Scottish postdocs offered skills training

May 5, 2006

Life scientist Christine Milburn has returned to her alma mater, Dundee University, as a generic skills training co-ordinator - one of a number of similar posts established by Scotland's universities to gain a competitive edge in the research market.

A number of universities have been advertising for staff to help researchers' develop their generic skills and careers.

Dundee funds the School of Life Sciences Postdoc Association, which holds seminars to fine tune presentation skills and workshops on skills that range from scientific writing to grant applications.

Dr Milburn said: "We're looking to roll that out right across the university to all our postdocs. The university wants to make sure postdocs understand that we are there to listen to them, and nothing will be compulsory."

Paul Andrews, co-chair of the association, said Dr Milburn's appointment was a very positive move. "At the highest level, there's an appreciation of the need to make the postdocs' life a bit easier, and this helps make Dundee more competitive. In the UK, (support for) postdocs is very piecemeal, very neglected."

Dr Milburn said it was a misconception that her job was simply to give people alternatives to academia. She said she could support those becoming principal investigators.

But Dr Andrews said: "Eighty per cent of postdocs don't go on to run their own labs in academia, and we're trying to make people competitive not only in the lab but if they decide to go into the wider world."

Glasgow University also recently made two appointments. A training development officer will help to deliver general skills programmes for postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, working with faculties, graduate schools and central management. A careers adviser will help researchers seeking jobs inside and outside higher education.

A Glasgow spokesman said: "We are committed to the skills training agenda and improving the employability of PhD graduates, and wished to employ dedicated staff in this area rather than depend on existing staff to take these duties on in addition to their duties."

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