We offer skills and career development workshops to help you succeed in your doctorate and future research career. These workshops give you the transferable skills needed both further along a research career and beyond academia. All our workshops are run for all PGR students, so you will meet other students from across the Schools here at Heriot-Watt.

Researcher Development Framework

The workshops are mapped to the four domains of the Researcher Development Framework (RDF).

The RDF can be used to plan your training whilst undertaking your doctorate as you can use it in discussion with your supervisor team around areas you want to improve on and areas you excel at.

Each domain is built up of 3 sub-domains, which in turn are comprised of 63 characteristics, that are valuable skills or knowledge for researchers.

More information on the RDF is available through the Vitae website, using your Heriot-Watt University email address to log in.

Who is it for?

Research (PhD, EngD, MPhil) students. Each workshop is designed specifically for a particular stage of your doctorate. For example, our Getting Started series of workshops is ideal for those new to a doctorate, and our Viva Preparation workshops are of particular use to those in third year. Please do think carefully about which workshop is right for your particular stage of your degree.


We use a Personal Development Management System "PDMS" for booking onto workshops. PDMS allows you to view the upcoming workshops by date or by category of the RDF. PDMS also provides details of the level the workshop is aimed at (e.g. just starting, or preparing for your viva) so do read the workshop details to ensure you're booking on the right workshop. PDMS can also be used as a training record, as it will log which workshops you've attended and which you are booked onto.

To book: Select the appropriate audience in PDMS, check the details of the workshops, and choose from the workshops available by clicking 'add course'.  Booking is essential for all workshops. Please also read our Course Etiquette guidelines, which include the booking policy for the Research Futures student workshops.

*Please note: booking for workshops in semester 2 will open at the end of November*

The programme

There are a number of workshops throughout the academic year. Some are run in series, with a number of workshops focused on one area, for example "Communicating Research" or "Career Management". Others are stand-alone workshops, for example 'How to be an effective researcher' or Project Management. Summaries of the workshops can be found below.

Getting Started (new research students)

(Available in Semester 1 only)

Induction (Domain B)

The Postgraduate Researcher Induction welcomes you to Heriot-Watt University. It includes contributions from senior academic staff, experienced research students, Postgraduate Representatives, and departments providing training and support for early career researchers, including the Centre for Academic Leadership & Development.

You’ll not only have the opportunity to meet other new postgraduate researchers from across all of our academic Schools, but also visit information stands from a range of departments and organisations, such as the Library, Careers Advisory Service, Student Union and Vitae. Come and meet new friends and colleagues, and find out about the programmes you could undertake to help you succeed as a postgraduate research student (such as Research Futures and Heriot-Watt Engage).

Essential Skills for Researchers (Domain A)

This session provides an overview of the journey that awaits new research students. It provides a good basis for any new research student and prepares you for the journey ahead.

The various milestones on the road to a successful PhD will be discussed and the support provision at Heriot-Watt will be identified. This session includes a number of exercises to help you engage with the PhD process and improve your skills at both working independently as well as a as a member of a team.

Literature Searching (Domain A)

This is an introduction to the library support available for Heriot-Watt researchers. These courses are run separately for each School, so the information you receive is applicable to you, and you meet your subject librarian.

Citing and Referencing (Domain C)

This session provides an introduction or a refresher to those who may be unsure of the ‘what, why, when and how’ of citing and referencing, focussing on good academic practice and avoiding plagiarism. The workshop includes a variety of exercises for researchers to develop their understanding of these issues and provide hints, tips and good practice to make citing and referencing easier.

Critical Thinking (Domain A)

An interactive workshop on critical thinking, session 6 helps new research students to learn what critical thinking is, understand the contribution of critical thinking to success in research, and learn how to develop critical thinking and apply it to your own work.

Strategic Reading of the Research Literature (Domain A)

This workshop provides a framework for locating, surveying, categorizing and evaluating sources efficiently. It explores the instruction to 'read around your subject' so that you can assess the current state of knowledge and find gaps that you can fill. To do this efficiently, you need to learn how to read selectively to get a general overview of your topic and begin to see connections between your sources. Categorizing your sources helps you decide which sources relate to one another and should be read together. Note-taking and keeping a record of your sources will also be discussed.

Managing Your Research Data (Domain A)

This workshop provides participants with the facts and fables around research data management in the UK, the why and the how. You will gain an understanding of the basic principles of research data management, what practical steps are needed to protect unique and confidential information, University and funders' expectations about research data management, legal and ethical issues relating to research data and the public interest in research and rights to access research data. Group case studies will explore how to balance "the public right to know" with the need to protect confidential data.

Working with Your Supervisor (Domain B)

The relationship between a research student and their supervisor is vitally important for all research students. This session looks at what you and your supervisor should contribute to this relationship, how do deal with common problems that can arise and will suggest ways to manage this relationship effectively.

Communicating Research (2nd year and above)

(Available in Semester 1 only)

1: Preparation and design (Domain D)

An exciting and interactive first stage course in presentation techniques for early career researchers. The course is valuable to all researchers but especially those planning academic presentations and conference presentations. In this half-day workshop the focus will be on:

  • Designing your communication messages for your audiences.
  • Designing for clarity, structure and persuasion.
  • How to build on experience and confidence.
  • How to work creatively, with vision and authenticity.

