You may have a vague idea of some your strengths and weaknesses. But do you have a ‘yardstick’ by which to measure these against? Sadly, people and their institutions are typically not very good at assessing the competencies they hold and those that need to be improved. Early career researcher development training often covers a series of valuable competencies but does not address the needs of individuals in a targeted way. By not doing so, you might not be getting the training you really need.
This blog seeks to show how you can identify your strengths and weaknesses, suggest an approach to help you identify which of these are the most important for your own career development, and highlight the importance of looking at your weaknesses in a positive light.
How to identify your strengths and weaknesses
Assessing your strengths and weaknesses as an early career researcher could be key to your longer-term development. Key competencies underpinning the Research Excellence Framework (REF) could be used to help guide what competencies you should focus on. The REF assesses individual research based on the quality of their research outputs and their impact beyond academia.
Many of the core competencies supporting the REF have been explored through valuable tools like Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework (RDF). The RDF has been created from empirical data to identify the characteristics of excellent researchers, and covers four principle themes:
- Engagement, influence and impact
- Knowledge and intellectual abilities
- Research governance and organisation
- Personal effectiveness
It seems logical to assess your own strengths and weaknesses through a lens such as this. Each of these principle themes includes a series of sub-themes. A very simple approach to assess your own strengths and weaknesses would be to score yourself against each of these sub-themes to identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie. OK, this may not represent the most ‘scientific’ approach, but it’s far more systematic than making broad assumptions about your strengths and weaknesses based on no specific criteria at all!
Addressing strengths and weaknesses
By following this simple approach, you should have a list of themes you scored highly in and others where you did not do so well. It’s typical to focus on weaknesses at this point, but that may well be a little short-sighted.
There is no doubt we should celebrate our strengths more, and acknowledge that if we are not strong in a particular area, we may never be able to attain the same standards as others in this area. Of course, we can improve and get better and that should be our focus – across the board. It’s worth trying to explore our strengths and weaknesses in different ways as a means of acknowledging some of the possible reasons you don’t excel in an area, while in others you do.
Ask yourself questions like: Which of these areas are you most inspired by or interested in? Which of these themes scare you? And finally, on both counts ask yourself why and look at possible ways of changing your perceptions of a competency. You may hold a lot of negativity about something, that if you could remove, you might enjoy and be good at!
For example, there is some focus these days on researchers using social media as a means of reaching out beyond academia. You may not feel like this is something you can do, but if you come at this more broadly and look at different social media tools (of which there are many) that suit you and your personality, you might be able to change how you feel about this specific competency. Trying to come at things from a different angle is often refreshing and valuable.
Learn to be positive about your weaknesses
It’s vital not to attach too much negativity to your weaknesses. Through some self-awareness, you should be able to start acknowledging how some of your weaknesses can also be deemed a positive thing. For instance, you may be the type of person who focuses too much on ‘the detail’ of an issue and finds it difficult to draw out the key points, but of course, this could be both a weakness and a strength, depending on the context. Equally, if you are a passionate and spontaneous person, this could be both a positive and negative character trait depending on the context. By being aware of our weaknesses and by re-positioning them we may begin to see that they should not be always seen in a negative light.
Find out what training is offered by your institution
You might be surprised by the variety of training offered by your own institution. There is often a wide variety of training available, but it’s poorly advertised. If it’s not there, request specific training by showing the demand and relevance of it. Often the people that organise this kind of training are looking for inspiration and input, so be prepared to push your case and you may be surprised at what becomes available.
If you can’t find what you are looking for at your institution, organisations like Vitae has various free online resources, as well as online training available to its members. Also, remember that many of the skills you may want to strengthen are not exclusive to academia, a quick search on the web might prove just as valuable.
Don’t make excuses, you can do it
We tend to hesitate when actively seeking to address our perceived weaknesses. People often feel like they just can’t do something, full stop! But by being open, treating our strengths and weaknesses in an equal way, and by trying to understand why we really struggle with something, we might just be able to make great strides forward – surely it’s worth a try?