• Giota

The academic career after a PhD in STEM: soft skills - part 2

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

The answers to the last question in the first part of "The academic career after a PhD in STEM: soft skills", why one would want to become an academic might vary depending on the individual's character. We all understand that you meet mainly introvert's who prefer to work in isolation from others or people who feel they want to contribute to a larger community, which I experienced in academia. The truth is that one finds various behaviours within academia, similarly to society, but the academic culture is different from that in the industry.

Although you might tend to sympathise over the earlier described extremes of an academic's personality, you have to keep in mind that an academic's role depending on the managerial stage achieved, needs flexibility and adaptation from the individual. Since this article focuses on education or research after a PhD in STEM, we assume that one might be involved mainly in managing taught modules or supervising undergraduate, postgraduate or doctorate students. So, what soft skills do you need to develop to become an early career academic in research or education?

Today's academics' roles are diverse.

A post-doctorate researcher might need to supervise PhD students of his or her research team. So, the post-doc must be aware of his or her University's academic research structures or the equality and diversity regulations of the institution and how to guide a younger researcher. Also, a post-doc must be capable of writing and communicating research while preparing research proposals for funding, even creating or contributing to building a network for future research proposals funding.

Similarly, new academic staff at entry ranks will need to:

  • manage taught modules at undergraduate or postgraduate programmes,

  • prepare exams,

  • learn current trends of educational practice while supervising research students,

  • prepare research proposals,

  • expand their network for research collaboration beyond their institute academia.

Consequently, regardless one is an introvert or more sociable, he or she needs to develop soft skills such as communicating:

  • research and teaching to different academic background stages (from undergraduate to postgraduate and doctorates),

  • academic and research strategies to various managerial level academic and administrative staff,

  • research to other institutes and the industries,

  • devised drafts and ideas to potential academic, industrial and government collaborators.

Additionally, as a post-doctoral or early academic staff, you might find that you could establish a spin-off at your institution, therefore need to develop entrepreneurial skills. In all the above cases, one will need to develop assertiveness, negotiations' and ultimately build towards leadership skills.

Whatever scenario you see yourself fit in or visualise your next steps, your personality and character will make the difference in developing those skills, the strategy and execution of a plan, which will become your personalised scheme.

Formulating an individual's mentoring scheme is essential primarily for the satisfaction and fulfilment of the short and medium professional goals based on one's career priorities and life.

A highly individualised mentoring scheme during your doctorate programme in STEM or even before choosing one in STEM will significantly help you if you consider an academic, research or education career. I am a chemical engineer with a PhD in novel hydrogen production, have worked for 15 years in academia, and was the programme leader of one of the UK's top 5 chemical engineering programmes. If you would like to find out more about building and fulfilling your e-mentoring programme for a PhD in STEM, you could contact me on LinkedIn to book a one-to-one conversation on Zoom.

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