In addition we will explore visual (slide) design and communication. This course will be the first in a three stage series on presentations.

2: Voice in Action (Domain D)

If you have ever thought that you are not using your voice to its full potential or been concerned that it is not as strong or expressive as you would like, Voice in Action offers a practical introduction to effectively improving and enhancing your voice skill. The main points covered on the course are as follows:

  • An individual assessment of your attributes and voice and speech skills.
  • The voice as an instrument.
  • How to warm up your voice.
  • Controlling and increasing your breath to achieve its full potential.
  • Achieve your centre note &improve your sustainability.
  • Application – putting into practice elements learnt on the course.

The workshop is split in two, with the morning session for those with English as a second language, and the afternoon for those with English as a first or bilingual language.

3: Advanced presentation masterclass (Domain D)

This is the third and final half-day workshop in the presentation series. You will have the opportunity to present a short micro presentation (in small supportive groups) with 3 slides about your research. This workshop is usually very popular as it distils the previous learning into one practical, interactive workshop. In addition to receiving constructive and motivational feedback on your presentation by our expert and your peers, the course will also explore the tricky subject of dealing effectively with audience feedback, questions and academic interaction.

4: Conference talks (Domain D)

This is the last workshop in the communicating research series. Following on from learning about presentation style and content, and building confidence in presenting, this session provides an introduction to giving talks at conferences with a particular focus on how to deal with the question and discussion session.

5: An introduction to data visualation (Domain D)

This workshop will serve as an introduction to the vast field of data visualisation.  Highlighting on-line tools, you will learn how to tell stories with your data. Examples of unique data visualisation projects will be shown for inspiration. Designing communications that appeal on an aesthetic level is important no matter what discipline you work in. This workshop will look at how data can be turned into compelling visual stories, including flat graphic design (infographics).

Viva Preparation (3rd year and above)

(Available Semester 1 and 2)

1: Preparing for your Viva (Domain B)

The viva at the end of the doctoral process is something that can worry candidates unduly. Mainly this worry is around the unknown, the "what ifs" and the fact that there is no such thing as a typical viva. Many of these worries can be dealt with simply by considering what the viva is for, who the examiners might be and what they might want and to thinking about how to answer their questions most effectively.

On the day we will make sure that we answer all of your questions, so please come along having thought about what you want to discover. During the session we will make sure that you understand the purpose, probable structure and possible outcomes of the viva, and have considered some key preparatory tasks that need to be done before the viva.

The following will also be covered:

  • The role of your supervisor.
  • What to expect.
  • Typical questions and topics.
  • Possible outcomes.
  • Common concerns.
  • How to prepare.

2: Performing in your Viva (Domain B)

This workshop is designed for research students approaching thesis submission and who expect to have their Viva within the next 5 or 6 months. Priority places will be allocated to participants who have already attended the "Viva Preparation 1: Understanding Examiners and Preparing for your Viva" workshop, which provides theoretical background that complements this practical approach. The workshop is split in two, with the morning session for those with English as a second language, and the afternoon for those with English as a first or bilingual language.

This session focuses on the viva itself and provides practical advice on how to maximise your performance on the day. The session will:

  • Improve your confidence
  • Improve your presentational skills specifically for the viva
  • Help you to positively handle the pressure and emotions
  • Concentrate on justifying, explaining and defending your thesis
  • Give you case studies of previous successful vivas
Publishing Research (for 3rd year and above students, and staff)

(Available in semester 2)

1: A Strategy for Publishing (Domain D)

This first session will help participants to gain an understanding of the various stages in developing a research paper for publication. This workshop will cover such issues as:

  • Why publish?
  • Selecting journals.
  • Editorial decisions: criteria and their implications.
  • Contracts and legal aspects.
  • Dos and don’ts.
  • Resources for taking it further.

2: Preparing a Document for Publication, Proofreading and Referencing (Domain D)

This second session will help participants gain an understanding of the various stages involved in developing a research paper for publication.

In particular, it will cover:

  • How to tailor your work for a target journal by analysing the journal’s policies and back copies?
  • The role of style guidelines and referencing styles.
  • How to make the most of the peer review process.
  • How to structure and present a paper.

The overall emphasis of the workshop is that simply doing good research is not enough: though your research does need to be strong, it also needs to be tailored and presented appropriately for publication.

3: Citation and Impact (Domain D)

This third session will focus on how to maximise the visibility of your research and the impact that it makes. The session will focus on:

  • The role of peer-reviewed literature.
  • The role of grey literature.
  • Metrics including citation indices and the impact factor.
  • Developing a publication strategy.
Research Writing (for all research students)

(Available in Semester 2)

This set of three workshops is for research students who are in the initial stages of writing up their research. This may be for a first year report or for some other purpose. Students are recommended to take part in all three courses.

