COVID-19 Advice for the JCU Community - Last updated: 5 May 2022, 3pm (AEST)

Professional Development Program

A research degree from James Cook University is designed to prepare graduates for a wide variety of careers by building professional development activities into the degree program.  Most Higher Degree by Research (HDR) candidates will go on to have careers outside academia, and career opportunities expand if they use their candidature for skills development. The first professional appointment after graduation will be determined not only by the research-specific technical skills gained during candidature but also the transferable generic skills and personal attributes. The JCU Graduate Research School (GRS) therefore makes available an extensive skills development program.

Doctoral candidates complete the compulsory subject RD7003 Professional Development and MPhil candidates may choose to opt into the Flexible Component of RM7003 Professional Development. Both doctoral and MPhil candidates are required to complete the Fixed Components by the time of Confirmation of Candidature. These subjects are intended to provide a framework for candidates to undertake professional development activities that will ensure they are well equipped for careers in the knowledge economy. Attainments as part of RD7003/RM7003 Professional Development are recorded on the Australian Higher Education Graduate Statement (AHEGS), enabling future employers to see the nature and scope of professional development undertaken by the candidate.

Before Confirmation of Candidature, you will need to undertake a Professional Development Audit and Plan to note the skills you need for your degree and beyond. The Professional Development Audit and Plan should be discussed with your advisory panel between commencement and the Confirmation of Candidature Milestone, Progress towards achieving your Professional Development Plan will be formally reviewed as part of your degree Milestones.  In the Audit and Plan section of your Confirmation documentation, you should note your existing skills and forecast those you are going to need for your project and your career aspirations. Your advisory panel should discuss the suitability of your proposed skills development program with you at this time.

You may then choose various ways to achieve development of those skills, including through workshops and other training available through the GRS, or externally.

The Professional Development Program workshops listed on this site are available in priority order to HDR candidates, postgraduate coursework students, Honours students, JCU staff (especially Early Career Researchers) and members of the wider community, including members of AIMS@JCU and the CSIRO. We extend a warm invitation to staff at both Townsville and Cairns hospitals to take part in this program. Community members are also welcome if spaces are available.

Upon commencement, HDR candidates should visit the JCU Library to explore the services on offer. The Library website contains a wealth of information, Libguides and ‘how to’ articles, as well as a variety of relevant workshops and other activities that you may include in your PD program.

The requirements for the doctoral subject RD7003 Professional Development and the MPhil subject RM7003 were changed during 2021. PhD candidates are no longer required to undertake 120 hours of Professional Development. The relevant milestone forms have been updated to account for these changes, so please ensure you have the most up-to-date forms when you prepare your milestone paperwork.  Here are the main points of the refreshed Professional Development program:

  • The requirement for doctoral candidates to undertake 120 hours of PD as part of RD7003 has been removed, to be replaced with a smaller commitment (see below).
  • The Fixed Component does not have hours attached to it. This component has not changed much and continues to provide essential information for both PhD and MPhil candidature. Full details of the items that must be completed may be found here.
  • PhD candidates are required to complete 40 hours in the Flexible Component as part of RD7003. Candidates may alternatively choose to fulfil this requirement via the Leadership and Initiative category in which case they will need to accumulate 10 points.
  • MPhil candidates may opt into RM7003 Professional Development at Pre-Completion, and if they do they will have completed 10 hours of Flexible PD. Note however that completing this subject will be optional for MPhil candidates.
  • In addition to the Fixed and Flexible components, all candidates are encouraged to undertake activities in the Recommended component category. These activities, and those in the Flexible category, are entirely at the discretion of candidates and their advisory teams, and they are not required to receive approval for them from the GRS.
  • All PD activities are recorded on the Australian Higher Education Graduation Statement (AHEGS), which is provided upon graduation.
  • The previous Skills for International Postgraduates (SKIP) has been discontinued. A new support program called Academic Writing and Editing (AWE) is available to both domestic and international candidates, replacing SKIP. AWE is not compulsory, unless it has been deemed a Conditional Component by a candidate’s advisory team.

Please note that all research degree candidates must complete the specified Fixed Components and, in some cases, Conditional Components.

Doctoral candidates are encouraged to design the Flexible Component of this subject with their career aspirations in mind. While the GRS offers a range of workshops and courses, all of which may be counted towards RD7003, candidates are not limited to the GRS offerings. They may choose JCU coursework subjects (usually at no cost), or external activities of various kinds.

