Academic Toolkit - ACT!

Core research skills

Assessing existing literature

Critical appraisal

These are vital to decide whether the evidence is strong enough to change clinical practice or as a platform to develop future research projects.
The CASP checklists are useful for critical appraisal of various studies.

Systematic review or meta-analysis

Medical journals now require authors to report their results according to the EQUATOR guidelines which include the CONSORT statement and flow diagram for randomised controlled trials and the PRISMA resources for systematic reviews.

If you are conducting a systematic review or meta-analysis, you can publish your protocol for transparency. You can also look at existing protocols.

Extensive guidance and a useful reference guide on how to conduct a systematic review/meta-analysis has been produced by the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination.

Academic writing skills

Writing generally

It's helpful to get some general guidance on writing if you are not used to it; there are a number of resurces out there - Archives of Disease in Childhood have a series of blogs that are worth having a look at.

Thesis writing courses

Many universities have established courses advising on formatting and the use of word and indexing in thesis-writing. It is very important to read the university –specific guidelines and details required for thesis formatting and timeline

Reference management software

In the early stages of the PhD it is ideal to discuss referencing styles for the thesis as well as journal articles and to gain proficiency with the relevant software, such as EndNote. Other tools are available for free, such as Mendeley and Zotero.


Communication skills

Presentation skills

PhD students are encouraged to develop their communication skills and present their research at a wide variety of fora. Skills in abstract writing, grant writing, poster formatting and papers as well as presentations are essential. 

Multimedia and social media use

Twitter, Facebook, Researchgate etc are ideal tools for communication of results to a diverse audience. Many PhD students will have well-developed skills in this area but universities provide media education to enhance these skills and to help students present the impact of their work.

Managing collaborations

Although the student will have a core relationship with their main supervisor there will often be multiple collaborators and co-supervisors. Regular scheduled meetings and update on the project are important and ensuring all relevant authors are recognised in publications and presentations is important.


Data handling and management

Virtual lab-book and using shared group files and resources: 

Translational projects need detailed recordings of all aspects of the project and this has traditionally been maintained in a laboratory book. However newer formalised electronic records are available for this purpose. This should be transparent and have the potential for sharing. One helpful resource is labfolder.

Statistics: training and modules

Many universities have core modules for all students and all are encouraged to include statistics and also to collaborate with a statistician. The statistician should be involved in the inception of the project to guide on issue such as study design and sample size.

It is sometimes handy to have a book to refer to as well as on-line resources e.g. Practical Statistics for Medical Research (1990). Douglas G. Altman ISBN 0-412-27630-5

Data management and security

The FAIR Guiding Priniciples contain useful pointers on scientific data management and stewardship.

Managing funding

Each PhD student will ultimately become an independent researcher with their own PhD students and therefore should gain skills in budgeting and managing funding for their project. Have a look at this article.



How to write a paper, review a paper, pitfalls in publishing, and respond to reviewers comments

Publications are an important currency for the student and their career development. Understanding the peer review process and pitfalls in publishing papers is important. 

Elsevier host a useful basic guide to writing a paper, but there is a lot more to it...

Related resources
CV development

Advice on preparing your Curriculum Vitae.

Core research skills

Some guidance on the core skills you will need to develop, contained within subheadings of: Assessing existing literature Academic writing skills Communication skills Data handling and management Publishing

Dealing with initial PhD rejection

A personal account by James Webbe.

Core research skills

Some guidance on the core skills you will need to develop, contained within subheadings of: Assessing existing literature Academic writing skills Communication skills Data handling and management Publishing

FAIR data management External link

This article describes four foundational principles—Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability—that serve to guide data producers and publishers

Critical Appraisal Resources External link

Finding articles is one thing, reading them and deciding whether the evidence is strong enough is quite another. Here are a few resources that might help.

Equator Network External link

Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research. Your one-stop-shop for writing and publishing high-impact health research.

Key considerations in undertaking research External link

video highlighting key things to consider when undertaking research

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