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Friday
Jul012011

PimPhD my CV

I was looking this week at 'The PhD game' hosted on Ian 'Mackem Beefy's 'Layman's Guide to a PhD'. 

The final gag – 'Congratulations. Your PhD is awarded. Now join the dole queue!!!' – will ring true to a lot of post-docs, and no doubt haunts the sleepless nights of many pre-docs too. In a crowded job market, where secure posts for young lecturers are becoming increasingly scarce, it is tempting to think that every day spent on PhD work is a day spent burrowing deeper into specialism and irrelevancy and further from the practical experience that gets everyone else the jobs they want.

This fear begins in the structure of PhD study itself. In the UK in particular, doctoral study and its assessment puts exclusive emphasis the product and not the process. Only the product – the thesis – is formally assessed, and therefore given value. Without any intermediate assessments along the way it is all a means to a very specific end.*

And that is: a line on your CV. A good line, yes, a rare line, a line that leapfrogs all previous achievements and goes right to the top of the list (perhaps even sending offshoots into your name itself), but still just one line.

This is a depressing thought. And it gets worse if you are looking for work outside the academy, where a PhD may be seen as the five-year indulgence of an unfocused, unpractical mind. But, luckily, it's also not the full story.

In fact, break it down and a PhD means a lot of good things. For a start, simply word-processing 80,000 words means above-average IT proficiency and excellent literary skills. But it also means a capacity to collect, organise and analyse large volumes of data. It means the capacity for critical thought and complex problem-solving. It means an ability to network (and an ability to get things that you want out of people -- like interviews, documents, access to archives or even funding). It means self-sufficiency, innovation and imagination. It means the dedication to see a task through to its completion, even if that takes years. It means an ability to respond well to even the fiercest criticism. 

What employer wouldn’t want someone with all of that?

So if, at the end of your doctoral study, you decide that academia isn't for you, you needn't despair. Turn the telescope the other way and take another look at your PhD. See the skills you have now that you didn't have five or six years ago. It should be a pretty respectable list: put that on your CV and see that your PhD is worth a lot more than just that one line (and some letters after your name).

*The corollary to this would be that doctoral programmes that have more teaching and assessment en route – such as in the US, for example – should lead to less eggs-in-one-basket anxiety at the end. Perhaps an American reader can tell me whether that's true or not?

(Image adapted from Kalona Public Library's 'Pimp my bookcart' programme.)

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