If a PhD graduate decides to
pursue an alternative career apply for a job outside of academia, in some fields, recruiters will understand what is meant by the PhD on their CV. For a research career in industry a PhD can be an asset if not a prerequisite. Other fields specifically recruit PhDs – some management consultancies recognise the value of a doctorate, academic publishers will be familiar with the qualification, and when applying for a career in finance a numerate PhD can stand you apart from the crowd.
But, how do you explain a three or four year stint of postgraduate study, and more specifically its value, if a potential employer is dismissive of the doctorate? This question was prompted by the article Careers for PhDs beyond academia in the Work section of yesterday’s Guardian.
The comment that leapt out at me (and that comes from a careers adviser at UoL) was
many employers question the commitment of those who have spent seven or more years in academia
There are attributes that it might be reasonable to question about a PhD graduate. If their project was a solitary exercise you might wonder about their team-working or leadership skills. If they were applying for a sales or customer-facing role you might not make the connection between marketing ones ideas in an academic environment and commercial goals. But commitment seems an odd characteristic to question. If you were not committed you would struggle to achieve your PhD.
The article goes on to emphasise that PhD graduates should sell the skills they gained from their degree. With its humanities and social sciences focus, the article suggests skills such as
writing ability [and] foreign languages.
Writing ability should be evident whatever the discipline, from pubilcations and the thesis. In science, skills such as numeracy, data analysis and project management will be at the fore. Beyond highlighting specific skills, is there a way to explain the nature of PhD research? Such an explanation seems necessary, to counter the perception of PhD students as
verbose, individualistic and lacking emotional intelligence.
This would also be useful when answering the What do you do? question, and would hopefully provide a feasible alternative to the not unheard of practise of removing the PhD from a CV (replacing it with “research” or similar) when applying for non-academic jobs.