Exploring the RDF

Explore the sub-domains of the RDF: the PhD viewpoint

Image of the RDF wheel showing the four inner domains and the 12 outer sub-domains

The following interactive guide provides an introduction to the different skills and attributes of the RDF sub-domains that focusses specifically on the perspective of PhD students at the University of Liverpool.

>> Click on the outer segments of the wheel, e.g. A1, with your mouse, or use the tab key, to read a quick introduction to each subdomain .

A1 Knowledge base A2 Cognitive abilities A3. Creativity B1 Personal qualities B2. Self-management B3. Professional and career development C3. Finance, funding and resources C2. Research management C1. Professional conduct D3. Engagement and impact D2. Communication and dissemination D1. Working with others

A1. Knowledge base

  1. Subject knowledge
  2. Research methods: theoretical knowledge
  3. Research methods: practical application
  4. Information seeking
  5. Information literacy and management
  6. Languages
  7. Academic literacy and numeracy

During your research you must acquire and manage the essential background knowledge for your research, including background subject knowledge as well as knowledge of the relevant research methods, technical language, library searching, use of information technologies and so on.

You should also consider how much wider knowledge will you need, before you can present yourself as an established researcher in that field?

Training offered within your research area, school or Institute, and other specialist workshops will help build this knowledge base and develop relevant skills, while conferences and wider reading will help give you a broader background. The Library and Continuing Education (in HLC) may provide relevant workshops.

A2. Cognitive abilities

  1. Analysing
  2. Synthesising
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Evaluating
  5. Problem solving

You may need to develop cognitive skills experientially during your degree.

Are you able to compare potentially conflicting results or arguments? Do you critically review each publication and assess this in the context of your own research? Are you able to give feedback to others?

Listening to how others present their criticisms and arguments, through question and answer sessions at seminars, or even through coffee time discussions, can help you develop these skills. You may also practise giving constructive feedback and receiving feedback to and from colleagues. Preparing a funding application can both strengthen and demonstrate your experience in this area.

A3. Creativity

  1. Inquiring mind
  2. Intellectual insight
  3. Innovation
  4. Argument construction
  5. Intellectual risk

Doctoral candidates must have demonstrated “the creation and interpretation of new knowledge.” (See the University Ordnances 57) You should develop these skills experientially during your degree or look for tools to help this process.

How willing are you are to try out new ideas, for example, incorporating new ideas and methods in your research or trying out  new ways to manage to your own time?

The LDC Development team offer a range of experiential workshops where you learn techniques in creativity and explore new ideas through working with other researchers in a safe environment.

B1. Personal qualities

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Perseverance
  3. Integrity
  4. Self-confidence
  5. Self-reflection
  6. Responsibility

You may feel that you naturally have many of these skills, but how will other people view your skills in this area?

How do you demonstrate that you have enthusiasm and perseverance? In what ways does your enthusiasm and integrity impact on others in your research team or department? What times do you dedicate for self-reflection, on your own performance or in for the progress of your project? How do you rate your own self-confidence, as a professional researcher? What responsibilities do you demonstrate without your research work?

These skills may be difficult to improve through direct means. You could perform a self-assessment of these skills, which you then store safely before returning to this assessment in a year  to evaluate your own improvement.

B2. Self-management

  1. Preparation and prioritisation
  2. Commitment to research
  3. Time management
  4. Responsiveness to change
  5. Work-life balance

Self management is clearly important when working on your own for a considerable time such as a three or more year research project.

How good are your Time Management skills? Can you refer to good examples where you have demonstrated your preparation and prioritisation of tasks or your commitment to your research? Or are these areas that you need to work on to improve?

The LDC Development team provide resources and workshops where you can improve time management skills or practise these other skills. Alternatively might view how senior research staff demonstrate such qualities and observe some of their techniques.

B3. Professional and career development

  1. Career management
  2. Continuing professional development
  3. Responsiveness to opportunities
  4. Networking
  5. Reputation and esteem

Professional and Career Development may not seem immediately relevant at the start of a PhD but building a portfolio that demonstrates your growing experience will considerably improve your eventual career preparation. Do you use the PGR Portfolio of Activity?

It is good practise to regularly review your own career aims, even if you are keeping open your future options.

