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It’s all about the skills….’bout the skills, ‘bout the skills

This week I attended what might have been the most helpful workshop I have ever attended. I signed up for this workshop because like many other graduate students, I don’t want to stay in academia. I really needed help. Where do I go? What can I do? HELP! I was hoping that attending this career week event would help me.

Anne Krook, a consultant from Seattle and the presenter of this workshop, actually does that for a living! She travels around and talks to graduate students about finding work outside academia. My first thought when I found that out was, “Wow, this lady is legit”. And let me tell you, she totally was!

I figured the best way to summarize this extensive, super-helpful seminar was by highlighting the three main take home messages from my experience

1. Prepare yourself for rejection. Big time.

This was one of the most terrifying, and yet, most reassuring points that Anne made. For the most part, staying in academia to the point of a PhD, you haven’t really dealt with rejection, true rejection. When she said that, I thought, Oh I’ve dealt with rejection, Anne. I mean, I’ve had papers rejected from journals (too frequently). I have applied for external funding yearly, and was never successful. That’s rejection, right? Wrong. A very small number of the jobs you apply to will even consider your resume, let alone bring you through a phone screening. Getting an interview? That’s even less likely. There are a lot of jobs out there, and even more people to fill them. The job hunt isn’t easy, but when done properly, your chances greatly increase.

2. It’s all about the skills, ‘bout the skills, ‘bout the skills.

We heard about this in the last two guest posts by Erin Clow, and Anne reinforced exactly what Erin wrote about. In the non-academic job market, a PhD doesn’t mean the same thing it does in the academic job market. You need to take your experience, as a graduate student and think about what you have learned. What skills did you develop? Even what seems like easy, day-to-day tasks, things common of graduate student life are critical to highlight. Supervising undergraduate students? Managing long experiments? Writing a review paper? ANYTHING. Take a few hours, sit down, go through all of your past employment, including that as a graduate student, and think about what skills you gained. It’s certainly an eye-opening experience. You’ve done way more and developed a tonne more skills than you think!

3. You are never “not using” your degree.

This kind of goes hand in hand with the last point about skills. Ever since I decided that academia wasn’t for me, I have definitely felt that my degree was useless. It’s tough to admit, but it was a feeling I was really struggling with. Why am I wasting four + years to get a piece of paper that non-academic employers won’t value? Wrong, wrong, and wrong. We are never not using out degrees. We gain so many transferable skills from these degrees (it really is all about the skills, eh?). PhDs are NOT easy to get, and it’s up to us, as job-seekers, to show future employers just how much we took from those 4+ years. Whether you end up working as a consultant for a big firm, going into another professional program, or a tutor, you are using skills you gained because you did a PhD.


I’ll admit it. I went into this workshop pretty scared of what I might find out. And I left, feeling optimistic and dare I say it, almost excited to start looking for a job!

Posted in Events, General, Jobs and Careers, Kingston, New Students, Professional Development Tagged with: ,

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