Summative and benchmarking surveys to measure the postgraduate student research experience are well reported in the literature. While useful, we argue that local instruments that provide formative resources with an academic development focus are also required. If higher education institutions are to move beyond the identification of issues and benchmarking practices, the scope of survey results and their reporting need to enable and foster appropriate changes in disciplinary practices. Robust, locally developed instruments can provide detailed, programme-specific information and foster timely changes in practice with direct benefits for postgraduate respondents. Unlike benchmarked surveys, local tools can adapt to explore and examine specific concerns of students, supervisors and academic developers. Coupling high-response rates and follow-on engagement with participant feedback, well-designed local instruments provide clear and irrefutable indicators to programme and university administrators of specific disciplinary strengths and weaknesses in postgraduate pathways. In this paper, we discuss the development of a research student survey specifically designed to support academic development purposes in strengthening and enhancing the postgraduate experience.