Columns Opinion

When just doing a PhD is not enough

Swetha Suresh

I graduated in Jan this year with 3 first author publications, a 4th one in tow from one of the top universities in the world. I thought — that makes for a good CV and getting a job (I liked) should be fairly straight-forward. I was looking into non-traditional science careers – science management, science communication, consultancy etc. In the beginning, I sent my academically top heavy CV around. Most of the times, I was rejected on the grounds that I was either overqualified or did not have enough experience. This prompted me to do a re-think of what I was selling’ to a potential employer.

My academic background reflects that I can think of interesting problems to solve, find solutions, foster collaborations and possess decent experimental skills. Was this enough? If not, what else could I bring to the table?

Turns out, a lot of skills acquired through extracurricular activities are relevant in a professional environment. They say instances of the past are a better predictor of future success than mere speculation. So I decided to map my skills with a list of possible attributes that might be required in a particular role.

Here’s what I found –

Being the chief organizer for a symposium demonstrates the ability to plan events and work with people. Published writing in print or web media shows you can express yourself in a coherent manner. Volunteering shows you take the initiative, are responsible, look for opportunities and would add value to any organization. Being elected to a position/​leadership is an indication of peer acceptance, PR skills and accountability. Fundraising, having a summer job, doing market research are indicative of business acumen. Once I customized my CV in this fashion, I started getting interview calls. Perhaps, I landed in my current job because of this strategy. Only my interviewers would be able to tell you the real answer though ;)! 

Having said this, I also think it’s best to steer clear of padding CVs with a lot of activities in which one has had a passing interest. By doing so, one runs into the risk of appearing unfocused and undedicated.

So how does one start? In my case, I didn’t really think all this through. I didn’t know what I wanted to do then anyway. I have always been keen to try new things whenever presented with an opportunity. Being a student was great for this as work timings were flexible and I could always fit other activites’ in my schedule. Things which really interested me, I stuck with them. I made sure I delivered a quantifiable result each time. This demonstrable acquired skill-set has played a huge role in honing my abilities and still is in my present job. 

So if you are thinking of taking up a new activity – go ahead and do it! You never know when it’ll come in handy!!


PS: If you do think of trying your hand at science news writing, feel free to get in touch with me at swethas[at]ncbs dot res dot in. I can send you guidelines, tips and edit your article too