Looking Back On A Season of Papa PhD – Conversations, Reflections, and Common Themes

Episode transcript:

Hi there!

We’re reaching the end of season one of Papa PhD and today, I just wanted to thank all the listeners out there who’ve been following the show around the world. It’s been quite humbling to see the show grow as it did in this first year, so again, one of the things that I wanted to do today is to thank you, you who are out there thinking about your PhD, about your master’s degree and thinking about what your career can look like in the future. I really hope that the conversations that I’ve been sharing on the show have inspired you in your journey.

In this first season I’ve had the chance of talking with so many interesting guests and learning with them, and hopefully of sharing enough of their wisdom with you to help you in your life and career exploration.

I feel extremely grateful for having had guests that spanned so many different academic domains: from the life sciences to engineering, to psychology, to literature. The reach of these conversations has by far surpassed what I had imagined was possible when I set out to launch the podcast, so I also want to send out my heartfelt thanks to all the guests who have been on Papa PhD on this first season.

Looking back on all these conversations and thinking of you, the listener who is thinking about your future , about what path to take, about what decisions to make, I feel that one of the common threads having come out of all these conversations, and that is maybe the most important, was allowing yourself to experiment during your graduate degree. Not only within your research, but importantly outside of it. This can take the form of getting involved in student societies, volunteering in outreach projects, being part of communities around sports or creativity, but also of internships in industry or of taking breaks where you try something completely different before embarking on a new chapter of your academic life.

Another common thread that I feel is very important has to do with how you perceive yourself as an academic, as a researcher, as a candidate for a job. Coming out of graduate school you may not be aware of a few important skills you have developed, but that are not technical, that don’t have to do directly with your subject matter. One of the very important skills that you develop by writing a master’s or PhD thesis is your capacity to analyze, digest, and make sense of large sets of complex data. Hand in hand with this is your capacity for problem solving. And these are skills that are highly prized by employers.

Another area where you organically developed skills during your degree is project management. A lot of positions out there in the job market require the capacity to take on large projects, complex projects, and be able to plan, set milestones, define goals, and then work towards reaching those goals. This is another of the aspects that have again and again being mentioned by guests on the show.

If you listen back to the different episodes, to the different interviews, you will find more of these skills, to do with the specific domain each guest works in currently. So, go and explore the Season 1 interviews, listen to the guests who are working in a domain that interests you. You’ll see, you’ll find advice you can use to start building a plan for yourself.

Now, a lot was told during season one about transferable skills, but a lot also was told about the blind spots, the things you don’t naturally come out of graduate school knowing and being prepared for. One of the main ones has to do with preparing your CV and preparing to interview in a non-academic setting.

If you listen back to the interviews were spoke about jobhunting and interviewing outside of academia the main advice that came up again and again was to tailor your CV to each potential employer and, specifically, to give emphasis to the soft skills you have accrued while performing your research and keeping to a minimum – one guest said to a single line – anything to do with your publications, presentations, or academic awards. You need to take a point first approach, where the person reading your CV will know right away that you are a good candidate for the position.

The second aspect has to do with interviewing. You may have done a bunch of oral presentations, poster presentations, even elevator pitches to do with your research, and the performance skills you developed will definitely serve you in an interview setting.  The difference is that when interviewing for a position in industry, for example, rather than listing your skills, the techniques you master, the tools you can use, the actual goal of the exercise is for the interviewer to assess whether you are a good match for the position and for the team. So, there will be a component of body language, showing knowledge of the organization’s mission and structure, and having a good story to tell about how you came to be sitting in front of them for this interview. This is something you don’t learn in graduate school, but it’s something you can prepare for.

One of the points my guests stressed as being key in your career exploration and in preparing for interviews is doing your homework about the organization offering the position and, ideally, reaching out to people in similar positions and asking them for informational interviews, around coffee or, these days, on videoconference. Asking someone who has followed the same path you want to embark on pointed questions about the reality of the job, about remuneration, about company culture is the best way to get to know what the interviewers might be looking for in a candidate. In parallel with this, especially if it’s your first time interviewing, the other technique that was mentioned and recommended was rehearsing. In front of a mirror, with a friend, preparing to deliver your story in the best way possible and to make a clear point of why you’re the right candidate for the position. If you know the type of questions commonly asked, even better! Prepare and rehearse your answers for them, too. This way, on the day of the interview, you’ll be able to focus on the human interaction rather than on the content and show yourself in the best light possible.

In this first season, we also talked a lot about life balance and mental health. Stress is part of our modern life, and life as a researcher has a few particular flavors of stress, but my guests were clear about three components that can help you strike a balance and have a healthy journey: physical exercise – move, take on a team sport, stay fit; having a community outside the lab – team sports do this, too, but you can get into a club, start a student group; and finally, including me time in your weekly schedule. This said, it is possible that other factors you have no control of are affecting your inner balance. If this is the case, find professional help and take the necessary steps to heal. This may or may not lead to you resuming your research, and it’s fine. What is important above all is that you stay healthy.

With this note on mental health and on finding a healthy balance during your graduate studies, I’m going to wish you a great week, a lot of success in your life and career exploration, and thank you again for being a listener of the show.

But before I go, I want to officially announce that next week will be the Season Finale special. To make sure you don’t run out of podcasts to listen this summer, I’ve teamed up with the What Are You Going To Do With That podcast and we’ve done a twin episode – next Thursday, the last interview of both our seasons is going to air at the same time. I will be on their show and Danni Reches, their host, will be on Papa PhD. So be sure to tune in and witness this academic podcast collab! I’ll be expecting you!!!

And if you want to help the podcast, there are two simple things you can do: number one share an episode that you really like with a friend or with a colleague. That’s a great way to help and to spread the word. Number two, if you are on an app that allows rating or commenting, do that – leave a star rating and leave a comment. That will help people out there find the podcast and join the adventure. And it also gives me a chance to open a dialogue with all of you, which I’d really enjoy. So thank you again, happy listening, and see you next week!

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Happy podcasting!

You might also like the following episodes:

Tools for your PhD Journey – My Path: PapaPhD.com/36

Papa PhD Pearls of Wisdom – 2019 Season: PapaPhD.com/26

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