“Are you sure about making this decision? Is this something that you really want? Are you passionate about it?” – these are the questions I remember vividly from a PhD-related discussion with my supervisor after I completed my Master’s degree. After completing my PhD in October 2017, I can now confidently say that starting my PhD was the best decision that I have ever made.
In this article, I am offering some guidance for students who might be considering doing a PhD, because this qualification is more than meets the eye! Although it is commonly known as post-graduate study, a PhD encompasses more than just “studies”. It takes around 4 years to complete a PhD, and while it can be emotionally challenging, a PhD offers an excellent learning and growth opportunity. It equips you with knowledge and skills that are important in any career.
Here are some skills you might not realise you will get from a PhD.
Critical thinking, data analysis and scientific writing
Regardless of the job scope/field, it is important to be able to critically analyse a lot of information and convey an analysis in a written form. A PhD trains you to do this through an extensive review of literature and preparation of manuscripts.
PhD students can also practice writing skills by applying for conference travel and other academic awards. These awards are usually managed by a selection panel, whom we have to convince in order to receive the award. This is great preparation for writing grants, reports, or other submissions later in our careers.
Creative, clear speaking
Of course, there is creativity in designing experiments and solving problems, but it can sometimes take an even higher level of creativity to explain our work to friends or family who doesn’t understand our science! One way to improve on this is by participating in the 3-Minute Thesis (3MT)Ò competition, where we can use simple, but dynamic presentations to explain our research to a broad audience.
Group meetings, conferences, and presentations to potential funders are also great places to practice developing and delivering a clear and simple message. Being creative allows us to work in a dynamic work environment in or out of science.
Communication and teamwork
The long hours spent in the lab are a perfect opportunity to strengthen our ability to communicate with our colleagues. Communication helps cultivate teamwork, which is an important aspect in any workforce. Moreover, being in research means that we are able to collaborate with other scientists (from various institutions) and this allows us to build and expand our scientific network.
Persistence and problem solving
Did I mention the long hours in the lab? What about the experiments that didn’t work? Both of these things develop grit, the ability to troubleshoot, and the ability to learn on the job. Employers love these skills.
Outreach and community participation
I have always believed that science is something that can be instilled from a young age. I remember being fascinated with the scientific technologies when I was sitting on the couch watching “CSI:NY”. There are several ways where we can reach out to young (potential) scientists – by demonstrating for practical classes, participating in university outreach programmes, and being a Peer Mentor. These are great opportunities to build up (and evidence) our leadership and mentoring skills.
So, if you are considering a PhD, consider all the skills you can put on your CV as a result of it. It’s hard work, but it’s a valuable qualification, whether or not you end up as a scientific researcher!
Edited by A/Prof. Susan Rowland, The University of Queensland