PhD Skills

Applauding your methodical PhD mindset.

Being methodical is the key to keeping the big picture in mind. It’s important to move away from a reactive and reactional state of mind for any job. Thinking about the strategic direction for your role, team, or company will fast-track your career success.

Being methodical is the adoption of a systematic procedure or process in order to solve a problem or complete a particular project or task. This is a skill that’s highly important during academia and your PhD. There’s an enormous amount of procedure, planning, organisation, and process involved. Subsequently, this provides you with a transferable skill not everyone has or adopts. As we dive into this post a little more, we’ll aim to highlight why being methodical is likely to take you to high places post-PhD.

First and foremost, being methodical ensures you to keep the big picture in mind. It enables you a lot of opportunity to step back and make decisions that are likely to align with long term success. We already know this as project management is a skill most PhDs possess. We’ve also discussed delayed gratification at length in another article on this site and so hearing that ‘big picture’ thinking is a skill shouldn’t come as a surprise.

However, being methodical extends beyond project management and being patient and resilient. Having a methodical approach ensures your output will be significantly better and more impactful than those who do not have a similar approach to work. In a non-academic context, you’ll be better at identifying the requirements of a task, you’ll engage better with stakeholders as you’ll be more likely to ask important questions, and you’ll do well at minimising the potential risks and challenges that come with a particular objective.

Another way to appreciate your methodical skills is to think about those who aren’t methodical at all. Typically, these roles or individuals adopt more of a ‘reactive’ approach to getting things done. They may wait for things to come to them, wait to start tasks when it’s close to the deadline, and coast by doing the bare minimum to just ensure the ship stays above water.

This maybe suits jobs where being reactive is the core function, or is what success looks like. However, for most jobs, especially those that are more strategic, that methodical approach is going to help guide you and steer you to make more effective and appropriate decisions. If you’re in a leadership role, are a manager, or responsible for influencing key decision makers – having a methodical approach to problems and challenges will enable you to think about all the options. This will help you reach the most effective solution. Doing this effectively and consistently will also help support and develop your personal brand, which in turn will pay dividends for your success in the long run.

For some individuals, it can be quite difficult to shift from a reactive state of mind to a strategic/methodical one. This comes with practice, and it’s also important to be self-aware and reflective when the reactive mindset shows up. Sometimes this can come from old working habits, or previous work cultures. It might have been advantageous, or the only way to cope. Being reactive as things used to be last minute with emergencies taking place every 5 minutes. However, if you want to focus more on big picture thinking where you get to flex your methodical muscles, it’s imperative to take a pause and really try to ‘slow’ your working habits down.

Another thing to keep in mind is the type of career you’re looking to get into post-PhD. Certain organisations or careers are just naturally slower than others. For example, academia itself, government sectors, policy careers, or other well-established companies are going to require more long-term and strategic thinking. This could be attractive, as it will give you the space and freedom to think on a bigger scale. Although, it’s important to keep in mind that this could introduce more red tape, slower approval processes, and just generally more rigid thinking due to systems and processes being already established. Sometimes it’s that much harder to change a culture than create one.

Conversely, smaller organisations, start-ups, or companies that are a little larger but are keen to have more dynamic decision making are likely to elicit more of a reactive job role – meaning it’s a little harder to think big picture as the focus is going to be on the day to day work due to the fast-paced environment. However, a fast-paced environment usually comes with less red tape, more freedom, and more flexible thinking where senior managers and employers are more receptive of new and fresh ideas. Innovation is what they thrive off.

All in all, being methodical is going to be another transferable skill to add to your CV. Depending on how much you like to use this skill, it’s likely to also feed into your personal values and influence which type of roles or careers you want to aim for. Even reading this post, perhaps the sound of slow and steady, with more space to embed methodical ideas sounds appealing. Conversely, you may have gleaned at the idea of a fast-paced environment with little-to-no red tape. Either way, no matter what you pick, as long as you engage with your methodical skills and keep a big picture goal in mind for your career, it’s likely to serve you well.

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