I know this is a blog primarily focused on completing the dissertation. That acknowledgement made, I hope you’ll give me some liberty to post, for a bit, on life after the dissertation. Stated another way, “What do you do with your doctoral degree, especially in a bad job market?”
Now, I’ll be honest with you. If you haven’t finished your dissertation yet, I want you to avoid bad job news. This is vital to keep your energies and focus where they belong, on finishing your dissertation.
If, however, you have completed your dissertation and doctoral degree, this post is for you.
(Thanks to those of you who wrote in and suggested this topic. I was already working on the draft, but was gratified to see that my thoughts were lining up with yours.)
So here’s the situation. You might have recently finished your dissertation and obtained your Ph.D. You might be working in a job that is outside of your academic field, or you may have recently gone out of work. What you’re wondering is something along the lines of “How can I use my degree” and “Who would hire me?”
While the bulk of my dissertation coaching expertise focuses on helping graduate students complete the dissertation, a fair number of my clients stay on after completion, because they’d like some support in finding jobs, writing papers, and getting prepared to publish. From these conversations has grown some tips and strategies for using your doctoral level skills, even in difficult employment market.
The first trait you need to cultivate is that of mental flexibility. You have to begin by thinking about all the skills you have, and how they might be applicable in various industries or career paths.
The career coaching term for this process is ‘transferable skills’. Transferable skills are your unique and special skillsets which can be applied to any industry or arena; not just the one you trained in.
So, how do you identify your transferable skills? My process looks like this:
a) Make a list of all the actual skillsets you have, academic/educational, as well as personal and professional. Examples would be things like “Presentation skills from presenting at conferences. Writing skills from writing my dissertation. Capacity to research. Great cook. Good proofreader. Fantastic chauffeur for my kids.”
Again, everything you can think of should go on the list. This may take a while, and that’s ok.
b) Then, note which skillsets you’d like to apply to your career or professional work. One of my items, for instance, is that I’m really good at research, and this is a skillset I like doing in my work.
c) Then, start thinking about how a potential employer might be able to make use of your skills. This is the part where you might need to be creative, and you certainly will need to turn your academic qualifications into job market speak.
So, for example, your capacity to complete original research might become “Independently conceived, implemented, and executed projects requiring critical thinking and in depth analysis.”
Can you see that this skillset might be valuable to employers in multiple industries?
Similarly, completing your dissertation may show a capacity for follow-through, dedication, and goal achievement.
It’s about taking your skillsets and finding ways to transfer them to other areas or industries, and finding ways to describe them which make them interesting and applicable to employers.
A historian may describe herself as being detail oriented, with a good understanding of cause and effect relationships. A social psychologist may focus on strengths in analyzing and predicting group behaviors.
The point is to develop some flexibility in how you think of your skillset, and to be appropriately creative in framing your true capabilities in a way that is attractive and intriguing to potential employers.
It is easy to get caught up in thinking that your doctoral degree can only be used in a particular track or manner, but the truth is, you have more skills than you realize. It’s just about seeing them in a different way.