Learning Soft Skills During Your PhD Training

We’ve all talked to PIs who express how surprised they are to leave the bench when they become assistant professors.  They lament how much grant writing and budgeting they do and that PhD training did not prepare them for the job.  Additionally, we hear from many PhDs that their program didn’t prepare them for a non-academic job.  However, this does not have to be the case.  With planning, PhD students can train in the numerous soft skills that will be useful for either academic or non-academic jobs.

  • Social media to promote science and build a brand (your brand or an employer’s brand). Not every platform is right for everybody; however, using social media can increase your individual reach.
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • Storify
    • Instagram
    • Pintrest
  • Blogging to promote science outreach
  • Working with your university press office
    • Promote recently published papers with press releases
    • Media training
    • Working with your press office will force you to tell your scientific story free of jargon; a useful skill when trying to communicate with non-specialists.
  • In person science outreach
    • Lectures at the library, parks, nature conservancies, civic groups, elementary schools, scouts meeting, species specific interest group, etc.
  • Policy training
    • Science legislative aid for local or state government
    • Intern for non-profit with a conservation focus
    • Will train scientists that the data they provide represent a single stake holder viewpoint and policy makers must consider numerous stakeholders
  • Managing budgets
    • Talk to your advisor about how they manage the lab budget, or better yet keep the books for a quarter
    • Learn about grant management
      • Fixed cost vs non-fixed cost grants
      • Overhead expenses
      • Allowable and unallowable expenses on grants
      • Kick-back to departments and labs
    • Writing grant budgets and justifications
  • Grant writing
    • Start small with travel grants
    • Can apply for an NSF DDIG after you pass comprehensive exam
  • Donor relations
    • The non-profit term for soliciting money from private citizens or corporations
  • Hiring staff
    • Reviewing resumes and CVs
    • Develop interview questions when talking to perspective undergraduate and graduate students
    • Participate in undergraduate interviews and work with your advisor to select new team members
  • Managing staff
    • Train an undergraduate and address weaknesses in work performance and quality as they arise
    • Provide positive feedback when it is earned
    • Develop your personal management style; where do you fall on the micromanager to laissez-faire scale?
  • Big data management
    • Database management
    • Maintaining lab servers
    • Uploading data to web-based databases
  • Facilities and equipment maintenance
    • Who to call when something breaks?
      • Does the lab have service contracts?
  • Stocking supplies
    • Keep costs low by understanding how to receive discounts from vendors
    • Ordering supplies before the office runs out
  • Catering and reservations
    • When hosting guests at the office, what catering options are available for different sized groups
    • Placing orders so that they arrive on time and at the appropriate temperature
    • Learning to accommodate guest requests on short notice
    • Making a reservation will show guest their visit is valued
    • Tactfully asking guests and providing options for people with dietary restrictions (ex- vegetarians, allergens, gluten free)
    • Understanding alcohol restrictions
    • Submitting receipts for reimbursement

While I focused on tangible soft skills, there are also amorphous ones to think about as well. See this research article that compares the self-reported importance of different skills between research intensive and non-research jobs.

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