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RSD7: Researcher Skill Development Framework

Description of the RSD7

The seven-level Researcher Skill Development framework extends the RSD's original 5 levels of student autonomy to include the degree of autonomy required for a successful research career. It therefore addresses not only students, but also early, middle and late career researchers.

rsd7 frameworkThis involves the extension of the same facets of inquiry that appear in the original RSD framework to include two higher levels: 6 and 7. A researcher moves into Level 6 in a given facet when his or her publicly-available research plays a role in informing other scholars' research agendas, and contributes to the conversation in their field. At Level 7, the researcher's work has a greater degree of impact again, as it actively enlarges the field of inquiry. A researcher working at Level 7 in one or more facets can change the direction of the conversatio in their field, or across disciplines, through their research.

As in the original Research Skill Development Framework, the first 5 levels do not imply a rigid progression from 1 to 5. Instead, they are conceived as a cyclic structure, with research frequently occurring under supervision. Over time, however, movement through cycles of research can – and should – shift the individual's research at level 5 into the development of new knowledge, and into the public arena.

From there, the move to Level 6 depends on the impact this research has on the researcher's field. This is measured by such means as citations and the use of research outcomes and procedures. At Level 6, the researcher needs to be working to pursue original directions in the field, on which others can draw; she or he will be interdependent with a research community, but working autonomously within it. To work at Level 7 in any facet requires that a researcher be at the forefront of the field, usually maintaining interdependence but at the same time being highly autonomous in the sense of determining for themselves the boundaries of their engagement with their research community. To be working at Level 7 requires that others follow the researcher's lead.

Only a relatively small proportion of the academic research community worldwide would be operating at Level 7 for all the facets of inquiry. Most researchers have profiles that span several levels: a given researcher may, for example, work at Level 7 in Facets A, C and F, Level 6 in Facets d and E, and Level 5 in Facet B. In addition, academics working within guidelines set by others \xE2\x80\x93 including funding bodies – may have profiles that include Levels 1 to 5. Postdoctoral Fellows, for instance, sometimes report having less autonomy than they did when completing their PhDs, and may find themselves effectively conducting a predominantly closed inquiry, working at Level 3 or lower. In theory, a PhD by research should be conducted at Level 5. However, external factors such as supervisor styles, funding and equipment constraints, and potential examiners may all affect the degree of autonomy available to a given student, and the student will then work at a correspondingly lower level on the RSD7.


To cite the RSD7, please use the following: Willison, J. and O'Regan, K. (2008). The Researcher Skill Development Framework. Accessed from

RSD7 devised by John Willison and Kerry O'Regan. Description by John Willison and Kerrie Le Lievre. Last updated on 7 March, 2013.

Research Skill Development

Established October 2006

School of Education

6.22, 10 Pulteney Street
The University of Adelaide
SA 5005


Dr John Willison
T: +61 8 8313 3553

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