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6 Lessons from a PhD That Have Nothing to Do with Science

By April 5, 2019No Comments

When working in a research lab we tend to focus on our projects, experiments, and results, only thinking in terms of technical skills, data, and how to present that data in a talk or a paper. We often forget that what we learn throughout our PhD can be applied to a wide variety of careers and to our personal lives.  Here is a little reminder of 6 things you already know that can be applied to life away from the bench.

1. Presentation, communication, and writing skills

In science, we spend a long time honing the ability to clearly and succinctly communicate complex ideas in a simple and digestible way for a number of different audiences. These skills are useful in all careers today and the ability to successfully communicate ideas in different mediums, written or spoken, is the basis of many careers and often to successful personal relationships.


2. Confidence to try new things

Along with the ability to present ideas to an audience is the confidence to do so. Throughout a PhD, we are often using expensive reagents and equipment or attempting procedures which we have only read about in papers. This experience provides us with confidence in our abilities to pragmatically problem solve and attempt new and exciting things outside of the lab.


3. Ability to work in a team

Modern science requires collaboration between lab mates and between members of different labs, often in different countries. During these collaborations, we learn how to work with people with differing areas of expertise and cultural backgrounds or even languages towards a common goal. These skills are not limited to science as many careers require working with people with quite different positions, contributing to a unified project or mission.


4. Networking at meetings/ conferences

Conferences are a great place to meet people with similar research interests and occasionally we find ourselves attending these meeting alone or with a small group of lab mates. This is where we develop our networking skills, talking to other people in our field and related fields, fostering professional relationships. Many careers outside of science have similar meetings where these skills are essential to succeeding or finding that next contract, sale, or even job.


5. Resilience

Everyone working in science is familiar with failure. It haunts our every experiment like a specter ready to rise up and dash any hopes of getting that result, or failing to be awarded that fellowship/ scholarship that took many late nights and rounds of edits to prepare for submission. We live with it every day, survive it, and build up a tolerance over time which serves us in life and our careers. We can overcome problems and keep trying to get what we want, a valuable ability in any career.


6. Baking

Baking and scientific experiments are similar, but only after baking can you eat your result (not recommended for experiments in the lab!). Both involve following a defined protocol or recipe, most often requiring optimization, and the results of both should be shared in a lab meeting.


Are there any more things you have learned from your PhD that we didn’t cover here? Share it with us on Twitter @ubcmsl with #lablifelessons.


This is the first post of the #LabLifeLessons blog series, a series that highlights the adventures of the PhD experience and beyond. Written by Postdoctoral Fellows at the Michael Smith Laboratories, this series includes a number of posts ranging from personal experiences, interviews, and stories, reflecting on the journey and extracting the learned lessons in the process. #LabLifeLessons focuses on these challenges and aims to bring an authentic voice to the story.