A PhD – the bridge to business?

Whilst one again sampling the Nature Jobs website, I came across an interesting and very relevant article on how a PhD can, surprisingly, be the gateway to a career in business.

As someone who is due to jump ship from academia shortly, and into the world of corporate R&D, I can fully appreciate how a PhD offers you the skills to take a leap into the business world. As the article points out, as PhD students we are analytical, can gain insights from our findings, are resilient to problems and failures, have been part of a research team and most likely taught younger students. You’re constantly involved with new technologies and new ideas, and regularly have to think up new ways of getting results.

Really, and most importantly, a PhD is very much like real work experience, and prepares you very well for the world of business. Although I won’t be going down the academic path I had planned, I do not regret doing my PhD. Around 80-90% of the experiences I discussed during the interviews for the job I start in September were from my PhD, and I’ve gained skills and confidence that I never would have had after my Masters degree. I’m positive I wouldn’t be starting the career I’m on now if I hadn’t gone through the PhD process.

A problem that the article does point out is that there are very few opportunities to learn about business during a PhD. If we were to be offered a small amount of tailored training during our graduate studies, we should be able to walk into business roles and demand the higher salaries that we really deserve. However, the biggest barrier remains with the individual – you need to know that you’re capable of a much greater variety of careers than simply a research chemist, and be confident enough to pursue roles in business.

Here at Nottingham we do have some links with business, as our School of Chemistry has a Business Partnership Unit which is a popular career choice for PhD graduates who still want to work in chemistry, but from the business side, rather in the lab. This is a useful bridge between the two disciplines, and could easily springboard chemists into a business career. There are also courses offered in business-related skills, such as management and negotiation, but these are generally only open to staff, and PhD students need to have access to such resources to really build up their transferable skills and make themselves even more employable.

A PhD isn’t just a ticket into post-doctoral research and academia, it’s an experience which can build you up to be a highly sought after candidate for a vast array of careers and students, universities and the private sector need to realise this.


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