Many higher degree researchers attain their doctorates and are faced with the decision to continue in academia or move into an industry setting. James Cook University provided professional skills training that would be valuable in either context.


The folks at James Cook University were looking for leadership development and professional communication skills training for their higher degree researchers (HDRs) post-PhD.

Academia is a tenuous and competitive field, with many HDRs unlikely to secure a full-time academic position after graduation in their particular field of study. For this reason, HDRs need the skills to navigate the academic (if they’re able to secure a position) and non-academic world where they may be leverage their expertise.

The program aimed to provide HDRs with the skills and know-how to influence their field at every stage of their career, whether they continued in academia or moved into an industry setting.


We designed a three-part leadership development program for James Cook University that began with an introduction to adaptive leadership before moving into the interpersonal and communication skills required to navigate professional work environments.

The first session, titled ‘Leadership beyond position’ focussed on the need for workplaces and individuals to strike a balance between authority/management (the provision of sufficient levels of order, protection and direction) and leadership (initiatives that challenge the status quo and reassess norms). The session provided an opportunity for participants to have an in-depth, facilitated discussion looking at ways to authorise yourself post-PhD in a professional setting.

The second session was a skill development training on presentation skills for both online and offline contexts. Continuing on from the first session, we explored self-authorisation and ways to share expertise in the workplace. For many of the participants, online presentation was a new and necessary skill to develop given the rise of online communication. We focussed on the use of visual aids in offline contexts and online tools and engagement approaches for remote presenting. Finally, we provided participants used of storytelling skills to build engagement in when delivering presentations.

The third session focussed on Negotiation from the ‘Getting to Yes’ framework to find creative solutions to bridge positional divides. We taught the key pillars method to enable participants to navigate disagreements in professional contexts. We introduced the key ‘Getting to Yes’ concept of negotiating using interests rather than positions and worked with participants to identify the underlying interests that characterised some of the current conflicts they were observing around them.


We enjoyed the opportunity to design and deliver this series of professional development workshops for some of JCU’s brightest minds. Despite being in the depths of the doctoral research, we met a group of people who had the presence of mind to pause, reflect, and develop the necessary skills to flourish in their future professional settings.

“Polykala was recommended to me as a company offering high quality content presented by skilled facilitators. Polykala were excellent to work with and were flexible and understanding. Tom and Ananth genuinely sought to understand our needs and deliver practical, useful training. Their abilities as facilitators are first-class.”

Lauren Moxey – PhD candidate, James Cook University


James Cook University



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