I am a second year Integrated Biomedical Science (IBS) PhD student, and these are five skills that I have picked up thus far that I believe are key to successfully completing any program.
Reading Comprehension: The amount of reading I have is not proportional to the amount of time available in a day. The constant stressing over work although tedious, has been beneficial in a way. The only thing one can do when there is more work than there is time to do the work is to work smarter not harder. I have learned how to sift through large text and decipher the difference between relevant and irrelevant information which is a skill that can be applied in any line of work. Regardless of the company you choose to work for, you are going to be required to read, often times about some broad topic you have never heard of, synthesize the information and find a way to use that information for the betterment of the company.
Critical Thinking: One of the goals of any graduate program is to teach its student how to become independent thinkers. The papers that I must read, most of the time are over my head. But still, I must make sense of them. No matter what line of work you go into, you will be required to scan content that you may or may not fully understand, absorb the information, synthesize it, and draw conclusions or make references in ways that will aid in progressing the project at hand.
Trouble Shooting: One of the reason PhD programs take so long is because majority of the time, you are trying to solve the many things that go wrong with your project. The difficult part is that no one is going to tell you what to do, after all you are supposed to be growing into an independent thinker. Trouble shooting a problem requires you to go back to the literature, find out if what you are doing has been done before, understand what has been done, and see if there is information out there that you can use to advance your project. The ability to trouble shoot can be applied practically any situation. Whatever project you end up working on, things are going to go wrong, but despite the difficulties, you must get creative and come up with solutions.
Prioritizing: As highlighted above, there is never enough time for anything. For most students, there is family, class work, lab work, friends, self, and for some, significant others. The lack of time makes it very important to learn how to prioritize, especially if you want to stay on track, build the necessary skill to assure a timely graduation, while at the same time staying sane. Everything can fit into the 24-hour time frame; the key is finding out when. The ability to adequately prioritize is also very marketable. Regardless of the line of work, you are going to be overloaded with more than you can accomplish alone or at one time. Knowing what should be done when and where is critical to the success of any project.
Goal Setting: Goal setting goes hand in hand with prioritization. Sometimes it can be difficult to see where things started or where things are going. As a graduate student, overtime you can lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing, or what the end goal is. In any job, overtime, especially when things become a routine, it’s easy to forget what is happening. Without being fully aware, months would pass by and you’d have no recollection of what exactly you’ve accomplished. This makes it more important to be goal oriented. I’ve learned that it helps to set small short-term goals that you can check off as you accomplish them that eventually build up into one big goal. I’ve learned that this makes my progress measurable and tangible.