May 24, 2018

The Softer Side of Professional Development

At this year’s Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Advance conference, professional development and skills that are transferable to industry proved to be a growing topic of interest.


Tarryn Bourhill, PhD Candidate, BMB


The department is acknowledging the importance of helping students to acquire various skills that are applicable to both academia and business. A lot of these skills such as communication, self-management, leadership, interpersonal skills and project management are often non-technical and prove to be frustrating to learn for very analytically minded students. Finding the right information on how to develop these skills can be even harder given their less tangible nature but a few of our supervisors shared their thoughts and experiences.


Prof. David Schriemer was the first speaker, giving a talk titled “The Pitbull and the Flake” that focused on his experience within the biotechnology industry and gave very clear examples of where these soft skills are so crucial when trying to turn a project into a product. Prof. Derrick Rancourt and Sabrina Anderson teamed up to deliver a workshop that was the first of its kind to be run at the BMB Advance. With a brief lecture from Prof. Rancourt about the necessity of developing such skills, students were then encouraged to do so some self-reflection about their own soft skills by delving into a Competency Development Plan. The first step in this process was to become aware of your individual competencies by doing a self-analysis worksheet. If you are curious as to what your own competencies are, the materials used in this workshop are available online:


The challenge is simply that many students are unaware of their own competencies. Many were surprised at how many competencies they had already developed simply by doing what comes naturally during the course of their graduate studies, such as self and project management. However to address the areas where students did not feel particularly strong, supervisors then had breakout sessions with smaller groups of students and gave advice on how to gain this experience whilst still in grad school. The benefits of how these skills impact your long term career goals beyond your graduate studies was also made apparent.


A variety of additional resources for continuing professional development specifically targeted to graduate students were included but for those who could not attend, some of these resources are listed here below:

The main takeaway from the talks and workshops is that these skills will always be relevant and the sooner you start developing them, the more adaptable you will become. Whether a student decides to stay in academia or transition into in