“PhD students are data processing champions”
When you have had your nose deeply buried in an extremely narrow academic field for several years, it can be difficult to come up to the surface and to recognise the broad skills you have gained from your research. It is certainly a challenge for many PhD students according to Jakob Brinkø Berg, who was chairman of the PhD Association at DTU in 2017 and, today, is a board member.
FROM ASTROPHYSICS TO PATENTS
When focusing on deep specialist knowledge, PhD students may not always be aware of the other skills they are acquiring.
“You may be one of the five people in the country who know most about strategic collaboration in the building industry. But this may not necessarily get you a job. So, you need to take a look around and consider what you can do after this PhD that the job market wants – so that you don’t lock yourself away in your narrow field because you think you can only get a job in one specific place, in one specific niche,” says Jakob Brinkø Berg, who is also a member of the board of the national PhD Association.
He has a story about a student with a PhD in astrophysics. This certainly sounds like a narrow field but it turns out that it wasn't too narrow after all.
“She now works with patents. Studying how stars form thousands of light years away and processing data from telescopes and investigating whether a patent can be granted are not as different as you’d think. Both are about the processing of data, being able to acquire complex knowledge and possessing technical understanding,” says Jakob Brinkø Berg.
EXPERTS AT JUGGLING FIGURES
This narrow, specialised subject knowledge, which is a necessity for a PhD student, may obscure the broader skills you acquire as part of your studies. But, as Jakob Brinkø Berg says, PhD students have a wide range of skills which can be used in a wealth of contexts.
“Anyone who conducts research in a technical or scientific field is a data processing champion. They’re experts at coding and systematic searches, and there’s not a set of figures they can’t juggle. There are loads of companies who need this, but PhD students aren’t always aware of it.”
Another hurdle for PhD students is that companies are not always sure about what they are actually able to do.
“They aren't the type of employee companies meet every day, and it’s primarily the largest companies that know what a PhD can offer. If they aren’t used to employing them, they may find it difficult to understand what they can do. But you get an employee with a highly analytical background, who thinks systematically at a high level, and who acquires new knowledge at an extremely fast pace – this is what you learn from a research-based education.”
GREAT BENEFIT FOR SOCIETY
Around 400 PhD students graduate from DTU each year, and they all need to break a kind of sound barrier to join the job market. At the same time, they have an obligation to communicate and use what they have learned – both for their own sake and for society’s.
“A study last year showed that PhDs are of great benefit to society, and most of them by far end up outside the universities in jobs in the private and public sectors. There’s a need for them out there, so they must be able to put into words what they’re good at. They need to be able to give a rough idea of their field and articulate precisely what they’re able to contribute.”
You can meet Jakob Brinkø Berg at PhD Day on 5 March.