Earning a PhD degree is a tough process, a 3 or 4-year period where students have to cope constantly with failures and, let’s face it, academia isn’t a very nice environment. How many times have you hung out or socialised with fellow students and the main topic of their conversations was bitching about nasty academics, supervisors or labmates? After the writing up period, it is very common for students to be so stressed and frustrated that they accept any job, even a shitty one to escape academia. Industry people are very aware of this situation and take advantage of it by paying students less than they deserve.
To avoid having this happen to you, read this article and see all the TRANSFERABLE SKILLS you learn during your PhD that you didn’t even realize you had.
1. SELF-MANAGEMENT and LEADERSHIP: To get your work published, you might have done at least 13768739 experiments/interviews/questionnaires. We agree that it was impossible to sort everything out in one day or week. Then, you made your own plans and scheduled your experiments and such according to their PRIORITIES. Do first what’s urgent/very important and all the rest step by step. You eventually learned how to MANAGE YOUR TIME and make the most of it. You became the LEADER of your research and yourself and when it comes to teaching what you do to other people (master students, for example) – you know exactly what you do and how you do it.
2. NEGOTIATION: How many times does your boss suggest something and you think it is a bad idea? You cannot answer “Listen, this experiment isn’t going anywhere!” or “It is a waste of time” or “It’s useless” although this is exactly what is crossing your mind. After working on a project for so long, you take possession of it and no one knows more than you do. So how do you get your message across? Eventually, you will learn how to NEGOTIATE the best solution to make you happy and keep your boss happy.
3. INTERPERSONAL SKILLS and TEAM WORKING: Research is made of people, COLLABORATIONS, group meetings, research updates, conferences and, very often, you get ideas by talking to people. Sometimes, your collaborators are in another country or pieces of equipment you need in different departments. You have to COMMUNICATE to these people and get what you want asap. Also, in the lab, you are not alone – you share lab equipment and daily maintenance jobs with your workmates. YOU WORK AS A TEAM to make things work better.
4. FLEXIBILITY and PROBLEM SOLVING: How many times did you plan experiments and they didn’t work or they didn’t work the way you wanted? Then, either you went home to cry or you very quickly CAME UP WITH A NEW SOLUTION. Sometimes you had to change some conditions to get the result you wanted. Research is about discovering something new. Being FLEXIBLE to ADAPT yourself to novelty is something you deal with very day. Flexibility is also about the number of working hours. Did you ever work until 3 am when you were very close to a deadline???
5. BUSINESS ACUMEN: Research is expensive, and if you don’t work for a big fish, your budget might be very limited. Then you have to try to OPTIMISE YOUR EXPENSES or USE AVAILABLE RESOURCES to make something amazing. Business acumen is also about technology transfer and understanding the potential of your research in terms of money. Probably, not all the students are aware of this, so if you have the chance, take some business or ENTREPRENEURSHIP classes. One of the main reasons why PhD students in science don’t get manager positions is this: they lack business acumen!
I would like to acknowledge the Cheecky Scientistist for this article. Most of the things I wrote are also available in the book “The 20 Transferable Skills”.
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