Professional Development Planning for Researchers

Your Professional Development

As a researcher employed by the University on a fixed-term or open-ended contract, you are eligible for 10 days of professional development (pro rata) per year (Oxford’s Concordat Action Plan) You are strongly encouraged to allocate your time across various activities of your choosing, with discussion and agreement from your line manager and/or Principal Investigator.

The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers defines 10 days of professional development training as an allowance for researchers to develop their professional competencies and gain experience to support their future career. Examples might include attending a training course or workshop, workplace shadowing, participating in a mentoring scheme (as mentor or mentee), committee membership, participating in policy development, public engagement, or knowledge exchange activities.

If this feels new, you are not alone. Only 32% of researchers who responded to the 2023 Staff Experience Survey took 5 days or more for professional development of their choosing, and 56% took more than 3 days.

These figures are not surprising given that academic culture is moving from one that emphasises results and publication above all else, to one that invests in people; strengthening and diversifying researcher competencies, improving career prospects and growing capacity within the research ecosystem. Endorsing researcher time for development as an institution and taking up the opportunity as a researcher are both important in our collective effort towards such a people-oriented research culture.

For any queries about how your Department/Faculty handles your 10 days, please contact your Department/Faculty HR lead.

Why is professional development important?

The benefits are multiple and cumulative: Researchers who continue to develop across a range of areas are best placed to do world-leading research, seek creative impact pathways and make confident career moves.  

The purpose of dedicating time to professional development is to deepen and expand your professional skill sets in order to enhance your current role, equip you for the next one and broaden your career horizons.

The majority of your development unfolds throughout the course of your work

When considering professional development, training courses are a valuable option, but not the only one. There are many effective ways to gain experience and skills while tailoring your development plans to your career goals. 

Please click ‘Next’ to find out more about planning your professional development time.

Planning your professional development time

1) How might you approach this?

Research shows that 70% of our learning comes from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem-solving, 20% from feedback and interaction with others, and 10% from formal training*. On this website, we invite you to discover the many avenues of professional development, offering examples of activities that can contribute to your growth and success.

Developing by doing 70% Developing through dialogue 20% 10% Developing through training

Examples of development activities

As you browse the following examples of professional development activities, please bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive. Alongside exploring these options, please also view a summary of key considerations for your development planning in the next section of the site.

Developing by doing

Initiating opportunities to experience new activities or responsibilities in one's current role with the aim of enabling growth and career development.

Examples include:

  • Be a department or faculty Researcher Representative or contribute to organising activities for researchers in your local environment 
  • Contribute to peer-review in journals and funding bodies
  • Join a working group or a committee within your department/faculty or division
  • Organise seminars, conferences or networking events​
  • Participate in Public and Policy Engagement activities - plan your engagement and impact
  • Shadow a colleague at work​
  • Take on a leadership/service role in research bodies and societies ​
  • Take on an informal supervision of a student or colleague for a short period of time
  • Write your CV - view guidance on updating your CV and developing a narrative CV
  • Work on a funding application (independent, co-I, collaborative) -  find research fellowship and funding sources

Developing through dialogue

Coaching, mentoring and peer interactions to access fresh insights about oneself, gain core employability skills, and broaden horizons across diverse worlds of work.

Examples include:

  • Arrange a conversation with a person who has a role or career that interests you
  • Attend networking events with potential collaborators and employers
  • Contribute to a conference, seek feedback on your presentation and make the most of networking opportunities
  • Consult with a Careers Adviser for Researchers​ at Oxford's Careers Service
  • Engage in one-to-one coaching -sign up to Oxford's Coaching Network
  • Join and contribute to networks and local research staff societies - for example, Oxford Research Staff Society
  • Participate in a mentoring scheme, as a mentee or mentor - have a look at Oxford's Mentoring resources

Developing through training

Instructor-led or self-directed opportunities to gain new knowledge and skills, with the aim of building capacity for the current job and for future employability prospects.

Examples include:

2) What might your professional development activities look like throughout the year?

Seek and share ideas about development opportunities. Discuss your plans with your line manager/PI.

3) What are your next steps?

  1. Create a plan on how you would like to allocate your professional development time for the year.

  2. Discuss your development plans with your line manager and/or Principal Investigator as early as possible to ensure clarity on such arrangements, and to build your time away from the project into planning and delivery schedules. Ideal opportunities to discuss this include your Probation Review, annual Professional/Career Development Review, and/or 1-1 meetings.

