When you think about what you might learn by completing a PhD, it’s natural that you might focus on the most obvious outcome: expertise in the research topic. Sure, it is true that by the end of your PhD you will know a lot about your chosen topic but what you might not realise is that, along the way, you will also learn other important skills that are completely unrelated to the research topic. Here are the top 3 things that I learnt:
1. Dealing with uncertainty
By the very nature of a research PhD, you aren’t sure what the outcome of your research is going to be when you start. The reason why you are doing the research in the first place is to answer an as yet unanswered question! Importantly however, you will realise that while sometimes your studies work out and sometimes they don’t, your PhD rolls on regardless of the outcome. So you learn to deal with the uncertainty and push on. This is a great skill to have when you are starting a new job or a new project. During such times you will inevitably feel unsure or uncertain but knowing that, with hard work and perseverance, the moment will pass is reassuring.
2. Dealing with the imposter syndrome
I originally titled this sub-heading ‘Overcoming the imposter syndrome’ but that would not be true. By the end of my PhD I had not overcome the imposter syndrome but I did get to a place where it would not stop me from doing what needed to be done. What I learnt was that EVERYONE suffers from imposter syndrome, from students through to professors. Those that succeed in their careers have simply learnt how to ‘handle it’. Some tips that have helped me to ‘handle it’ are:
3. Time and project management skills
For 99% of people, completing a PhD will be the longest, hardest and most complex project that they have undertaken in their career to date. So don’t underestimate the skills that you gain in terms of time and project management. You might have to learn some of those lessons the hard-way but by the end of your PhD you will have a greater understanding of what it takes to manage your time and what project management systems (software, lists, charts etc) work for you.
In the end, like an increasing number of PhD graduates, I now have a job outside of academia unrelated to my PhD topic. Not once have I felt that those years were wasted. I use the skills that I learnt and draw almost daily from the countless amazing people that I met throughout my PhD. And mostly I am grateful for the opportunities that completing a PhD afforded me, beyond my topic expertise. And if you ever need to talk to an expert in community engagement with stormwater imagery – you know where to find me ;-)
- By Tracy Schultz
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.