PhD Transferable Skills

Translating Your Skills and Experiences

Transferable skills are skills you acquire or learn in one setting that can be applied or translated to new and different settings, environments, and activities. Doctoral students often fall into the trap of seeing their skills as applicable in only one setting, thus do not recognize that they are qualified for a wide variety of career paths. Don’t let this happen to you! In the table below you will find a list of skills most sought after by employers. In the final column of the table are examples of activities that demonstrate these essential skills. For several of the skills you can also take online assessments to identify which areas you still need to develop.

ESSENTIAL SKILLS: Adaptability, Analytic skills, Balance & resilience, Communication skills( oral and written), Conflict resolution/negotiation, Cultural/Intercultural, Discipline-specific skills, Ethics & Integrity, Follow-through/Ability to get things done, Fundraising, Independent (self-starter), Intelligence, Inter-/Multi- disciplinary, Interpersonal skills, Leadership (program), Leadership (personnel/management), Networking & collaboration, Organization, Outreach, Project management, Research, Self-direction/Entrepreneurial skills, Supervision, Technical skills (information technology), Work ethic

Essential Skills and Competencies for Graduate Students1:


Definition of skill


What you can do in graduate school to develop this skill


Ability to learn and adapt at a high level, self-confident, think quickly on your feet, and respond appropriately to large amounts of information.


Engage in multiple projects

Analytic skills

Ability to synthesize and understand complex content, problem solve, consider the big picture while managing details, apply advanced research methods, make decisions consistently about abstract information, and exercise good judgement.  




Balance & Resilience

Ability to balance multiple tasks simultaneously, integrate the products of your work with those of others to meet the multiple missions of your organization, and maintain a satisfying personal life

Engage in structured interests and hobbies outside of graduate school


Ability to coherently organize material for others, facilitate discussions, speak up effectively, and share your voice.




Communication (Oral)

Ability to speak effectively in any forum relevant to the job title at different levels, convey complex information to diverse audiences, and present in front of large or small groups.

Presentations to general (not discipline-specific) audiences, e.g. International Speakers Program for international students

Communication (Written)

Ability to write effectively in any forum relevant to the job title at different levels, edit, and proofread.

Proposal-writing (especially if proposal is accepted

Grant-writing (especially if grant is awarded)



Conflict resolution, negotiation

Ability to negotiate and resolve conflict with diverse stakeholders to advance the mission of an organization



Cultural, international experience

Training that promotes understanding among cultures and countries


Study, work, and/or research abroad


Specific knowledge acquired through coursework and research in discipline





Ethics & Integrity

The possession of appropriate personal
and professional values and the ability to make sound judgments based
upon these in work-related situations

Attend the Responsible and Ethical Conduct of Research workshop series

Follow through/ Ability to complete tasks/ Get things done

Ability to manage and complete multiple projects in a timely and efficient manner. Possess tenacity, stamina, and focus necessary for degree completion. Take initiative.


Publish papers

Degree completion

Plan events


Fundraising, monetary

Experience raising money or managing budgets to support a research goal or a mission of an organization


Involvement in MSU student group fundraising and budgeting activities

Independent, self-starter

Attribute of a person who is motivated to accomplish new endeavors on his or her own




Capable of learning and retaining information quickly, asking intellectual questions, and evidencing intellectual maturity.




Inter-, multi-disciplinary

Training that crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought




Ability to engage in cooperative learning and produce products with a team of people


Work on a team project

Coauthor a research paper

Leadership (Personnel/ management)

Process of managing personnel or cooperators in an organization


Incorporate undergraduate interns into research program

Leadership (Program)

The process of leading and developing projects that fall within a mission of an organization

Incorporate undergraduate interns into research program

Networking & Collaboration

Ability to identify and bring together many individuals on the basis of common ideas or goals; develop partnerships

Develop partnerships with organizations outside of university to answer research


Ability to manage a project, organize, plan, and manage research/work, maintain records, navigate complex environments, organize and plan events, prepare programs, panels, or presentations, and recruit others to participate.




Ability to connect ideas or practices to the efforts of other organizations, groups, specific audiences or the general public


Develop partnerships with organizations outside of university to answer research questions of interest to the organization

Presentations to general (not discipline-specific) audiences, e.g. International Speakers Program for international students

Project Management

Process of managing projects that fall within a mission of an organization


Organize a conference


Incorporate undergraduate interns into research program

Manage volunteers during graduate research

Organize an event outside of department or university


The ability to define a problem, identify relevant resources, define parameters, synthesize and cite the work of others, prioritize and assign tasks, and effectively collaborate with other researchers and staff

Thesis, dissertation, or creative event

Self-direction/ Entrepreneurial skills

Ability to work independently with minimal supervision, thrive in a competitive environment, perform effectively under pressure, self-motivate, and manage large, self-directed projects.




Ability to objectively evaluate the performance of others and/or monitor and oversee the work of others.




Technical, information technology

Competency in using basic and specific software and technical tools


Engage in work or research using technology (beyond coursework)

Work Ethic

Ability to evidence self-discipline, track records of achievement, meet high expectations, care about work performance, and work hard.




1 Contents of table are adapted from Blickley, et al. (2012). “Graduate Student’s Guide to Necessary Skills for Nonacademic Conservation Careers.” Conservation Biology, 27:1.
2 Winterton, Delamare - Le Deist, and Stringfellow (2006). “Typology of knowledge, skills and competences: clarification of the concept and prototype.”

Additional resources on transferable skills: