Researchers: you are more skilled than you think


Happy New Year

I wanted to start my first blog of 2016 by reflecting on how many times I have told researchers that they possess a very marketable commodity (if you will excuse my use of a business phrase), and how companies outside academia who employ PhDs value your specialist knowledge, research skills and problem solving ability. 

We know employers value research and analytical skills, new approaches to problem solving skills, and capacity for critical thinking, and so it was fascinating to hear the comments made by speakers at the recent Energy Postgraduate Conference at the University of Sheffield, where considerable emphasis was placed on your transferable or soft skills. All the speakers outlining their career progression advised researchers not to “underestimate your communication and presentation skills”. One speaker from industry even said “if you can’t demonstrate these skills then you are no use to anyone so make sure you find time to enhance and develop these skills through not only your research but all aspects of your life”. Many of you take part in a range of enterprising and creative activities. Your PhD is based on creativity and project management.

Our speakers referred to the PhD as part of a journey learning new skills and developing new collaborative links. With the research environment now encompassing industrial and other external links you have increased opportunity to develop the kind of skills employers outside academia seek, and that includes commercial awareness or understanding how businesses operate seek.  Perhaps you are working in interdisciplinary teams and conversing with a range of academic disciplines.

One of the speakers at the Energy conference was Dr Rachael Hall, who completed her PhD and Postdoctoral experience at Sheffield. She described her transition from university research, to using her PhD in industry. Rachael works for GE Power as an Engineer in Emerging Technologies, and showcased all the skills above providing inspiration for all researchers, but particularly women, in terms of how to promote yourself effectively, get involved in activities such as outreach, visiting lectures, and links with professional organisations. During her time at Sheffield, Rachael supported me in project managing a skills development course for researchers – our annual GRADschool and so it is amazing to see how our researchers have developed their careers. Use your enquiring and curious minds to take advantage of professional development during your research career, whether that is available within or outside universities. 

Want to check your skills off against the rest? Browse our Careers Service Booklet ‘The Skills of Researchers’.

Jane M Simm, Careers Adviser for Researchers

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