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Transferable PhD Skills You Can Use in Any Career

Summary

  • Having a PhD demonstrates that you have a host of skills desirable for employers, allowing you to pursue a non academic career path.
  • Transferable skills from a PhD include interpersonal skills, work ethic, problem-solving, time management, independence & responsibility, adaptability and report writing.
  • It is important to sell yourself to potential employers by identifying and relating these transferable skills to the job you are applying for.

This page will explain how your PhD has prepared you for a career outside of academia, and how to make the most of your transferable skills when looking for a job.

Can PhD Doctorates Work in Any Role?

A common misconception we hear is that individuals with PhDs must pursue a career in academia. This is usually due to a lack of industrial work experience PhD students have upon obtaining their doctorate. However, this is not the case as one of the key benefits of a PhD is the transferable skills it brings.

Transferable Skills from A PhD

By completing a PhD you will have demonstrated several skills which make you desirable for employers. It is essential that you recognise these skills and can use them to sell yourself in your CV.

Transferable skills from a PhD include:

Communication

Throughout your PhD, you will have been required to work with others, be it supervisors or examiners. You will also have been required to communicate your ideas (often complex and detailed theories) succinctly and to those with less background knowledge than you. Communication skills are essential in the workplace, regardless of the job, as it shows the ability to work in a team effectively.

Work Ethic

Completing a PhD is no easy task. In doing so, you have shown a drive to ‘get the job done’.

Problem Solving

Throughout your PhD, you will have encountered several problems you overcame. Use these as examples to show your ability to use creative thinking to devise solutions to these problems.

Data Analysation

Most PhD research projects will involve some degree of data analysation. The ability to interpret complex information and identify relevant data is a valuable skill in numerical fields such as science and engineering. You are also likely to have developed your research skills which shows you can identify types of bias, anomalies and trends which is useful in statistical roles such as accounting.

Time Management

An important skill in the workplace is the ability to prioritise and organise tasks. With your PhD degree, you should be able to convince potential employers that you can establish realistic timelines and remain to deadlines. You are also able to engage in both short and long term planning. Time management skills are particularly useful for those pursuing project management or leadership roles.

Independence & Responsibility

Perhaps one of the most important things you have shown throughout your research project is your ability to take responsibility for your development. A potential employer should see you as someone who does not need constant instructions, but someone who can take ownership of problems and resolve them using their own independent judgement.

Adaptability

It is unlikely that you will have stuck to your original plan. Things happen and you will have been required to adapt on the fly during your PhD. This is common transferable skill employers are looking for if they operate in volatile markets.

Report Writing

You have been able to summarise approximately three years or more worth of work in a single thesis. This shows your ability to filter through massive amounts of information, identify the key points, and get these points across to the reader. The ability to ‘cut out the waffle’ or ‘get to the point’ is a huge asset in the professional industry.

Useful Phrases To Demonstrate Your Skills

From the above list, it’s clear that a PhD provides you with a host of transferable skills employers look for in candidates. The key is to relate these skills to the job you are applying for.

To help you with this, we’ve put together a few common examples of phrases we hear from doctorates that can be refined for job-seeking purposes. It’s imperative not to stretch the truth or to mislead them but focus on convincing your potential employers how your PhD has prepared you for the role you are applying for.

What You DidSkill DemonstratedHow To Rephrase
I undertook a vivaOral communication and public speaking skillsI have excellent communication skills and can express complex ideas clearly.
I produced a 300-page thesisReport writing skills and written communicationI have in-depth experience in report writing and can communicate ideas effectively in writing.
I had an original finding (e.g. through a lab experiment)Analytical thinking and technical skillsI am able to use creative and critical thinking skills to solve problems independently.
I carried out a questionnaire/surveyPublic engagement and data collectionI identified a questionnaire as the best method to collect data for my research. I also engaged with the public and interpreted the results.
I informally supervised a Master’s studentProject management skillsI was responsible for supervising a trainee researcher at the university, offering guidance and advice on technical matters where needed.
I organised lab work with other postgraduatesInterpersonal skills and organisational skillsAs part of my project I regularly liaised with team members to coordinate tasks

Other Specialist Skills

Aside from these PhD transferable skills, you may have also developed expertise in more specialised areas of knowledge. For example, as part of your PhD were you required to use Computer Programming? Were you required to use Medical Equipment? Did you organise events? Not only are these skills in themselves, but they have inherent soft skills too.

Make sure you get these skills across to your potential employer as they will help demonstrate how valuable you are.

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