“If all goes well you could finish your PhD in as little as a year.”
I had always thought this would be received as excellent news, a light at the end of the tunnel. Let the countdown begin!
But for me it instantly induced pure panic. Cold sweats and trembling panic.
What to do next??????????
Like many graduate students, a PhD seemed so endless that my only focus in life became finishing my degree. Whenever the inevitable question “Where do you see yourself after graduation?” came up I would shrug it off with “That’s still so far away, I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out!”
Until suddenly time was running out.
Somewhere along the way I forgot that a PhD is simply meant to be a stepping stone, a way up the employment ladder. Despite what I liked to believe as a student, a PhD is not a career in and of itself.
Unfortunately in our modern society a PhD is becoming increasingly common, such that when I graduate I will simply be one of more than 4,000 PhDs graduating each year in Canada. As is the case with over 80% of Canadian PhD graduates, I no longer wish to remain in academia.
The jump into industry or non-academia is difficult in that success and potential are measured differently. Instead of publications and academic awards being the main factors, recruiters want to see concrete skills that will be useful in the job. My transferable skills revolve around research: experiment design, molecular biology techniques, academic writing, and critical thinking.
In other words, I more or less have the same skills as the other 1,000 PhD students graduating in biological sciences each year.
Thus, the panic. How to set myself apart?
Sure, I’ll be graduating with a PhD from one of the top research institutes in the world, with many awards and an impressive list of publications. And yes I have a packed extracurricular resume attesting to excellent leadership, teamwork, and time management skills. But it’s still not enough.
After a few weeks of uncertainty and brainstorming, I arrived at a solution: Get another qualification designed for industry. Recalling a few nutrition courses I had thoroughly enjoyed during my undergrad, I enrolled in an online certificate in Food Sciences at the University of Guelph (a leader in the field). While it may seem silly to get a certificate when you have a PhD, my reasoning is that the certificate will give me the basic industry skills and qualifications that will enable me to transfer my PhD skills into the food industry. Furthermore, this will expand my professional network which certainly never hurts when job hunting. And lastly, the combined degrees will give me a somewhat unique qualification and perspective.
So now I am concurrently working on a PhD and a certificate, with the hopes that when I graduate I won’t be just one of the many biological sciences PhD graduates!