In the industry, your interpersonal skills (your transferable skills) are the most important assets you have to offer. Merely having technical skills is not enough. You must demonstrate that you have the required transferable skills. Some of the most important transferable skills PhDs need to transition into the industry are time management skills, written communication skills, the ability to gather and interpret information, decision-making and problem-solving skills, oral communication skills, the ability to learn quickly, and project management skills. As a PhD, you have already developed these skills. It’s up to you to leverage them, as you transition from academia to industry.
- Time management skills.
Time is money. Industry employers do not want employees who don’t understand this concept. As a PhD student, you don’t want to take longer to complete your project and graduate. This is a waste of years of your life. That is some serious motivation to develop excellent time management skills. Plus, many PhD programs have instituted a time limit for the length of PhD projects. This means that you must be able to manage your time in order to complete a multipart, several-year-long project on time. Bottom line, as a PhD, you have time management skills, although this skill can always be improved upon.
- Written communication skills.
Being able to communicate well is essential to succeed in the industry. You will need to communicate with people within your team, outside your team, with people with a science background, without a science background, clients, customers, executives… the list goes on.
As a PhD, you have ample writing experience from writing papers, proposals, and grants consistently throughout your time in academia. Not to mention the monster of a written document that is a dissertation. Being able to clearly write for any audience is a skill that will aid you greatly in your industry career.
- Ability to gather and interpret information.
The industry needs employees who can do more than regurgitate information. They need you to interpret information and then move the field forward. As a PhD, you are comfortable at the edge of what is known, and you thrive on asking innovative questions. You know how to read up about a subject, analyze the information for what is important, and then use that information to make a decision. You know the signs of a quality study and one where conclusions are not well supported by evidence. This gives you the ability to interpret a range of information and produce the best interpretation possible.
- Decision-making and problem-solving skills.
As a PhD, you are unrivaled in your ability to troubleshoot. You have a PhD in a specific discipline, but you are also a doctor of problem-solving. Your PhD project almost certainly had roadblocks and bumps along the way that you had to overcome.
Discovering a problem during your PhD was not a sign that you should quit, it was an opportunity to discover something new. This is especially true because, as a PhD, you are working right at the edge of known information. Working at the edge of a field means that you must exercise creative problem-solving because you are encountering brand new problems. PhDs are not afraid of solving problems and are comfortable making decisions, offering immense value to industry companies.
- Oral communication skills.
Oral communication impacts your ability to work well with others, and your ability to be understood. As a PhD, you have already developed this transferable skill. You are constantly communicating with the people in your group, with any collaborators you may have, with other staff at your university, and with students, you teach. You know how to verbally communicate with different types of people, and this is a valuable skill in the industry.
All PhDs have given presentations and know how important it is to speak in a way that allows others to understand your ideas. By practicing and giving lots of presentations throughout your PhD studies, you have become an excellent verbal communicator, which is important to your ability to succeed in all areas of industry.
- Ability to learn quickly.
There are very few people who can rival a PhD’s ability to learn quickly. This is easily demonstrated by your ability to read a new research paper, understand what the paper’s conclusions are, and then, if relevant, implement those new findings into your own research. That whole process can happen in a matter of hours.
In industry, if the project you are working on becomes irrelevant, or not profitable, it will be scrapped. This means you will likely have to switch to a completely new project, very quickly. You need to be able to learn about this new project, which could be in a different field. As a PhD, your ability to learn quickly means that you will be able to keep up with the changing priorities of the industry.
- Project management skills.
Project management is a key transferable skill that the industry is looking for in job candidates. It should come as no surprise that, as a PhD, you are an expert in project management. You have seen a several-year project from beginning to end, where you were often the sole driving force behind this project. You had to budget your funds so that they lasted. You planned experiments and executed them. You managed other graduate students and undergrads, that worked on your project, to make sure everything went smoothly. You had a vision for the project, you planned a path to achieve that vision, and then you managed the day-to-day activities to make that vision a reality. You are a project manager. This is a highly sought-after skill in the industry.
This article was originally written by Catherine Sorbara, who has a Ph.D. in Medical Life Science and Technology. More contents can be found here.