  3. Maintain a record of your professional development activities over time. For example, a template document where you can record your activities is Oxford's Career Conversation Planner. For further information, see guidance on how to record your CPD activities.

4) Where can you get support?

For any queries about how your Department/Faculty handles your 10 days, please contact your Department/Faculty HR lead.

If you’d like to have a conversation with a Careers Adviser for Researchers, please book an appointment via CareerConnect.

*Reference: Incorporated, L.L., Lombardo, M.M. and Eichinger, R.W. (2000) Career Architect Development Planner book: An Expert System Offering 95 Research-Based and Experience Tested Development and Coaching Tips.


Please find below a summary of the key considerations and actions for fixed-term researchers, academic managers, Principal Investigators, and departmental or faculty professional service staff.

For any queries about how your Department/Faculty handles your 10 days, please contact your Department/Faculty HR lead. 

1. Fixed-term researchers

What you need to know:

What you need to do or do differently:

  • Discuss your development plans with your academic line manager or Principal Investigator as early as possible. Ideal opportunities include your Probation Review, annual Career/Professional Development Review, and 1-1 meetings.
  • Consider ways you can develop yourself in your day to day work, stretch your capabilities and spend time reflecting on your progress and getting feedback from PIs or mentors.
  • Plan time for your professional development into your schedule.
  • Actively seek out professional development opportunities that align with your professional and career goals.

Further Guidance

You might already be engaging in development activities

Reflect on the activities you are already doing and consider how these are enabling you to develop your technical skills, your core professional skills and/or your career. For instance, you may be managing your research project, including the delivery, finance and/or collaboration with others, and, at the same time, participating in your department or faculty committee. Through these activities you are likely to be building project management, communication and leadership skills, all of which are highly transferable within and beyond academia.

Consider the following questions:

  • What are the opportunities you are currently involved in?
  • How do these opportunities benefit you? 
  • If you have recently taken an additional role or responsibility, what are the benefits this is bringing to you?

Take stock of whether the activities you are doing are still supporting your career aspirations. Sometimes doing more of the same doesn’t bring additional benefit. For example, doing more of the small group teaching, won’t help you get a job, if they need you to have experience with course design. Map your skills against job descriptions, or talk to mentors and a careers adviser, to help you prioritise development activities and also be aware of when it is better to say no. 

Explore your career aspirations and potential direction(s)

What career progression and/or professional development objectives are you setting for yourself over the next year?

  • Remember the wisdom of holding two or more career paths in mind simultaneously: Consider these to be alternative “plan As”.
  • Do you have skill gaps that may affect your progression in academia or in another role or sector of interest?
  • If you are struggling to identify attractive roles or career directions within and/or beyond academia, take some time to explore your career direction:
    • Talk to other colleagues and/or book a 1 to 1 appointment with a Careers Adviser for Researchers here to seek support in broadening your horizons, and gain alternative perspectives and practical insights.
    • Explore the Prosper portal and its many career exploration resources specifically designed for researchers    
    • Find inspiration in the exciting paths trodden by former researchers profiled in
    • Use Career Weaver: a web-based app developed by the Careers Service to help you articulate your strongest work preferences, motivations, skills and strengths 
    • Make the most of LinkedIn to find others with similar backgrounds, trace their career steps and explore the organisations they have worked for.
    • Use the extensive open-access resources available at the Careers Service and the vacancies listings on CareerConnect to explore different sectors.
    • Explore the events for researchers at the Careers Service, and your department, faculty or division, including conferences or talks involving former fixed-term researchers and employers.

How can you gain experience, insights or skills to help you progress your career objectives?

  • Remember that core employability skills such as teamwork, planning and communication are needed for careers in all sectors including academia and their development is often overlooked in everyday research settings. Explore the core employability skills site to find out more about how you can develop them.
  • Work-shadowing and information interviews are examples of ways you can gain detailed insight into the skill areas that are expected in a certain field or organisation. Explore the Networking site for tips on how to organise an information interview.

If you have a specific role in mind, how can you identify the skills needed so you can build them into your development plans?

  • If you are aiming to move into a specific role, we recommend you review different job adverts to identify the skills that are needed for that role. This will then inform the experiences and/or skills you need to develop for that role. For tips on how to demonstrate you fit the job criteria in the application process, please see this Careers Service resource

How could you think about and organise your professional development time accordingly?

  • Discuss your career thinking with your line manager/Principal Investigator as soon as you can, including in your Probation Review, annual Career/Professional Development Review, and 1-1 meetings. To support your preparation, you can use our tailored resources (e.g. the Career Conversation Planner and reviewee guide).

2. Academic line managers and Principal Investigators:

What you need to know:

What you need to do or do differently:

  • Ensure that researchers are informed about their entitlement.  
  • Encourage and support researchers to use their 10-day entitlement for professional development in a way that aligns with their professional and career goals.
  • Incorporate professional development planning in the researchers’ Probation Review, annual Career/Professional Development Review, and 1-1 meetings. Keep in mind that researchers may consider ways to grow their skills and stretch their capabilities within their current research practice.

3. Departmental or faculty professional services staff

What you need to know:

  • Researchers are entitled to 10 days of professional development (pro rata) per year as part of Oxford’s commitment to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers (as set out in our Concordat Action Plan).
  • Under the Concordat, conversations are expected between researchers and their academic line managers or Principal Investigators to plan their professional development (for example, in the researchers’ Probation Review, annual Career/Professional Development Review, and 1-1 meetings).

What you need to do or do differently:

  • Ensure that researchers are informed about their entitlement.  
  • Ensure that academic line managers and Principal Investigators are informed about their role in communicating and supporting researchers’ entitlement.  
  • Collaborate with academic line managers and Principal Investigators to create a supportive environment which encourages researchers to use their entitlement effectively. 

Hear from researchers about their experiences

Explore the below profiles to gain insight into how researchers developed their careers while at Oxford.

Learn about the impact of lifelong learning, and how specific activities and opportunities have furthered their professional journeys. 

Dr. Devika Agarwal

Dr. Devika AgarwalDivision: Medical Sciences (Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology)

Current Role: Senior Bioinformatician


Devika is a Senior Bioinformatician at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, Oxford. She holds a BSc (hons) in Biological Sciences from the University of Edinburgh, a Master’s in Biotechnology, and a PhD in Bioinformatics and Machine learning from Nottingham Trent University. In 2017, following her PhD, Devika began a postdoctoral position at Oxford with the Drug Discovery Institute. She then did a second postdoc at Oxford at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM) and is currently in her third postdoctoral position. Her current research focuses on developing a cross-tissue cellular map of genes and proteins across multiple immune mediated inflammatory diseases (IMID) in humans and characterising pharmacologically relevant therapeutic targets to advance the understanding of disease mechanisms to enable treatment of patients with the most appropriate medications and accelerate the development of new therapies. Alongside her research Devika has taught on a biomedical data science course at Oxford training other postdocs and DPhil students in the skills and methods required for the analysis and interpretation of large-scale biomedical datasets, particularly genomic and functional genomic data.

Career and Professional Development

  1. Leadership development: Devika took part in the WIMM Leadership Programme which consists of both group and individual sessions designed to support women in identifying and achieving their leadership-related goals. There Devika was able to “meet these amazing women… know that I am not alone and there are many researchers who are going through similar doubts or who are in a similar place in their career.” The programme helped her to understand her goals and motivations, and “gain a bit more clarity” on how to pursue those goals. Further, “it also just taught us how to be good managers and how to facilitate communication between your own managers and how to get your point across.” Devika secured funding for this programme by requesting it from her PI (funds provided through her project grant).
  2. Professional networking: Devika participated in the Oxford Industrial Fellows Programme, which provides the opportunity for MSD researchers who are collaborating with industry to network through various events. Devika described the programme as a useful way to “talk to people and get different perspectives,” while the targeted seminars are helpful for people who are exploring whether they want to go into industry or stay in academia.
  3. Personal growth: Devika enrolled in several talks hosted by Wellcome that focused on mental health and diversity. These were very helpful to understand the importance and necessity of diversity in the workplace, but to also treat everyone equally and with respect.

Future Goals and Development

Devika is interested in being a team leader in an industrial setting, as industry “better suits me and my lifestyle. She notes that in academia, the career trajectory requires becoming a PI/research group leader in order to progress past a certain point and this is not something she particularly wantsInstead, she is focusing on her current work and how to mobilise her experience towards a career in industry. For instance, Devika is planning to take part in the RisingWISE programmewhich brings together women early career researchers in STEM at Oxford and Cambridge with women working in industry. In closing Devika offers the following advice to early career researchers:  

“There is a lot of help available in the university, however communication is always a challenge here.  Keep looking for opportunities and definitely find a mentor other than your PI: You can talk with someone at a slightly later point in their career about what your goals are and how you can achieve them more efficiently.”  

