It’s astonishing how many PhDs underestimate the vast skill set they’ve honed over the years. You need to become familiar with your skills and then sell them confidently on your non-academic CV or resume.
PhDs transitioning from academia to industry possess various skills:
- the ability to distill complex information for diverse audiences
- financial management if their PhD involved a budget
- communication and presentation skills for broad audiences
- management of research projects from inception to completion, including publication and conference presentations
- delivering reports
- supervising junior staff.
In my experience, I had supervised undergraduates in the lab and coordinated their activities, resulting in 2 high-impact publications contributing to our understanding of stress and cardiovascular health.
Many job opportunities lie in areas such as UX, evaluation, consultancy, and communications.
Tasks often involve researching complex information and distilling it for reports or project management. We PhDs are able to problem-solve quickly! We can learn new information rapidly and we’re able to be self-motivated enough to learn independently.
Although more specific skills depend on one’s industry expertise, these are the general abilities that PhD students should consider when seeking employment in industry.
Postdoctoral Level Skills
So, what skills can a postdoc translate to industry upon leaving academia?
Generally, as a postdoc, you may have applied for grants, honing your fundraising and grant-writing abilities even more than at PhD level.
Additionally, you might have supervised a team, such as undergraduates or PhD students. While this may not involve performance management, it does entail guidance and mentorship.
As a postdoc, you are somewhat shielded from excessive teaching and administrative tasks; however, you likely possess some teaching skills. Curriculum development expertise may be limited unless specifically pursued during your postdoctoral work.
You likely have valuable research analysis skills and the ability to write comprehensively for various audiences. Even if your writing skills seem inferior to your peers’, rest assured they are highly valuable in industry!
During my postdoctoral experience, I engaged in big data analysis and statistical work while coordinating with larger groups. You might also liaise with stakeholders or collaborate with external organizations that fund or express interest in your project’s results. These relationship management skills are crucial to emphasize.
Consider highlighting any lab manuals or lab rules documents you have written for your group – these form the foundation for contract work and demonstrate business management aptitude.
Furthermore, grant writing may involve liaising with community groups or international colleagues – another noteworthy skill set.
In summary, a postdoc possesses numerous transferable skills for industry roles that go beyond those acquired during a PhD.
If you’re like me, you may have taken on lecturing roles, assistant professor, associate professor, or Chair. The skills gained in your decades of service will definitely be underestimated if you’re like a lot of my clients!
I talked about PhDs, postdocs, and their skills. Now, let’s discuss lecturers, professors, assistant associate professors, and their skills.
They have excelled in communication and teaching skills. They develop new programs, courses, and modules aligned with accreditation bodies and the university’s vision and mission. They represent the university at national and international conventions which means they may think about the marketing they are doing for their university. This is particularly true if they run open days where parents and prospective students visit.
They talk to parents about the benefits of the university. They do market research with students to find out which programs or courses to offer.
Or they may be invited to speak at schools in order to entice the next generation of university students to study at their university.
Their policy influence skills have been honed since we’re asked to do more and more with less, and oftentimes, we must be diplomatic in attempting to retain our level of funding/ resource allocation.
Professors also have to advocate for their staff.
So, professors may advise senior leaders on policies affecting staff, negotiate recommendations, and advocate for resources.
They do competitive market research, looking at what is being offered elsewhere, which courses are politically or socially timely, and make sure their courses are unique enough to attract students.
They handle the procurement of external services and products, liaising with finances, procurement, human resources and other cross-functional departments.
They also work on grant applications with worldwide impact and network with local authorities, community organizations, and government policy influencers. To do this work, they forge new partnerships with international researchers. See the recent work I’ve highlighted. They may often work cross-culturally and many academics I know are bilingual.
Additionally, they engage in strategic planning, budgeting, mentoring junior colleagues, and providing career advice to students or junior staff. They do performance reviews for junior colleagues or their postdocs or PhD students and serve on hiring panels.
Professors have administrative and senior leadership skills that are transferable to business and industry at senior/leadership levels like director or associate director positions.
I hope this whistle-stop tour of the skills that academics necessarily acquire and hone will serve as inspiration for you as you look at alt-academic careers.
For even more help in translating your skills and figuring out what’s next, download my FREE Mastering Your Transferable Skills Workbook!
I’m Luna Clara, I help mid-career academics to ditch the academic pipeline and dismiss the doubt, getting clear on what they want and wielding confidence to get it. I’m on a mission to help fellow disruptors make an impact while designing work around a fulfilled life.
I left a tenured post after 20 years of being in academia across the US, UK and Sweden and now offer coaching and research consultation in aid of racial justice and tackling gender-based violence.