By Maggie Kuo and Jia You

Science, November 27, 2017 —

Ph.D. holders in a variety of careers agree that they started developing many of the professional skills they use in their jobs while they were in grad school. The information interpreting, data analysis, and problem solving they did as Ph.D. students were important in research and nonresearch positions alike, a recently published survey of 3803 science and engineering Ph.D.s shows.

However, some skills that are very important at work tend to take a back seat during Ph.D. training, the survey also highlights. Overall, respondents were least prepared for the degree of time management, team work, and personnel management their jobs require. But the importance of these professional skills also varies between career paths. For example, managing others is important for tenure-track researchers, but less so for careers in communication and consulting.

Identify the skills you need to focus on with this interactive based on the survey’s data, which compares the extent a skill is developed in grad school with its importance in 12 career sectors. Scored on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree, respondents reported whether they believed they developed each skill during their Ph.D. training and whether the skill is important for doing their job successfully. The average scores generally fell between neutral, which lies at the center of the plots, and strongly agree at the outside edges.

Coming out of grad school with the necessary professional skills can ease the transition into the workforce, as an informal survey of new hires at one company illustrates. Having these skills on hand can also make trainees more competitive in the job market. So, explore the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of jobs in a variety of sectors to shed some light on areas that you might want to start prioritizing.

How well does Ph.D. training prepare you for a job in

Developed during Ph.D.

Importance in job

Technical skills

Discipline-specific knowledge

Gather & interpret information
Analyze data
Learn quickly
Creativity & innovative thinking

Interpersonal skills

Work with people outside the organization

Written communication
Work on a team
Manage others
Oral communication

Day-to-day skills

Make decisions & solve problems

Career planning & awareness
Manage a project
Time management
Set a vision & goals

Common job titles in this sector include:

Assistant Professor
Research Associate
Research Professor
Scientist (including Research Scientist and Staff Scientist)

How well does your PhD training prepare you for a future job? Explore the skills that can open career doors after your doctoral training with this nice interactive tool:


Jia You