Academic and Professional Development

Step 1: Conduct Self-assessment

The self-assessment will help you to gauge your skills, strengths and areas that need further development. Some of the skills and strengths that are relevant to career decisions in research include: technical abilities (breadth and depth of expertise), writing skills, oral communication skills, organizational ability, leadership, self-motivation, decision-making, creativity, work ethic, problem solving abilities, knowledge (depth and breadth), perseverance, ability/desire to take risks. Take a realistic look at your current abilities. This is a critical part of career planning. Involve your mentors, faculty, colleagues, family and friends in the assessment process by asking them to identify your strengths and the areas you need to develop.1

Here are some questions to initiate the self-assessment process. These questions are not intended to be comprehensive, but can serve as a tool for you and your mentor to identify your career goals and competencies required to reach your goals.

Career Goals

  • What are your short-term career goals? How will you achieve these goals within the next two to five years?
  • What are your long-term career goals? How will you achieve these goals within the next 10 to 15 years?
  • What did you do last year to help develop contacts relevant to your short-term or long-term goals? Did you have opportunities to network with individuals from institutions or companies you feel may be a good fit for your future career aspirations?

Percentage Time Spent on Graduate Experience

What percentage of your time have you spent in the past year on the following components of the graduate experience? How much time would you need to spend this year? 2

  • Coursework
  • Research
  • Dissertation writing
  • Grant writing
  • Attending research-related meetings or seminars
  • Background reading
  • Presenting at conferences or professional meetings
  • Writing for publication
  • Course development (for instructors/TA)
  • Teaching
  • Job search process such as CV/résumé building and formatting, interviewing, etc.
  • Student advising
  • Attending career development workshops

Scholarly Competencies


  • What research theories or questions have you developed in the past year? How can you continue to build on those theories or questions? Are there other related theories or questions to develop?
  • What research-related skills have you acquired? What feedback have you received on your research skills? What further skills do you need to acquire to be successful with your research and future career? How will you gain exposure to these skills and evaluate your competency?
  • What research collaborations (intradisiciplinary or interdisciplinary) have you established? Are they successful and beneficial to your scholarly or scientific work? If so, how can you continue to build on those successes for the coming year? If they have not been successful, how can you improve on your collaborative research skills?
  • How much time do you spend on experiments or projects that did not work? Are you continuing to solve problems with the experiments or projects, orcould there be more important work to consider for this year? If so, how will you identify such experiments or projects?
  • What research-related seminars did you attend? Were they beneficial to your work? What seminars do you need to attend this year?

Dissertation Writing

  • How much time have you spent narrowing the scope of your dissertation topic or drafting parts of the dissertation?
  • Have you developed a schedule this year to meet with your advisor regarding the dissertation? If you are just beginning your graduate program, are you familiar with your department’s process to move students from the coursework to the dissertation defense? If not,who can you ask?
  • Do you have a writing support group or resources where you can get feedback on your work? If not, how can you join a group?
  • How productive were you last year with writing the dissertation? What are your writing strengths and areas needing improvement? How would you seek assistance?


  • Did you do any teaching in the past year (courses, seminars, laboratories)? Would you like additional opportunities to teach? How will you find these teaching opportunities?
  • Did you do any teaching in the past year (courses, seminars, laboratories)? Would you like additional opportunities to teach? How will you find these teaching opportunities?
  • What sorts of feedback, formal or informal, have you received on your course content, syllabi, pedagogy, consideration of diverse learners and overall teaching abilities? In which areas do you need to improve? How will you improve your teaching and what resources are available?

Papers and Publications

  • What papers did you author or co-author in the past year? Were any of the papers submitted for publication? If not, could any of those be submitted for publication this year, or do you need to write different papers? How will you identify potential publishing venues?
  • What types of feedback, formal or informal, have you received on your writing skills?
  • What specific areas of writing do you need to improve?

Professional Development Competencies


  • What presentations (lab meetings, journal clubs, seminars, scientific meetings or professional conferences) did you make in the past year? What sorts of feedback did you receive on the content of you presentation and your presentation skills? Are there specific presentation skills you would like to improve? How will you do so and what are your resources? What presentations would you need to make this year?

Fellowships and Grants

  • What fellowship or grant proposals did you write? Were they funded? If yes, how will you assure that you make progress on these projects this year? If the proposal was not funded, what can you do to improve the application for future submission?
  • What feedback have you received on your grant writing skills? Are there specific areas you need to develop to attract potential funders? How will you improve your skills and what resources are available?
  • What grants do you need to write this year?

