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How to Take Your Teaching Skills Anywhere

October 19, 2016

While many of us hope for a career in the academy, it’s never a bad idea to keep our options open. In a recent Teaching Ideas workshop, Dr. Melissa Bostrom tackled how our teaching experiences are an ideal way to help potential employers understand the crucial skills we’ve learned in graduate school—skills that are transferable to careers beyond a university setting.

Why should I explain my transferable skills?

It’s easy to forget that the Triangle, and Duke in particular, is an unusual place. People who have advanced degrees (or who are earning them) seem a dime a dozen. But nationally, only one to two percent of people have a Ph.D. This means that hiring managers looking through resumes probably won’t be intimately familiar with the demands of graduate school. What might they be thinking instead when they hear “Ph.D.”? In the workshop, we brainstormed some stereotypes, recreated in the graphic to the right.

Our list is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it follows what surveyed employers say people with graduate degrees lack: experience working in a team, creating and delivering presentations, delivering outcomes on schedule and on budget, project management, and the ability to discuss technical issues with a general audience. Although many of us do in fact build these skills during our time in graduate school, we can’t assume potential employers will translate an advanced degree favorably.

The onus is on us to unpack exactly why we have skills that are valuable in non-academic settings. Digging into our teaching experiences can be a perfect way to do just that.

What skills and qualities does teaching develop?

During the workshop, I realized I do have some of the magical “transferable skills” all employers are looking for—broadly applicable abilities essential for any workplace—and that I needed some language to discuss them effectively. For instance, one common teaching or TAing experience is working with a student who is dissatisfied with a grade. Handling this requires being firm but empathetic, authoritative yet tactful. This situation exemplifies emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and even giving performance feedback. Who knew?

Almost every part of the teaching experience can be broken down into transferable skills: preparing lectures that don’t just dump content but tell a story (creating and delivering presentations), working with a TA-instructor team, facilitating meaningful discussion (communication), designing formative and summative assessments (creating measurable benchmarks), and so much more! A good teacher is a leader in the classroom, able to motivate diverse and sometimes unwilling learners to achieve to the best of their abilities. Teaching combines so many skills, from the technical to the interpersonal. As soon as I started breaking down discrete events from teaching, I saw there were tons of opportunities to talk about what I could bring to any potential job.

How can I connect my skills to employers’ needs?

Relying on a strong network, learning more about employers through informational interviews, and other strategies covered on this blog are great ways to showcase the skills you’ve developed in graduate school and through teaching. More specifically, reading the job ad closely is one way to align your language and skills to ones employers are looking for. Digesting job descriptions was not a natural thing for me to do, so digging into a real job ad from Khan Academy at the workshop was super helpful. And once you’re at the interview stage, consider thinking of a few different scenarios you’ve had teaching that capture key skills and qualities you want to showcase. A 90 second teaching anecdote would be an ideal answer to common interview questions like, “Talk about a recent challenge and how you responded.”

Ultimately, I learned that employers are looking to hire good, smart, hard-working people to solve a specific set of problems at their company. Our teaching experiences are an invaluable way to highlight the ways in which we are not only great researchers, but also effective leaders and communicators.

Additional Resources:

Author

Brenda Yang

Ph.D. student, Psychology and Neuroscience

Brenda Yang is a Ph.D. student in the department of psychology and neuroscience. She studies how we remember imagined experiences. A former high school science teacher, Brenda is interested in adapting her teaching practices for higher education.

Professional Development Tag

  • Career Development
  • Professional Development Series
  • Professionalism
  • Teaching