I’ve completed my PhD…now give me a job!

You come to/near to the end of your PhD and you realise that after 3-4 years of relative stability it’s time to take another step into the unknown. And you’re left wondering, “How does my PhD in ‘population changes in the Medieval town of Spalding between 1300 and 1400AD’ help me get a job as a Project Development Manager at Infinis Renewable Energy?”

Spalding high street in 1354

Spalding high street in 1354

It’s a valid and important question: how do you take your focused, discipline-specific, technical skills and apply them to a new area of interest. Moreover, how do you convince a potential employer that you can see the wood from the trees, and that you possess the necessary competence to fulfil their job expectations?

The answers are actually pretty obvious when you think about it. Simon Dixon has already discussed the pitfalls of PhD Employability on this very blog but I thought I’d take a different approach and explain to you why doing a PhD is so great for your job prospects.

I present the five top skills you would have developed in finishing your thesis:

Written and oral communication: You’ve written a coherent, lengthy (50k+ word) and hopefully interesting thesis. You’ve probably got some publications, either accepted or in the pipeline. You will have made posters for conferences and written progress reports. On the oral side you’ve probably given several important presentations, maybe even at international conferences.  You have/are due to complete your viva: perhaps the most intense oral examination there is. In short your communication skills should be excellent and you should have lots of examples to show this.

Project/Time/Budget Management: You have been the principal investigator in a three year project that has stuck to budget and been completed on time. Over this period you have produced several reports /updates and chaired innumerable (albeit small) meetings with your supervisory team. You may have led groups of undergraduates on field-trips, secured additional funding for equipment, or set up your own conference.

Researching: PhD students are supreme researchers. And that’s not just finding information, that’s collating it, synthesising it and then presenting it in an understandable way. The information may come from numerous sources and be of differing qualities; you have the ability to not only discern this but weigh-up and evaluate such material.

Analytical: When presented with a problem, or even just some ‘stuff’, you can analyse it to see the good and bad points. PhD students spend pretty much all their time analysing, whether it be the validity of a statement in an academic journal or the logarithmic regression you’ve applied to a dataset. You will have acquired an eye for detail whilst still being able to see the bigger picture.

Technical: So you know how to use a Terrestrial Laser-Scanner? Maybe you’re a laboratory whizz or a pro with some obscure but highly transferable piece of computer software? If you’ve done any kind of programming that’s a massive string to your bow, but even proficiency in basic stuff such as MS Office is surprisingly valuable. Which of your technical skills can you take beyond your PhD?

As ever this is not a comprehensive list, but it should at least provide you with a starting point to get you thinking. There’s the comments box if you’d like to add anything.

Good luck!

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5 comments

  1. These are excellent points, and, do indeed, make you a good candidate for vacancies. One point, however; how do we deal with issues of jealously, fear of being better than them and hostility to educated people from employers? It does happen often.

    1. I guess there are three bits of advice I’d give.

      Firstly, don’t overstate your PhD. It’s important to make it explicit about what skills and experience you’ve gained from your postgraduate studies, and how these map on to the potential job, but don’t build it up to be something it’s not.

      Secondly, show that you’re kinda normal. The outward perception of someone doing a PhD is of a stressed, reclusive, tired individual who’s poured their heart and soul into a single piece of work for three years. Step back into the real world, if only for the interview!

      Thirdly, some people are just stubborn. It doesn’t matter what you do or say they will always judge. Try and change their view but if it clearly isn’t happening just move on and take it as one of those things. A) it’s their loss and B) would you want to work for someone like that anyway?

  2. […] convenor, hockey team president or piano teacher. We have looked previously on the blog at the transferable skills we might gain as a PhD student, something employers are keen to see evidence of. One way to do this […]

  3. Darion Carden · · Reply

    How long did it take you to get a PhD in Geography after undergrad?

    1. Hi Darion. I think everyone has a different experience but I was fortunate enough to go straight from undergraduate into my PhD (I finished my degree in July 2009 and began the PhD in October 2009). Some PhD’s require a Master or equivalent postgraduate qualification. Generally, in geography, if you have a 1st class undergraduate degree and/or a particularly good undergraduate dissertation then you can go straight from undergraduate into the PhD.

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