A PhD has traditionally been the path to a career in academia. However, recent job trends have led to less than 1% placement rate of STEM PhD graduates in tenure positions. Although this is not the most encouraging trend, there might be a silver lining. With the growing demand of tech companies for highly skilled work force and the ample reports of unfilled tech jobs, PhD holders and companies can mutually benefit from these trends by keeping an open mind about the possibilities that can be created. The idea of industry jobs after PhD is becoming more popular with graduate students.
Depending on the industry and the job, there are varying demands for technical skills. However, there are some common skills that almost all companies value. In a survey by CareerBuilder, 77 percent of employers indicated that they were seeking candidates with soft skills. Although the traditional academic training needs a serious review under the light of new job trends, it still constitutes a solid foundation in many of these highly sought-after skills including:
1. Problem solving. In order to stay competitive in the business environment, tech companies require employees that effectively solve problems and think critically. Critical thinkers rely on evidence and weigh the influences of motives and bias while avoiding emotional impulses in jumping to conclusion. Objective thinking often reveals hidden layers of a problem that is not evident in the first look.
Hiring managers usually ask candidates about a time they had to overcome a challenge in the workplace to measure the candidate’s ability to think objectively in face of obstacles and solve problems. Critical thinking and problem solving is a skill that PhD students consistently practice during the course of their graduate studies and is a requirement for academic publishing. By the time a PhD candidate finishes up her studies, she has already gone through multiple rigorous review processes that require critical thinking, and is well prepared for problem solving challenges.
2. Willingness to learn. The rapid pace of change requires companies and employees to stay up to date with new technologies and be willing to constantly learn. PhD candidates are in a constant loop of learning during their graduate training since they need to be on top of all recent and current works in their field. The literature review process for PhDs continues up to the end of their graduate studies.
3. Work ethics. Companies value employees that are dependable, meet deadlines and stay focused at work. Working at least four years toward a PhD with minimum payment is a great indication of devotion. A good work ethic is pivotal to a successful PhD degree.
4. Coaching co-workers. A lot of employers value strong teamwork skills. Employees who are willing to help co-workers and coach them along the way are a great advantage in team’s success. For example when a new employee is added to a group project, she probably doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on yet. In this scenario, other employees should be willing to coach the new employee to bring her up to speed with the project. Many PhD candidates practice this skill with new lab members and help their peers get up to speed with the lab projects.
5. Presentation Skills. Regardless of the position held, many employees are expected to be able to present their work to management, colleagues, and customers. This is an area that grad schools usually prepare students well for. Many PhD students present their work numerous times to their lab-mates, supervisors, departments and other researchers e.g. at conferences.
6. Humble confidence. Confident employees who can voice the opinions while being open to feedback can be an asset in the workplace. For example a brainstorming session can be much more effective if participants would share ideas, ask thoughtful questions and hear feedback. When working with supervisors and scholars, PhD students learn to be independent researchers while being open to hearing feedback from supervisors and peers.
7. creativity and innovation. Creativity is one of the most important agents of change and development for companies. During an interview, hiring managers usually ask the candidate about a time when he or she was assigned a new project in order to get a sense of the candidate’s ability to think creatively. PhD graduates need to present creative solutions to numerous questions posed during the course of a PhD project. They are required to demonstrate their ability to perform authentic research and create information instead of curating it.
8. Cultural fit. Many employers want to hire employees who are a great cultural fit. PhD graduates are typically individuals with a sense of purpose and who want to add meaningful value. If a company’s values align with the candidate’s, both parties can benefit from a workplace that is driven by the values not just the monetary incentives.
9. Work under pressure. An employee that can work well under the ever-increasing pressures of the workplace is a great asset to all companies. PhD graduates have a proven track record in this regard since almost all PhD projects involve a great degree of uncertainty where students aren’t sure whether the project would be successful.Grad students need to work hard, stay motivated while working under pressure during the course of their PhD.
10. flexibility and focus. Very often deadlines and projects change at a spur of a moment in the workplace and employees need to adapt quickly while staying focused. This is a very common case in situations where a high degree of uncertainty is involved such as a PhD project. For example, an experiment might not yield the expected results and grad students need to adapt quickly in order to meet the deadlines of their projects or an article might need to be submitted by a certain deadline where the students need to stay focused and work effectively.
Putting it all together, there is a great opportunity for both companies and PhD graduates to keep an open mind about the possibilities that can be created by the presence of scholars in the industry. The success stories of many PhD graduates in the industry attest to this. GradCompass is project that is trying to bridge the information gap between PhD graduates and the industry by providing relevant information that can help grad students pursue a career outside academia. We are hoping to be an agent of change and bring grad student the most value by providing hard to find information that is typically not shared in grad schools. Please let us know what you like to hear more about in the comments.