This is a guest post by Dr. Lorelli Nowell, an Assistant Professor and Teaching Scholar at the University of Calgary. Dr. Nowell was recently awarded a University of Calgary Teaching Award for her Educational Leadership and a Canadian Nurses Association Order of Merit for Nursing Education. She was invited to present the Professional Learning and Development Framework for Postdoctoral Scholars at the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Administrators conference. Twitter @lorelli_nowell

I recently had the honor of working with a wonderful group of scholars to co-develop a framework for postdoctoral scholars professional learning and development. Our team consists of breadth of scholars who bring unique lenses and experiences to our research. Dr. Natasha Kenny is the Senior Director of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning and expert in educational leadership and workplace well-being in academic contexts; Dr. Michele Jacobsen is a Professor in the Learning Sciences with research expertise in supervision and mentorship; Dr. Penny Pexman is an Associate Vice-President (Research) and director of the Postdoctoral program; and, I come to the project with lived-experience of being a postdoctoral scholar and a developing program of research focused on mentorship and professional learning and development. Together, we leaned into each others’ strengths, experiences, and expertise to create a more holistic understanding of how to best support postdoctoral scholars in their professional learning and development.

Our framework was co-developed, evidence based, and built upon our previous research including systematic literature reviews, surveys and interviews with postdoctoral scholars, and iterative consultations with research participants, academic mentors, and industry partners. Pushing beyond the traditional focus on research skill development, our framework highlights four key domains for professional learning and development, each with 4 further subdomains:

  1. Professional Socialization (mentorship, community engagement, inclusivity & diversity, networking)
  2. Professional Skills (leadership skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, careering planning)
  3. Academic Development (academic writing, academic service, critical thinking, teaching & learning)
  4. Personal Effectiveness (time management, work-life balance, health & wellness, project management)

We presented these domains in a circular fashion to demonstrate that no one domain is more important than the other. We also see there is overlap and interconnection between the sub-domains, where each may inform and enhance another. Optimal professional learning and development may in fact best be achieved through an integration of the different sub-domains!

While we developed this framework based on the evidence and experiences of postdoctoral scholars, we believe this framework has much broader applicability. We envision this framework being used to guide mentorship conversations, develop professional learning plans, foster critical reflection, and document career growth across various career paths.

For graduate student supervisors, this framework may be a useful tool to get to know students’ strengths and areas for future growth. It may also be used by graduate student supervisors to reflect on their current graduate student supervisory practice and highlight gaps and strengths in role modeling, mentoring, and guiding graduate students. For example, the framework may cause graduate student supervisors to pause and reflect on how they are engaging with various communities, mobilizing knowledge, implementing innovative solutions, or balancing work-life responsibilities – all important skills that graduate students may (or may not) learn from their supervisors.

Higher education institutions may also consider using the framework to refine existing and/or develop new robust professional learning and development programs for the various groups that call higher education institutions home, including but not limited to students, faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and staff. With the understanding that professional learning and development is a way to connect with life-long learning opportunities, I hope this framework is a useful tool to re-envision the diverse skills sets required I to thrive in today’s evolving society.


Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Berenson, C., Kenny, N. and Hayden, K.A. (2018). Professional learning and development of postdoctoral scholars: a systematic review of the literature. Education Research International, 1-16.

Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Kenny, N. and Jacobsen, M. (2020). Postdoctoral scholar’s perspectives about professional learning and development: a concurrent mixed-methods study. Palgrave Communications, 6(95), 1-11.

Nowell, L., Dhingra, S., Kenny, N., Jacobsen, M. and Pexman, P. (2021). Professional learning and development framework for postdoctoral scholars. Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, 12(3), 353-370.

This Supervision Blog is part of the Quality Graduate Supervision project website.