  • If you would like an academic career, you will need to network from early on to find out what experience you need in your portfolio to improve your chances of success.
  • If you are considering moving outside academia, you will need to frequently review the skills and experiences gained in your CV to broaden your range of career options.

The LDC Development team work with the University Careers and Employability service to provide a range of Careers advice, workshops and online resources, which are available throughout your degree.


C1. Professional conduct

  1. Health and safety
  2. Ethics, principles and sustainability
  3. Legal requirements
  4. IPR and copyright
  5. Respect and confidentiality
  6. Attribution and co-authorship
  7. Appropriate practice

Professional conduct covers aspects such as Health and Safety and Ethics, for which training may be essential for your research project. But everyone will need some of the skills in this list, including an awareness of the appropriate practices in their research area.

Are you aware of the conventions and practices within your research, including attribution on publication, when working with colleagues and the institution? Are legal or copyright issues are important  for your research and publications? If so, you may need to seek out appropriate information or courses.

How far do you apply these principles in your research? The full RDF lists 5 stages of development for many of these descriptors which is useful way to assess your experience of these attributes.

C2. Research management

  1. Research strategy
  2. Project planning and delivery
  3. Risk management

Research management includes requirements for the project management of research. You may feel that your supervisor has this role at the start of your degree. However you will need to take on more responsibility yourself as you progress; how do you intend to ensure that you can complete your thesis on time?

What skills do you need to develop to take on this role? Would you like to demonstrate project management on your eventual CV?

To assess yourself, consider your own role in previous personal or joint group projects. Courses in Research and Project Management will teach you the recognised techniques in these skills and your own research project offers a ready means to practise these techniques.

C3. Finance, funding and resources

  1. Income and funding generation
  2. Financial management
  3. Infrastructure and resources

Finance, funding and resources, is a key area of the wider researcher experience. If you have applied for your own research funding you will have useful knowledge of how these processes work, where to gain useful information, how to build a solid argument and the reporting processes required by funding bodies. Even applications for travel expenses help build up this experience.

An essential part of this process is in producing the argument that demonstrates your need for funding, which overlaps with sub-domain A3.

There are University and external courses on applying for funding or on funding management. The LDC Development team also offer introductory level courses and experiential development of the relevant skills. Knowledge of funding bodies and the research councils in your area is equally relevant and most funding agencies all have web- information on the types of funding available and how to apply.


D1. Working with others

  1. Collegiality
  2. Team working
  3. People management
  4. Supervision
  5. Mentoring
  6. Influence and leadership
  7. Collaborations
  8. Equality and diversity

An ability to work with others is critical if you are working in a team, but all researchers will need to work effectively with their supervisor, to gain the most out of your meetings and liaise with other support staff, library staff, technical support staff, help desks and so on.

You may not manage others directly, but how effective do you 'manage' your relationships with colleagues? What further skills will you need if you are aiming to become a research leader?

The LDC Development team offer experiential workshops to explore and practise your collaboration skills. You could also search out opportunities for mentoring other students and teaching opportunities.

D2. Communication and dissemination

  1. Communication methods
  2. Communication media
  3. Publication

Communication and dissemination are essential skills to achieve impact for your research in the wider academic world, through written form or at seminars, conferences and so on. You will probably want a broad experience by the end of your degree and in many research/career areas, you may need a web or twitter presence.

Which skills do you need to work on now? What is your previous experience in research writing and how do you or your supervisor rate your writing skills? What experience do you have in delivering presentations and posters? What new goals can you set yourself in these areas?

You may work on these skills through practice using feedback from your supervisor and colleagues. The LDC Development team provide a range of communication workshops and online guidance with specific help to help you develop your techniques and build confidence.

D3. Engagement and impact

  1. Teaching
  2. Public engagement
  3. Enterprise
  4. Policy
  5. Society and culture
  6. Global citizenship

Evidence of both public engagement and teaching can be essential to your career or for future funding from Research Councils.

The Academy provide teaching courses to help you acquire the pedagogic background, learn relevant skills and these can lead to a relevant qualification. The LDC Development team offer workshops and events relating to Public Engagement and Enterprise.

Your Schools and Institutes may offer opportunities to develop your teaching portfolio but you may want to explore wider opportunities outside your subject area. You can acquire further experience in both teaching and public engagement through voluntary activities and Outreach events.

Useful Links
LDC Development website - Workshops, online resources and further opportunities to help you develop skills and expand your portfolio of experience