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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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 Coursera, Code 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.
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.
A key set of research skills involve designing research questions and proposals, and building support for your research plans. Developing such skills can be relevant not only to research oriented careers, but also to careers where you are responsible for proposing or developing new projects, programs, products, services, or policies. Before you can propose effective research or other interventions, it is important to ensure you understand the problem space and what tools and resources will be available to you as you navigate the space. It is also often necessary to obtain approval and/or funding for a project before it begins.
Doctoral students may be required to prepare a formal research prospectus as part of their progress to degree completion. 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 plans, anticipated difficulties, and 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.
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 from 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 skill 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. For more lists of funding opportunities, you can also refer to the UCLA GRAPES database, the Berkeley Research Development Office, and the Berkeley Sponsored Projects Office. In addition, university centers such as the Geospatial Innovation Facility or 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 (Student Mentoring and Research Teams) program—which is directly designed to facilitate graduate research by offering funding and undergraduate research assistance on a proposed project. Another, Berkeley Connect, is a year-long competitive research fellowship for graduate students in designated departments to advance their research while mentoring groups of undergraduate students.
The UC Berkeley Research Development Office provides a general list of proposal-writing resources that also contains 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:
Issues of bias are prevalent in research and the production of knowledge. All graduate students, regardless of discipline, should learn about bias in quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. Take some time to research bias in your own field of research. For example, if your work uses computational tools, it is important to learn about the prevalence of bias in algorithms and computer code, which you can learn about in this report created by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe. You can also learn about bias in medical research (see, for example, the article titled “Reducing Bias and Improving Transparency in Medical Research” or about researcher bias in qualitative research methods (see, for example, the article titled “Interviewing the Investigator.”)
Learn more about bias in academia and diverse career paths, how to intervene to create equitable and inclusive environments, and how to avoid bias in the Equity and Inclusion competency of this guide.
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 on 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 Career Exploration and Preparation competency in this guide.
Effectively communicating your research is an important component of both successful research and launching your career. Whether you are considering a career in academia or beyond, prospective employers will want to understand the importance or impact of the research you have conducted, and how that research relates to your new career path. Particularly for non-academic careers, it will be vital to communicate the skills and experience you developed while conducting your research, which might include everything from project management skills to database search skills. To learn more about communicating effectively, be sure to visit the Writing and Communication competency of this guide, which offers guidance on communicating your research in scholarly journals and conferences.
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.
Learning to protect your original research ensures that your contributions will be recognized in any future careers you undertake. Demonstrating a commitment to proper attribution of the work of others can also make you an appealing candidate for industries that depend upon collaborative work.
The UC Berkeley Library’s Scholarly Communications Services staff is available to advise students about research, copyright issues, intellectual property, and licensing.
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.
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:
You may also find it helpful to browse job ads for positions that interest you to determine what skills are typically required for work in that field. For advice on undertaking wide-ranging career exploration, see “Beginning with the Lack of an End in Mind: Growth and Experimentation in the Job Search,” Humanists at Work and “On Serendipity; or, How to Be a Lucky Job Hunter,” Connected Academics.
* 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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