Research Futures Student Workshops

ALD workshop

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 are now open.*

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 "Managing Your Career". 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)

PGR University Induction (Domain B)

Welcome to postgraduate researcher induction at Heriot-Watt. This includes contributions from senior academic staff, experienced research students, postgraduate representatives, and departments providing training and support for early career researchers, including the Research Futures Academy.

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 and student union.

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 course is for PGR students within 6 months of starting their doctorate. The course will help students to develop essential skills they will require for their doctorate. It will provide students with an overview of the stages of a doctorate, and provides students with tools and techniques for project and time management, and developing a Personal Development Plan. The course will also explore some common issues experienced by PGR students, imposter syndrome and sources of support at HWU.

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. This is an online workshop.

Citing and Referencing (Domain C)

This workshop provides an introduction to citing and referencing, focusing on good academic practice and avoiding accusations of plagiarism. This is an online workshop.

Critical Thinking (Domain A)

An interactive workshop on critical thinking 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. There are suggestions for note-taking and record keeping. This in an online workshop.

Managing Your Research Data (Domain A)

This workshop provides an introduction to managing your research data. This course guides PGR students through core principles and practice in how to manage research data, taking account of our responsibilities and rights under data protection and freedom of information laws. This is an online workshop.

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)

1: Preparation and Design for Great Presentations (Domain D)

In this lively and interactive workshop we will explore how to prepare, design and build presentations that can connect with any small to medium size audience. From top tips to deep design we will focus on how to build short, powerful presentations that help you deliver your best work both critically and creatively by exploring concepts such as mindset, designing for time, slide and visual literacy, great openings and question and feedback interaction.

At the end of the workshop you should be able to:

  • identify and practice strategies that help build you creative and critical confidence,
  • understand the importance of timing and delivery techniques to engage an audience,
  • realise the importance of building a professional presentation style that is both authentic and resilient.

2: Preparation for Conference Presentation and Competitions (Domain D)

In this second workshop - a follow up to Preparation and Design for Great Presentations - we continue developing the key themes such as good design and great timing by exploring the techniques you need to engage with larger conference audiences. We begin our journey by concentrating on the skills needed to inform and delight audiences through short, creative presentations such as Three-Minute Thesis and FameLab, so anyone wishing to take part in these national competitions is strongly advised to attend this workshop. We will also work on using these techniques to build a longer conference presentation to connect with a large audience in a very big hall.

At the end of the workshop you should be able to:

  • understand the requirements and be ready to build a great three-minute presentation,
  • realise the need to use design thinking techniques to enhance your content with great visual and sensory information,
  • connect with a variety of audience types both with great content and with great delivery.

3: Conference Talks (Domain D)

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.

4: 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).

Topics covered include:

  • the importance of good visual storytelling,
  • designing and presenting graphs and charts to maximise their impact,
  • examples of good practice.

Please note: Although different visualisation software options will be discussed during the workshop, this is not a software-training course.

5. Designing Effective Slides (Domain D) 

Most of us use slides in our presentations, whether these are for short departmental meetings or major presentations at international conferences. However, one of the commonest features of all presentations is poor slide design.

Our slides are visual aids to help our audience understand and follow what we are saying. Unfortunately, the slides presenters use are often overcrowded, difficult to see and badly designed. As visual aids they fail both visually and as aids for the audience. Using lots of examples, the workshop facilitator, Allan Gaw, will introduce delegates to the acronym SWIPE and show how its component parts can be used to help us design clean, simple slides that will serve us best as great visual aids.

If you are completely new to making slides, or if you feel that that slides you have been making for the last twenty years could be better, you will find this workshop useful and relevant to your work. 

This session is a webinar.

Managing Your Career (for 2nd and 3rd year)

Careers Beyond Academia (Domain B)

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.

Identifying Your Skills and Career Planning WEBINAR (Domain B) 

This workshop is designed for PhD candidates who are seeking to take the next steps in their Career Planning. It will support students in identifying what their key strengths are and how to explore, articulate and evidence their skills and unique selling point.

This session will cover the following topics:

  • why think about your personal brand
  • developing your brand
  • identifying your strengths and added value
  • communicating your brand effectively.

