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The Hidden Advantages of a PhD Graduate

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Dr. Shivendra Kumar with his PhD supervisor Prof. Ljubo Vlacic right after the graduation formalities. Photo courtesy of Jacek Mocki

Did you know that only 2% of the world’s population have a PhD qualification? This includes fashion designer, Miuccia Prada; Queen’s lead guitarist, Brian May; actor and scientist, Mayim Bialik; and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. All of these scholars share one thing in common – a thirst for knowledge and the determination to succeed.On paper, the route to a PhD qualification is pretty straight forward. You do your research, write journals, prepare conference submissions and have plenty of review sessions with your supervisor, all of which accumulates into a thesis.

Following the advice of my university mentor and my own desire to contribute to knowledge, I did all of the above, finishing in December 2015. During this journey, I was working full-time, raising a son and leading an international volunteer organisation.

The whole course was a test on my capabilities as an academic and as a leader, challenging my own boundaries and knowledge. Other than the subject value, and the cost optimisation, there was a lot to be learnt in the process. The PhD journey was more of a character shaping exercise than an academic program. Having gone through the experience of obtaining a PhD, my respect for those who have the qualification has massively increased. It takes a lot of dedication, time and sacrifice to successfully complete a PhD. These qualities are never lost and will follow any graduate into their chosen line of work, no matter the industry or sector. Here’s what we PhD graduates can bring to businesses and the world:

The Experience to Progress Work on Our Own Whilst studying for a PhD, scholars are often working on areas and subjects that no one really knows too much about – we have to find our own way to find answers and inch closer to our goals. Directions and guidance are often given by supervisors but they’re of little help when it’s 11pm at night and you’ve hit your wall, unable to find the answers you need to continue on. It is times like these where you can either sink or swim. Anyone with a PhD will have chosen to push on and move forward.

The Ability to Break Down Complex Problems PhD scholars work on problems that many cannot begin to imagine or understand. It is their duty to simplify and break down complex problems into solvable portions, their research spread over several years to progress. Whilst doing so, there is alway the need to explain our research to various parties, both in and outside of academia. This gives us the added ability to not only break down complex problems, but to be able to communicate complex concepts to a wide range of audiences

Challenge Conventional Wisdom A PhD will take scholars on a journey that 98% of the world decided not to take. During this journey, it is our job to critique existing knowledge and theories, often asking questions that have never been asked before. We dive deep and seek the inspiration to carry on, even when the information we need is seemingly non-existent.

Masters Of Uncertainty If you were to approach any PhD scholar and ask how they tackled their degree, they will probably tell you how Plan A, B and C completely failed. They will then go on to explain that Plan D was developed overnight in order for their work to continue and how that eventually led them to the final thesis. It is not uncommon for things to happen when they are least expected, for better or for worse! They might also relay the horrors of publishing a paper. How they had to wait 3-6 months before submitting a thesis and then wait a further 2 months to discover the outcome.
PhD graduates are true champions of uncertainty and will have developed the skills needed to overcome it.

Filling in The Gaps Traditionally, we are taught to make decisions based on available data. A PhD scholar, on the other hand, will question data and explore or create data that doesn’t exist in order to make better – more complete decisions. Some refer to this as peripheral vision, others simply call it experience. Either way, most, if not all, PhD graduates are able to identify and resolve problems effectively, even if the data they need is not present. There is a big difference between research and analytics and a PhD graduate in your team will demonstrate the difference in no time.

Time Management Work, studying, having a life whilst also meeting the obligations of research – a PhD Degree may seem simple on paper but balancing life and academics requires a degree of dedication and an effective approach to time management. In my case, I juggled my degree with my work, family and community responsibilities. Prioritisation and sacrifice are second nature to a PhD scholar and no PhD is ever completed without the demonstration of perfect time management.

Limits and Humility A PhD is no easy feat. Throughout the process, a scholar is forced to push and redefine their own boundaries. We can go from taking praise and continuing to work to handling set-backs with optimism; from not caring about time or day to meeting strict deadlines and timelines imposed by supervisors, surviving on no sleep and unhealthy amounts of caffeine. We have learnt our limits and we understand humility.

There is an immeasurable amount of benefits that come with integrating PhD graduates into your team, benefits that every PhD graduate should be proud of. It’s an accomplishment that defines who we are as there is only a certain type of tenacity and discipline that can get a person into the top 2% of the world’s population. The reality is that many of us are the brain behind some of the world’s top businesses, organisations and governments. So, the next time you need to tackle a complex challenge or are trying to find that edge to beat your competition, think of the possibilities and advantages you might gain from having a PhD graduate in your team.

Written by
Shivendra Kumar
Shivendra Kumar is a highly regarded leader, known for delivering organizational transformation through innovation and process improvement. With a unique approach and inspirational leadership style that creates a culture of change in businesses, he develops organisational capability needed for both short and long term results. His blogs cover topics related to business improvement, metrics and innovation.