The Back-and-Forth of Transferable Skills

One of the things we constantly emphasize at Career Services is how you can ‘transfer’ the skills you’ve learned during your academic career to a job in industry or consulting. I recently heard from a PhD in Biochemistry who just accepted an academic position at a Florida University that the ‘transfer’ can sometimes go the other way.
In his email, he emphasized that what made the most impact on his selection committee was what he’d said in his “Statement of Teaching Philosophy” about how to get his students to approach a research problem. Instead of using a piece of academic research to illustrate this, however, he’d used something straight out of a workshop I’d led on ‘Managing the Non-Academic Interview”—how to answer an off-the-wall quantitative question like, “How heavy is a Boeing 707?”
First, he emphasized that the wrong thing to do would be to try to come up with the ‘right’ answer, as students might be tempted to do if they were facing an academic advisor or dissertation committee. Instead, he went into some detail about how the question should be clarified (“Before or after a flight?”, “With passengers or without?” etc.) and then separated into component parts, (“Let’s see…a Boeing 707 probably has 30 rows of seats, with 6 people in each row, except for first class…6 rows of 4 seats, so that’s 24 + 144…160 passengers with an average weight of let’s say 150 pounds, and average baggage of 25 pounds, so 175 x 160 equals 28,000 pounds. Then the plane itself is pretty light—less than what a car would be per passenger—let’s say 1000 pounds for 4 passengers, or 40,000 pounds for all of them. Then a gallon of fuel is lighter than a gallon of water, and that weighs about 8 pounds, so let’s say 6 pounds x 1000 gallons…”) You get the idea.
What made this so appealing to the selection committee was that it closely matched the spirit of inquiry and cross-disciplinary thinking that were fundamental components of the University’s mission. The ‘thinking-out-loud’ aspect of the description triggered a lively discussion of the candidate’s interview, and gave him much more of a chance to display his teaching style and techniques than any discussion of his own research might have done.
So the next time you’re in a Career Services workshop on the Non-Academic Job Search, keep your eyes open for something that might be useful on the academic side as well!

Author: John

John Tuton is a graduate career counselor in Career Services.