Competency framework

At Hasselt University, junior researchers are encouraged and supported to take their professional and personal development into their own hands, in order for them to be broadly employable - both within and outside the university walls.

An important part of preparing for any further professional step is becoming (more) aware of the competences you have developed and/or want to develop further. This awareness increases opportunities on the labour market in several ways: it broadens your horizon, enhances your self-knowledge, helps you to get a better view on the match between yourself and a potential new position/employer, and supports you in ‘selling’ yourself in an authentic way.

The doctoral schools are proud to present their competency framework, consisting of two building blocks:
1. Competency overview for PhD holders
2. Competency profile for PhD holders

Competency overview for PhD holders

Van Damme, I., & Kerkhofs, S. (2017). Competency overview for PhD holders, including definitions and assessment tools - Hasselt University. Zenodo. 

The 'competency overview for PhD holders' is a list of 50 competences, potentially mastered by PhD holders, categorized into five clusters:

  • academic research competences,
  • intellectual competences,
  • personal effectiveness,
  • task-orientedness,
  • interpersonal competences.

The (non-exhaustive) list thus contains a mixture of academic and generic competences that may be (further) developed during the course of a PhD / research project. Its main goal is to broaden junior researchers’ field of vision and to help them find the right words during their career development process.

What makes this overview unique is that it looks at competences from both a non-academic and an academic perspective, in a language that is understandable for people from all disciplines.

Of course, one single person is not expected to master all of these competences perfectly. The list is rather meant to be a source of inspiration. You can use the overview during your PhD or postdoc:

  • to identify your strengths and the competences you value most
    (what are you good at? what do you like?)
  • to determine your potential for growth
    (which competences would you like to develop further?)
  • to thoughtfully consider various career options based on your strengths and preferences
    (take a look at interesting vacancy texts: which competences are required?)

Each competence has been given a definition referring to the specific behaviours through which the competence can be shown.

List of definitions (pdf, 504 KB) (with competences in alphabetical order per category)

There is also a self-assessment tool which you can use to evaluate yourself and track your competency development throughout time. For PhD students starting their PhD from September 2021 onwards, this tool is included in their doctoral school portfolio.

Self-assessment tool

The category of 'academic research competences' mainly consists of technical competences and discipline-specific knowledge, whereas the other categories mainly consist of behavioural competences. Important to consider, however, is that competences always refer to a cluster of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Although the definitions provided are behaviourally oriented, it is very important to also take into account your attitudes and personal characteristics when considering your professional ‘value’. Your competency will show when you combine your knowledge, skills and attitudes to perform well in a certain context.

Sources of inspiration:

Competency profile for PhD holders

Already in 2013, the five Flemish universities started a campaign highlighting the strengths of PhD holders: Seeing a doctor can seriously improve your professional life. The campaign is aimed at showing potential (non-academic) employers the benefits of hiring a PhD holder. A doctoral degree is (still) valued very differently depending on the discipline and the specifically aimed function. However, the universities want to make clear that - as a group - PhD holders have certain specific strengths that can be of value in any context or profession: They are (1) team players and powerful individuals, with (2) strategic insight combined with highly developed analytical skills. They are (3) experienced organisers with excellent project and time management skills, (4) enterprising, pro-active go-getters, and (5) outstanding communicators. Finally, they also are (6) creative thinkers with great improvisational skills, (7) adapted to work in international environments.

These seven characteristics reflect strengths resulting from the experience of doing a PhD. It is however an entirely different question to ask employers what they find most important or desirable in an employee, be it with or without a doctoral degree.

In a recent study (2021) by University College Leuven-Limburg, University of Oslo, City of Aarhus and Aarhus University, SMEs in Belgium, Norway and Denmark were asked about the kind of skills they find most important among their employees. Generally seen across all three countries, independence and adaptability – but also communication skills and problem solving – were considered the most important skills/competences to possess – both as an experienced employee and as a recent graduate, who is seeking employment.

Specifically for the field of research, Euraxess developed research profile descriptors. They describe four broad profiles that apply to all researchers, independent of whether they work in the private or public sector: in companies, NGOs, research institutes or universities. Regardless of any particular profession, both the necessary and desirable competences of researchers in various stages of their career are listed. The competences mentioned for a 'first stage researcher' strongly relate to what is mentioned in the UHasselt charter PhD supervisor - PhD candidate.
In addition to this descriptive overview, the European Commission launched a more comprehensive competency framework for researchers in 2023, called ResearchComp.

The UHasselt competency profile for PhD holders (under construction) will demonstrate which competences PhD holders are expected to master by potential (academic and non-academic) employers across fields and disciplines. In order to create the profile, input of a wide range of stakeholders is currently being analyzed. The goal is to identify which competences are valued and required – and thus considered ‘essential’ – in both the academic and non-academic sector.

Interesting information in that respect is also offered at the following websites: