CENTA Training and Professional Development

A major benefit of completing a PhD as a CENTA student is the access to a full programme of free training events which will help you develop professional scientific and transferrable skills beyond those you learn in your day-to-day research.  

Whatever your career ambitions after CENTA, it is important to maximise your time as a PhD Researcher by developing the skills which are going to increase your professional competence and competitiveness. The demand for highly skilled science professionals in various fields both inside and beyond academia is growing, and CENTA training aims to produce confident and empowered individuals who have fantastic career options available to them post-study.  

CENTA training is largely based on Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework. Vitae is the global leader in supporting the professional development of researchers. Additionally, training in known skills gap areas (such as those highlighted by NERC’s ‘Most Wanted’ lists) is prioritised, as well as the skills PhD employers tell us they would like to see more of. We encourage our Postgraduate Researchers to be active partners in their own development, and also implement training based on training wants highlighted to us by CENTA students via their individual Training Needs Analyses.  Training is delivered by expert academic and professional trainers – and there’s even peer-to-peer training available through our ‘CENTA teaches CENTA’ scheme. 

‘Remember: the product of a PhD is not your thesis, it is you’. 

What kind of training does CENTA offer? 

We offer training in both scientific and non-scientific areas across four training categories, which are: 

  • Theme Science and Technical Skills  

This includes scientific and technical skills training, fieldwork training, statistics, software training etc. 

  • Research Management 

This includes skills necessary to facilitate research, such as Research Ethics, Budgeting, Intellectual Property and more.  

  • Engagement, Impact and Enterprise 

These are the skills necessary to maximise the communication and societal impact of science – publishing, policy, teaching, industrial engagement and more. 

  • Personal Effectiveness 

At CENTA, we believe that researchers who are supported and empowered to reach their full personal potential will be the most impactful scientists. Personal effectiveness training focuses on self-development of skills such as leadership, confidence and teamwork, as well as ways to support good mental health and EDI practice.  

What does the training look like?  

Training at CENTA takes a variety of forms – some of it is in-person or hybrid, some of it is online, some of it is residential or out in the field. It can be anywhere in length and structure from an hour-long lecture to a week-long interactive workshop! It can also range from more basic introductory training at the foundation stage to more complex/niche masterclass-level training. 

Some of the most popular regular training events we run are: 

  • The Speed PhD: a week-long residential where groups of 6-7 students team up to get a fictional character through their PhD – doing fieldwork, literature reviewing and creating a mini-thesis as a team with the help of one of CENTA’s expert academics.  
  • Day visits: Field trips to organisations which support CENTA’s Research, such as the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR), Twycross Zoo and Kew Gardens. 
  • CENTA Conference: an annual student-led conference where students across all cohorts can share their research, network, and have fun.  
  • Infohackit: A professionally-led online training programme in graphic design for impact in scientific posters, figures, presentations and more. 
  • Software Workshops: CENTA has recently run popular professionally-led workshops in R, GIS (ArcGIS & QGIS), Python, Cloud Computing Platforms and Bioinformatics Softwares. 
  • Personal Effectiveness Training: CENTA has run popular workshops about Mental Health in Academia led by famous advocate Dr Zoe Ayres and training in Networking Confidently with renowned trainer Sue Tonks. 
  • Other recent popular training events have included training in working with policy and governments, writing grants, applying for postdocs and fellowships, science communication and more.  

Who delivers the training? 

All CENTA-organised training is led by experts in their field. These are either academics who currently host a CENTA PhD student within their research group who propose training events to us, members of our partner organisations such as Kew Gardens, BIFoR etc, or paid professional trainers/consultants. The trainers have full creative control over how they run their sessions.  

Additionally, we have a programme called ‘CENTA teaches CENTA’. If a student has a skill they would like to share with their peers, they can also host a training event and gain useful teaching experience (and CENTA Training Credits) at the same time! 

How much training do we have to do? 

We ask that all students aim to achieve 100 CENTA Training Credits during their studentship. These are allocated as 1 Credit per 3 hours’ worth of training. Any training, CENTA organised or external, counts towards the credits so long as it fits within the CENTA Training Categories. We encourage students to take a broad approach to their training and work towards their credit target with a mixture of CENTA-organised, external and online/self-paced training in both scientific and non-scientific/transferrable skills areas.   

Most training is optional, allowing students to pick according to their needs and interests. Some training such as the Speed PhD is mandatory unless there are compelling reasons you cannot attend. We work with our students to make sure that all training is as inclusive and accessible as possible so that anyone who wants to attend a training event can do so.  

CENTA Placements 

All CENTA students have the opportunity to complete a 10-day placement gaining experience in an environment outside of their normal research as part of their studentship, for which CENTA can offer up to an additional £1200 support. Doing a CENTA placement is a great way to try working in other areas as diverse as policy and governmental, industry and entrepreneurial, outreach and science communication, not-for-profit sector and more – gaining experiences, skills and networks which are impressive to employers and help you to get a better understanding of the impacts and working areas of science beyond academia.  

EDI and Accessibility of Training 

At CENTA we understand that our students come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and we design our training to reflect this. CENTA wants to make sure that any student who wishes to attend training can do so on an equitable basis. 

  • Our trainers themselves bring diverse perspectives, with training being delivered by academics, industry professionals, professional skills trainers, and experts from different (and sometimes non-traditional) career paths, different career stages, and different backgrounds.  
  • We understand that attending training can also be challenging for various practical reasons, and we accommodate our students by supporting financially with travel, accommodation and other expenses should they need to attend CENTA-organised training in person, with the aim of eliminating our student’s out-of-pocket costs as much as possible. We make every effort to ensure that all students can benefit from our training and residential trips, and work together with students to make sure nobody is excluded from these on the basis of disability, neurodivergence, parental/caring responsibilities or other reasons. 
  • As part of the CENTA Digital Education Framework (CDEF) we also strive to make sure that wherever possible, all CENTA training has some online-accessible component, ranging from online delivery to hybrid events, to online hosting of training materials and resources. 
  • Our students are at the heart of all we do, and we openly encourage student feedback regarding training – and act upon it. We want to create an environment where all students feel empowered to talk to us openly about all aspects of their PhD, positive or negative, and see us as allies in their personal development as scientists.