Having a PhD as well as running my own (consultancy) business, means I often get asked about how or why I made the transition; the relationship between my PhD and the work I do now; as well as things PhD students and researchers more broadly can do to set themselves up for varied opportunities.
The road I have travelled – PhD to professional support role to business owner – is not necessarily typical (but I am not sure there is a typical pathway). However, I am hopeful others can find it useful in the context of options available to PhD students. The intention is to use the story to show others that there is a pathway. That there are people who can help. That changing careers or sectors is not bad, going to the dark side or weak. This blog forms one part in three covering:
- How I left academia (and set up my own business);
- my PhD and its value to my business; and
- How you can transition out of academia (and into business).
Here, I’m focusing on my PhD and its value to my business, and there are separate blogs for the other two topics. Broadly speaking, my PhD has impacted my business in five ways:
- Rapport – I can speak research.
- Insight – Having undertaken research, I understand (some) of the challenges researchers face.
- Research specific skills – I am hired for these skills
- Transferable skills – I have succeed because of these skills
- Kudos – the effort required to complete a PhD is recognised.
Henry Rollins (US Singer/Songwriter) is credited as saying, “Nothing brings people together more than mutual hatred”. Having undertaken a PhD I have a common enemy – the PhD process –with others who have completed a PhD. Although I do not partake in the research process anymore, many of my clients do and we can bond over our mutual dislike of the (current) research process. Discussing its failings, but also its merits. We can laugh at PhD Comics, shit academics say and other academic satire.
Beyond the rapport building that having a PhD allows, having been through the process also gives me insight. Insight into the problems faced by researchers. Insight to the challenges researchers need to overcome to be successful. Insight into what it takes to be successful as an academic. As a result, when it comes to supporting researches – say through grant writing, planning or project management – I am aware of approaches that are more (or less) likely to succeed.
Of course, these two benefits are directly related to my clients. If I did not have (academic) researchers as clients, then neither insight, nor rapport would be relevant.
Clients of Raven Consulting Group also include government and business. These clients view research skills – and the PhD specifically – as a key reason for engagement. When the ability to design, implement, and document a project with a large research component (e.g. a review), is essential to success, having a PhD graduate, rather than (say) a general business, accounting or legal graduate (as might be the case with other consulting firms), is an important factor. Furthermore, it is the general skills – research design, data analysis, etc. – that are important. Not the specific application of these skills to a biological, medical, educational, social, government or business setting.
Transferable non-research skills
PhDs provide graduates with a range of transferable skills. As noted above, the general concepts learnt and practiced within a PhD – experimental design, research conduct, data collection and analysis – are valued in review-based projects. However, there are other skills that are useful regardless of the work being undertaken:
- Stakeholder (collaborator) management – the ability to identify relevant people within a piece of work and encourage their contribution is something PhD students must learn. In many cases the power relationships are unequal (e.g. PhD student requesting input from more senior colleagues) This skill can be applied to almost any future project.
- Communication – comes in many forms. Within a PhD you will learn presentation skills, persuasive writing, technical writing, process documentation – just to name a few. These skills are required in many roles in most (if not all) sectors.
- Project management – no list of transferable skills from a PhD would be complete without project management. The PhD is also a project of projects (also known as a program) – with smaller experiments contributing to a larger story. The ability to manage the various components has been important to all the work undertaken by Raven Consulting Group. Similarly, this program management approach has helped us to see both the detail (of the specific project) and the longer-term goal (of the program).
Amongst the wider public, having a PhD is also recognised for what it is – dedicating yourself to a project for many years in the pursuit of new knowledge in that area. Although as a researcher you are surrounded by people with doctorates, and the number of people enrolling and graduating from their PhD studies is ever increasing, the reality is very few people have a PhD. Consider, for a moment, the data. In Australia, roughly 50% of high school graduates embark on university, and 80% of those will complete their degree. About 30% will then go on to further study such as a PhD. Of that 30% about 50% will start an academic research career, but only 2-5% will finish there. So, if we started with 1,000 high school graduates:
- 500 will go to university (3-5 years)
- 400 will graduate their degree
- 120 will do further study such as a PhD (3-5 years)
This ability to dedicate yourself to a single cause for an extended period of time is a valuable skill to have. The PhD is a signal to others that you are capable of that discipline and focus.
Good luck making the transition from academia!