University of Exeter Handbook (Physics) Questions/Comments Department (Physics)

Quickstart Guide to Personal Development Planning

Personal Development Planning for students in the Department is supported by personal tutors and the ePDP system. Advocates of PDP claim that, to be most effective, the process must be adapted to each individual and not based on 'ticking of items on a checklist'. So, not a checklist, but a collection of ideas and prompts that students and tutors may find helpful to consider when constructing and discussing Progress Files and Action Plans:


The Process

For students, PDP should be a three-stage cycle repeating once or twice a year:

  1. Think about what needs to be achieved (aims) and devise strategies to achieve them.
  2. Act on those strategies.
  3. Think about what has been done and the extent to which the aims have been achieved.

This reflective process helps students to understand what they have learnt, what skills they have developed, how they might apply them and how they can communicate all this to future employers.

Skills Frameworks

These diagrams show the skills that students are expected to develop while at University, through academic studies and through other activities:

Students should be able to provide evidence that they have these skills and a grasp of how might they be useful in the future - for example, to a potential employer. The 'Add a skill' facility built into the ePDP system is for recording skills and this record can be compared with the above frameworks to identify skills 'gaps' than can be addressed in the Action Plan (see below).

Writing Skills

Tutors can usefully comment on the standard of written English demonstrated by the Progress File and Action Plan. There are numerous self-help books and websites that can be used as resources, e.g.:

Students with significant problems in this area can obtain one-to-one help from the study skills support service.

Reflective Writing Skills

The level scheme devised by Moon (2004):

  1. Descriptive writing: This is a description of events or literature reports. There is no discussion beyond description.
  2. Descriptive reflection: ...some evidence of deeper consideration in relatively descriptive language. There is no real evidence of the notion of alternative viewpoints in use.
  3. Dialogic reflection: ...a 'stepping back' from the events. There is consideration of the qualities of judgements and of possible alternatives for explaining and hypothesising... analytical or integrative, linking factors and perspectives.
  4. Critical reflection: ...aware that the same actions and events may be seen in different contexts with different explanations associated with the contexts.

is useful when reviewing reflective writing. Level 1 is typical for science students at Stage 1. Part of the PDP process should be to encourage students to raise the level of their writing.


Academic experiences

How is the mark for this stage calculated? How will the final degree award be assessed and classified? (Refer to Progression and Assessment in the Department Handbook.)

Is there a specific degree class target? If so, which class? If not, why not? Does the student feel above/on/below target, does the tutor agree? Working habits: workaholic / committed but do take time off / works only when a deadline is looming / academic work has a very low priority?

Which topic/module/activity is most interesting/enjoyable? Why?

Skills: maintained, developed, needed in future?

Does lifestyle support or obstruct academic progress: amount of socialising, peer-pressure, regular and appropriate pattern and balance of work-rest-play?

What are primary learning resources being used: lectures, textbooks, Internet, study-groups, problems classes, tutorials? Which are most/least effective, and why?

What is the usual approach to learning: active/passive, deep/shallow? Does the student believe this is effective, does the tutor agree?

What determines how much effort to devote to particular tasks/modules? Work smarter? Work harder?

The Effective Studying section of the Department Handbook makes makes various suggestions. Are any being used? Would any be useful?

Time management?

Work experiences

List work experiences with dates: what was involved, what skills were required/developed? Give examples of showing initiative, working with others, etc.

Plans for work experience in summer vacation. If paid work is not available, what about voluntary sector?

Work experience is highly valued by a majority of employers. Make active use of the resources referred to in the Department Handbook Employment and Careers section.

Extra-curricular experiences

Extra-curricula experiences are useful for developing and providing evidence of social and group-working skills.

Sport: Which, what level, team/individual, how much time? Combining participation in high-level sport with a physics/radiography degree is difficult because of time issues. Is student good enough to make a career from sport, if not it shouldn't interfere too much with studies.

Hobbies: Solitary hobbies can make employers nervous. Students who spend every weekend train-spotting or building models from matchsticks should probably keep the fact to themselves. 'Drinking with my mates." doesn't go down well in many places either.

Clubs/Societies: Member, Committee Member, Officer? Active/passive involvement? Why a particular club society?

Travel: Where, why, independent/as a group, planning, what benefits?

Mature students: family/caring responsibilities, time-management, motivation, etc.

Action plans

Identify long/medium term aims: health, work, hobbies, finances, relationships, discipline, etc.. What skills/experience/contacts will help achieve these aims?

Plan: actions to get the skills/experience/contacts needed.

Try the S.M.A.R.T. method for setting goals.

Example: A student wants join the Army. They will need to be fit when they graduate so the plan is to: improve diet, deal with their alcohol problem and join an Aikido club. They will monitor progress by measuring their fitness each month, and analysing the results using Octave, which they will download, install and learn to use on their personal computer.

Exeter's Education Enhancement unit has Setting Objectives and Writing Action Plans.

Personal Statements

The Personal Statement section is for summarising significant achievements and learning highlights in a form that can be drawn upon to support job or other academic references in the future. Stage 1 students may wish to include introductory information about themselves.

This is not the place for undue modesty; the writer needs to 'blow their own trumpet'. Highlight achievements, including the outcomes of any academic project-work. There must be an evidence base for statements and claims. For example, don't say 'I have a good sense of humour and am an excellent dancer.' unless your can expand it with evidence: ' sense of humour has be recognised by a Perrier Comedy Award, and I performed in the World Hip Hop Dance Championships (quarter-finals)...'

A final Stage student's personal statement should demonstrate that they have qualities expected of a graduate, e.g.:

For more ideas, refer to the Skills Framework diagrams above.

Exeter's Education Enhancement unit has Some Tips on Writing Personal Statements.

University of Exeter Handbook (Physics) Questions/Comments Department (Physics)