An earlier version of this article was published on Teresa Ambrosio’s website.
The other day I came across an article published on Science Careers with the title You have accomplished more than you think! It was written by my friend Karin, scientist and author of the book You Must Be Very Intelligent – The PhD Delusion. The article starts with the story of a postdoc who wants to leave academia but believes that the skills she gained during her academic research won’t grant her any job! Unfortunately, I hear this story over and over again. As I am approaching the end of my PhD, many people ask me “Are you gonna do a postdoc after this? Is there any chemical industry that will hire you after your PhD degree?” When I tell people that I want to work either in science communication or science policy, they stare at me with their mouths open. “I didn’t know that you could do that with a PhD in chemistry!”
If there is something I have learned during my PhD, and particularly in this university, it’s that there are limitless career options you can explore with a PhD. The knowledge you gain goes far beyond the small niche of research you carry forward every day! Plus, the idea of becoming a PI, while definitely intriguing and rewarding, is a bit unrealistic when only 3% of PhD students of all subjects make their way to a lectureship. The rest of us are those who academia label as “dropouts” or “failures.” As if having a PhD degree makes you a failure! Forget about these people— they just talk rubbish!
If there is something I have learned, it’s that there are limitless career options you can explore with a PhD.
At the end of my first year, I already knew that I wouldn’t have won the Nobel Prize—or any prize really—for my PhD research. Not even a poster prize at a regional meeting. Success in academia is measured by these things, plus number of publications, book chapters etc. I started looking around and seeing how I could make good use of my PhD. I came across a few websites such as The Cheeky Scientist and Beyond The Professoriate, which provide loads of free resources and more specific training (not for free) to PhD students who want to quit academia after their PhD degree. It was glorious to learn about all the transferrable skills you gain during your PhD.
Every experience is unique, but trust me that you really learn a lot during your PhD. Just because you are a scientist, you have qualities such as creative thinking, problem-solving, multitask management, time management, team work, self-starting, being solution-driven, working under pressure, writing grant applications, writing a research proposal, writing a technical report, data analysis, and much more. Many students are not even aware that they apply these skills to go through their PhD on a daily basis and end up thinking they are rubbish just because their research doesn’t lead to any positive result. Publish or perish anyone?
Many students are not even aware of the skills the apply on a daily basis during their PhD.
If you’re like me or many people that I know who decided to step up and bring your PhD up to the next level, then you have gained countless soft skills that make you a perfect candidate for any job. For example, science communication allows you to practice skills such as public speaking and engaging with a wide audience, not just your mates in the lab. In the past, I have volunteered my time as a representative for my cohort of students in the Management Board Meeting, an experience that I recommend to any woman if they want to become more assertive and make their voice heard in a boardroom—a bit of leadership training for free!
After a training delivered by the university about evaluating skills and competencies for PhD students, I went back home and restructured my CV completely. First of all, I bought a new agenda and wrote down all the skills I had gained already, those that I am working on, and those I would like to gain. This kind of self-assessment might take a few days if you are not aware of your skills. Once you have done that, you need to find examples of situations where you put a particular skill into practice. In fact, one of the most frequent questions in job interviews is “Could you please provide me with an example where you showed your time management skills?”
I hope this helps and makes you aware that a PhD empowers you to do anything. Keep your mind open and reach out to your university student services to see whether your university provides a career and employability center. They will definitely help you structure your CV to showcase your true potential. If there is none, I am sure that you can find a few tutorials online, or if you have the budget, consider hiring a professional for writing your CV. You got this; I believe in you!