Long a while ago a wrote two articles which were the manifesto of my PhD advocacy commitment: The first one life beyond PhD, the other one about transferable skills gained during a PhD. I will explore this topic a bit more today.

I am fortunate enough to be part of a PhD programme designed in partnership with industries. Part of my PhD is also getting pieces of training and learn all these soft skills necessary for helping the transition from academia to industry.

When you get closer to your graduation and you start applying for jobs, the real question you have to ask yourself is:

“What makes me truly different from other people?” What is it that makes me unique? What makes my CV stand out among others?”

For example, I am a PhD student in chemistry. After graduation, myself as every PhD student in the world in chemistry will be able to read an NMR spectrum, set up a chemical reaction, design synthesis, set up new methods with lab equipment and so on. If you are a PhD student in biology, you will be able to do western blot, gels, grow cells, prepare media and so on. How many PhD students in biology will be able to do the same? Probably 99.99%. If you do computer science, how many other students will be as good as you are at coding?

The point I am trying to make is that by doing a PhD ONLY, you will learn ONLY learn technical skills as well as PhD students from the rest of the world.

So, in answer to my previous questions,

you will be unique my gaining a set of additional skills, commonly called “soft skills,” which many students lack.


Here are a few:

  1. Conflict management. How do you deal with tensions at work? Do you freak out and bitch/complain about people or you try to be assertive and resolve the conflict? In one of the training I had about conflict management, they told us that raising your voice and attack people isn’t the way to communicate. If you are irritated and annoyed about something, try to stay calm and speak in a civilised manner. Athough diffucult, you should be able to be detatched from the situation and analyse it thorugh a third person perspective. Try to analyse the argument in a rational way without being taken over by your emotions.
  2. Good communication of science. You are highly skilled at your research, but that is only part of the work. Are you any good at delivering your message to experts or the general public? If you are not sure about this, have you ever thought of getting involved in OutReach and public engagement? Have you ever thought to write for a local newspaper? Good communication is definitely one of the most appreciated skills when it comes to your transition to industry. You will have to talk to people in other departments, with clients, with investors and being able to adapt your language to a different audience will give you a big added value.
  3. Have you ever thought of organising an event or joining a project which has nothing to do with your PhD? By doing it, you will tick all the boxes when adding skills to your CV. You might not be aware of this, but if you write a skill on your CV,  for example, negotiation, time management, team working or leadership you need to give an example and say how you managed to apply particular skills in real situations.

To conclude, am I any different from all the other folks who are currently doing a PhD in chemistry? Probably not, in terms of publications and technical skills, I am sure they are better than me. However, all the extra-curricular activities I do outside my PhD do make me different and unique among everyone else.  In fact, they will pay off when applying for a job outside academia as I will have acquired the necessary experience and collected “examples” to prove my skills.


2 Comments on “Why it is important to acquire transferable skills. Life beyond PhD

  1. Great article! I wholeheartedly agree with you: extra-curricular activities are extremely useful for PhDs, or any type of career transition. When I left my tenure track job to transition out of academia, what saved me is all the work I had done outside my immediate research duties. Non-paid work is great way for PhDs to demonstrate skills and abilities that go beyond the analytical and critical skills people usually associate with research.

    • Dear Philip, thanks so much for this comment. It really means a lot. I got contrasting feedback to this article. Someone said that it sounds odd that a PhD student gives advice to other students as I am at the same level. I am glad you found my writing “great” and you could relate to it. Regards

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