Soft skills for PhDs - part 2

Pranav S. Kulkarni
22 Jul ’21

In Soft skills for PhDs - part 1 I shared five important soft skills that you train during your PhD trajectory: critical thinking, time management, brainstorming, ethical decision making and negotiation & teamwork. Today I would like to add five other soft skills that are worthwhile to actively develop during your PhD and to be aware of:

6. Flexibility of thoughts

Any rigidity in your thoughts can only hamper you in recognizing novel ideas and findings in your work. You should be ready to discard preconceived notions and hypotheses when your results disagree with them. This flexibility can help you appreciate new discoveries or help you create something brand new that even you did not plan on.

For example, I realized that some of the noise in the results that I found in one of my studies was actually an indication of an opposite outcome to my hypothesis. This seemed daunting as well as bewildering, but I managed to get on board with the findings. I think that made me a little bit better as a PhD candidate.

7. Public discourse

Developing skills which allow you to present or speak about your work in a public setting can be very beneficial for a PhD student. Not everyone is a born-talent in public oration, but you can be sufficiently skilled at it to get your point across clearly and thoroughly. This should also scale across scientific and layman audiences. Most of the well-known science figures are excellent orators and public educators.

Personally, I am still trying to get as much experience as possible in presenting to a variety of audiences to learn how to be efficient in public discourse. It helps me in conferences, in seminars as well as it helps me to talk to strangers interested in my work.

8. Perseverance and patience

One of the most under-appreciated soft skill, perseverance is also very vital for PhD students. More often than not, you face judgement and criticism on your ideas, work and outcomes. But, you have to be persistent and thrive in this critical environment. All the negative backlashes will only make you a better researcher. Keeping focused on the goal when you are easily disheartened is very difficult. Therefore, the earlier you develop a proverbial ‘thick skin’ and keep working on patiently, the better it is, for your future.

I used to be very upset in the early days of my PhD when I received very harsh and long comments and criticisms on my manuscript drafts. But, I kept at it and got the paper published. It was all worthwhile in the end.

9. Empathy and awareness

I find that it is very easy for researchers in their attitude, to be indifferent in the guise of being ‘scientifically objective’. However, to be an ethically responsible researcher, a PhD student needs to be aware of sensitivities of the people around them as well as be empathetic to their situation. Being an international PhD student also incentivizes you to be empathetic of intercultural sensitivities. This is not just a simple skill, but rather a keen observation and understanding of humans that you interact with.

I think an empathetic researcher is also more trustworthy and socially reliable. I try to shape my thoughts and ideas in this direction as much as possible for me.

10. Nuanced argumentation

Last but not least, I think that being nuanced in your arguments is a sign of a good academic student. Most worldly ideas and concepts are not stark black and white. They have subtle nuances that need to be considered. As humans, we often fall prey to the bane of classifying everything into rigid boxes. In today’s world everything is prone to be reduced to labels. Being a PhD student, your arguments and thoughts should transcend that habit.

To this list other skills could be added, such as resource management, critical reading and writing and communication. I have tried to address the soft skills that I think are very relevant to the trajectory of a PhD student that are also transferable to future jobs in any domain.

To know how to acquire these skills and develop yourself check out the blog How to develop soft skills during your PhD studies, by Eva Lantsoght.

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