PhD Skills

Supercharging your ‘get stuck in’ PhD attitude.

Getting stuck in is what PhDs and academics do best. Recognising this skill and tailoring it to help you develop further, grow your network, and acquire new skills will lead to improved opportunities for your academic career and beyond.

A PhD is a strange journey, filled with twists and turns. It’s inevitable that at some point during this journey you’re faced with a challenge – a ‘roadblock’ so to speak. As part of this journey, we soon often realise that the only way to overcome these roadblocks is to just smash through them. Over time, as we approach more and more ‘roadblocks’ we develop a ‘tackle it head on’ sort of attitude. This fosters a willingness to get stuck in. This get stuck in attitude is the heart of this post, and we’re going to focus on supercharging it in a way that can be incredibly effective and conducive to your long-term success. As we progress through this post, you might even realise that you’re already doing this, and so you can add this attribute to your list of transferable skills.

The desire to get stuck in is a form of resilience in a way, it means you’re less likely to avoid a problem through procrastination, engage in analysis paralysis, and subsequently complete the task sooner than most. This is often why PhD’s and post-doc’s are so valuable in both the academic world and industry. You’re able to just have full confidence in their ability to just solve things and work things out. Most of us show up not knowing the answer but being able to use those problem-solving skills for the greater good.

The reason this is useful beyond your PhD, most notably outside of academia, is that you’ll be more likely to put yourself forward for tasks and projects – even if you don’t know how to do them. In turn, you’re reinforcing your ability to work within a team, support others, and provide value to your organisation as a whole. Overtime, this get stuck in work ethic leads to greater visibility within senior management, helping to contribute to more positive personal brand whilst at work. Think of it as a nice networking exercise too – being involved in more opportunities subsequently means more collaboration with a range of people, helping to grow your network at the same time. It’s also the catalyst for your own development. Engaging in tasks that are slightly beyond your knowledge scope enables you to learn new things, grow, and continue to add more skills to your ever-growing and already comprehensive skillset.

Level up…!

Part of this approach aligns really well with adopting a growth mindset. Your growth mindset is a state where you have awareness of your limitations, but you seek out opportunities beyond your comfort zone and knowledge base as you accept that’s the most effective way to learn. Far too often, PhD’s and academic’s alike get caught up in the fear of not knowing enough. Academia does condition you to some extent that you’re not smart enough or that there’s always flaws within your work, and so a lot of people (of course there will always be exceptions to the rule), opt to stay in academia out of ‘not having enough skills’ for the non-academic world. And if you’re a long-time reader of our site, we believe it’s a cop-out that will prevent you from reaching your full potential. If you want to develop, you have to do new and different things! And to do new and different things, you have to push yourself outside your comfort zone and get stuck in!

The amazing thing about this is that a lot of PhDs and academics do this by accident. In essence, you’re not consciously going out of your way to put yourself out of your comfort zone, you’re just doing it on autopilot or because it’s what you think you should be doing. As we reach the end of our PhDs, or we’re starting to dislike that post-doc revolving door we can really maximise this ‘get stuck in’ attitude to put us in the best possible position for a career change or future career options.

Being purposeful about the opportunities you seek out to help fill skills gaps, or to help develop new skills which are in alignment with different career opportunities can really pay dividends. To make it tangible, if you want to get into data science, then get stuck into specific opportunities that will develop relevant skills, possibly learning languages like python or R. The key here is using this stuck in attitude to develop skills in a way that will be more conducive to your long-term career success.

Equally, this getting stuck in attitude should continue beyond academia. Getting stuck into additional requests, tasks, and projects will give you exposure to new people and foster an environment to develop new skills. This will inevitably pay you returns in the future – both in terms of monetary gain, but also in your own personal and professional development.

In short, the currency to success is having an expert and/or a diverse set of skills. When you keep this as the primary focus and use your get stuck in attitude to maximise it, the professional journey becomes that much easier.

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