Graduate Research Techniques and Skills: A List

Research Skills for Graduate SOP

Everyone wants to emphasize “research experience” in their grad applications. But what does “experience” mean? What does it prove? Why do graduate departments care? Often, research experience simply means you’re competent in certain laboratory skills and techniques. Some doctoral programs in fields like biology and neuroscience even require you to rate your level of competence – beginner, intermediate, advanced.

Obviously, if you’re experienced with gel electrophoresis or data analysis with pandas, you’ll include this information in your CV. However, it’s also a good idea to mention these skills in your SOP’s “Why I’m Qualified” section. It will only give your readers confidence that your research experience is valid, that you’re ready for the rigors of graduate study, and that you’re not a scammer who’s paid some professor for a suspicious online project.

(After all, no small number of graduate students have been expelled after claiming fake programming credentials.)

Below you’ll find a list of graduate research techniques and skills you should consider mentioning in your CV and statement of purpose. I’ve tried to make it as expansive as possible, using published lists of required skills from a number of R1 universities. I’ve surely missed a great deal, however (especially with engineering), and welcome you to email me suggestions that will make this list more complete.

Graduate Research Techniques and Skills

Data Science/Analytics

– Programming languages: Python, Perl, C/C++, SQL, JavaScript, Java, Scala, Julia, Matlab, Haskell, Swift, Octave, Lisp, SAS

– Analytical Tools: SAS, Hadoop, Spark, Hive, Pig, R, Excel

– Data Visualization: Tableau, Power BI, D3.js, Chart.js, FineReport

– Data Munging/Wrangling: Alteryx, Power Query M, pandas, Tabula


– Languages: Python, Perl, C/C++, SQL, NoSQL, Java, JavaScript, R, Go, MatLab, HTML

– Python Libraries:, scikit-learn, Pandas, SciPy, NumPy, Matplotlib, Requests, SQLAlchemy, BeautifulSoup, Pyglet, SciPy, Scrapy, PyGame, Python Twisted, Pillow, pywin32, wxPython, iPython, Nose, Flask, SymPy, Fabric, PyGTK

– JavaScript Frameworks: Angular, Vue.Js, Redux, Ember.Js, Meteor, Mithril, Aurelia, Ionic, Mocha, Webix, Next.Js, Jasmine, Mercury, Riot.Js, Backbone, Ava, WebRx

– JavaScript Libraries: React, Polymer, Jest, Knockout, Socket, MobX, Omniscient, Algolia Places, Three.Js, TaffyDB, Voca, Popper.Js, Multiple.Js

– Miscellaneous skills: Multi-threading, Statistics Inference, Data Analytics, Machine Learning, Database Management System, Parallel Computing, Graphic Design, UI design


– Hardware: Pneumatics, GD&T, FANUC Robotics, FMEA, Fabrication, Vision Systems, PLC Ladder Logic

– Software: Python, C, CATIA, Cognex, Autocad, Maple, Minitab, NX, Solidworks, SAP

General Laboratory Skills

– Pipette

– Weighing

– Sterilization

– Filtration

– Titration

– Washing/cleaning glassware

– Preparing media

– Practice sterile techniques

Laboratory/Research Instruments

– Light microscope

– Autoanalyzer

– Micro Burette

– pH meter

– Centrifuges: standard and/or high speed

– Incubators

– Darkroom equipment

– Precision balance

– Volumetric glassware

– Oscilloscopes

– Blood gas analyzer

– Microtomes: paraffin, celloidin

– X-ray equipment

Miscellaneous Laboratory and Research Skills

– Data processing

– Light microscopy, fluorescence microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy

– Dissection

– Molecular (gene) cloning

– Mammalian cell culture

– Restriction analysis, gel electrophoresis, and gel documentation

– UV/Vis spectrophotometry

– Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA)

– Designing, conducting and interpreting scientific research

– Isolating and analyzing DNA, RNA and protein

– Sequencing genomes

– Scientific writing

Electron Microscopy

– Fixing

– Embedding

– Staining

– Sectioning

– Processing film

– Printing film

– Preparing grids

– Forming film on grids


– Routine frozen sections of whole animal brains

– Cell and fiber staining

– Perfusions of animals

– Staining processes

– Embedding processes: paraffin, celloidin

– Autoradiography of tissue sections


– Plaque assay for antibody forming cells

– Hemagglutination and hemolysis assay

– Florescent antibody technique

– Lyophilization

– Spectrofluorometry

– Isolation of viruses

– Cytotoxicity assay

– Lymphocyte culture


– Maintaining and purifying: bacteria, phage stocks, cell culture

– Cell and Tissue culture

– Culture transfers

– Inoculation

– Preparing media

– Preparing and assaying bacteriophage lysates

– Pour plates

– Plasmid amplification


– Radioimmunoassays

– Handling radioisotopes

– Irradiating tumors in vivo

– Labeling radioactives

– Radioisotope counters: autogamma, scintillation, scanning, gas flow

Anatomy, Botany, and General Biology

– Use of a microtome to make slides

– Staining techniques


– Patient sample handling techniques

– Making an accurate white blood cell count

– Antibody testing methods such as ELISA

– Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP)


– Using micropipetter

– Molecular cloning

– Use of restriction enzymes

– Use of PCR ( Polymerase Chain Reaction) machines

– Replica plating

– Growth of competent cells

Molecular Biology

– Agarose Gel Electrophoresis

– Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis

– Cell fractionation

– Blotting techniques Ex: Western Blot


Skills pay the bills. Don’t just assume that admissions readers will scan your CV or graduate SOP and understand the depth of your experience. Do the thinking for them. Make your experience bold and clear by listing your skills. Don’t shy away from admitting that you’re only a beginner with molecular cloning or producing visualizations in Tableau. Honesty isn’t the best policy…it’s the only policy.

Lastly… I have some valuable advice for you. As you contemplate your research and programming skills, be sure to grab a pen, notebook, and your free copy of The SOP Starter Kit, so you have everything you need to craft a persuasive statement of purpose starting right now!

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