PhD Skills

Acknowledging your ability to synthesise and interpret information.

Being able to synthesise and interpret information is a core skill that’s developed during your PhD. The great news is that this can be generalised and carried over to a wide range of professions and even comes in handy when you take the leap and look for new careers.

For most, if not all PhD programmes, being able to synthesise and interpret a large amount of published research is a core requirement. By definition, a PhD is the process of you becoming an expert in a niche field – it’s likely that at the end of your PhD you’re going to be the most informed person on the planet about your topic area. To get to this end point, you would have had to read hundreds if not thousands of papers, books, and/or wider work. Thus, over time, and through re-reading things you develop a more holistic sense of the topic. It becomes easier to ascertain what the core message is and what the consensus is within that topic area. In turn, you’re able to consolidate and synthesise a vast amount of literature into one coherent narrative which gives you a framework for understanding and making sense of your PhD throughout.

This ability to synthesise and interpret information is not only useful during your PhD but it’s a key transferable skill that can be applied to a range of careers. We all know that consultancy is a common career option thrown around for all PhD students – partly due to your ability to consolidate and synthesise information in such a succinct way. Once you’ve harnessed and owned this skill from your PhD, you’re able to generalise it and apply it to a range of topic areas. Through practice, you eventually develop a pretty good barometer for figuring out what’s important and what’s nonsense information no matter what the topic is. A useful skill for any profession.

It doesn’t just stop there however, your ability to synthesise and interpret information aids you in a whole host of professions, particularly those that require more abstract thinking, problem solving, or even roles that have significant reading and writing components. Whether that be in the form of briefs, reports, more papers, or communications – your ability to synthesise key points in a succinct way only makes you more proficient and competent.  Without question, this skill also compliments your communication skills which again is one of those core transferable skills all PhD students possess and would have been developed during the PhD.

The tricky thing with synthesising and interpreting information is that it can be challenging to demonstrate the extent to which you have these skills or how they are useful to the roles you’re applying for. Of course, in an article elsewhere we’ve discussed how to emphasise your transferable skills through what’s known as a ‘skills CV’. In addition to this you can also put your synthesising skills right into action. Things like cover letters, job applications, your LinkedIn profile, and even when you’re invited for an interview are fantastic opportunities to put this in action. In fact, the more competent you are at articulating your strengths in a succinct and clear way, without losing any important information, the better you’ll be at finding jobs outside of academia. Employers don’t have time to read through all your specific achievements, so if you’re providing maximum impact with minimal amounts of time – you’re winning.

If you’re unsure on how to leverage your synthesis and interpretation skills, start with synthesising your own set of skills. This will form the foundation and framework for you to go out into the world and thrive beyond the walls of academia. First, identifying what your skills are and how these can be summarised coherently are the beginning steps to start identifying careers outside of academia and how to map your transferable skills to a range of opportunities. If you’re able to do this correctly, then positioning yourself within your CV, job applications, during an interview will be relatively straight forward in comparison.

Synthesising an abstract concept like your skills is hard at first, but once you’ve managed this, it’s a lot easier to articulate your competency whilst also giving you newfound belief in your own skills.

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