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Point of View: Competency-based assessment for the training of PhD students and early-career scientists

  1. Michael F Verderame  Is a corresponding author
  2. Victoria H Freedman
  3. Lisa M Kozlowski
  4. Wayne T McCormack
  1. Pennsylvania State University, United States
  2. Albert Einstein College of Medicine, United States
  3. Thomas Jefferson University, United States
  4. University of Florida Health Sciences Center, United States
Feature Article
Cite this article as: eLife 2018;7:e34801 doi: 10.7554/eLife.34801
3 tables


Table 1
Ten Core Competencies for the PhD Scientist.
1. Broad Conceptual Knowledge of a Scientific Discipline
2. Deep Knowledge of a Specific Field
3. Critical Thinking Skills
4. Experimental Skills
5. Computational Skills
6. Collaboration and Team Science Skills
7. Responsible Conduct of Research and Ethics
8. Communication Skills
9. Leadership Skills
10. Survival Skills
Table 1—source data 1

Core Competencies Assessment Rubric.
Table 2
PhD scientist training stages mapped to Dreyfus and Dreyfus levels of skill acquisition. Early-career scientists include researchers undertaking postdoctoral training as well as those in science positions in career pathways that involve other kinds of advanced training, e.g., on-the-job training or certification.
Dreyfus & DreyfusNoviceAdvanced beginnerCompetentProficientExpert
Rule-based behavior, limited, inflexibleIncorporates aspects of the situationActs consciously from long-term goals and plansSees situation as a whole and acts from personal convictionHas intuitive understanding of situations, zooms in on central aspects
PhD Scientist Training StagesBeginning PhD StudentAdvanced PhD StudentPhD GraduateEarly-Career ScientistScience Professional
Table 3
Sample milestones for one of the subcompetencies within Critical Thinking Skills. Verbs in bold font indicate observable behaviors representing each stage of skill acquisition.
Beginning PhD StudentAdvanced PhD StudentPhD GraduateEarly-Career ScientistScience Professional
B. Design a single
experiment (answer
questions, controls, etc.)
Follow experimental
protocols, seek help as
needed, describe critical
role of controls
Plan experimental protocol;
include relevant controls;
choose appropriate methods;
troubleshoot experimental
Design and execute hypothesis-
based experiments
independently; evaluate
protocols of others;
predict range of
experimental outcomes
Consistently design and
execute experiments with
appropriate controls;
assess next steps; critique
experiments of others
Teach experimental
guide others doing

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