Thinking Ahead: Transferable Skills

On Heather Doran’s previous post, Tom Williamson (Doctor in Systems Biology), commented thus:

“I’ve found out the hard way that a PhD does not make you more employable outside of academia, unless the job in question is explicitly related to the PhD. Most employers won’t know what a PhD entails, and you’ll be at least three years behind everyone else in the job market.”

Given that Vitae tell us over half of PhD students will leave academia (only 48% of PhD graduates working in the UK remain in the education sector), most of us need to be prepared to account for that 3 (or 4, or…) year gap in our employment history when we eventually face the interview panel.

So what does the PhD graduate have to offer to the real world?

We have got to be among the most well versed in working without a manager’s direction, or agenda, or oversight. Surely this is an attractive prospect for any potential employer? Although, entry level positions might require you to show that this quality doesn’t simply mean we’re stubborn hermits, and can submit to authority when appropriate!

Were you listening to the bit about it taking 3 years or more? That’s a long time to be working on one project. Completing a PhD shows that you can be dedicated to a task and to getting it finished, whatever that takes.

Time management
Again, the PhD is a long project. By the end, we’ve learned to identify our tasks, accurately predict their demands, prioritise them, and get them finished, often while working on more than one thing simultaneously.

People management
It might seem lonely and isolated at times, but we do encounter a number of people, and so can give evidence of working successfully together. We manage upwards when we engage with our supervisors or other academics in our home departments or at conferences. We work with the administrative staff in our universities, and comply with the regulations of our funding bodies. We organise things together, attend things together, and advise each other.

We don’t start our research knowing the answer. Doing a PhD demonstrates the ability to work on something new, cope with the uncertainty, and find a solution.

Quick to learn
By the end of the PhD, we’re the experts in our chosen field (even if it is rather niche): that’s what the assessment criterion of originality really means. By that time we’ll have taught ourselves what we need to know to get there, demonstrating independent learning.

Writing skills
90,000 words. Legible ones. Comprehensible ones. Interesting ones. Structured ones. Engaging ones. Necessary ones. This is the bit most ‘normal’ people find most incomprehensible, so celebrate your achievement.

Can you think of any other ways of articulating what skills we doctors of Philosophy can offer to potential employers?

P.S. If you’re an English Lit student, like me, you don’t have to worry. See here for a vision of your future.


About Nicola Abram

I'm researching black British women's theatre, based at the University of Reading. I'm looking forward to swapping my mortarboard for one of those floppy velvet hats!

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