Developing Consultancy Skills in Practice

Ahead of running the Virtual Consultancy Challenge in 2021, Katie Hoare from Careers Network spoke to some of the previous participants to find out what they learnt and whether they enjoyed it.

In spring 2020, as lockdown hit, postgraduate researchers from across the University and the globe were gaining valuable professional skills as well as work experience as consultants, and they were doing so completely online via the Virtual Consultancy Challenge. The Virtual Consultancy Challenge is an online self-access training programme and competition where inter-disciplinary teams of postgraduate researchers work together in virtual teams to solve their “client’s” real-life challenge.

The 2020 Virtual Consultancy challenge winning team (clockwise from top): Francesca Lewns, PhD Dentistry; Taiwo Hassan Akere, PhD Earth & Environmental Sciences; Paris Lalousis, PhD Psychology.
The 2020 Virtual Consultancy challenge winning team (clockwise from top): Francesca Lewns, PhD Dentistry; Taiwo Hassan Akere, PhD Earth & Environmental Sciences; Paris Lalousis, PhD Psychology.

The teams participate in online training in teamwork, project management, creative problem solving, pitching and career impact and meet their client in a webinar.  After weeks of research, ideation and discussion, the teams of researchers (or consultants) record and submit a video pitching their solution.  These are rigorously judged by a panel of experts including the client, and a winning team is decided.

I really enjoyed the Virtual Consultancy Challenge because it allowed me to network and create connections with other postgraduate students that I would never usually connect with. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever done before and was really nice to have a focus other than my PhD research, I felt as though it was a break from my work whilst also continuing further professional development.

I thought it was really well set out, I liked the fact you could work through things at your own pace but there were deadlines too so you couldn’t become complacent. When you were working with team mates that also had the same drive and ambition as you, it was a pleasure to take part in.

The process was hard but also rewarding and provided me with stimulation outside of my research. The fact that it was a project that involved a real problem and real clients made it all the more exciting.

I really enjoyed collaborating with my teammates and coming up with different innovative ideas at different stages in the process.

Participants felt they had developed a wide range of skills across the RDF and beyond, including: communication to different audiences; dealing with conflict and negotiating skills; the process of consulting; ideation; a problem solving plan of action; project management; pitching; and learning new software and management skills.

I really enjoyed working on the problem in a team and pitching our idea in the form of a video.

It was an opportunity to add new strings to my bow and to consider different career paths.

All participants surveyed would recommend it. In the words of one PGR from CAL:

Because it was/is AWESOME!

Register for the Virtual Consultancy Challenge 2021, which will be running again from February. You could make new friends, develop your skills, gain valuable work experience and help a performing arts venue charity build a sustainable future.

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