PhD Skills

Owning your PhD problem-solving skills.

Problem solvers are rare and always in high demand. Fortunately for you, you’ve got excellent PhD problem-solving skills and you might not even know it.

When and if you start looking to transition out of academia and into industry after completing your PhD, it’s guaranteed you’ll stumble across articles, posts and advice that highlight PhD problem-solving skills as a core asset. If decide not to pursue a post-doc and want to venture into the working word, your PhD problem-solving skills will be applicable to a range of jobs. In fact, PhD problem-solving skills map onto a range of career options such as consultancy, (data) analyst roles, intelligence positions, non-academic research, communications, and any careers that require strategising. Certainly, problem-solving is a hot and desirable skills, not only for entry level positions but also for more senior management/careers.

PhD problem-solving gears you up and prepares you for a whole host of options. The problem-solving skills you acquire as part of your PhD are likely to be more advanced than those without a PhD. Typically, a PhD will throw you into the deep end with vastly complex bits of work to do. In essence, you have to learn to swim, otherwise you sink with the ship (i.e., your research). It’s a baptism of fire.

In the beginning it can be extremely overwhelming and difficult to manage. It can be the source of your imposter syndrome, contribute to burnout, put you at risk of dropping out and leave you very confused – especially if your supervisor has unusual requests and they don’t have the time or capacity to explain things in more detail. In some instances, your supervisor might send you off on a wild goose chase only for it to be a dead end!

However, if you are able to stick with it and persevere, you’ll begin to develop a sixth sense. PhD problem-solving allows you to identify certain options and solutions a lot quicker. For novel tasks or processes you’re likely to have an intuitive sense on how to manage it, how to plan, what’s the most systematic and organised way of approaching it in order to mitigate risks and wasted time. Surprisingly all PhDs possess this skill, but some fail to recognise it! When you’re surrounded by other people who also have great PhD problem-solving skills, your sense of normality gets skewed. You think this is normal or that you’re not as competent as others. However, when you’re taken out of a PhD environment that’s when you truly thrive.

Strangely enough, although PhD students don’t necessarily see it, employers do. The analytical and problem-solving skills are essential for project management and overall long-term success of any business. Having adept problem-solvers within an organisation allow a business to tackle issues, address pain-points within their organisation, and build a more efficient and successful way of working. It doesn’t matter what industry they’re in or what their business model is per se, because all organisations want to adapt, evolve and stay competitive. They simply can’t do this if they don’t have staff or employees who possess grade-A problem-solving skills.

This is the sole reason why problem-solving skills currently are and will always remain extremely desirable. In addition to this, having adept PhD problem-solving skills also means you’ll have better communication and interpersonal skills. By being excellent problem-solvers, PhDs are able to identify problems better. Having this keen eye, coupled with an academic background, allows you to articulate, frame and explain a problem clearly and concisely. Applying this to roles and careers outside of academia, the impact and value you can bring to an organisation is unmatched. Surrounded by other people who haven’t developed these problem-solving skills – by not having a PhD – will put things into perspective. All the PhD problem-solving that you’ve done over the years will come to light. It truly is one of those skills that goes unnoticed, or you don’t necessarily realise you have it until you have better perspective of the situation.

After spending some time thinking about your PhD problem-solving experiences, you’ll just need to be able to communicate it to employers, at an interview for example. Usually, PhDs who do want to transition out of academia focus to much on their hard knowledge, focusing about what their discipline is in. Instead, think about your transferable skills – where problem-solving is one of them. It helps to provide general examples; you want to demonstrate how adaptable and flexible you can be. If doing a PhD teaches you one thing, it’s definitely that anything can be figured out. Keeping this in the front of your mind you want to emphasise that although you may not know certain things or lack knowledge in some domains, you can definitely figure it out and problem-solve anything. A good way to demonstrate this when searching for jobs is to list out your transferable skills on your CV or within a cover letter. Try to adopt a more well-rounded CV as opposed to over-emphasising your domain specific knowledge. Your true selling point is your skills that can be applied to a range of different contexts where problem-solving is just one of these skills. Again, this is another reason why PhDs are so valuable outside of academia! Because of their transferable skills!

Just remember that no matter how big a problem is, you possess the skills to solve it.   

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