Dr John Miles, CEO of Inkpath, discusses how digital tools can enhance skills and support career development journeys for both students and researchers, particularly since their learning experiences are more connected than ever before.
Although once seen as occupying two distinct academic spaces, the needs of today’s researchers and undergraduate students clearly overlap.
The traditional ‘lone academic’ model, something which most of us will imagine when we think of someone working towards their PhD, does indeed still exist, but has been complemented, and occasionally superseded by, the model nurtured by the UK Research Councils via doctorial training partnerships. The academic world has become much more collaborative – it now has more of a cohort mentality and aims to bring people together – something which has been embedded in the undergraduate experience for many years.
There have been countless challenges for universities over the past 12 months as the sector continues to feel the impact of the pandemic. Once again, the ‘value for money’ debate has come to the fore, as undergraduate students and those studying for PhDs continue to carry out their research, teaching and learning remotely.
Higher Education is not a means towards an end
Despite the value debate, the sector – students and researchers included – usually tries not to see the undergraduate degree nor the PhD as an instrumental means towards an end. Even professional or vocational programmes are usually wider than the professions to which they are connected. However, with a highly competitive job market confronting students and researchers alike, ‘super-curricular’ qualities such as flexibility, initiative, responsibleness and a thirst for learning are more important than ever to those embarking on the next stage of their learner journey.
How close to the central locus of the university curriculum the employability agenda should be is a cause of debate, but what is not in question is that the university degree and the university research programme help individuals to fashion and develop these essential skills. For the sake of students and researchers and their institutions, this is a story that needs to be told.
As well as the traditional qualification students and researchers complete during their time at their university, these super-curricular qualities can now also be developed and evidenced throughout, regardless of the programme being undertaken, through a digital skills and career development platform.
Pursuing a unique trajectory
I believe that skills-literate people of all ages are better able to navigate an ever-complicated and uncertain career reality; it is our ambition to ensure they develop the skills they need to pursue the unique trajectory that is right for them.
This is why I started the Inkpath project while I was working at the University of Oxford. I was surrounded by brilliant researchers and students who were developing amazing skills, but met very few who evidenced and reflected on their skills development in a systematic way. It was all but impossible to get a cohort-level picture of development with which to understand progress across disciplines over time: as soon as the data could be collected, it would be out of date.
An intuitive skills and career development platform can help both students and researchers develop their life and career skills while supporting their institution in enhancing course provision and career development initiatives.
A tough job market may also mean more people start to look towards postgraduate study and research as a way of differentiating their skills. This means that tracking their skills, knowledge and progression throughout will become all the more important. This has become apparent when working with our larger university clients, who have rapidly extended access to Inkpath from researchers to undergraduates and beyond, all of whom now benefit from a seamless professional development pathway for as long as they stay in the institution.
Professional development progress
The challenge here for individuals is to maintain the professional development progress they will have made throughout their degree. Having a record that stays with them, providing a picture of professional development opportunities that changes to suit their particular stage, will enable them to build a rich portfolio of their career and skill development activities and experiences, wherever and whenever they are.
As we begin to recover from the pandemic, I think it is important that we prepare and equip our students and researchers with the necessary skills to pursue their career choices and develop both personally and professionally. I don’t doubt that there will be more turbulent months or years ahead for the higher education system, but by enabling students and researchers to put their best foot forward in their endeavours, we can mitigate the future challenges they may face. I am therefore on a mission to enable the world to make smarter skills and careers choices.