Dr. Liam Guilfoyle

Dr. Liam GuilfoyleDivision: Social Sciences (Education)

Current Role: Departmental Lecturer


Liam is currently a Departmental Lecturer at the Department of Education and Course Director of the MSc in Learning and Teaching. His work focuses on science education and teachers’ engagement with/in research. He completed an undergraduate degree in science education and a PhD in Education at the University of Limerick. He joined Oxford as a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Education in 2018 before moving into his current role in 2021. Liam is also a Fellow at Kellogg College.

Throughout his career, Liam has sought opportunities to engage with different people and take on leadership roles in various organisations. “I think external engagements lead to a lot of valuable learning and a lot of opportunities”, he says.

Career and Professional Development choices and their benefits

  1. Representation and community-building: Soon after arriving at Oxford, Liam began taking on several representation roles, including Chair of the Research Staff Forum for his department and Co-Chair of the Oxford Research Staff Society. These positions were helpful in building a community, which was particularly useful when applying for another role in the department: you're building relationships with the people in the department, you are visible, and contributing to the department at all levels. Then by the time you've come to apply for a job, you're being interviewed by people who you’ve been in meetings with.”  
  2. Policy engagement: In 2015, Liam joined the Teaching Council in Ireland as part of their research engagement group, a consultative advisory group focusing on how the Council could improve support for teachers and engage with and in research. This role allowed him to engage with policy in an area that lies within his area of research and contribute to work that makes a “significant impact”.
  3. Professional networking: Liam also serves as the Chair for Research Impact for NARST (National Association of Research and Science Teaching), NARST is a global organisation for improving science teaching and learning through research. This role has been “helpful to get to know people and be able to shape some of the international organisations in the field.

Future Goals and Development

Liam is currently enjoying his role as Departmental Lecturer and keen to continue pursuing an academic career. However, he also remains open to opportunities beyond academia: “I like the idea of doing things that are a bit broader, or being involved in things that are not exactly within the tight remit of my role. Because any one of those things could be where my career goes. So, all my goals are in the short to medium term: what would I like to be a little bit better at?”

In reflecting upon his own experiences, Liam gives the following advice to early career researchers:

“I think sometimes we can look at the profile of a researcher and say, I need to achieve this and this, I need to achieve my PhD in this amount of time, or I need to have this many publications. And I question whether that is helpful. Because yes, you will be productive in the immediate term. But, ultimately, opportunities come from people. I've been lucky. And I've probably been privileged. But I'm a firm believer that opportunities come from people identifying that you are a decent person, and a good worker, and someone that I want to work with. And so, a lot of people in academia say, ‘learn to say no to things.’ But to be honest, I think I would be saying, ‘learn to say yes to things’. In the sense that if you're open, opportunities will come.”

Dr Holly Reeve

Dr. Holly ReeveDivision: Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences
Current Role: CEO and Co-founder of HydRegen Limited

Holly is the CEO of HydRegen Limited, a 2021 startup from the University of Oxford that focuses on “making bio technologies that help with more sustainable chemical manufacturing, and making bio-based catalysts that can replace precious metals.”

Holly holds undergraduate and masters degrees in Chemistry, at the University of Oxford, then completed a DPhil focusing on biocatalysis for chemical synthesis. Between 2016 and 2021 she was a postdoctoral researcher then a Research Project Manager at Oxford.

Career and Professional Development

  1. Policy and advocacy: Holly served as Departmental and Divisional representative for Oxford Research Staff Society (OXRSS), and as part of this role, sat on the MPLS Divisional Board. These experiences were useful in learning to “communicate problems, and difficult topics in a way that other people can understand.” She learnt to consider many perspectives and build ‘buy-in’ before presenting ideas and solutions.
  2. Communication skills: In 2018 Holly was awarded a British Sciences Association Media Fellowship where she worked at The Mirror for a couple of weeks and took part in communications training. This experience has proved particularly valuable in her current role where she needs to use a range of strategies to communicate the company’s work to diverse audiences.
  3. Personal growth and professional networking: Holly has sought and worked with several informal mentors throughout her career, whom she met at an emerging technology competition at the Royal Society of Chemistry and through her role on the MPLS Divisional Board. Having a variety of mentors to consult, particularly those in entrepreneurship, has been particularly important to Holly in her recent career moves: “in a startup there's so much to learn, and so many easy mistakes to make.”

