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Translating Your Postdoc Experience into Practice

An academic journey is an interesting thing. After focusing on developing specialized knowledge in a field during your PhD and then digging deeper during your postdoc, it is understandable to wonder how you might use your specific expertise in different settings – whether inside or outside of academia.

A recent panel of Ph.D.s working in industry highlighted the importance of translating your doctoral and postdoc experience into broader terms. Taking an inventory of your skills, capabilities, and strengths can help you gain confidence as you begin to imagine you do have something remarkable to offer to a future employer or to leverage for success in your career.

Skills learned during graduate school and a postdoc fellowship have set you up to be a competitive applicant for most industry and start up jobs, in addition to the traditional academic track. By the completion of your training, you are highly intelligent, with an ability to learn and teach yourself “what you don’t know.” You are adept at gathering all the available information and making a good decision regarding what it means and what’s next. You have developed great analytical and logic-minded skills, which you can apply to move an issue, experiment or conversation forward. All it takes is stepping back, and reframing your experiences for a different audience.

Need some ideas about how your graduate and postdoc experiences have prepared you for a rewarding career inside or outside of academia? Check out this list from Peter Fiske’s keynote at the National Postdoc Association meeting 2017 (#NPA2017) to get you started:

  1. Ability to function in a variety of environments and roles
  2. Teaching skills; conceptualizing, explaining
  3. Counseling, interview skills
  4. Public speaking experience
  5. Ability to support a position/viewpoint with argumentation and logic
  6. Ability to conceive and design complex studies and projects
  7. Ability to implement and manage all phases of complex research projects and to follow them through to completion
  8. Knowledge of the scientific method to organize and test ideas
  9. Ability to organize and analyze data, to understand statistics and to generalize from data
  10. Ability to combine, integrate information from disparate sources
  11. Ability to evaluate critically
  12. Ability to investigate, using many different research methodologies
  13. Ability to problem-solve
  14. Ability to do advocacy work
  15. Ability to acknowledge many differing views of reality
  16. Ability to suspend judgment, to work with ambiguity
  17. Ability to make the best use of informed hunches

As you develop your own inventory, keep in mind that similar skills or capacities may be called different things in different sectors or fields. Do your research when you are targeting a job prospect and develop tailored versions of your CV or resume and cover letters to reflect the field specific terms.  You are prepared – it just takes a little translation to help others see it easily. We invite you to budget an hour or so a week to explore the references below for more tools and ideas.