What are employers looking for in PhD graduates?

Many a maths PhD graduate may have envisioned themselves landing their dreams jobs almost straight after their vivas. This is not an unreasonable dream. However, this isn’t always the case and it is increasingly more important to understand very clearly what skills graduates are able to bring into a role or industry. There is the need to reflect on the PhD journey with a view to highlighting achievements that may be of particular interest to a potential employer. It may seem obvious to any PhD graduate what skills they’ve accrued over the course of their research. However, not all employers really understand and appreciate the value of a PhD. Therefore it is so important when writing your CV that your skills are well profiled and relevant to the various roles of interest. This is a type of inverse problem where you have to first understand what an employer is looking for and then find ways of demonstrating that you are the right fit for the job.

There are two broad categories of jobs that maths/natural science PhDs often end up doing:

  1. Jobs that require a PhD qualification in the subject studied: These types of jobs are very specialist and research focused and hence do specify the need for a PhD qualification. As a result, most companies won’t hire until you’ve completed your viva. They need to be sure that you indeed have the skills they are after and this is fair. Industries in this category often hire graduates who have focused on a subject matter that’s directly relevant to that industry. Examples include machine learning, mathematical modelling, fluid dynamics, financial modelling and time series analysis, optimization, PDEs, cryptography and number theory, advanced statistical modelling, etc. These jobs tend to attract higher salary packages because they value the skill set you’re bringing into the company. Examples of companies include pharmaceutical industry (modelling and simulation), finance industry (quantitative analysts and financial modellers), data science and analytics firms (twitter, quora, facebook, etc), GCHQ, google, IBM, microsoft, Academia, etc. These jobs are likely to value relevant publications in the respective field of research.
  2. Jobs that do not directly require a PhD qualification: Most PhD graduates may be wondering-what’s the point of going for roles that do not require my PhD? Whilst these roles may not necessarily require an expertise in the subject matter of your PhD, it is the skills acquired and demonstrated in the process that are the main reasons for the hire. These include problem solving skills, ability to learn difficult and technical concepts very quickly, programming, analysis, modelling skills, independent research, written and verbal communication, etc. These roles are often open to non-PhD graduates including Masters and sometimes holders of BSc degrees. However, a PhD graduate has a greater advantage due to the fact that they’ve had more time to develop some of these key skills. Publications may not necessarily count for these types of roles. An employer in this category is interested in what yon can add to their industry and this boils down to transferrable skills.

There are also other types of roles that do not necessarily require the subject matter of a PhD but nonetheless require a PhD qualification. A good example is the insight data science fellowship program. In summary, the skills you’ve gained during your PhD are just as important as the PhD itself and these need to be reflected in your resume.

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