Researchers summarise their expertise in 100 seconds

Doctoral graduates not only have solid expertise in their research topic, but they also possess other skills that are highly beneficial in working life.

Text Ulla Kaltiala Photos Varpu Heiskanen

“Doctoral studies have equipped me with the skills needed to adapt to change, adopt new methods, and work in different teams and cultures,” says Early Stage Researcher Olalla Díaz-Yáñez from the University of Eastern Finland School of Forest Sciences, where she is writing her PhD on the development of forestry sector risk management.

A joint initiative of five Finnish universities, the TOHTOS – Developing the Working Life Relevance of Doctoral Training – project, wanted to showcase the skills of doctoral students by inviting 100 students to present their expertise in videos lasting 100 seconds. The objective of the videos and the entire project is to facilitate the employment of doctoral graduates in positions outside academia. 

The collection of videos includes 22 doctoral students from the University of Eastern Finland, among them Díaz-Yáñez and university teacher Anniina Kämäräinen. They both say that making a video gave them a good reason to think about and list their skills and strengths in detail.

“I’m interested in a research career, but I could also utilise my expertise in data science in the private sector. Potential employers are not likely to be interested in me based on my degree alone; instead, I need to tell them what else I have to offer,” Díaz-Yáñez says.

According to Kämäräinen, it is quite likely that her career after graduation will be somewhere outside academia. She is writing her doctoral dissertation in the field of special education.  
“I use discourse analysis as my research method, and it is also useful in other contexts than research, such as in different development projects.”

In her video, Kämäräinen also lists the meta-skills she has learned as a researcher, such as project management, time management, funding acquisition, creative problem-solving, tolerance of insecurity and interaction skills.


According to Coordinator Kristiina Väänänen, who is in charge of the TOHTOS project’s communications, this kind of reflection is exactly what the video project wanted to achieve.  
“We also want to broaden employers’ perceptions of doctoral graduates and their skills.”

“Cuts in the budgets of universities and research institutes together with increasingly tough competition for research funding have reduced people’s opportunities to pursue a research career. Alternative career paths are something many doctoral graduates are increasingly having to think about,” Senior Lecturer Merja Lyytikäinen says.

Working life skills and branding are among the topics that the TOHTOS project has offered courses and webinars on. One of the viewpoints is networking and how to create yourself a specialist brand online and on social media.

“The webinars offered on this topic have been very interesting. Making one’s own expertise visible is a continuous process of learning and trying out new things,” Díaz-Yáñez says.

She runs her own website and is active in different social media channels, including Twitter.  
“This has led to interesting discussions with people from outside my own field.” 

Ideas for training topics in the TOHTOS project were obtained from a survey focusing on doctoral graduates’ ideas of important working life skills. As an outcome of the project, a training module on working life skills will be designed for Finnish universities, and courses from the module can be included in doctoral studies.

“We know that employers are interested in the expertise of doctoral graduates. The university could facilitate these links through mentoring, for example, or by asking companies for real-life issues that researchers could solve during summer school. Networking with companies could also be a course assignment,” Lyytikäinen and Väänänen say.

The TOHTOS project is coordinated by the University of Tampere, and the partners are the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Turku, the University of Vaasa and the University of Oulu. 

Photo: Both Anniina Kämäräinen and Olalla Díaz-Yáñez say making a video gave them a reason to stop and think about their professional strengths.

UEF Bulletin 2018