Recent discussions debating the value of advanced degrees show why it’s so important to at least be familiar with the kinds of marketable skills that are needed to succeed beyond an academic setting. Universities across the country are taking note, offering programs in a wide range of academic disciplines that not only infuse post-graduates with knowledge, but equip them with the “soft” skills demanded by the spectrum of global industry.
True, scientific research has always been most advanced because the value of advanced degrees is evident all the time. In labs, as experiments unfold and discoveries are made, those with the highest credentials are often behind the most critical work. But even science industry is dramatically changing, and an advanced degree is only part of what’s needed to market yourself in an increasingly flexible and competitive workforce. Especially within the largest science companies in the world, the days of the long-term strategic hire, when an organization had the luxury of molding the perfect employee over time, are gone. In order to compete for the best jobs and opportunities, scientists at all levels today must also know how to navigate a multitude of seemingly non-science issues, from company culture to social etiquette, in order to continue advancing their careers.
Acquiring and strengthening these so-called soft skills should be a high priority for any scientist in the search for their next job or promotion. The difficulty in transitioning from academia to industry demonstrates why.
Scientists with the highest credentials often present themselves to companies, thinking that their narrow focus and expertise in one area will be enough to land them a job.
From an absolutely technical perspective, this approach may be fine. Life sciences companies certainly value and seek out specialized knowledge. But the problems companies face in global business demand that their workforce be much more versatile today. This means companies are looking beyond candidates’ technical skills and academic credentials for evidence that they can understand the big picture.
So what does this new thinking really boil down to? Companies want to know if you truly understand the unique business issues behind their goals and how your abilities could contribute to reaching those goals. Scientific research in most settings, after all, is not simply an academic pursuit--it’s big business. So even if a researcher has published 53 papers in the top scientific journals, the ultimate question from an organization’s view will always be: “How are you going to apply that knowledge to help us?”
Companies are also looking for someone who has the social skills to fit into the culture of the workplace, and who knows how to communicate effectively with colleagues to accomplish the task at hand. As in most business environments, strengthening these core social skills will strengthen practically every aspect of a scientist’s career.
Also, because of the incredible pace of scientific research and advancement, employers want someone who can hit the ground running. That means knowing the current issues the company is going through, and having the ability to transfer your skills and be immediately productive in your new position.
Leaving the academic setting is not as daunting as it seems. By taking the time to hone skills that are critical in virtually every industry, you’ll see your opportunities grow exponentially in the sciences.
Alan Edwards is vice president and science leader, Americas Products Group, Kelly Service®. Kelly Services, Inc., a staffing and management solutions company, is headquartered in Troy, Michigan.