Before you start applying for jobs or marketing yourself, you need to establish exactly what you can offer an employer or client. Fortunately, as a researcher, you have a wealth of transferable skills.
Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework is a key tool for recognising and developing your competences. You can also use the Employability Lens to focus on the behaviours and attributes most in demand by employers.
“The lens fits well with an overall researcher competency framework, and could help employers when devising interview strategies in order to tease out the right behaviours/ knowledge/ attributes they require of a successful researcher.” Joanne McCawley, HR Advisor, TATA Steel
Sometimes it’s a matter of recalling specific experiences and the skills you applied in those contexts. You can use the STARR approach to get started:
Take a look at the list below – you should see that you have all or at least most of these capabilities. Where appropriate, you’ll find links to training opportunities to help you develop these skills.
1) Information Management
Whatever your discipline, you’re used to dealing with information – and lots of it. Your ability to gather, analyse, and present complex data is a crucial skill outside of academia. The main difference is that you might be looking to provide insights that give your employer a commercial advantage, rather than to support an academic argument.
2) Time Management
By now, you’re probably pretty good at time management. Even if you’ve been working on one major research project, you’re likely to have fitted in some teaching, writing, and funding applications. You’ll be sensitive to deadlines and juggling competing priorities.
To develop these skills, consider attending the workshop on Boosting Your Productivity: Time Management for Busy Researchers. Check the events listings to find out when it’s next running.
3) Project Management
You might not think of your PhD or other research outputs as projects, but that’s exactly what they are. Indeed, considering yourself a project manager can help structure and tackle a complex challenge. Of course, taking responsibility for a project is much easier when you have only yourself to manage. Getting involved with event organisation, for example, can help demonstrate your skill in motivating others and achieving shared goals.
4) Teamwork & Collaboration
By its nature, doctoral research tends to be a solitary activity. However, you might have contributed to an overarching project, or worked in a lab environment – all good examples of having collaborated and (hopefully) co-operated. Pursuing opportunities that push you to communicate with people beyond your discipline and institution can demonstrate your ability to be a team player. Even if you feel more effective working independently, most workplaces demand a team spirit.
5) Leadership Skills
The ability to inspire and motivate others is highly valued in industry. It’s not always obvious how to develop these skills in academia, but opportunities do exist. Perhaps you already have complete or partial responsibility for a project and are managing more junior researchers. Or you might be mentoring new undergraduates or PhD students in your department.
To develop these skills, consider attending the workshop on leadership skills. Check the events listings to find out when it’s next running.
6) Communication Skills
Nearly every job advert specifies excellent communication skills. Fortunately, academics spend a great deal of time communicating ideas and concepts in different formats. This includes writing articles, giving talks, and teaching. If you’re involved with public engagement, then you’re used to explaining complex research to non-experts, too.
7) Professional Development
If you’re seeking a rewarding job in any sector, it’ll involve a commitment to ongoing professional development. As an academic researcher, you’ve already devoted considerable effort to improving your prospects and gaining recognition for your achievements. Depending on your discipline, there might be a professional body through which you can track your ongoing development. Even if there aren’t any formal mechanisms available to you, be sure to keep a record of any training activities.
8) Keeping Up-to-Date
Most industries now rely on their responsiveness to fast-changing events. As an academic researcher, you’re used to adapting to an evolving field and remaining alert to external factors that might affect what you’re doing. This probably involves monitoring journals, attending conferences, effective use of social media, and an awareness of the key influencers in your area.
9) Creativity & Problem Solving
Maybe you don’t consider yourself to be creative but successfully pursuing a PhD essentially means creating something out of nothing. You had to design a project, develop a hypothesis, and imagine scenarios in which to test it. Along the way, you’ll have encountered many problems and needed to use your imagination to find appropriate solutions. These skills and both rare and highly prized.
10) Adaptability & Flexibility
Academics are often thought of as brains on sticks, immersing themselves in one project. The reality, as you know, is rather different. You’ll be continually switching between research, writing, teaching, funding applications, and trying to fathom the implications of a new government initiative. Contrary to popular belief, academia now favours those who can adapt and accommodate its changing demands.
“It took me a while to realise the call for my PhD wasn’t just the technical knowledge that I picked up, but it was also the transferable skills which you don’t really see at the time.” Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE
Hopefully you’ve now built an impressive of skills. Now it’s time to identify the gaps and plan your development.