As we start to find more ways of naming the skills learnt during a research degree this week, the range of ‘management’ skills begins to appear (column 2 on the ANU framework you looked at yesterday). PhD graduates transitioning out of academia often go into roles that involve management—of projects, of people, of budgets, of logistics, of data. Today we unpack some of this to see what terms you can use to describe your skills in this area.
Lots of what you learn in relation to research project management translates very well into other contexts. As the Jobs.ac.uk website reminds us, management skills are likely to become an increasingly large part of your role in all sorts of jobs outside the university, in consulting, human resources, public relations, facilities management, sales and procurement. The design of projects, sequencing of tasks and decisions about timelines will fall to you. Risk management—foreseeing potential problems, heading them off and/or preparing contingency plans if they are unavoidable—will also be part of your responsibilities. So too will line management (hiring, developing, motivating and assessing performance of staff on your team), financial and resource management, and marketing at different stages of the project (for drumming up interest in the project, for recruiting staff, for disseminating outcomes).
- Project management
- Managing budgets
- Organising meetings and events
- Problem solving
- Managing data and information
- Team working—collaboration and conflict resolution
ACTIVITY: Use the Comments function at the bottom of the post to tell us about your management experience in 3 different aspects of your life.
- Something you managed/organised related to your research project.
- Something you managed/organised for an event within the university. (I’m thinking about a reading group, or volunteering for a conference committee—it doesn’t have to be formal or paid work.)
- Something you managed/organised outside the university as a paid or volunteer worker.
Remember, these experiences are all evidence of your management skills. To translate this into useful material when applying for jobs, use the STAR framework to describe the situation.
- S = Specific situation
- T = Task that needed to be accomplished
- A = Action you took to solve the situation
- R = Results or outcome that was achieved
ACTIVITY: Take one of your examples from the 3 you listed for the previous activity and STAR it—write us a few sentences that include the 4 pieces of information. This allows you to demonstrate you do actually have management skills. This is much more convincing than simply saying, ‘Of course I’m a fabulous at project management—how else could I get a PhD?!’.
Research projects are usually much less predictable than many other kinds of projects—because they are designed to create new knowledge in the field, the outcomes are uncertain. Being able to manage this uncertainty is a big challenge, but also a major strength that you bring to other projects. While uncertainty can lead to ‘scope creep’ (Kogon, Blakemore & Wood, 2015), actually completing a PhD indicates that you have put in place processes to control the project, allowing changes that improve the final outcomes but not being distracted by side tracks. Your ability to monitor and control projects by meeting your milestones is part of your success in managing project uncertainty.
Project management is also the area in which your interpersonal skills kick in. The Cheeky Scientist points out: “As you move up in the hierarchy along with managing your own projects you will also need to learn managing members of your team, manage budget of projects and ensure its timely completion. As your responsibilities grow it will become impossible to do everything on your own so two other attributes that add value to the transferable skill of project management are ability to motivate others and delegation of tasks. To achieve this you must develop a rapport with your colleagues and team members and identify their individual strengths and weaknesses.”
Jobs.ac.uk lists the interpersonal skills you are likely to use during a research degree:
- Influencing and negotiating skills (from writing funding bids, securing resources from within your department, etc)
- Creating and presenting ideas (in your teaching, or to draw in external funding)
- Mentoring and coaching (of young lecturers and PhDs/post docs)
Are there any other situations in which you’ve been able to demonstrate these kinds of interpersonal skills? Please respond through the Comment function to tell us more.
The focus of project management outside the university sector will be somewhat different from what you’ve experienced in the university. The Cheeky Scientist explains: “Unlike academia, where the main purpose of your projects was to generate publishable data, industry decisions should be made taking into account the bigger picture and business goals of the organization. Industry projects tend to be more time sensitive relative to academia and there is little room for exploratory research that deviates from the primary objectives of a project.” This applies to all researchers, not just scientists, of course.
Tomorrow we will look at Communication Skills – a big part of your work in writing and talking about your research. See you for coffee and conversation on Wednesday too!
PS Don’t forget to keep a record of your tasks today, just like you did yesterday. On Friday we’ll review that list to see where your skill strengths lie.