In the Instances Where a PhD Seems Detrimental, How Can I Prove That It Makes Me More Marketable?

Paul Lobben stresses the importance of communicating soft skills, not just technical, hard skills
Industry Matters Newsletter
Paul Lobben, Scientist, Thermo Scientific

You can prove it by effectively communicating your soft skills and not just your hard, technical skills. Constant change is a near certainty in the global marketplace. Individuals that continue to develop their soft skills will be more successful throughout their career. 

Some of the most valued soft skills include teamwork, flexibility, work ethic, communication, and critical thinking. Companies are often seeking to hire employees that can quickly adapt to the company’s business culture and make an immediate impact. Here is a hypothetical example - consider that the new employee’s company receives a special order from a valued customer for a large quantity of a product, yet the company is not accustomed to manufacturing at this scale. The new employee would be expected to use communication skills to understand the customer needs and understand the company’s manufacturing constraints. Finally, the new employee would apply critical thinking skills to devise a plan to manufacture the product to meet customer demands. By utilizing these soft skills, along with a strong work ethic and teamwork the employee will be successful in delivering the large quantity of product to the valued customer. 

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center Report, 86% of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in scientists. With a Ph.D. you will not only have the community's confidence, but the degree will afford you immediate credibility. Though it takes five years or more to obtain a Ph.D. degree, during graduate school you will learn a variety of knowledge about chemistry, interact with scientists from around the world (teamwork), and work on several projects (flexibility). Perhaps the most important fact is you will persevere to earn your degree (work ethic). Your oral and written presentation skills (communication) will undoubtedly be perfected in a Ph.D. Your ability to solve difficult problems (critical thinking) is also what makes you marketable.

Your hard skills, i.e. technical skills, will be easily assessed from your research publications. Here is an exercise for you, find the skills noted in parentheses in the above paragraph and write out three examples where you have demonstrated those skills. These skills are often referred to as soft skills, and these are in high demand. The secondary goal of your Ph.D. experience, and perhaps equally as important as demonstrating your technical skills, is to communicate your soft skills in context. Your ability to not only adapt and but also succeed in a challenging graduate school atmosphere is your value. And being able to effectively communicate these skills in context is what will make you even more marketable, and even more memorable to a recruiter!

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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