Transferring Skills to Outside Academia

By | January 19, 2014

Transferable Skills – Not Always Easy to Spot

When your time in academia comes to an end, it can be difficult to see what transferable skills you have that might be of interest to potential employers. Who cares that you’re the best in your group at preparing samples, who cares that you’ve done more helium fills than most people have had hot dinners?

This article from a few years back tries to put you at ease about transitioning from academia to some other field of work, and encourages you to think about what transferable skills you might have.

It’s well worth a read and has some really sound advice and useful examples of how people have extracted the transferable skills from their own research. I’ve tried to pull together some of the things that I took from the article here:

1. You are more than ‘just’ a technical person

Don’t feel that since you have a technical background you are obliged to continue doing technical work.

2. Think about your ‘soft’ skills.

Soft skills tend to be those that involve dealing with people. I know it feels like you’ve done nothing but stare at a computer screen and analyse data for the best part of a decade, but you do have some soft skills. It’s tempting to think that as your work hasn’t been focussed on people, you don’t have any interaction with people. But if you really think about it, you’ll probably find you have plenty.

The article goes through a long list of ‘soft’ skills that scientists and academics may have without even realising it, including leadership, problem solving, and self-motivation.

If you can think of your own, these ‘soft’ skills are a major source of transferable skills, and a great way to demonstrate you can deal with people.

3. Outside of academia, you could be rather special

Surrounded as we are by the brightest brains of our generation, it’s easy to get disheartened about our ability to make a contribution. But remember that what seems commonplace in a university research group could be in high demand in the ‘real world’.

4. Translate your experience

Once you are willing to accept that you might have some transferable skills beyond providing IT support, you need to start to think how to present those skills.

Become familiar with the language of the workplace or industry you are thinking of entering. A good example I’ve come across is the term ‘lab demonstrator’. To those in the know, it’s someone who helps teach undergraduate students, demonstrating both technical skill and ability to deal with people. To an outsider it could mean someone who puts on a balaclava and carries a placard outside of a research facility.

5. Head off any common misconceptions about academics

As with many stereotypes, there is more than a little truth in the idea that they are scatter brained, difficult to deal with and lacking in common sense. When considering and presenting your transferable skills, it doesn’t hurt to try to make it clear that while these stereotypes may apply to some former academics, it certainly isn’t true of you.