Undertaking a PhD shouldn’t be a light decision. In fact, it’s one of the most challenging academic journeys you could embark on.
A PhD is the highest globally recognised postgraduate degree that higher education institutions can award. The degree, which is awarded to candidates who demonstrate original and extensive research in a particular field of study, is not only invaluable in itself, but sets you up for invaluable skills and traits.
Although a PhD takes on average three to five years to complete, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a long-term goal, especially with the possibilities that come with it. It’s a common misunderstanding that PhDs only open the door for educational based roles such as university lecturers and training providers. Although obtaining a PhD opens these doors, the opportunities extend far beyond educational roles. In fact, recent data from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) indicates only 23% of PhD graduates take a position in educational roles. This low percentage is primarily because PhD graduates have a wide range of skills that make them suitable for a broad spectrum of roles. This is being seen first hand by the increasing number of PhD graduates who are entering alternative roles such as research, writing, law and investment banking.
Percentages aside, one of the most desirable post-doctoral fields is working within independent Research and Development (R&D) labs and new emerging companies. Both industries, especially R&D labs, have dedicated groups of PhD graduates who lead research activities, design new products and take part in crucial strategic meetings. Not only is this a stimulating line of work, but the average salaries in R&D labs and emerging start-ups are incredibly lucrative. In comparison, an undergraduate with five years of experience within their given field will, on average, likely earn less than a new PhD graduate taking on an R&D position.
PhD students are widely in demand for their wide range of skills they develop during their studies. Not only do these skills extend beyond that obtained by an undergraduate counterpart, but the transferability of the skills is what makes them stand out amongst employers.
To successfully undertake a PhD, it’s paramount to have a good working relationship with your supervisor and other students in your laboratory, workshop, or department. This relationship will also extend to undertaking short-term collaborative projects, delivering joint conferences and co-authoring research papers. The modern doctorate needs to demonstrate effective team working, collaboration and networking to be successful in their chosen field. This skill is highly sought by all employers, as open and effective communication is key to any project.
Although academic publishing isn’t a requirement of all PhDs, all students will have the opportunity to produce technical or informative texts, regardless of whether it’s in the form of reports or journal articles.
The preparation, research, writing, and editing of such texts demonstrate your ability to amalgamate information and communicate complex ideas. Regardless of an employer’s field, the ability to record and summarise essential information is a fundamental skill they look for. Demonstrating you’re capable of delivering factual documents will help set you apart from colleagues, which will help make strides in your career.
One of the most valued skills you’ll gain during your PhD is the ability to undertake in-depth research. Identifying, managing and analysing large amounts of complex information is not a simple task. In addition to this, it’s also challenging to assimilate this information in an appropriate and understandable format. In undertaking a PhD, you will prove yourself as a professional expert in this area, an area that many careers thrive on.
In today’s industries, excellent oral communication skills are becoming more and more essential. Although many individuals struggle with this skill, as a PhD graduate, you’re more likely to excel in this area. This is because of the many public speaking opportunities you’ll be exposed to during your course. Through conference talks, presentations, and posters, you’ll learn to become confident and engaging when speaking to a broad audience. You’ll also showcase to future employers that you know how to present complex ideas and defend them.
Even if your career goal isn’t to become a project manager, all jobs require some project management. Fortunately, PhDs are a project management exercise. To complete your thesis, you must design a project, establish a realistic timetable, manage stakeholders and overcome failures. While attempting to achieve the long-term goal set out by the PhD, you must also set, manage, and achieve short-term goals to make progress.
This scenario accurately represents any modern workplace. You’ll be given the autonomy to manage your projects and workload and be expected to do so at a competent level. By having undertaken a PhD, you would have already shown that you are more than capable in this area.
Every doctoral student will gain unparalleled skills in exercising critical thinking. This is due to having been trained to address problems, identify connections and analyse information to come to sensible conclusions. A critical thinker is exceptionally beneficial for any industry.
Nearly all careers place a strong emphasis on team working. Although producing a PhD thesis is an individual task, to complete your PhD you’ll need to collaborate with others, whether it be to conduct experiments, collect data, or co-write manuscripts. To complete these tasks, you must know how to divide the task, share with others, communicate effectively, and resolve conflicts. All these skills carry over to any workplace. By demonstrating that you can work as part of a team, you’ll significantly increase your desirability for any role.
In analysing the career prospects and transferable skills gained in undertaking a PhD, it is clear that pursuing a PhD is an extremely worthwhile venture. You’ll gain many skills valued in any career path, from conducting research, to managing tasks and communicating complex ideas. These skills, combined with the new roles that open up for doctorate holders, such as working within innovative Research and Development teams, presents an exciting and prosperous future.