Budget Management

  • How much experience do you have with budget management? Do you need to gain more experience managing a research or project budget? How will you accomplish this?


  • What leadership experiences have you had that allowed you to identify objectives, implement plans and acquire decision making skills?
  • What positions (within and outside the University) can you pursue this year to enhance your leadership skills?

Conflict Management

What opportunities have you had to develop skills related to conflict management? Such skills might include the ability to understand:

  • psychological, physiological and behavioral aspects of conflict
  • cross-cultural considerations in dealing with conflict
  • prevalent conflict management styles and strategies
  • positive opportunities that can be presented by conflict
  • differences between the roles, responsibilities, process and expected outcomes of mediation, arbitration and negotiation
  • differences between compromise, cooperation, collaboration and consensus building3

Competencies for the Job-search Process

Below is a list of suggested professional development competencies related to the job search process that could be developed to increase the chances of securing a job offer of your choice in a timely manner. Take time to identify areas you need to improve and the resources available within and outside of the University.

CV/Resume building and Formatting

  • Formatting for the appropriate audience (e.g. teaching versus research university)
  • Including information pertinent to the job description and qualifications
  • Using a consistent, well-organized format that is easy to read and professional

Job Interviews

  • Preparing and researching for the interview
  • Understanding different types of interviews for industry and academia
  • Recognizing and effectively responding to different forms of questions such as theoretical, leading and behavioral
  • Properly communicating essential qualities such as clear communication skills, enthusiasm, leadership experience, teamwork oriented, decision-making abilities, organizational skills and maturity
  • Gaining experience with mock interviews that provide in-depth feedback
  • Developing interviewing techniques such as SAR (situation, action, result)
  • Handling difficult questions with poise and purpose
  • Identifying common cultural barriers to the job search
  • Developing questions for the interviewer
  • Maintaining appropriate contact after the interview

Informational Interviews

  • Tailoring the interview to your personality preferences
  • Establishing contact with an individual from the company or institution of interest
  • Formulating effective interview questions
  • Maintaining appropriate contact after the interview


  • Identifying opportunities to meet with individuals who may be interested in your research and professional experiences
  • Communicating your scholarly, research and career interests to individuals in academic and professional communities who may be aware of employment opportunities that match your specific experience and skills.


  • Tailoring the content for institutional or organizational fit
  • Clearly communicating your research or scholarly agenda
  • Engaging the audience in your presentation
  • Addressing questions clearly and effectively

Cover Letter

  • Reflecting a clear understanding of the organization or institution’s mission and structure
  • Clearly stating an interest in the position and your qualifications to fulfill the position
  • Highlighting research and/or teaching interests
  • Detailing the required competencies for the position mentioned in the CV or résumé

Teaching Portfolio

  • Teaching philosophy
  • Course syllabus
  • Lesson plans
  • In-class and out-of class activities
  • Assessment methods

Emerging Areas of Competencies: Collaborative Leadership

Regardless of your chosen career path, at some point you will likely find yourself engaged in a collaborative endeavor, such as co-teaching, collaborative research, or working on a team project. Working in teams often requires the ability to translate discipline-based concepts, methods and practices in ways that experts from other fields will find understandable. Effective collaborative leadership also requires considerable attention to group dynamics, the professional development of team members, negotiating the division of labor and credit, as well as managing conflict. Although there are specific skills and competencies required to effectively engage in collaborative and interdisciplinary activity, such as building trust and creating clarity, these are not routinely taught within the academic and professional curriculum. The Graduate School, in collaboration with the Office of the Provost and the Office of Human Resources, is working to develop a collaborative leadership development series that will help individuals to assess their collaborative leadership  competencies and skills, and to identify areas in which they can enhance those skills.

Rather than simply identifying the gaps in your skills and competencies, we encourage you to assess your collaborative leadership skills by reflecting on the unique traits you possess. These may be strengths that are  not yet valued by your field(s) of study, but which have the potential to transform thinking and learning in your disciplinary area. It is also useful to keep in mind that the skills and competencies that are most useful  for professional and career development are not a fixed set, but rather continuously change based on your experiences and your goals.

1 Annual Self Assessment for Postdoctoral Fellows, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Office of PostdoctoralServices

2 Ibid