Developing a Stand-out CV and Job Application (Domain B)

The session will support students in applying for their next professional role or for some additional work experience. It looks at developing a strong CV or Application when applying for jobs.

 This session will cover the following topics:

  • understand what employers are looking for,
  • know how to target a CV/application for each opportunity,
  • be able to construct and present your story through a CV/application,
  • know how to get further support.

Successful Job Interviews (Domain B)

This session will cover what to expect from a graduate/professional job interview, techniques for answering questions plus hints and tips for success.

This session will cover the following topics:

  • understand what employers are looking for
  • preparation for interview
  • presenting yourself at interview
  • types of questions asked
  • strategies for providing effective answers.

These workshop is suitable for those planning a career in academia, as well as those planning a career outside of academia.

Publishing Research (for 2nd and 3rd year and staff)

1: Getting Published in Journals - Guidance for Researchers (Domain D)

This workshop is designed for researchers who are considering publishing their research and who have some familiarity with the process and terminology.

These interlinked workshops provide comprehensive advice and information on how to successfully publish your research findings. We recommend you attend all three of these sessions. 

Session 1 will run as 3 one-hour long webinars.

Part 1 is about how a good strategy for getting published in journals is to (a) discover what opportunities are out there, and (b) evaluate those opportunities so that you can prioritise them.

This workshop will first outline how to discover journals, using formal and informal methods. It will then identify evaluation methods, including metrics (including, but not limited to, the journal impact factor) and qualitative factors. Finally, it will identify resources for further study.

To develop an efficient and professional approach to getting your work published, it is beneficial to learn how to optimise your writing for the journal(s) you wish to publish in. Part 2 of this workshop explains how to:

  • ascertain journals’ explicit requirements
  • investigate journals in order to discover their implicit norms and preferences
  • learn from back copies.

It will also identify resources for further study.

Part 3 of the workshop:

  • briefly introduces peer review – its purpose and how it functions
  • outlines typical structures and contents of peer review
  • focuses on how to respond to peer review – dos and, especially, don’ts
  • Introduces resources for further study.

2: How to Structure and Edit Your Paper (Domain D)

This workshop is designed for researchers who are considering publishing their research and have some familiarity with the process and terminology. This workshop is part of a set of three interlinked workshops providing comprehensive advice and information on how to successfully publish your research findings. We recommend you attend all three of these sessions.

This session will provide practical guidance on how to decide the overall shape of your paper and how to write specific components – notably the abstract, conclusion, tables and figures, and the cover letter. The session will also introduce editorial criteria to help you assess and develop your papers.

3: Making an Impact with Your Publications (Domain D)

This session will focus on the following questions:

  • How can you promote yourself and your papers?
  • How can you develop an authorial strategy for your publications?
  • How can you achieve impact with them?

The discussion will include consideration both of the journal papers and other forms of publication (including what is sometimes known as ‘grey literature’).

Viva Preparation (3rd year and above)

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: Preparing for your Viva" workshop, which provides theoretical background that complements this practical approach. The workshop is split in two, with the one session for those with English as a second language, and the other 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.
Research Writing (for all research students)

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.

Thesis Writing (2nd and 3rd year)

Thesis Writing (Domain B)

How do you initiate the writing process when faced with only a blank page? The PhD thesis may be the longest writing project you ever undertake and a successful thesis includes planning, setting deadlines and receiving feedback. A thesis must be written in a clear and concise manner and all students should be aware of what is expected of them.

This workshop will focus on how to start writing, how to keep going and how to finish. We will cover language and the academic writing style, planning, figures and data presentation, avoiding pitfalls, submitting the thesis and preparing for the viva and beyond.

The aims of this workshops are:

  • to introduce students to the thesis writing process and what is expected of them,
  • to introduce techniques to enhance and improve students’ writing and productivity,
  • to encourage students to plan and organise their large writing projects and consider what methods work best for them.

Thesis Writing Bootcamp (Domain A)

A three-day intensive residential programme for PhD students currently writing their PhD thesis. The goal of this immersive writing programme is for participants to improve or finesse their academic writing. You will learn how to closely edit and craft your academic prose and will take away an edited piece of your own work. By the end of the course participants should understand the benefits of applying the principles of narrative to structuring a thesis and an abstract. They will develop techniques for editing with special attention to line-by-line crafting.

The programme will involve both one-to-one writing consultations with the course facilitators and a ‘free-writing session’. The latter will enable you to develop techniques for getting words on the page and using creative practice to develop your ideas. 

NB: The Retreat is designed to be relevant across all academic disciplines (i.e. it is not discipline-specific). It is not specifically for non-native English speakers but rather all PhD students wishing to develop their writing skills.

Thesis Writing for PGR students WEBINAR (Domain A)

A thesis is an extended piece of writing — often the longest a person has ever been asked to write and, as such, it is often daunting. This webinar is designed for the daunted, and during it we will look at the thesis writing process as a project to be managed like any other. We will look at the importance of incorporating writing into your daily schedule rather than leaving it to the end; we will look at strategies for getting started; and we will develop an understanding of what it means to write at a postgraduate level.

 After this course each participant will:

  • know what makes postgraduate writing different
  • understand the importance of planning and project management
  • appreciate the uses of revision and editing
  • be aware of the commonest problems and how to avoid them.

Writing an Effective Literature Review WEBINAR (Domain A)

Whether you are writing a PhD thesis, a grant application or a paper you will be required to produce a literature review. This aspect of academic writing presents many problems to those new, and sometimes not so new, to the task. Some mistakenly think that a simple, and often exhaustive, catalogue of past research is what is required. But, or course, a good literature review is much more than that. This webinar will help participants through a carefully plotted route, helping them to produce a winning strategy for writing their next literature review. 

 After the workshop each participant will:

  • understand the key elements of a good literature review and its purpose
  • be able to formulate a literature review writing plan
  • understand the use of different referencing systems
  • appreciate the need for editing and review of the written work.

Who's Afraid of the Big Blank Page - Getting Started with Your Academic Writing WEBINAR (Domain A)

If you find writing a challenge, you are not alone. There are a number of difficulties, but many writers find that their biggest problem is simply getting started. In this online session we will focus on strategies we can use to help us get over that fear of the big blank page. We will look at freewriting and how this can help us generate text and, also, help us think on paper. By the end of this one-hour interactive online session, you will have a better understanding of what free writing is and how it can help you in your scientific writing and your scientific thinking. During this session, you will have the opportunity to do some freewriting, so make sure you have some paper and a pen hand.

After the workshop each participant will have a better understanding of freewriting and how this can help them generate text for their writing projects.

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 one-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 year

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.

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

The challenge of creating momentum and structure for the duration of a PhD, which is often characterised by long periods of independent work, demands effective, resilient time management skills. PhD students may find themselves careering between periods of drifting and stressful deadline driven overwork. Students often feel overwhelmed and rudderless, and struggle to prioritise or use their time efficiently and effectively. At times PhD study will overtake everything else in life, making work-life balance seem impossible, and preventing long-term career development.

Despite the challenges, it is possible to develop time management habits that will make PhD study easier and less stressful. Understanding and working with individual time management style, learning better prioritisation techniques, identifying and eliminating time thieves and reducing procrastination can help students use their time and energy more productively. This 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 and maintain work-life balance. 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 – which will enable them to maximise and sustain their effectiveness for the duration of their PhD – and beyond.

Applying Critical Thinking to Your Own Research (Domain A) - all students

This workshop focuses on the implementation of critical thinking in your own research, using practical resources to help you.

Software Carpentry (Domain B) - all students and staff

Software Carpentry aims to help researchers get their work done in less time and with less pain by teaching them basic research computing skills. This hands-on workshop will cover basic concepts and tools, including program design, version control, data management, and task automation. Participants will be encouraged to help one another and to apply what they have learned to their own research problems.

The course consists of two full-day workshops and will cover:

  • automating tasks with the Unix Shell
  • an introduction to Python
  • version control with git
  • data analysis and visualisation in Python.

You don't need to have any previous knowledge of the tools that will be presented at the workshop.

Key information

Research Futures