Underrated skills to get you through your degree (& particularly a PhD)

There are the obvious skills that are helpful when studying a degree, and in particular studying a PhD, such as writing ability, critical thinking, or computer competency. However there are also the less obvious, and sometimes overlooked skills which may be just as (or more) important.

  1. Being able to wing it- I am a very organised person (it is something I have prided myself on for a long time now), if you have read some of my other posts you would know that my diary is my BFF. However, recently I have started to appreciate the art of ‘winging in’. In my volunteer role I make a lot of presentations to different groups and last week I had so many different presentations that I only had a couple of hours to write two of them! Normally I practice presentations for literally weeks (which is obviously still great), but I also believe being able to get up and talk without practice is vital.
  2. Saying no- This is something I am still learning to do. It is a finding a balance between taking as many different opportunities you can, and completely overwhelming yourself. We all need to know our limit, and allow ourselves to say no.
  3. Saying yes- Confused? Whilst it is important to know when to say no (due to time constraints or ability etc.), it is just as important to say yes to things that scare us. Presentations, network events, volunteer positions are all things that may scare you but that is not a reason to not give them a go.
  4. Wholeheartedly accepting that nothing is perfect- From a young age we are taught that ‘nothing is perfect’, and whilst many people may accept that, I don’t think many PhD students do. We always want our chapter, presentation, teaching outline, article, morning coffee (not kidding about the last one!)…. to be perfect. Whilst this helps us strive to better ourselves as scientists and academics, it is important to know when to let a draft go. Spending an extra week ‘perfecting’ something, that we still wont be 110% happy with is not an efficient use of our time.
  5. Being able to start a conversation- For some people this comes naturally, for others (like myself) this is something to practice. Being able to walk into a lecture, conference, classroom (or any other room for that matter) and start up a conversation with whoever else is present is an invaluable skill.
  6. Ignoring emails- We live in a world where for many of us our emails are not only on our computer, but also on our phone. I often get emails at stupid times of the night, and then feel so anxious about not replying that I take time out of my night to put together a reply. I am starting to learn to ‘let it go’ and not think about it until the morning. We deserve a break (no matter how hard that is to remember sometimes).

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