assist graduate students in career exploration, goal-setting, and professional development. This online tool is available free of charge to Berkeley students.
  • The Postdoc Industry Exploration Program (PIEP) arranges site visits to companies so that postdocs and graduate students can learn about career options directly from professionals who hold these positions and gain useful connections in the process.
  • Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Program: Expanding the Reach of Doctoral Education in the Humanities: Now in its seventh year, the ACLS Public Fellows Program places up to 22 recent humanities Ph.D.s in two-year positions at diverse organizations in government and the nonprofit sector. This career-building initiative aims to demonstrate that the capacities developed in the advanced study of the humanities have wide applications, both within and beyond the academy. The fellowship carries a stipend of $67,500, with health insurance for the fellow and up to $3,000 for professional development activities.
  • Career Diversity for Historians:The American Historical Association (AHA), in conjunction with the Mellon Foundation, has developed a set of institutes and resources to assist faculty and graduate students in preparing for careers beyond the academy. These resources are also useful to faculty and graduate students beyond history.


Present Research to Academic, Professional, or Community Groups

Fostering interest in your research both within and beyond academia can generate career possibilities. Identify audiences for whom your research is relevant and seek opportunities to speak about it in public venues such as local libraries, museums, and relevant professional or community institutions. You may find that stepping outside the academic setting affords a fresh perspective on your research and provides invaluable experience for a variety of professional opportunities. Public presentations further demonstrate your capacity to articulate high-level concepts in an accessible fashion—a boon in many industries.


Protect, Promote, and Properly Attribute Your Research

Learning to protect your original research ensures that your contributions will be recognized in any future careers you undertake, while demonstrating a commitment to proper attribution of the work of others makes you an appealing candidate for industries that depend upon collaborative work.


In addition, Research IT provides Research Data Management services for the UC Berkeley campus. This program addresses current and emerging data management issues, compliance with policy requirements imposed by funders and by the University, and reduction of risk associated with the challenges of data stewardship. The Berkeley D-Lab also hosts a working group focused on the topic of Securing Research Data.

Digital and Technical Research Skills

In the contemporary world of research, the possibilities for data analysis are expanding exponentially through the use of both new and old tools. Many resources exist at the University, in the Bay Area, and across the internet for acquiring skills valued in both academic and professional fields—you just have to learn how to access them.

Steps You Can Take

Attend On-Campus Lectures, Training Sessions, and Working Groups

The Berkeley D-Lab offers many resources for acquiring computational and technical skills. In particular, the tools, methods, and techniques that D-Lab teaches scholars in the social sciences and digital humanities provide the ability to engage with complex research questions and produce answers that benefit academic colleagues, policymakers, and the public.


D-Lab training workshops focus on a wide range of topics—from Text Analysis Fundamentals and Preparing Your Data for Qualitative Data Analysis to Introduction to Georeferencing and Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks—and a variety of platforms and programming languages, such as Excel, R, Python, and more. The D-Lab also hosts working groups such as the Computational Text Analysis Working Group, the Machine Learning Working Group, and the Berkeley Digital Humanities Working Group.


Explore the D-Lab events calendar to see how your research might benefit from new possibilities in computational technology. The D-Lab also hosts a team of consultants who offer free daily 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.


Use Academic Breaks to Attend Intensive Skill-Building Programs

Many campus programs and centers offer high-intensity short-courses that take place during the spring or summer breaks. For instance, the Berkeley Extension offers a Summer Coding Boot Camp, while Digital Humanities at Berkeley hosts their own Summer Institute that is free and open to all faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students affiliated with Berkeley. Across campus, the Geospatial Innovation Facility (GIF) offers the spring break Spatial Data Science Bootcamp, a 3-day certificate program designed to familiarize participants with major tools and advances in geospatial technology, including big data wrangling, open-source tools, and web-based mapping and visualization. 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.


Get Funding and Other Forms of Support to Develop the Skills You Need

Obtaining research funding bears evident value in enabling your research to thrive, but also helps boost your resume by demonstrating that you have a successful grant application history—a boon in any academic or non-academic career.


At Berkeley, many types of support exist to facilitate your research. For instance, the university library’s Data Acquisitions and Access Program leverages research funds to provide access to data (numeric or textual) that requires purchase or licensing, or is otherwise restricted.


More traditional grant- and fellowship-based forms of funding are also available. In addition to the Graduate Division’s list of external fellowships and fellowship opportunities included in the GRAPES database, both the Berkeley Research Development Office and the Berkeley Sponsored Projects Office maintain lists of funding opportunities. The Research Development Office offers consultations to discuss and develop funding strategies according to the research needs of a particular project. In addition, university centers such as the Geospatial Innovation Facility or the Digital Humanities at Berkeley typically offer more targeted information about funding sources for students working in those fields.


Berkeley also offers a variety of mentoring programs, including one—the SMART program—which is directly designed to facilitate graduate research by offering funding and undergraduate research assistance on a proposed project.


Explore Bay Area 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.


Thanks to the Intercampus Exchange and Stanford-Berkeley Exchange programs, graduate students with a 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. 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.


Groups also exist for connecting locals with technical skills to burgeoning employment opportunities. For instance, Bay Area Codes is an online resource to connect Bay Area residents to local tech opportunities, while 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.


For instance, the DiRT (Digital Research Tools) Directory provides a guide for finding and comparing resources ranging from content management systems to OCR (optical character recognition), statistical analysis packages to mindmapping software. Similarly, 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 Coursera, Code Academy, and Code School offer a mix of free and low-cost training sessions.

* Some skills serve in the development of more than one competency. Some skills may apply more to one discipline than to another. Keep in mind that the list of skills and steps you can take to develop these competencies is not exhaustive.


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