During your PhD, you’re not just learning about your research topic. You’re also learning core skills that apply to jobs both in and out of academia. Most institutions don’t teach you to articulate these transferable skills in a way that aligns with how they’re described in the business world. Knowing your skills increases your value as a candidate.
It takes practice to become a good writer. Fortunately, as PhD student you have years of practice writing papers, conference abstracts, journal manuscripts, and of course your dissertation. The feedback you receive from your supervisor and peer reviewers will help improve your communication skills.
Research skills are valuable even in many fields outside of academia. As a trained researcher, you are able to determine the best approach to a question, find relevant data, design a way to analyze it, understand a large amount of data, and then synthesize your findings. You even know how to use research to persuade others and defend your conclusions.
Strong oral communications skills are always valued, and PhD students get more public speaking opportunities than most. Through conference talks, poster presentations, and teaching, you will learn to feel comfortable in front of a larger audience, engage them, and present complex ideas in a straightforward way. Winning a teaching award or being recognized as the best speaker at a conference is a concrete way to prove your public speaking skills.
Even if you’re not working as a project manager, every job requires some degree of project management. Fortunately, a PhD is an exercise in project management. Finishing your dissertation requires you to design a project, make a realistic timeline, overcome setbacks, and manage stakeholders. During this time, you will also have to manage long-term projects at the same time as short-term goals which requires strong organizational skills.
Mentoring and teaching are the two main way PhD student can learn leadership and management skills. As a teacher or mentor, you have to figure out how to motivate someone and help them accomplish a goal. You also get experience evaluating someone’s performance (grading) and giving constructive feedback.
Every PhD student learns critical thinking skills whether they realize it or not. You are trained to approach problems systematically, see the links between ideas, evaluate arguments, and analyze information to come up with your own conclusions. Any industry can benefit from someone who knows “how to think”.
Very few jobs require you to work completely independently, and academia isn’t one of them. Your dissertation is a solo project, but on a day to day basis you work with other people on your experiments or preparing a journal manuscript. Doing these tasks successfully requires knowing how to divide up a task, get along with others, communicate effectively, and resolve conflict.