In this second of a three piece guide to employability, Ioanna discusses the importance of knowing what your individual strengths and weaknesses are and how to go about discovering these and building upon them.
In my previous blog-post entitled Guide to Employability: Step 1. Be Original Know Thyself I claimed that it is paramount for doctoral researchers to turn their intellectual inquisitiveness inwards and ascertain their needs, wishes, and aspirations. Throughout my PhD years and beyond, I have kept focusing on the following salient point: what is it about a PhD process that makes one avert their attention from themselves so profusely? Seriously, what is it? Am I the only one who asks this formidable question? Have you noticed that, while undergraduates are grossly encouraged to engage in a plethora of extra-curricular activities, get actively involved in teams, pursue internships, and sentiently reflect on their experiences, PhDs are only geared towards their research project, as if it’s a one way street with no way out?!
Have you noticed that the most prestigious and sought after employers come to campus to meet bright, educated, and articulate individuals, yet, PhDs very rarely return the favour? And to state the acrimonious obvious, have you noticed how undergraduates are more successful in their entry level career pursuits compared to PhDs? If you think that’s because there are inherently better prospects and more career opportunities for undergraduates, this is simply an indolent and easy-way-out excuse! Undergraduates have more options simply because they actively pursue opportunities to explore and develop themselves! But where do I start?! I’d say start from the basics!
To speak your language, in your research project the theory is secondary, it’s the evidence that renders it worthwhile! The only way to explore your options is to understand your strengths and talents, alongside your studies. This will be achieved by means of active exploration (= research) of your potential, involvement (= data collection) in various activities and opportunities, and reflection (= critical analysis) of yourself following such pursuits. Is the process reminiscent of something familiar? Let’s start from the basics then!
Explore, Participate, Reflect! Isn’t this what you do as a professional researcher? So research yourself. Go ahead, get involved in various activities and explore yourself, what drives you, what energises, what motivates you, what makes you get out of bed in the morning! Ultimately, where your strengths and talents lie! If you think that reading and writing are the sole and sacred duties during your PhD experience, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment! Ultimately, even as an academic in the making, you should consider training yourself in active networking, public engagement, consultancy, and effective collaborations with non-academic stakeholders (think impact and outreach here!).
Your university likely has a plethora of options for you to get involved with various activities, develop abilities and, not only render yourself employable in the process, but mainly uncover your strengths while building new skills and enhancing existing ones.
Guide to Employability: Step 2: Identify your Strengths and Talents In a frantic recession-shaped era, where we are bombarded with the paradox of endless options and the ostensible lack of them, more is better than less. You might think you don’t need to develop further skills; your research and data analysis is time-consuming enough. It’s also very confining! Looking for potential academic or non-academic paths is not the right avenue to start your journey from! There is a myriad of post-PhD options at your disposal, I assure you! But just like in every worthwhile pursuit, it’s the journey that makes the destination. The latter will remain unexplored until you get there, but the route, the richer in experiences, the wealthier it can render you, if not in funds, definitely in potential!
See also Step 1. Be original – know thyself and Step 3. The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making.
This post was originally published January 14, 2013.
Ioanna Iordanou is a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor at the University of Warwick. She also works as a Postdoctoral Researcher for WBS. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna’s Employ-Ability Blog).
Image: rope-knot-string-strength-cordage-3052477 / stephennorris / CC0 1.0