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Graduate Matters

What are your transferable skills as you exit graduate school?

Focus on skills that are important for your chosen career path.


In graduate school, you will build on the skills that helped you enter your program. It is important, and relatively easy, to demonstrate your obvious successes; you have defended a thesis, and may even have some awards and publications that demonstrate your advanced field-specific knowledge. Nevertheless, it will take more than this to convince the best academic and non-academic employers that you are the perfect fit for their organizations.

By training in a challenging research environment, you will be provided a unique opportunity to obtain an extensive repertoire of transferable skills that are of exceptional value to employers and can be applied to a broad range of careers. The next challenge is to understand the skills that you possess.

Top transferable skills that you gain as a grad student

Effective communication. In any organization, you will be expected to communicate with individuals within the organization and often with external stakeholders. During your training, you will learn to convey information clearly and concisely. You will speak about your work in many formats, from one-on-one meetings to conferences or exhibitions. To promote your studies, you will need to explain what you are doing to both expert and lay audiences. You will write about your studies in diverse formats, including record keeping and reporting, grant applications, blogs, websites, manuscripts and, of course, your thesis. Write as much as you can. Usually, the first thing that a potential employer will use to assess your communication skills, is something that you have written.

Active listening is also vitally important, giving you the power to listen and comprehend. You will learn to make the best use of the information provided to you, and avoid errors that could delay your progress, or even lead to conflict. When you work with other researchers, or teach trainees, you will learn to listen and to give advice in a respectful manner. Employers need to know that you will become an integral team member within a framework that relies upon the effective transmission of information across and beyond the organization.

Critical thinking and problem solving. Information processing is central to all graduate programs. You will learn to think critically about your work. Identifying and solving problems will become almost routine. Challenge your own work before others do, and read the published literature with the same degree of scrutiny. These skills are important to employers and, at the successful completion of your research program, they will be near the top of your skills list.

Working independently and as part of a team. You may get significant assistance in the early stages of your project, but other than advice and the occasional assist from colleagues, you are expected to work independently: planning your daily activities and defending the outcomes. But don’t forget about the bigger picture – graduate projects fit into any principal investigator’s strategic plan. You are part of a team and will work with others towards a common goal.

Project and time management. You will own one or more research projects that you are required to evaluate, develop, execute, analyze, summarize and take to the finish line. You also need to fit in coursework for credit! By defining goals, breaking down tasks, setting priorities and timelines, and executing your action plan effectively, you will develop skills that will serve you well at work or play.

The global job market is dynamic. Prepare to be flexible and keep up with current trends in sectors that appeal to you.

Maryam Hejazi is a PhD candidate in the department of medical genetics. Georgina Macintyre is the director of professional development in the office of research. Hanne Ostergaard is the associate dean research of graduate programs in the office of research. They all work within the faculty of medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta.
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  1. PW / August 15, 2018 at 13:16


  2. Rick / January 31, 2020 at 11:31

    Not entirely true of part-time programs, but a nice article.

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