Five Skills I Can Use to Develop My Career Beyond My PhD

1. Problem solving: This should be the number one reason you do a PhD (not to get a job in research, but). You PhD should be all about developing your ability to identify a problem and then subsequently, develop and refine your ability to solve it. Be careful that your PhD does not cover the ability to identify problems. Be careful that you are not told how to solve the problems, but that you work your way (in collaboration if needed) through the problems of your PhD.

2. Project management: Overseeing the conduct of a project. From start to finish. Be mindful that not all industries view Project Management in the same way. Some like the use of formal project management methodology (e.g. PRINCE2, Waterfall, PMBOK, Agile, Scrum). If these terms aren’t familiar to you – google them and read more about them before you say you can do project management. Also be mindful that most project managers like to stick closely to time and budget. Both of which are often missed within research and PhDs.

3. Written communication: Putting your thoughts or actions into a written form. This is mostly based on journal article and grant writing. Thus, I would prefer to qualify this as technical written communication, rather than written communication. Understand that there are many types of written communication and that some are more transferable than others. For example, blogs, social media and reports to non-research stakeholders are probably more valuable if you’re not intending to stay in academic research long term.

Be careful when identifying your

transferable skills from your

PhD – not all are created equal

4. Oral communication: Conversing with your colleagues (other students, Post Docs, Collaborators and supervisors) about your research. A large amount of research is collaborative and conducted in groups. Thus, a large amount of communication is conducted orally/verbally. In many cases this is technical, but it isn’t always. To broaden this out, talk to non-research stakeholders (e.g. parents, friends and relatives not in your field) about your work. The more you practice, the better you become a clear verbal communication. Don’t be satisfied if at the end of your speech their eyes have glazed over. You haven’t done a good job if that is the case. Re-think what you said and try to improve the next time.

5. Presentation skills: This combines oral and written communication into an audio-visual presentation of your work. That could be talking about your thesis (aka thesis defence); it could be your confirmation of candidature or second year presentation (often made in front of a learned but unfamiliar audience). It could even be a graphically designed report. It relies on being able to identify, structure and subsequently present an argument and the associated story of your work.

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers, and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

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