I recently read a post by the Thesis Whisperer that asked, “what is your edge?” In this time of economic crisis and job scarcity how can you as a doctoral candidate use your unique strengths to gain a career that suits your skills if not your research interests. This post came to me during a crisis. I was internally panicking about my future and whether or not I was being taken seriously by friends and family outside of academia. I realised that most people outside of my academic colleagues and friends do not understand what I do, what my everyday work life involves and why I am doing it. This reveals a problem with outreach. Many people assume that a PhD student will immediately get a lectureship upon finishing their studies, that this is a streamlined, easy progression. The reality is that more and more people are pursuing doctoral research, and there are less academic jobs available to us,. Therefore, we often have to investigate other options. Realising this can be scary, stressful and worrying. Trying to explain or even justify this to others is very difficult.
The Thesis Whisperer states that passion follows skill, and when I examined my own skills this became a very relevant statement. Aside from the obvious ones like writing and research, PhD students develop a variety of useful skills during their studies. Over the course of my PhD, for example, I have organised a number of events: conferences, a book launch, and art exhibition. The first time round, I was unsure. I asked lots of questions and made some mistakes. Since then I have become more efficient at organisation and I really enjoy it. I relish the opportunity to do so. I am naturally a multi-tasker and event management gives me the chance to put that side of my personality to good use.
Since beginning my PhD I have become more immersed in social media. I use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, academia.edu, and I blog. I use these outlets for publicity, debate, conversation, learning and outreach. On several occasions I have been asked to live blog and tweet at events like workshops and conferences. Through this I have developed an ability to process and disseminate vast amounts of information quickly while at the same time engaging with the public who interact with the events via social media. I suppose this is a digital and/or communication skill. It is certainly a skill that I am passionate about and one I hope to put to good use after completing my doctoral research.
So, taking these two examples from my own experience, I now realise that when people quiz me about what I do and why I bother, I have more to offer than just a bumbling explanation of form and genre in Chicana poetry. I can in fact tell them about the transferable skills that I have developed, skills that are applicable to any number of careers, and that show the diverse value of doing a PhD.