The value of a PhD

There are an increasing number of people graduating with a PhD and an increasing lack of available academic and research positions. Despite this daunting prospect, we are lucky that students remain keen to embark on this journey.

Perhaps these students believe that by the time they graduate things will be different, perhaps they truly believe that they will be the one in ten that gets the academic job. I have been thinking about this quite a bit and wanted to reflect on my own experience and the value that a PhD can bring.

I naively assumed that I would work in research for ever, never really considered that I would not get funding or that postdoc positions would be so hard to obtain.  At first I found this disappointing and somewhat depressing, which led me to believe that I had simply wasted my time doing a PhD if I was going to work in a different area, or work on someone else’s research. What I have learned and now appreciate is the many skills I gained from the PhD; analytical, time management, stress management, people management (of my supervisor!). These skills have added enormous value to my current work and everyday thinking, despite the fact I am not working as an academic. However, I think we can do more to prepare PhD students for a possible future outside of academia and how to use their skills in a different context.

My thinking around this stems from the skills that are needed to do effective knowledge translation; building relationships, listening and communicating, innovative dissemination, implementation and impact measurement. I began to think about how these skills are not necessarily taught, but how they are commonly learned by application, if and when opportunities arise. But, upon reflection I believe there is a bigger value in having these skills, they are precisely the skills you will need if you are to use your PhD in an alternative career, and in fact these skills may very well get you a job outside of academia that still requires analytical thinking, they may even increase your chances of staying in academia.

I have blogged previously about how the modern day researcher must work differently and in the future I believe that our funding requirements and the way researchers work will be very different. If my predictions are true, then enhancing the skills of students is a very valuable prospect for the student, the university, and society as a whole.

What do you think? If you are a student wouldn’t you value having a raft of great communication, dissemination and implementation skills to complement your PhD? If you are a supervisor, perhaps you should consider the opportunities that you create for your students.

As always, your thoughts are welcome.