PhD Skills

Valuing your PhD writing skills.

Writing throughout your PhD is a constant practice. Eventually, we forget how good we actually are at writing. This is a core transferable skill that can open thousands of career opportunities for you. Be sure to let people know.

Writing forms a core component of your PhD journey. Whether it’s for your thesis, publications, posters, or even just for informal communications for a particular project or with your supervisors, writing is something PhDs know how to do. It is a skill that not only is transferable to a lot of jobs, it’s also really hard to come by. The vast majority of people, especially if they’re not coming from an academic or literature background, don’t really know how to write in a manner that is concise, informative, engaging or even just effective.

Typically, industry jobs require jobs or projects that do not require much writing. When they do, it doesn’t need to be to a standard that PhD students are used to meeting. Writing in much of the working world is informative, very simplistic, and on the most part – unimpressive. Writing in this context is mainly to communicate information, not necessarily to communicate information well. Furthermore, written communications outside of academia and across various business sectors are done by people who are not writing often, or if they are, it’s very infrequent or done on a minor scale. Minor in comparison to your thesis that’s for sure – not many (if any) jobs require you to compile a report that contains somewhere between 60,000 – 100,000 words.

Writing throughout your PhD is always recommended. It makes it more manageable whilst also freeing up time to avoid those last-minute rushes and make amendments where necessary. If you can work through your procrastination, it eventually becomes rather effortless. Being able to write is a core skill for almost every sector, however, most people in these sectors don’t write enough to develop excellent writing skills. Equally, feedback on their writing doesn’t happen often – making it very difficult to develop it further. This is where you can really shine. Writing throughout your PhD, receiving feedback from your supervisors, peer-reviewers, or through any other means allows you to constantly be refining and harnessing your writing skills and vocabulary. Additionally, having to read almost every day goes hand in hand with good writing skills. Sifting through publications, novels, textbooks, articles, blogs or whatever else you can find, really does provide you with a solid foundation. The more you read, the better you get. The better you get, the better your writing style will become. Simple.

Another key component of writing throughout your PhD is learning to summarise and consolidate complex information. Often, you’ll have to be synthesising a range of arguments and viewpoints, or at least integrating new concepts into previous frameworks in order to produce something novel. It’s also why PhDs are excellent problem solvers. Taking really complex and fragmented bits of information and being able to summarise and articulate them in a coherent way is a skill a lot of people don’t have. Furthermore, being able to summarise and synthesis new ideas in writing is also a testament to your communication skills. This is literally what article abstracts are for. Composing a good and effective abstract in 300 words or less is no easy feat. We might get better at it over time due to constant writing practice, but don’t underestimate how useful this skill is across different settings. Moving forward, and outside of academia, if you’re ever faced with large documents again that need to be summarised and put into writing, you’ll breeze through it.

Alongside being able to summarise vast amounts of information into writing, you’re also likely to be good at identifying key bits of information. Using abstract writing as an example again, being able to write a good abstract also means being able to pull out the key parts of a report/paper that help a lay reader to understand it. Having a keen eye for these valuable bits of information translates in any writing task, but also in times when you need to summarise any verbal or oral information. Knowing what the key parts are helps you to relay information, summarise it succinctly, and ultimately have better communication skills – possibly even interpersonal skills. Taking this one step further, you’ll often have to convert your paper abstracts into conference posters or conference presentations.

Again, here you’re able to identify the key bits of information that are necessary to produce a coherent narrative, whilst also being able to do this in a way that is understandable and digestible to someone who is not familiar with your writing or the topic area in general. Knowing how to frame narratives, stories or messages to lay readers is not only extremely useful, but it’s often the missing link between ‘good’ work in industry that people don’t quite understanding and placing it within a business context so people can understand it. It’s quite similar to any piece of PhD research really. You could do the best research study ever to exist, but if you’re unable to communicate in writing why it matters or why it’s important it’s hard to really appreciate the work you’ve done. So again, writing throughout your PhD really does provide you with writing skills that can put you head and shoulders above the rest.

It goes without saying but the more you try writing, the easier and better you will get at it. This is often why all great writers recommend you write every day. Even if it’s just a little bit. Writing every day helps you get more ideas down; it allows you to reach your end goal significantly quicker than trying to do it all last minute. This is also the best way to hack your procrastination to your advantage. As your writing gets better every day it also means you can produce a really high-quality work in less time. And for businesses that have a high turnaround time or need efficiency, or at least are used to report writing taking a long time to be completed – the value you can bring is extremely significant. The beauty of writing skills for PhD students is that you don’t even have to try (that much). Writing becomes second nature by the end of your PhD, so much so you might even fail to recognise it as a transferable skill, just like your ability to learn. Your ability to produce 1,000-word reports won’t even feel like a skill. But you can be assured, your writing skill is one of your key transferable skills – don’t be afraid to show it off.

How do you like them apples?

The final key benefit of having these amazing writing skills is that writing is useful for every career sector. It literally doesn’t matter what roles or career opportunities you apply for, take full advantages of telling everyone about your writing skills, especially if the roles you are searching for list communication skills as a core competency on the job specification. Furthermore, you might even opt to pursue careers that centre on writing as a fundamental part of the job. Journalism, literature, marketing, advertising, law, consultancy, the list continues. You have options at your fingertips. This also applies to any PhD type; it doesn’t matter if you have a STEM or a non-STEM background – it’s a great way to understand and make sense of the value of your PhD.

If the time comes and you don’t want to stay in academia, and you don’t want to do a post-doc, be sure to talk about all your transferable skills in your CV, on your LinkedIn page, or even your cover letter. Be sure to emphasise your writing skills as one of them.

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