(S)killing me Softly

What are your skills?

Seriously. Think about it. You’ve spent 4, 5, 6…7? years in a graduate program in the Humanities. What are your skills?

We’ve taken the classes, passed the exams, written the dissertation proposal, and performed fieldwork or archival research. We’ve given talks at national or international conferences and published in well-respected academic journals. We’ve won awards, grants, and fellowships out the wazoo. We did all of this while teaching hundreds of undergraduate students.

In short: we are very impressive and accomplished people.
(Seriously, we are. Just accept it.)

So what are our skills? If you asked me this question two weeks ago, I would have said: I have no skills.

This is bonkers, but I’m not alone.

On Monday, July 25th, Karen Kelsky of The Professor is In joined the HWW 2.0 cohort to talk about translating the experience on our CV into a legible résumé for non-academic positions. I was so grateful to have this practical element of the HWW workshop because, as much as I love talking about my career values and personal story (and believe me, I do!) one of the reasons I applied for HWW was because I have no idea what my skills are or how put them into non-academic jargon. To paraphrase my colleague, Justin Zullo how do I really talk to real people, for real?

It boils down to one simple and anxiety-inducing word: skills. What are the skills you gain as a PhD Candidate? Why do we think the answer is “uhhh…I dunno”? Dr. Kelsky suggests we feel this way because academics surround academics. We usually find ourselves amongst those who possess the exact same skill sets as we do. Are you bilingual? Your colleague is a polyglot. Did you spend your summer at the Newberry in Chicago? Your classmate won a Fulbright and spent the last three months in a German archive. Did your student evaluations land you on the university’s list of excellent instructors? All of your colleagues are there too. Therefore, we have no skills.

Like I said: bonkers.

So, I would like to take some time to begin developing a list of some of the most basic skills that we gain while being graduate students. Kelsky suggests we should have a list of 100 and if we can’t get there, find help! (Spoiler alert: I need some help.)

Here is a short list of some of the things I’ve done while in graduate school and the skills I’ve gained as a result. You probably have them too.

We are skilled and accomplished people. Keep telling yourself, and then go tell someone else!

Instructor and Research Assistant

  • Course design
  • Record keeping
  • Mentorship
  • Project evaluation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem solving
  • Facilitation of discussion
  • Verbal communication
  • Written communication
  • Data collection
  • Data analysis

Dissertation and Publications

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Writing for specialized audiences
  • Writing for general audiences
  • Time Management
  • Editing

Project-based work

  • Project management
  • Recruitment
  • Collaboration
  • Event Planning

Conference Presentations and Public Talks

  • Public Speaking

Feel free to mine this list, comment with more of your own, or share on Twitter using #HWWPHD16


Sara B.T. Thiel is a PhD Candidate in Theatre at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Sara’s research focuses on Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and early seventeenth-century performances of pregnancy. 

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