PhD Skills

Appreciating your ability to learn.

The ability to learn is not often thought of as a skill. Having a PhD is the reflection of how quickly you can learn new things, providing you with the ultimate skill for the rest of your life.

We all know how difficult and challenging completing a PhD is. Certainly, to get onto a PhD programme – let alone finish one is arguably an achievement in and of itself. Outlined in previous posts, roughly 1.1% of the human population have a PhD. You’re one of the outliers, it may not feel like it because you’re surrounded by other PhD students and all the senior members within your academic institution also have PhDs, but you really are of the academic elite. Being in this small percentage of the population really does provide you with a unique skill. The ability to learn.

This special learning ability is a force to be reckoned with, not because it makes you better or necessarily smarter than other people, but it simply means all you need is time. With sufficient time, it means you can learn anything and ultimately do anything you set your mind to. Learning really is just an innate ability to store and retain information, in its simplest of forms, it’s just down to how many times you need to repeat a pattern (i.e., receive information), for it to be recalled.

Being a PhD student or having a PhD already indicates that typically, on average, you will require less repetitions of a pattern for things to be consolidated into your memory. This is also where the time piece fits in. With a bit of time, you can learn anything – the fear or limitations that you’re not smart enough, or that things will be ‘too difficult’ simply isn’t a barrier you will have to face. Sure, you might have doubts, fears, or concerns as to whether you could do something, but ultimately this is a mindset issue – not a resource issue, such as your ability to learn.

Having this ability to learn gives you unlimited possibilities. It really is why you’re a multipotentialite. Given the right environment, maybe not even the right one, just being in any environment you’ll be able to absorb and retain information better than anyone else. So, this doesn’t mean you are limited to a particular job, or purpose, or career option. You can literally do anything you set your mind to. Certainly, having a growth mindset when it comes to navigating your career and setting yourself up for success really is the true embodiment of this ability to learn. You’re not limited by ‘what you can do’ or ‘what you can’t do’ you’re limited by your own choices. Given this, it makes more sense to prioritise and select a career and job that provides you with the broader life goals you want. Here, you can think about your values, your desires, whether you want to work a 9-5 job or not, what kind of salary you want, and all those other deeply personal things that matter to you.

Take a moment to absorb and listen to this. This mindset and belief in your ability to learn is the white knight, here to fight your imposter syndrome. It really is one of your strongest transferable skills. Being able to learn does not only allow you to thrive and excel in any environment, but it also means that you can provide significant additional value anywhere you go – and it’s likely that the academic world doesn’t appreciate this. In the instance you enter and embark on a career that isn’t even relevant to your PhD field, your value is still head and shoulders above the rest. Of course, this blog always goes on about transferable skills, identifying them, and mapping these to your potential career options – but in addition to this, or one of these additional skills includes your ability to learn.

Entering into roles that do not utilise the domain specific knowledge of your PhD just means you are more capable than others in learning information and solving problems. However, it’s important to acknowledge that once you’ve learned everything and gotten up to speed with a new job or career change (which will be quicker than most), you’ll also provide a range of other transferable skills and, over time, offer a bigger return in value to the new organisation. This is often a useful way to appreciate yourself, but a handy card to have up your sleeve which you can discuss at greater length within a job interview, cover letter, or even on your LinkedIn bio. As you progress through your career, especially in a world outside of academia, you’ll learn new things on the job, which you can then leverage. With the ability to learn you can simply pivot into anything, learn new skills, leverage those skills, pivot into something else, and the cycle continues.

With this approach and this method, the sky really is the limit, and fortunately for you, your ability to learn is your rocket ship.

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