What do you have to offer?

Thinking about what you have got to offer is helpful for both career decision making and marketing yourself successfully in job applications.

In reaching your decision to work towards a research degree you will already have given a lot of thought to your strengths and skills. Make the most of your time as a research student to develop this self-reflection further. 

Skills developed through postgraduate study

You will be developing and demonstrating many skills and attributes through your postgraduate research. Some questions to get you thinking about this are: 

  • What skills do you use to manage an independent research project? These will include innovation and creativity, organisation and planning, analytical and problem solving, verbal and written communication, and more. 

  • What specific technical skills do you use to collect and analyse your research data? 

  • What problems have you overcome and what challenges have you faced? These will provide you with evidence that you have skills such as problem solving, persistence, and overcoming obstacles to achieve goals. 

  • What other activities have you been involved in beyond your research, e.g. teaching or demonstrating, organising seminar series, committee membership, and what have you gained from that experience? 

Specialist knowledge, ability to research, solve problems and to a lesser extent innovate are important attributes of this type of postgraduate qualification 

Senior Business Leader 
Utilities from Talent Fishing, CIHE (2010) 

The researcher development framework (RDF) developed by Vitae, the UK-wide organisation supporting the career and professional development of researchers, will help you to identify the skills and personal attributes that you have been developing through your doctoral research. 

Researcher Development Framework  

Skills developed through other activities 

Think about what else you have been doing in addition to your research degree as you will have developed skills through a wide range of experiences. Employers outside higher education, in particular, will be interested in any experience or involvement you have in: 

  • Work experience; full-time, part-time, voluntary, internships 

  • Participation in sport, music, or other activities, as an individual, team member or coach 

  • Committee membership - through your PhD or Masters responsibilities or social activities, e.g. member of the postgraduate studies committee, the library committee, the Ballroom Dancing Society 

In the same way as you did for postgraduate study, you should think about the skills and attributes you have demonstrated through these other activities. Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Using listening skills, negotiating, presentation and diplomacy on the postgraduate studies committee 

  • Working under pressure, managing your time and communicating with all types of people in your part-time job as a waiter 

  • Demonstrating clear communication, patience and problem-solving skills as a volunteer athletics coach 

What do employers expect from research students? 

Employers across sectors value graduates’ excellent research and analytical skills, particularly their capacity for critical thinking and ability to solve problems by bringing fresh perspective and a systematic approach. Personal qualities of confidence, dedication, resilience and motivation were all recognised, and valued by employers of doctoral graduates.…employers also suggested that it would be advantageous for doctoral students to invest in developing interpersonal skills and skills for leading or working effectively in teams. 

Impact of Doctoral Careers
CFE Research 2014 

Surveys of graduate employers have shown that many recruiters have little experience of recruiting PhD graduates and as a result may not understand the skills and attributes developed through a research degree. You therefore need to sell your skills effectively and demonstrate your suitability for the role for which you are applying. 

A survey conducted by Vitae, found employers ranked doctoral graduate skills in the following order: 

  1. Data analysis 

  2. Problem solving 

  3. Drive and motivation 

  4. Project managing 

  5. Interpersonal skills 

  6. Leadership

  7. Commercial awareness 

See the full report from Vitae: 

Recruiting researchers: survey of employer practice 2009, Vitae 

Read more about employer perceptions of postgraduate students and researchers to help inform your self-marketing:

Talent Fishing, CIHE 2010 (1.06 MB / PDF)

Use the Strengths Assessment to reflect on your skills and identify any areas you would like to further develop (University of Edinburgh login required): 

Strengths Assessment