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Soft Skills from Hard Science

After the coveted finish line of the graduate research degree, comes the prospect of forging a career. More and more scientists are opting for jobs outside of academia following the completion of their graduate research degrees. However, despite the majority of PhD graduates not continuing academic employment, recent graduates often feel a lack of direction while applying for non-academic jobs. Translating the gains of your research degree into the language of the position description can be challenging for a fresh graduate. If you find yourself asking “what are the transferable skills I gained from my research that I can bring to this role?”, this article is for you.

According to the 2019 report by the Australian Association of Graduate Employers (AAGE), the transferable skills prioritized by employers were an understanding of the organization, communication skills, teamwork, interpersonal skills, resilience, self-management, initiative and enterprise, and planning and organizing. Developing an understanding of the organization you are applying for starts with the application itself. As for the remaining qualities, in this article, we organize your gains from your research degree under each of the transferable skill categories. Each bullet point can be seen as sentences you can put into your resume after minimal editing to fit your skills. Hopefully, this will serve as a useful resource for you when you prepare your CV, and cover letter and address your interviewees.


Communication skills

  • Adapted communication style to different audiences in writing and presentation

  • Communicated complex data in a clear and appropriate manner, fitting the needs of different audience

  • Presented research at seminars and conferences, and addressed audience questions and feedback.

  • Written effectively for academic (supervisors, examiners, journal readers) and non-academic audiences.

  • Summarized ideas.

  • Presented research findings.


Teamwork

  • Managed and facilitated group discussions.

  • Taught/mentored students/peers.

  • Maintained working relationships with research stakeholders such as supervisors, collaborators, editors, reviewers, participants, ethics committees, and other stakeholders.


Interpersonal skills

  • Applied feedback from reviewers and improved research outcomes.

  • Liaised with conference organizers, graduate research administrators and advisory boards.

  • Networked with interested professionals and industry partners at a conference.

  • Maintained the connections for collaboration/employment opportunities

  • Developed a working relationship with academic and industry contacts.

  • Interacted with patients to collect and collate information.


Resilience

  • Adapted candidature to navigate through changing circumstances (e.g. COVID).

  • Adapted research project to navigate the availability of data and resources.

  • Learned the necessary tools and techniques required to conduct the research.


Self-management, initiative and enterprise

  • Effectively synthesize different sources of data/ reviewed literature to arrive at well-supported recommendations.

  • Formulated critical arguments.

  • Form a convincing proposal.

  • Applied for/secured funding to finance own research project.

  • Located relevant scholars and inputted their expertise into the advisory team.


Planning and organizing

  • Wrote ethics research approval applications and effectively communicated with ethics approval committees.

  • Prioritized multiple tasks, set goals and measured progress to meet confirmation and completion milestones.

  • Implemented project planning to


Bonus researcher's special superpower: Problem-solving

  • Reviewed publications to recommend well-informed solutions to problems.

  • Reduced error rates or corrected a technical problem.

  • Created/ developed/modelled/ devised/ initiated/ streamlined a system or procedure.

  • Managed and analyzed data using technology.

  • Identified potential issues/solutions.

  • Conducted and critically evaluates research.


In the lab I worked in, I had the opportunity to work alongside a brilliant astrophysics PhD graduate, who spend his time back then developing an atlas for pluripotent stem cells. Presently, he works in the energy sector. From physics to biology to energy, he has bounced gracefully across multiple fields and only moved forward. He was the one who told me in the end, it all comes down to the transferable skills, not the technical ones, and how well you transfer them. I strongly believe very few roles can teach you as many transferable skills as research can. While mapping out our careers, let us remind ourselves, our potential is not defined by the pigeon-holed scope of our thesis title, which had to be super-specific. Our potentials are defined by the wide array of toolboxes we develop the capacity to assemble while writing the thesis.

About Sabrina Sabrina Islam fell in love with molecular biology as a teenager. After her undergraduate training in Bangladesh, she came to Australia for graduate studies where her research focus was on the biology of serotonin receptors. In recent years, she has developed an interest in education on mental health and responsible science communication. For more information or to be put in contact with Sabrina, please contact: nadiarajab@innatelyscience.com


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