Opinion :: NERC PhD skills review

NERC (the National Environmental Research Council), a major funding body for Environmental Science PhDs (and research in general) recently announced the outcome of a skills review, publishing “Most Wanted II – Postgraduate and Professional Skills needed in the Environment Sector”. In particular it highlights skills that NERC believes are in short supply in the UK workforce.

The results can be found here.  A summary of their top 15 most wanted skills..

1. Modelling
2. Multi‐disciplinarity
3. Data Management
6. Fieldwork
7. Risk and Uncertainty
8. Taxonomy and Systematics
9. Soil Science
10. Environmental Epidemiology
11. Sustainability Science and Planning
12. Microbiology
13. Energy Supply
14. Food supply
15. Freshwater Science

To me, this list is highlighting knowledge gaps, not necessarily skills gaps.  If you’re pre-PhD or in the early stages of your career this could be useful in highlighting fields with a good possibility for opportunities and career progression. But for those of us who’ve already specialised in a field, can this help?  It’s hardly practical for a volcanologist to go out and learn some freshwater science, or a social scientist to moonlight in microbiology.   The first few options, however, provide key information for everyone.  NERC is looking for adaptable, multi-disciplinary scientists with a key understanding of high performance data analysis and computing techniques.  From my perspective  data collection techniques in atmospheric science are getting better all the time.  Two decades ago massive equipment could collect maybe one sample an hour, now we have portable field devices collecting several samples an hour, and lab-on-a-chip could soon lead to all data, all the time.  Excel probably isn’t going to cut it any more, and I’m hoping to dedicate some time this year to learning new data analysis techniques.  Starting from scratch isn’t going to be easy, and it’s a hard thing to step out of my comfort zone and feel stupid all over again, but hopefully it will be worth it in the end.

What do you think of the skills review?  Have you challenged yourself to learn anything new recently?

Liked this? You may also like: NERC doctoral training programmes, Is it time for a PhD reform?, and “A PhD don’t come for free?”


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