For many of us, the reasons we focused on achieving our Ph.D. may be clear cut–we are destined for greatness in the academic arena. For others, it was just the path of least resistance and allowed the continuation of the “student lifestyle” in a comfortable research field.
Due to the current economic situation, there is stiff competition for fewer academic opportunities. There are many more PhDs awarded than open or new academic positions. Between 2005 and 2009 there were 100,000 PhDs given, but there were only 16,000 new professor positions. If this was a business, the supply is much greater than the demand and would be reduced! I am not suggesting that institutions should stop awarding doctorates. However, I do think students and Postdocs need to enhance their skill set to stand out from their competitors.
If you did not enjoy performing research or cannot envision the long hours necessary to write grants, you are unlikely to continue on the academic path. After your graduate work or a couple of Postdoc positions, the responsibility begins to increase. If it isn’t what you are passionate about, then it is a sensible choice to bow out gracefully. But what do you do then?
The PhD title alone proves that you are intelligent and can apply yourself to problem solving. It may also imply that you do not possess the skills necessary for jobs in industry, scientific communication or business. Can you provide evidence of good communication skills, people management or working effectively within a team?
It would be wise to enhance your skill set throughout your graduate studies and during your postdoctoral training regardless of where you anticipate your career heading. Many people believe that you are required to be tied to the bench and that developing translational skills is not to be done on your PI’s time. However, by increasing your translational skills, it will eventually reflect positively on your PI and will also be increasingly necessary if you climb the academic mountain towards full professorship. Therefore, if workshops or lectures are offered on these topics at your institution, your attendance shouldn’t be considered a waste of time.
There are many organizations, both locally and nationally, which also provide workshops and advice to improve skill sets. Many institutions have Graduate School Organizations and Postdoctoral Associations which are usually run by volunteers. The National Postdoctoral Association website has tool kits available to members for career planning, mentoring and other useful resources. There is also an annual meeting with specific postdoctoral training workshops which anyone is eligible to attend. The Association for Women in Science has local chapters which provide seminars and networking opportunities. Being involved with these organizations and committees will not only look fantastic on your CV, but will assist your personal growth while being fun and rewarding.
As the job market gets leaner, we need to appreciate that our CV’s and resumes need to stand out from the crowd. Everyone going for the position is likely to have a doctorate, multiple publications and conference experience, but where do you differ? Do you have teaching/mentoring experience, have you written reviews, won awards or gained relevant work experience? The ability to network effectively will also become increasingly important. Do you have the confidence and people skills to mingle with new faces and build a network? Are you on networking websites to remain connected with colleagues and make new connections?
You may not be currently looking for a new job but all of these things take time, therefore, there is no better time to start.