1: The Writing Process (Domain A)

For many researchers, starting to draft is one of the most challenging aspects of writing a PhD. How do you know whether you are ready to write? How do you overcome that sense of paralysis or overwhelm that often accompanies the early stages of the writing process? This workshop provides tools and tips for when and how to get started; for generating, focusing, targeting and structuring material; and for developing a first draft. All of these will be put into practice through the development of a short text.

2: Writing a Literature Review (Domain D)

The literature review is a key component of a PhD, because it motivates and contextualises key research issues. Developing a review is a complex task which involves selecting, organising and evaluating source material; reading actively while taking effective notes; and shaping relevant information into a coherent piece of writing. This workshop offers practical ways of making this process manageable and beginning to develop a review.

3: Is my Writing "Academic" Enough (Domain A)

Does academic writing have to be dull or obscure, or can it be engaging and clear? This workshop explores the standards and expectations associated with academic writing. We will look at relevant linguistic and stylistic choices (active or passive? first or third person? plain English or jargon?) and consider academic conventions in terms of organisation and writing style.

Other workshops

Project Management - Domain C – 2nd year and above

An introduction to the process of managing projects and the tools to assist in planning and tracking progress; this course is intended to be immediately applicable to planning and managing academic and research projects as well as commercial projects. It covers the theory and principles of project management within the context of the Project Management Institute.

During this 1-day course, participants will:

  • Learn the basics of the project planning process and receive a set of checklists and guidelines that you can use immediately on any project.
  • Appreciate the fundamental principles of a well-led and well directed project, such as identifying and scheduling tasks, activities, milestones and understanding and managing stakeholders.
  • Be aware of the critical factors that will influence whether a project will be successful or not, including identifying and managing risk.
  • Use practical, group-based exercises to reinforce and enhance the skills learned.
  • Create work breakdown structures, network diagrams, critical path analysis, Gantt charts and other techniques that ensure robust project control.

How to be an Effective Researcher - Domain A – 1st and 2nd years

This programme will provide you with an opportunity to develop and enhance the core skills required to successfully complete a doctorate. The course will also provide you with transferrable skills that will develop you as a researcher but also enable you to succeed outside academia.

Participants will work on different aspects of the doctorate experience including:

  • PhD project planning and time management,
  • working effectively with their supervisors and other researchers,
  • collaboration,
  • culture within research groups, institutions and countries,
  • self-awareness and preferences for learning and working.

Critical thinking in academia - Domain A - all students

This workshop focuses on the implementation of critical thinking in your own research, using practical resources to help you. It follows the workshop within the Getting Started series, but prior attendance on that workshop is not a requirement.

Careers beyond Academia - Domain B - all students

There are a number of options outside academia open to PhD graduates. Not everyone chooses to climb the academic ladder and throughout your PhD you will have developed a number of key skills that can be utilised in a variety of other positions. This workshop aims to highlight a number of careers outside academia and to explore what particular options might be compatible to you. It will include overviews of different job types, case studies of researchers who have moved into different careers and provide resources to help you explore your options. You will also undertake exercises to help you reflect on your own skills and experience, to enable you to communicate these effectively in written applications and interviews.

Keeping on Top of Your PhD: Personal Time Management Strategies - Domain B - all students

This 1-day course will explore how participants can better manage their own time and understand how others manage theirs, in order to become more effective and less stressed on a day-to-day basis. Through group exercises, personal reflection and application to real-life problems, individuals will develop a range of self-management approaches and learn practical time management techniques in order to use time effectively. Participants will learn how to manage themselves: how to focus their energy, attention, and priorities. They will devise a personalised and, most importantly, pragmatic approach based on a range of take-away time management tools. This will enable them to maximise their effectiveness when working alone and with others.

The seven secrets of highly successful research students

iThinkWell's Hugh Kearns is back by popular demand! 
This workshop describes the key habits that iThinkWell’s research and experience with thousands of students shows will make a difference to how quickly and easily you complete your degree. Just as importantly, these habits can greatly reduce the stress and increase the pleasure involved in completing a degree. The workshop will help you to understand how to increase your effectiveness and outcomes in the following key areas:

  • how you deal with your supervisor,
  • how you structure your study time,
  • your attitude (or lack thereof!) in relation to your research,
  • dealing with writer’s block or having difficulty writing,
  • getting the help you need when you are stuck,
  • keeping on going when the going gets tough,
  • juggling multiple commitments and never having enough time

The Balanced Researcher

So you're a researcher. Chances are then that you are pretty busy. Firstly there's your research idea: Getting ethics approval, dealing with paperwork, meetings...all before you even get to the actual research. Then there's papers to write, seminars to attend, conferences to present at. And for most people research is just one of the things you do. You might teach or tutor, run demonstrations, or even have a completely different job.

And that's just work. No matter how much you enjoy your research it's a fair bet that there are other parts to your life too. For example you probably have a family or friends, you may have social commitments and you may even have some personal interests.

This workshop will describe the most useful strategies that thousands of researchers have found helpful in balancing the many demands on their time.

  • how to be effective with your time
  • specific strategies for coping with email overload
  • picking the right things to work on
  • dealing with distractions and interruptions
  • how to say NO gracefully
  • setting boundaries
  • looking after me