Candidates may also elect to undertake activities in the Leadership and Initiative component of Professional Development [subject outline] and attain 10 points under this category to fulfil the requirements. Candidates should discuss their career aspirations and the professional development activities they may require to reach those aspirations with their advisory team.  Note that doctoral candidates must either attain 40 hours of Professional Development training, or reach the threshold of 10 Leadership and Initiative points, to fulfil the requirements of RD7003.  While they may note activities in both categories, they must reach the threshold in at least one.

The Fixed Component must be completed by Confirmation of Candidature. Flexible components must be completed by Mid-Candidature Review, while any Recommended components should be completed by the Pre-Completion Evaluation. All candidates are encouraged to continue building their professional skills until completion of their degree, even after the requirements of RD7003 Professional Development have been met.

Find out more about RD7003 Professional Development Workshops from Workshops and Training

JCU HDR candidates are encouraged to make the most of the professional development and skills-building activities outlined on our website. Seminars and workshops on topics of interest to HDR candidates are held throughout the year, and the website is updated regularly as new sessions are added and new information becomes available. Please note that PhD candidates are not obliged to undertake any GRS elective workshops or courses, but may design their own PD program based upon their interests and aspirations, or put together a combination of GRS and external offerings.

From June 2021, the rules for PhD professional development changed and candidates are no longer required to undertake 120 hours of PD.  Instead, candidates need to undertake 40 hours of Flexible activities. You and your advisory team are free to select from a range of possible activities that best suit your project and career aspirations.  You do not need to check with the GRS about the suitability of your activities.  Note that all candidates must undertake Fixed components.

You are welcome to undertake a wide range of training, whether offered by GRS, JCU or outside.  Please go to External Opportunities to see some development opportunities outside JCU.  However, candidates are not limited to these options and are welcome to propose their own if they wish, in consultation with their advisory panel.

Click here for RD7003 Fixed Components and here for RD7003 Flexible Components.

The Leadership and Initiative category of RD7003 Professional Development encourages candidates to engage in professionally beneficial activities during candidature, and have these formally acknowledged on their Australian Higher Education Graduation Statement (AHEGS).

This category enables candidates to undertake a wide range of activities for which a points system applies. PhD candidates may choose to fulfil the Elective (Flexible) component of RD7003 by reaching the threshold of 10 Leadership and Initiative points. MPhil candidates who opt into RM7003 Professional Development may fulfil the requirements of that subject by reaching the threshold of 3 points.

More information here.

The Professional Development Program is flexible and encourages you to design the most suitable program to fit your career aspirations. In some cases this may mean that you undertake Flexible and Recommended activities entirely within the GRS program, entirely outside the GRS program, or (most likely) a combination of both.

To ensure the integrity of the system, we need evidence of what you have completed. If you complete Professional Development activities that are presented by the Graduate Research School, and you register for them through CareerHub or undertake them through LearnJCU, you just need to note them in your milestone paperwork, and the GRS academic services team will be able to check your attendance in our systems.

If you undertake activities outside the GRS system (for example, a Coursera or an e-Grad School course), you will need to supply evidence of your completion. You are welcome to provide that evidence at any time by sending your certificate of completion, or even just an e-mail confirming your completion of a training activity, to, and the academic services team will place it onto your file.

You should always aim to be as clear as possible about exactly what you have done (using its official name), when you undertook this activity, and how many hours were involved (a reasonable estimate is fine in cases where exact hours are not provided in the documentation). Some candidates like to prepare a spreadsheet to track their own PD, updating it each time they complete an activity, to ensure that everything is included. You will then have all the information you need at the time of a milestone. You are not required to do this, but you may find it useful, particularly if you are undertaking a lot of external PD activities. Note that you should not send the spreadsheet to the GRS, just the evidence of completed activities.

Tracking your PD as you go is easier than trying to remember everything at the time of a milestone, so as you complete an external activity, send your evidence through to GRS and/or update your spreadsheet.

Before you start to plan your professional development program as part of your research degree, please visit the GRS Policies & Procedures webpage and read the guidelines, policies and handbooks relevant to you as a JCU HDR candidate. Those documents should answer many of your questions, but please contact if you have any additional questions.