School of Computer Science

Skills Development

There are many opportunities for developing your skills during your PhD. The process of planning the training and activities you can undertake to do this is called Development Needs Analysis (DNA), which is described below. This builds on ideas from Vitae's Researcher Development Framework, which you may also find helpful. This page covers some of the opportunities and resources available to you.

The Research Skills Module

The only taught module that all research students in the School are required to attend is Research Skills. It is taught in the Autumn Term of each year, currently by Peter Hancox, and you should take the module the first time that it runs after your arrival (for most people, this means immediately at the start of the first year). The Research Skills module covers basic techniques such as literature searches, preparing research documents and giving talks. The module comprises two taught lectures a week, and has an assessed component, usually both a written part and a presentation. The only exception is if you have already passed a comparable module somewhere - in that case ask the Research Students Tutor for an excusal.

SoCS Research Training

SoCS Research Training is a PhD student-led series of training sessions tailored and specialised for the needs of CS research. It covers general skills needed for a PhD (e.g., how to write, ethics, refeeering papers) as well as technical topics (e.g., statistics, linear algebra, probabilistic models). See the web page for full details.

University Graduate School

The University provides access to a wide range of courses for training in specific skills. The University Graduate School maintains a list of these, as well as some more general guidance about training.

Other Opportunities and Resources

  • Thesis groups: The system of Thesis Group meetings covers a variety of skills. For your report you must summarize your work in writing, and at the meeting you do the same with by talking about it and answering questions. This is very good practice for your final viva. The meeting also discusses your general management of your research, choice of topics, design of experiments, etc. and provides a further opportunity to discuss appropriate training.

  • Seminars: By this we mean research meetings in the School, including actual seminars but also including meetings in your own research grouping. These are the most immediate way in which you become more familiar with the broad research field you are working in. The word "seminar" literally means "planting a seed", and you will still benefit from them even if you don't understand every word. Plan to attend the weekly School Seminars, as well as others in your particular field. Your research group may also hold informal lecture series as tutorials in particular topics. Your supervisor will tell you what is especially relevant to your work.

  • Conferences: These are where you can make contact with the international research community in your particular area, and you should expect to reach the stage of being able to present a paper at a conference. See this page for details and information about funding.

  • Summer Schools: In addition there may be "Summer Schools" (or similar events) available to teach research topics in your area. For example, the Midland Graduate School in the Foundations of Computer Science is a 5-day residential course, held each year during the Easter vacation, that is regarded as essential for research students in theoretical computer science. It covers basic applications of maths and logic, including category theory and semantics. It also holds annual Christmas lectures. Talk to your supervisor about suitable events in your area and for advice on where to obtain or apply for funding.

  • Online Resources: There are many other good resources available online. Two highly recommended examples are:

Development Needs Analysis (DNA)

Planning out the more individual parts of your training is sometimes called "Development Needs Analysis", or DNA. The phrase is meant to show you should be thinking not just about what would be nice to go to, but also what you will get out of it and how that fits with what you need to learn. You should start thinking about this as soon as you arrive.

You are expected to include your plans once a year with your progress reports, and be prepared to discuss them at Thesis Group meetings. There is a Development Needs Analysis (DNA) form specifically for this purpose (pdf, docx). This one has been customised within our School/College, but if you prefer you can also find a link to the older, University-provided version here. In your first year, discuss training with your supervisor early on and return the DNA form with your RSMG1 form. You will be expected to include a completed DNA form with your RSMG1, RSMG4 and RSMG6 forms.

The DNA skills development form is for thinking about how you will acquire the various skills expected of a research graduate, and trying to plan out courses and other activities each year. You can find plenty of suggestions above for such activities but you will also be able to get ideas from your supervisor, ThesiS Group and fellow research students.

Take the DNA form seriously - it is meant to help you. In your previous taught degrees you learnt mostly by taking a programme of taught courses that were laid on for you. In a research degree you need to plan the learning activities out for yourself, paying attention to what you already know and what you still have to learn. If the form doesn't help you make these plans, then it is not working.