How To Maximise Your Ph.D Program For A Great Job And Career

Posted: December 1, 2014

Beyond your core research, use your Ph.D program well to learn other valuable skills and land your dream job and career.

In my previous piece, roadmap for Ph.D, I discussed how you can identify your interests in the field of academic research and go on to acquire a Ph.D degree.

It is often believed that having a Ph.D degree and some good publications in your portfolio will open the doors to all the academic or research jobs out there. This is a myth in today’s competitive job market. For women, it is even more so considering that women often face marriage related relocations, two body problems, and changes in their priorities and time availability after becoming a parent.

There is also the challenge of finding a job in fields other than academia or research. At times, a Ph.D degree might be considered too specific and not enough to find a job in the world outside academia. It is very important therefore that we engage more while doing a Ph.D and armour ourselves with the transferrable skills needed to get jobs outside of research and academia.

Here are my suggestions, based on my career as a scientist who has worked in research as well as the corporate sector.

Master your research area

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine (STEM) comprise a big area and a Ph.D offers you an opportunity to go deep into a small part of it. It is important that you utilise this opportunity to the core and create a specialised understanding in your research area through your experiments, discussion with pears and seniors. Everything else will build from there.

Knowledge of regulations and policies

Scientific research is backed up by publications in peer-reviewed journals. Ph.D students need to learn about the policies of different scientific publishing bodies and organisations that provide research grants. Research in chemistry, pharmacy, medicine, life sciences also provides knowledge about health authorities and related organisations. This awareness puts a person with a Ph.D in a much better position to apply for jobs in publishing houses, departments or councils of science and technology, both in government and private sectors, or with health authorities.

Read and Write

For being confident in your research work it is important that you read, write and speak a lot about your field of research. Often, the visual of a Ph.D student is of a person working in a laboratory wearing a white coat. This is only half the picture.

Often, the visual of a Ph.D student is of a person working in a laboratory wearing a white coat. This is only half the picture.

You need to know the work being done by others in the field through extensive literature review, hence learning literature landscaping is essential; this is a transferable skill for patent landscaping or competitive intelligence.

A firsthand experience of writing manuscripts, in the form of research and reviewing articles is important to learn scientific writing that is evidence based and data driven. It also makes you aware of plagiarism and biased approaches in writing, which needs to be avoided.

Grab any opportunity where you are asked to review articles/posters prepared by others in your team. Offer support to your Ph.D supervisor for writing grants. Scientific writing is an art, which helps your piece of research to be published and accessible to the research community. It is also a strong transferrable skill to be showcased when applying for positions such as Scientific Editors or Scientific Content Manager.

Advanced data handling

During your Ph.D tenure, you will generate experimental data for the first time in your topic of research and it is a steep learning curve on how to create, collate, understand, analyse, and present the experimental data in a manner interesting to others. This opens to you fields of work where data presentation and trending are required on a regular basis.

Data analytics is an upcoming field where Ph.D holders can be the forerunners. Scientific research today is machine-dependant and it is important to learn the necessary physics, mathematics, statistics, and computational methods to manage the data that you create in a meaningful way. This process enables you to learn about other fields and increases your potential in the job market.

Jobs are becoming multidisciplinary in nature and a person with a Ph.D in life sciences with additional knowledge of SAS programming is an interesting candidate for the healthcare industry.

Speak in Public about your Science

Oral and poster presentations are other crucial opportunities for Ph.D research fellows. Presenting your work on stage in regional, national, and international conferences is the most important opportunity for you to share your thoughts with others, engage the audience to your research and network with the science community working in your topic or in your region.

It is important that you come out of the comfort shell of your own team members and interact with people from different institutes, regions or countries. Raise your hand for participating in Science exhibitions or outreach initiatives for school children or college students.

Working in Collaborations (when feasible)

Although during a Ph.D tenure, it is the supervisor who guides the course of the research work, any possibility of collaborative work could help you in learning about different technologies, work environments, project management and people handling skills. These come in extremely handy on your resume while searching for jobs outside academia in the fields of business development, technology transfer, and client engagement.

Root Cause Analysis

In the research tenure, there are several instances when things don’t work as per plan; identifying the problem and finding a solution with an evidence-based approach is an integral part of this tenure. Problem solving skills are valued in the industry and corporate set up and a person with a Ph.D degree is sought out for this particular attitude. They are specially valued resources in Quality Assurance teams.

Creative thinking on tight constraints

Many problems require an out of the box approach in scientific research due to unavailability of research funds or the limitations of experimentation. Businesses need creative thinkers who could bring down costs without hampering the quality and productivity of the organisation. Ph.D students learn to arrange conferences or annual meets on tight budgets; they utilise their personal networks to bring in speakers and arrange for other events. This experience could be showcased in the job search market for showing organisational and communication skills.

Training and teaching

A Ph.D tenure provides ample opportunities to train junior Ph.D students joining the same project or working as a teaching assistant for graduate or post-graduate students. Sometimes a Ph.D student can get involved in creating assessment papers and course materials. This experience can be instrumental in getting jobs in industry which require training experience as an important skill and also to add value to your core job portfolio by participating in the train the trainer programs which are popular methods on continuous education in ever developing skill based industry today.

With these valuable skills, you will be in a great position to look much beyond the usual opportunities available to Ph.D scholars, and take the first step towards a long and fulfilling career!

Pic credit: Image of graduation hat via Shutterstock

CP

A science researcher finding ways into broader science careers. A women enthusiast to the core

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Comments

3 Comments


  1. Nice article. Sometimes we are so absorbed with only research that we forget the soft skills that we acquire during Phd tenure 🙂

    • Yes, Nivedita, only after leaving the science bench I realised that “soft skills” in your scientific laboratory are very important skills in corporate world. They measure all these skills of yours and place you in a position where you can handle lot of pressure, analyse data quickly and can speak/write about your work/observations in evidence based manner and with sweet smile 🙂

  2. Dr. Shalini Gupta -

    it is nice article. hope it was published 8 years back. Then my career break would not have become my life time break fro research !!

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