Introducing the RDF

As well as being the basis for categorising all the posts on this blog, the RDF is an important keystone for your development.

Each post on this blog is categorised by the domains and sub-domains of the RDF, and tagged according to the descriptors (and other useful keywords).  So it’s probably about time I introduced the RDF to put this more in context.

Put simply, the Researcher Development Framework, or RDF, is a professional development framework for researchers.  It captures the knowledge, skills, behaviours, and attributes of successful researchers and allows researchers at all stages of their career to map their current level of performance against a professional standard with a view to ensuring they can reach their full potential as researchers. 

The RDF was developed by Vitae in 2009 to try to capture a growing emphasis on strengthening researcher careers, increase the value of a research career and inform better human resource management of researchers.  During the process of developing the RDF, Vitae consulted with a number of key stakeholders including the higher education sector, funding bodies, established researchers and employers.  For more information on the project scope and development of the RDF, see the Vitae website.

The RDF can be a pretty overwhelming document when you first approach it.  The full RDF runs to 22 pages.  But the good news is that you never have to tackle the whole thing at once.  The first thing to do is to familiarise yourself with the structure – most of which is handily represented by the “RDF wheel” graphic.

Some definitions:

  • Domain:  there are 4 of these, and you’ll see the quadrants in the centre of the graphic.  They give an idea of the main categories into which the different attributes fall.
  • Sub-domain:  each domain has 3 sub-domains, giving a little bit more detail about the categories.
  • Descriptor:  these are the individual attributes of excellent researchers.  You’ll see these around the outside of the graphic (you might have to zoom in to read them).  There are 63 of these – but remember, you’ll never have to look at them all at once!
  • Phase:  these aren’t on the graphic, but are part of the full RDF document.  Each descriptor has 5 phases.  The phases represent different skill levels, so from the full RDF document you can read a description of the skills, practice and knowledge that a researcher at each phase would have.

Some key points:

  • Don’t try to work on the whole RDF at once (how many times can I say this, do you reckon?!).  When you are reviewing your development needs at any point, try to pick a single sub-domain, or a few key descriptors to focus on.  If you need to do more (e.g. when you’re completing your Development Needs Analysis), try to do it in more than one sitting.
  • Not every researcher is expected to need all 63 descriptors all the time.  As your research role changes, the emphasis on different areas of the RDF will shift.  But it’s likely that if you are intending to have a career in research/academia, you will touch on everything at some point.
  • Even after a long research career, a researcher would only expect to achieve phase 5 in a few descriptors – phase 5 often represents policy shaping or international influence in that specific descriptor.

4 thoughts on “Introducing the RDF”

  1. As a mature post grad with a career behind me I am familiar with a system like the RDF. For people like myself some of the ‘management’ skills will already be in place and I just need to wind back on those which are in a new field, including updating academic skills (last research was a while ago), subject skills and getting organised. Would it be helpful to complete all 63 of the descriptors in this case so as to enable focus on the priorities? I’m starting slowly and in domains as recommended, just wondered.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Sue. My personal opinion is that it’s not that helpful to look at all the descriptors. Part of what’s useful is being able to identify the key skills which are important to you for where you are now. It sounds like you’ve done a good job of doing this already, but if you’re unsure, you could take a look at the Vitae Getting Started in Research lens on the RDF ( which highlights some of the key skills Vitae feel are useful at this stage of your new career. Good luck!


      1. Yes the Lens is what I have started from, along with looking at the Researcher Development Framework document version 2 April 2011 downloaded from vitae to select relevant items. I’ve sent my first attempt to my supervisors, so hopefully it will evolve in a constructive way.


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