student life

Starting a PhD? Here are Some Broad Skills to Keep in Mind

A PhD is a wizard with such intangible skills as "thinking scientifically" and possessing some "scientific intuition."

I started grad school last year! Here’s what I’ve heard so far on making sure my degree is spent gaining the most impactful possible skills. What are some good ways to maximize your job hunt opportunities after graduating?

Employers Look for Critical Thinkers

For one professor, a postdoc is selected more on how deeply she thinks about science. Does she communicate her ideas clearly? Is she actually passionate about the research going on in lab? Any postdoc (post-PhD level researcher) is going to need to pick up some skills entering into a new lab. So if her past experience doesn’t perfectly overlap with research needed at this new position, that’s ok. A depth of scientific understanding, problem solving, and how to approach the unknown, however, is absolutely essential.

Avoiding the Myopic PhD

A PhD can result in very focused knowledge in a very specific field. How do you avoid a kind of research myopia? Well – one thing I continue to keep hearing a lot of is, attend seminars outside your field! Hearing about research different than your own expertise can teach a lot on scientific thought on a broader level, and who knows? Interdisciplinary collaborations are always a possibility.

Psst! Some Favorite PhD Qualifications Are . . .

When employers consider a candidate with a PhD versus some other level of education, what is the appeal that doctoral degree holds? Well, employers expect that you will be an expert at identifying unanswered questions, and how to tackle them. Your publishing record is a record of discovery. You can create new knowledge. And if you are thrown in the deep end on some unknown new subject, they fully expect that you will be the fastest at catching yourself up. The sum of your experience results in a general idea of your scientific research is done, and even if you start out feeling totally lost, there should be enough of a foundation there to allow you to catch up quickly. Finally, a PhD in science should come with a certain scientific “intuition.” When do you follow a hunch in the lab? This is a mysterious art form I have heard of but no idea how to master. Maybe it’ll magically happen after my 101th lab failure? To be continued . . .

What kinds of skills do you hope to gain from your PhD? Perhaps you’ve already graduated. What have you learned from the job hunt? What skills do employers most value from a recent graduate?

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