Tools for post-doctoral life of ambiguity

As the Education Officer for the Aallonhuiput Board I was invited to participate in the Doctoral Education Working Group seminar, May 9th, 2016. This is a team made up of professors from each of the six schools at Aalto, HR representatives, academic coordinators, and several other stakeholders within Aalto, chaired by Aalto’s Vice President, Tuija Pulkkinen.

We were brought together to discuss “Work-life Skills for Doctoral Candidates” and all of the speakers touched on this topic from various angles. My own talk centred on the ambiguity and uncertainty of future prospects for Doctoral Candidates. Let’s face it, some of our younger PhD’s will have 40 years before retirement. Do any of us know what is coming over the next four decades? How then should Aalto prepare us for the unknown?

The second half of the workshop centred on small group discussions on the topic of “Skills needed to succeed in post-doctoral life”. One of the major challenges is deciding what, in practice, we need to know or to have in our toolboxes once we have defended our dissertations. A secondary challenge is addressing all of the different forms of work PhDs do after graduating. Are we staying in academia? Are we moving to a research centre? Is it corporate life for us? Or could it be an entrepreneurial enterprise of some sort?

And again, it would be naïve to suggest that the next 20-40 years of our professional lives will be in one single job. Could we not do research, work with and in firms, while also at some point starting our own businesses? Of course we could.

The impression I had when the day was over? An Aalto doctoral degree give us deep knowledge in our fields of expertise. However, everyone agrees that the future is not clear. So we need skills that prepare us for ambiguity, uncertainty, and flexibility. Namely, inter-personal skills such as negotiating, debating, communicating ideas, working within different cultural and linguistic fields, and being self-reflective – all of these are important. Perhaps Aalto, and the Doctoral Education Working Group in particular, will arrange and promote these social types of trainings over the next few years? That remains to be seen. It does already happen here or there, but is not yet a generally implemented process.

In any case, we PhD students need to be personally responsible for developing our skillsets. Part of that is continuing the dialogue with our professors, supervisors and with one another. With this mindset Aallonhuiput will also continue the dialog with the Doctoral Education Working Group.

Paul Savage

Education Officer

Aallonhuiput Board

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