Co-Creating a new Development Needs Analysis for Postgraduate Researchers

We are a cross-University team currently working on co-creating a new comprehensive University-wide Development Needs Analysis tool for postgraduate research students to support their reflection and conversations with supervisors on training, professional development, and career planning.

Three women talking at a table.

Regular and engaged conversations between postgraduate researchers and supervisors about the skills required for research projects are crucial in ensuring successful PhD completion. Equally important are the students’ wider development needs regarding their career aspirations. To support both postgraduate researchers and supervisors in having these conversations, we aim to co-create a Development Needs Analysis (DNA) that is fit for purpose, that can be applied across disciplines, and firmly connects research-specific considerations to broader career developments.

We invite postgraduate researchers and supervisors to take part in this research project to support engaged conversations about training, professional and career development.

A Development Needs Analysis (hereafter DNA) is a framework that enables postgraduate researchers to reflect in a holistic way on their research-specific training needs; their professional development needs; and their career ambitions. Across the University, a variety of frameworks are being used to address these aspects individually through forms such as Training Needs Analysis or Training Needs Form, or Professional Development Plans or a combination. Our aim is to co-create a comprehensive DNA that supports postgraduate researchers to reflect on all aspects of training, professional development, and career planning more intentionally and purposefully.

Our aim is to co-create a comprehensive DNA that:

  • is evidence-based through research, surveys, and focus groups;
  • is fit-for purpose as tested through a trial implementation;
  • takes disciplinary differences from across Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts into account through University-wide surveys and trial implementation in a STEM and AHSS context;
  • connects research-focused and wider career considerations through collaboration with the Careers Service.

This project received funding from the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme. The fund enabled a timely collaboration between the Institute for Academic Development, the Careers Service, and Doctoral College, in partnership with Precision Medicine’s Doctoral Training Programme and the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology.

The project runs from January 2024 to July 2025 and consists of three phrases, engaging with postgraduate researchers and supervisors in each phase.

Phase One:

  • evidence-based Learning Needs Analysis via surveys, benchmarking existing Training and/or Development Needs Analyses across the University and sector.

Phase Two:

  • co-creation of a new DNA via focus groups along with the creation of a suite of resources;
  • trial implementation in Precision Medicine’s Doctoral Training Programme and in History, Classics, and Archaeology in the Academic Year 2024/25.

Phase Three:

  • evaluate the trial implementation through surveys and focus groups for improvement and finalisation of the suite of resources.

Collaboration and co-creation are the core principles for this project.

Dr Anna Pilz, Academic Developer and Trainer (Project Lead, Institute for Academic Development)

Majdouline El hichou (Research Assistant, PhD student in GeoSciences)

Dr Sharon Maguire (Director, University of Edinburgh Careers Service)

Prof Laura Bradley (Dean of Postgraduate Research, CAHSS)

Dr Fiona Philippi (Head of Researcher Development, IAD; Doctoral College)

Dr Kimberley Czajkowski (Senior Lecturer in Ancient History, Classics Graduate Officer)

Dr Tom MacGillivray (Senior Research Fellow & Co-Director of Precision Medicine Doctoral Training Programme)

This project seeks to improve postgraduate researchers’ experience and active engagement with their professional and career development, and enhance support for new and established supervisors in having training, professional and career development conversation with their postgraduate researchers.

If you are a postgraduate researcher: We want to understand what you are currently using (if anything), how you are using these frameworks, and with whom you have conversations about your training, professional and career development. We wish to hear from PhD students in the early, middle, and late stages of their degree journey and from across the University’s postgraduate researcher community.

If you are a supervisor: We want to understand your experience as a supervisor of using such tools or frameworks to support conversations with your supervisees around development. We are keen to hear from new and experienced supervisors. 

You have two opportunities to contribute to the project:

1. You can fill out an anonymous survey that will take ca. 10-15 minutes. Survey questions focus on your familiarity with Training or Development Needs Analysis, the frequency and effectiveness of professional and career development conversations, and how these conversations can be better supported. As the survey is anonymous, we will not be able to get in touch with you about the project further.

2. You can participate in an in-person focus group. You can signal your expression of interest in the survey and we will contact you by email with further details. Focus groups will be up to 90 minutes. Focus groups will consist of structured activities and group conversation to gain a deeper understanding of support needs and identify opportunities for improved resources and guidance, and they will be audio recorded as a memory aid for the purpose of data analysis only. If you wish to participate in focus group but do not wish to participate in the survey, please get in touch via email with Anna Pilz (

We want to hear from you to understand your learning needs and how we can better support you. Please take 10 to 15 minutes to full out this anonymous survey.

For Postgraduate Researchers: 

Your Development Survey

Help us to understand how you reflect and engage with your research-project training, professional development, and career planning throughout your degree journey. 

For Supervisors: 

Supporting PGR Development Survey

Help us to understand how you engage students in training, professional development, and career planning. What challenges do you experience around these conversations as part of supervision?

A strategic approach: The University’s Research Cultures Action Plan specifically identifies postgraduate researchers as one strategy area for improvement. Our project supports the University’s Research Strategy and the Postgraduate Research Cultures Action Plan in its commitment to develop structured career plans for all postgraduate researchers.

A positive culture: Researchers thrive in a fair and inclusive environment in which they feel seen, listened to, and integrated. This project actively seeks participation from postgraduate researchers and supervisors from across the University and different lived experiences. We actively seek participation from mature, international, part-time, and unfunded postgraduate researchers, new and experienced supervisors who bring knowledge from different higher education systems to the University.

Co-creation to ensure success: Co-creation is foundational to the project design and delivery. By integrating the diverse needs of the postgraduate researcher and supervisor community, we are responding to adult-learning and doctoral education scholarship as well as sector developments that consider the doctoral degree journey unfolding across multiple learning environments from discipline to workplace and situated circumstances.

Sharing our findings: All project results and resources will follow the University’s accessibility requirements for “Creating Accessible Materials”. The new Development Needs Analysis and associated resources and guides will be created as Open Education Resources, accredited to both the Institute for Academic Development and the Careers Service and assigned a CC-BY Creative Commons License, ensuring wide distribution for reuse and remix.

We will share any reports, publications, and resources here. Please consider signposting them to peers and colleagues.

If you have any questions regarding the project, please get in touch with the project lead Dr Anna Pilz (