Future Goals and Development
Holly is focusing on growing her company, and “making a big impact on sustainability in the chemical sector.” She is also trying to further develop her leadership skills, and supporting her team in developing their own skills and leadership abilities through a leadership programme run by Horizon 37 that she completed last year: “I've been on a whole leadership journey myself, which has been really exciting. Now I have a team of leaders that I'm trying to help learn to be leaders, and I’m excited to support them on their own journeys.”

In reflecting on her professional development, Holly leaves the following advice:

“It's not about being an academic, or being a CEO, it's about finding a set of non-technical skills that you are really good at and using that as a basis to think about your career. That could be in finance, marketing, operations, leadership or anything else. That way, we can build a network of scientifically literate people that have developed and practiced these other critical skills needed for innovation and technology development. To make this happen we need people to walk into their labs and tell people around them what they really admire about them; to see, value and articulate what each person is doing that improves how the team functions. If something comes easily to you, you don't see it as a skill. If we all had a better understanding of precisely how we add value, we could seek targeted development opportunities, including training, to hone that skill and take better charge of our futures.”

Dr Hilary Wynne

Hilary WynneDivision: Humanities (Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics)
Current Role: Senior Research Associate

Hilary is currently a Senior Research Associate with the UKRI-funded ‘Pertinacity’ group at the Language and Brain Laboratory in the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics. Her work focuses on “where language is stored in the brain and…the processes that are involved when we produce and understand language.” She completed her Oxford DPhil in 2016 and this is her third postdoctoral role after one at the University of Manchester, and the second at Oxford on the ERC-funded project ‘MORPHON’ that ran from 2017-2022. Hilary is also a stipendiary lecturer at St Hugh’s College, Oxford and a member of Kellogg College, Oxford.

Hilary has invested time in a range of professional and career development activities to support her interdisciplinary work, including quantitative and lab-based techniques (behavioural and production experiments, EEG, eye-tracking, fMRIs, etc.).

In her experience,

“…the most important thing is not to restrict yourself to your particular area only. You want to progress in your own field, but…you may end up in a workshop or a training session that is not directly applicable to your role, but might actually be really helpful in the future. It might set you up really nicely for a next career step, so …don't limit yourself; try to branch out a bit in terms of your development activities and do something that you don't have any background in too.”

Career and Professional Development choices and their benefits

  1. Technical In spring of this year (2023), Hilary spent five days in Munich to attend training on a new electroencephalogram (EEG) system. The cost of the training was covered by a University Researcher Representation Fellowship from the University of Oxford. The key benefits to Hilary were learning how to 1) set up and use the new system (and then teach others in her lab) 2) troubleshoot/address a variety of possible situations that could crop up when using the EEG; and 3) use the equipment in for a variety of tasks by meeting other researchers from a range of fields, Hilary applied for and received an Early Career Training Bursary in 2019 for a Visiting Fellowship in Functional MRI at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.
  2. Professional networking: Pre-COVID, Hilary attended in-person conferences regularly, which were valuable venues for connecting with others in the field and finding out how “different labs…and projects are being run.” She also has been given opportunities to share and grow her research through her affiliation as Research Member of the Common Room at Kellogg College, Oxford, which has helped her make new connections and receive valuable mentorship from senior members of the college. If you are interested in becoming a college member please see Non-Stipendary College Associations for Research Staff.
  3. Policy and Advocacy: Since 2019, Hilary has volunteered to be involved in governance roles at the University She represents the postdoctoral researchers in her Faculty, and sits on the Humanities Divisional Boards for Researchers, where she represents all early career/fixed-term researchers in the Humanities Division. For the past two years, Hilary has also served as the fixed term researcher representative on the University Council.

Hilary describes these roles as “helpful in training me in communication, specifically how to interact with a range of people with different backgrounds and experiences, and also how to serve as a voice of the early career researcher community….I have also been given a lot of development and training opportunities with my peers in how to be an effective representative…and many of the tools and tricks that we've learned have been really, really helpful in terms of how I mentor others and manage in my current role.”

Future Goals and Development
Hilary is enjoying her current position, and “laying the foundation” for the next phase of her career. She plans to engage in leadership training, so that she can learn to set out a vision and work with others even more effectively, and will continue to update her technical skillset, as “There are always new programs to learn, new ways of analyzing data.”

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